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Strangers To Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture, reviewed by Tony Richie

Agreeing somewhat with the editor that the first and last chapters of Strangers to Fire stand out by position and by composition, I’ll mention Mark Rutland and Paul Elbert. I have found that Rutland is always a lively and entertaining speaker or writer who makes surprisingly insightful observations in a practical manner. His very first sentence hit the nail on the head, and hard. “The arrogance of making experience into a theology that trumps Scripture is exceeded only by the arrogance of making lack of experience into a theology that trumps Scripture.” From that moment on he had fundamentalists’ rationalistic cessationism by the throat, so to speak. With lively repartee style Rutland exposes the flimsiness of false assumptions undergirding the cessationist stance. Finally, he brings up the bottom line: the Bible. Cessationism is unbiblical. It is just not there. Rutland may not convince the hard shell skeptic with this piece but he bursts the bubble of arrogance that assumes any non-cessationist is simply ignorant or unintelligent. There are just too many plain-to-see holes in their whole position.

Paul Elbert, my colleague from Pentecostal Theological Seminary, has the last chapter. He wastes no time on frivolities; rather, he dives in headfirst with a thorough, painstaking analysis of a key text, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 has long been, as he demonstrates, badly misused by cessationists. With a close look at context and grammar, and a genuinely in depth and wide ranging interaction with biblical scholarship, Elbert demonstrates decisively that the passage is eschatological in its tone and thrust. Only by doing severe violence to the Scriptures are the words of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 to be understood in support of cessationism. Even JFM now admits it just isn’t there. Elbert’s historical, epistolary, linguistic, grammatical, and philological analysis is quite convincing. Not any easy chapter to read, but rewarding for those who desire exhaustive refutation of the fallacy of cessationism.

I find myself pining for space to talk of many other stimulating chapters—Keener’s study of spiritual gifts, De Arteaga’s exposure of the misrepresentation of the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards by those fighting the very revivalism Edwards was in the forefront of, Kay, Ruthven, and Robeck on prophecy, and so on—but the time and space aren’t available. Readers are highly recommended to read this book in its entirety. There really is something in it for everyone. I speculate that even cessationists would likely benefit from familiarity with its impressive contents. After all, essential to any conversation is at least some level of honest understanding of your partner (or opponent!). The extensive Indexes of Scripture references and Persons make this an excellent study resource. I especially like this feature since anthologies often are not easily accessible. Not so with Strangers to Fire. Excellent and extensive footnotes and indexes make this volume practically a library in itself.

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Category: Fall 2014, Spirit

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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