02 May 2014
Holy spirit, holy fire
Richard Woodall meets writer, speaker and teacher RT Kendall – author of more than 50 books – about the holy spirit at work today…
The prominence and role given to the holy spirit have long been debated. But what does it really mean to be spirit-led?
At his Strange Fire conference in California last October, the American pastor John MacArthur caused a stir when he denounced charismatic expressions of Church, claiming they “dishonoured God” and offered nothing to “enrich true worship”.
MacArthur, a cessationist, is a strong advocate for balancing aspects of the charismatic movement with what scripture says. And so his conference pre-empted the release of his new book, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship.
Such debates force us to look again at the question of the role and weight given to both Word and spirit in a church.
Are church leaders too afraid of the idea of being open to the full range of gifts of the holy spirit? Or are they so focused on expressing the spirit that they are in danger of not preaching the Word enough?
It was into this context that the influential author, theologian and former Westminster Chapel pastor RT Kendall was speaking about his recent release: Holy Fire, A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in our Lives.
Originally from Kentucky, RT Kendall moved to England to study for a doctorate at Oxford University. His best known books include Total Forgiveness, The Thorn in the Flesh and Grace.
Holy Fire has already been dubbed a book which “ignites fresh passion in evangelicals for the spirit and fresh desire in charismatics for the scriptures”, and it is a book that ‘RT’, as he is known, is enthusiastically and genuinely excited about.
Back in 1992, at Wembley Conference Centre, RT, then pastor at Westminster Chapel, told the crowd his theology about the effect that a biblical and faithful combination of Word and spirit would bring; – believing it would be the biggest movement of the holy spirit the world would ever see.
He admits there are many books available on the holy spirit, but believes the “third person of the Trinity is the least understood”. His book aims to be accessible for the “new Christian, the scholar, the layman, and church leader”.
RT told me that when he uttered those words at Wembley some 20 years ago, he was not aware that he was walking on familiar ground: ground that the British Pentecostal evangelist Smith Wigglesworth had walked in 1947, when he talked about exactly the same transformation happening when Word and spirit are combined.
“When I gave that talk I was not aware Smith Wigglesworth had said the same thing in 1947”. The only difference is that I call it ‘Isaac’.
“I think charismatics have got the first bite at it – there’s more to come.
“Before the second coming, there will be the greatest outpouring of the Spirit since Pentecost. Every day I ask the Lord whether it could be today.”
He recounts the last chapter in Holy Fire which builds on his Wembley address.
“God has used the charismatic Church all over the world up until now – even though the greatest outpouring has yet to happen.”
He added: “What I said at Wembley offended many. But many have come back to me now and said: ‘RT I hope you’re right.’”
Admitting that he thinks such an event of transformation and change will happen in his lifetime – he is 78 – he adds: “What is coming will be 100 times greater than anything we’ve seen.”
RT Kendall is a man I immediately admire. He combines his deep knowledge of scripture with a desire to see the ‘acts of God’ seen in the Bible played out in the world today through the work of the holy spirit.
He is also honest enough to admit that not everything done in the name of the charismatic Church is sound (he has spoken in the past of Christians needing to be careful about proclaiming how ‘God told them this’), and readily admits that Holy Fire stemmed from the need to respond to MacArthur’s then – forthcoming publication.
The book also addresses MacArthur’s cessationist beliefs as much as his attacks on the charismatic Church. Citing cessationsim as having “no biblical support,” RT added: “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Bible is the Word of God and He is real and eternal today.
“Cessationists are not bad people. They have maintained a robust belief in the infallibility of scripture.”
RT – who retired 12 years ago from pastoral ministry after 25 years at Westminster Chapel – now lives in Tennessee. He’s in the UK for a few months having been invited by Kensington Temple to preach a range of sermons.
He recounts how his ministry builds on his own ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’.
“One morning I was driving and had what I call a ‘Damascus Road experience’. It wasn’t my conversion – I was a Christian already – but Jesus was so real at that point and my theology changed in 24 hours.”
It was from there that he took the path to becoming a Southern Baptist – something that informed his teaching as he was at Oxford.
While studying in England, he was invited to preach at Westminster Chapel, by Martin Lloyd-Jones, the pastor at that time, a man he says he “was not worthy to tie the shoelaces of”.
“I didn’t think anything of it at the time, and nor did they, but they asked me to stay. And I stayed on for 25 years.”
Holy Fire, RT said, was written in four months and was the easiest book he had penned, he added.
“It is easy for any author to think that their latest book is the best and most important yet. I have this temptation with almost every book I write. But if I am completely honest, this book may truly be my most important.”
If there’s one thing he would want Holy Fire to achieve, what would it be?
“It would be to make people hungry for the Spirit.”
RT Kendall will be speaking at the 30th anniversary of the Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park in Esher, 13-16 May.