I’ve written at reasonable length on the topic of ‘Charismatic Clarity’, with the early posts in that on/off series engaging with John MacArthur’s ‘Strange Fire’ conference (and, to a lesser extent, book). I came to this book, by R. T. Kendall, with a piqued interest because whilst its title might imply it is a response to MacArthur, after reading it I came away grateful for Kendall’s voice on the topic, and in possession of a book that I would heartily recommend to anyone exploring ‘the charismatic side of things’, and to those who identify as Charismatic but are concerned about abuses, whether they know it or not. So, then, Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives, is a book with quite a lot to offer. Lets dive in.
R. T. Kendall needs no introduction, and he straddles different Christian factions with ease, respected because of his superb writing on prayer, forgiveness and the Christian life, his years of powerful preaching at Westminster Chapel in London, and his generosity and Christlike character. This book, then, is something of a line in the sand for Kendall. He comments that for some Charismatics he will be too Reformed, and for some Reformed folks he will be too Charismatic. As the blurb on the back says regarding the Holy Spirit;
“Are you charismatic? He is bigger than your signs-and-wonders-events.
Are you Reformed? He will not be limited by your theology.
As Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, ‘He blows where He will’“
This book, then, a little like Kendall, attempts to walk a difficult but arguably more biblical line than others. Seeking to be fair to the biblical texts, critically faithful and also acknowledging of what God is doing, Holy Fire is a joy to read as the author walks us confidently through 13 readable chapters. Kendall mixes up some personal and general commentary on experience; ‘1) Discerning the Times’, ‘7) My Personal Testimony’, with a great deal of biblical and theological reflection. I found his chapter on the consequences of cessationism to be very helpful indeed, and need to think through how to communicate this winsomely to cessationist friends.
One thread which runs through this book, echoing a major influence on the authors life, is the life, teaching and ministry of Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, Kendall’s predecessor at Westminster Chapel. What could have been a sycophantic recollection is actually an immensely helpful series of character studies interspersed with genuine ‘nuggets’ of wisdom – I found that this was actually one of the most helpful elements of this superb book, and that Lloyd Jones (like Kendall, perhaps!) offers a challenge to both Reformed and Charismatic Christians to take a close look at the Biblical witness and their own holiness. There is perhaps, also, an implicit element of sadness about the way that British evangelicalism in particular, and Western evangelicalism more generally, is over-divided along these lines. I hope and pray that this book might be a part of bridge-building for the sake of the Mission of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in our times and places.
I did, it must be said, have a few minor concerns. Firstly, and perhaps most frustratingly, the fact that this book is published by a charismatic publisher (Charisma House) and endorsed primarily by Charismatic/Pentecostal leaders, means that likely a chunk of its intended audience (Reformed evangelicals and cessationists) will not read it. Secondly, I had a few quibbles with where Kendall takes a couple of things – though this likely reflects a more Pentecostal influence on him than my Vineyard-Baptist-Reformed mindset might like! That said, as I have written on numerous occasions, it is good to be challenged in my own thinking around and about and with the Holy Spirit, and so I will be chewing on a few things yet!
Overall, then, this is, as the subtitle tempts us, ‘A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives‘. I heartily recommend it to all of those Christians thinking through a biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit. I think Kendall is firm and fair in rebuking/discerning/clarifying both the theology of cessationism (which is often wedded to Reformed theology, in evangelicalism) and the excesses and abuses of Charismatic/Pentecostal forms of Christianity. I hope that this book is widely read in both (and other!) parts of the Church.