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R. T. Kendall: Holy Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener

Based on Kendall’s textual examples, however (52), it appears much likelier that he is simply making an analogy and developing it homiletically (somewhat as he uses biblical language about the dove “as a metaphor,” 81). In this case, he is arguing for assurance about salvation rather than every believer specifically hearing God say, “I swear …” He does not recount hearing a literal oath in his own experience (97-98).

A more critical exegetical problem stands at a key point in Kendall’s theology of subsequence. For Kendall, sealing by the Spirit (Eph 4:30) means that one cannot lose one’s salvation (41). But a seal need not mean that a container cannot be opened; seals were used to attest the contents of a vessel, the witnesses of a document, and so forth. One might even read Eph 4:30 as saying the opposite, if Paul might be warning one not to grieve the Spirit because one might then lose this sealing.

God’s Spirit is always with his Word and his gift of teaching, and the times of his special blessing and outpouring do not depend on our perfection.

The larger problem for his argument about sealing is one that Kendall himself may recognize. He notes that the sealing appears subsequent to conversion in the KJV of Eph 1:13, but simultaneous with it in most other translations (41). Kendall argues for both simultaneity and subsequence, yet the Greek grammar behind the text need not be taken in both ways. He emphasizes that Lloyd-Jones used Eph 1:13 to argue for a subsequent sealing of the Spirit (44-45).

Greek grammar does allow for subsequence, but the construction can be interpreted just as easily as two simultaneous actions. If one insists on reading subsequence in this grammatical construction, one would need to so construe the same construction in Eph 1:20, which would mean that God exerted his power in Christ after raising him from the dead and enthroning him. That reading, however, does not fit the context or the rest of Paul’s theology. A grammatical ambiguity is a weak foundation for a key doctrine.

This concern is not meant to deny that subsequent experiences with the Spirit can be argued from other texts, as I have affirmed above. Are these subsequent experiences necessarily linked with assurance, however? And when they do involve assurance today, do all believers highlight them as the supreme case of their subsequent experiences? Kendall’s book shows that he himself has had many experiences with the Spirit, though his experience with assurance was most important in his own life, perhaps not least because of his theological background before this experience. Again, I do not deny that believers can experience a deep and wonderful assurance of salvation after conversion. I merely question whether Eph 1:13 is a good exegetical foundation from which to offer this pattern as a universal model.

Conclusion

As in any work, there will be points where sincere interpreters of Scripture will disagree on points. Nevertheless, Kendall’s humble and gracious style invites dialogue, and his central objective is one that all readers should appreciate. He summons us to a trusting relationship with God the Holy Spirit, and invites us to thirst ever more deeply for his work in our lives. He recognizes that God’s work is not something we can simulate by our own ability; the sovereign maker of the ends of the earth is the one who works in our lives to conform us to the precious image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is clearly the work of a sincere man of God who loves God and loves others, who is irenic with the gentleness of the Spirit.

PR

 

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2014

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. sites.google.com/site/drckeener

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