In Pursuit of HIS Glory. By R. T. Kendall. Lake Mary, FL, Charisma House, 2004. 310 pp. Hardback. $19.99.
I chose to read R. T. Kendall’s autobiography, In Pursuit of HIS Glory, because of the great benefit I have received from many of Kendall’s other writings. His book Once Saved, Always Saved (now back in print: Authentic Media, 2005) is a classic defense of eternal security, while his book Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford University Press, 1981) explains how Calvin was only a four-point Calvinist since Limited Atonement was “invented” by his successor at Geneva, Theodore Beza. Kendal’s book Total Forgiveness (Charisma House, 2002) should be read by every Christian.
However, despite my positive views of Kendall’s previous books, I was somewhat disappointed by this book. While overall, the biography was enjoyable to read, Kendall seems to have written with one purpose in mind—to defend his conversion to charismatic thinking. He does have a few good chapters on his theology and pastoral practice, but for the most part, he only wants to talk about what led him to become a charismatic. Even some of his theology seems to have developed through charismatic experiences rather than inductive Bible study. For example, he says that he became convinced of the truth of four-point Calvinism through “the immediate revelation of the Holy Spirit” (p. 4). In my opinion, this is not the best way to develop theology.
Nevertheless, it is his views on justification, assurance of salvation, sanctification, on-going faith, rewards and the bema, Jas 2:14 and Heb 6:4-6 that I found most interesting. And these, it seems, were learned through careful, inductive study of the Biblical text. Not all Free Grace readers will agree with his conclusions, but he is definitely within the Free Grace camp on these subjects.
Regarding justification, he says that “We become Christians by faith and repentance” (p. 211), but that repentance is a “change of mind” (p. 211). He says that “if repentance is defined (as some want) as turning from every known sin and this repentance must precede faith” nobody can be sure they have repented (p. 212). Many JOTGES readers would find no fault with Kendall on this point, while others, including myself, believe that repentance is a turning from sin, but is not a requirement for justification. He defines faith as “believing God” (p. 29) and “persuasion” (p. 211). “Faith is the persuasion that Christ has died for us and we, therefore, rely on Him alone for our salvation” (p. 211, italics his).
Kendall is also a staunch defender of Biblical doctrine of eternal security. He says that sometimes this teaching brought accusations that he was teaching the heresy of “antinomianism” (p. 96). All consistent teachers of Free Grace know what this feels like. Kendall takes solace in something his predecessor, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, used to say: “If the gospel we preach is not accused of being antinomian, it is probably because we haven’t really preached the gospel!” (p. 97).
One intriguing development in Kendal’s theology of eternal security is his understanding of the faith of Christ as taught in Gal 2:16-20. He bases his view on the premise that eternal security cannot be dependant upon our ongoing faith, since we all falter in our faith and believe imperfectly from time to time. Therefore, Kendal teaches that when we believe in Christ, we are also believing in the faith of Christ, and Christ believes perfectly for us. He says that it is “Christ’s very own faith that justifies us once we put our faith in him” (p. 56). This means that we do not rely on our faith, that is, we do not place faith in our faith, but we place faith in Christ, specifically, in the faith of Christ to justify us and keep us justified because he believes perfectly (p. 224). This idea is developed more in Kendall’s book He Saves: The Assurance of Salvation Through Faith (now back in print: Authentic Media, 2006)
Since he is a four-point Calvinist, Kendall does retain some typical Calvinist teachings such as the idea that regeneration precedes faith. In such a system, faith doesn’t really save, but is a product of having been saved by God. He says, “Regeneration begins as an unconscious work…Some say they know the day and the hour and the place they were saved, and I know what they mean by that. But the truth is probably better stated that they know precisely when they were assured” (p. 212).
This brings us to what Kendall believed about the assurance of salvation. Reading what he taught about assurance made me think I was reading Bob Wilkin’s Secure and Sure, not the teachings of a four-point Calvinist! He says the primary way we gain assurance is through the use of a practical syllogism: “All who believe on Christ are saved. I believe on Christ; therefore, I am saved. [This is] the way most people grasp assurance. They are trusting Christ alone, not their works, and refuse to be defeated by the absence of good works to prove that they are saved” (p. 212).
Kendall goes on to argue persuasively that one cannot ever have assurance of salvation while believing in a limited atonement. He says that if Christ did not die for everyone, then “the poor seeker of assurance cannot look directly to Christ, for he may be trusting in one who never died for him in the first place. In such a case, the only place to look is toward his own good works or sanctification. The problem here is, how can you be sure you have amassed a sufficient number of good works to be sure? …People who seek assurance of salvation in this manner tend to be in perpetual doubt” (p. 214). “Those who can’t believe that they are saved—apart from works—invariably and ultimately are trusting in their own works to some extent” (p. 215).
We sometimes hear Calvinists argue that the only people who can have absolute certainty about their salvation are those whose names are written in the Bible that they are saved. But Kendall points out with a quote from Martin Luther, that even if this were the case, you still couldn’t know if the verse was talking about you, or someone else with your same name (p. 214). The only way to know for sure that Christ died for you is if He died for everyone, and the only way to know if you are saved is if you have believed in Jesus Christ for eternal life.
Such teaching about faith alone in Christ alone for justification and assurance naturally leads one to question the place of works in the life of the believer. Sanctification, Kendall says, happens naturally as we walk in the Spirit (p. 216), and is not a condition for salvation, but is rather a way “believers live to show their gratitude” (p. 252). Obedience to the law does not justify, and neither does it sanctify (p. 52). If some are confused as to how all this works, Kendall writes that he explains it further in his book, Just Grace (SPCK, 2000).
One of the motivations for sanctification and obedience are eternal rewards at the judgment seat of Christ. He writes that “Of all the doctrines I taught during my twenty-five years at Westminster Chapel, whether theological or practical, this is possibly the one that has affected my personal life the most” (p. 224). He wants to be one of those who receives a rich welcome into the heavenly kingdom (p. 226). He further argues that those Christians who say they don’t want any reward do not have a very spiritual outlook, for even Paul was looking eagerly toward his reward (p. 225). Again, it seems that in this area, Kendall fits very nicely within Free Grace theology.
Of great interest to journal readers would be Kendall’s view on Jas 2:14-24 and Heb 6:4-6. He clearly parts ways with his Calvinistic friends on these passages, but understands them in ways I have not found anywhere else. He says the understanding of Jas 2:14 begins with 2:6, where James talks about the poor being exploited by the rich. When James gets to his mock dialogue in 2:13, it is between a Christian and this same poor man. Therefore, when James asks in 2:14, “Can faith save him?” the “him” refers not the Christian, but to the poor man (pp. 27-28; 255-257). Our faith does nothing to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. For that, we need works. James “has chosen to illustrate his point that w must show love for our neighbors by our works—not mere conversation, as saying, ‘God bless you” (p. 256). There are numerous views on James 2, and this one fits nicely within Free Grace theology and should probably be considered.
His approach to Heb 6:4-6 was also new to me. His key to this passage was found in 3:7, where the author writes about hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 5:11 similarly talks about becoming “hard of hearing” which probably refers back to 3:7. Therefore, the people of 6:4-6 are genuine Christians. “They do not lose their salvation. They lose the spiritual acumen to hear God speak again. It is so sad. It had already happened at that time, for the Greek literally reads that they have fallen away” (p. 230). He goes on to say that “the sin described in Heb 6:4-6 refers to repeatedly rejecting the warnings of the Holy Spirit…the immediate danger is the Christian not taking the call to intimacy with God seriously enough, so that he or she ceases to hear God speak at all” (p. 231). It could be that Kendall’s charismatic tendencies has colored his exegesis on this point, but he makes a strong case, and so as with James 2, his views should be grappled with more fully through his book, Are You Stone Deaf to the Spirit? (Evangelical Press, 2000).
Kendall has some new insights into passages and theological positions that Free Grace proponents have long held. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend his autobiography, since for the most part it deals with his journey into Pentecostalism. However, his other books I mentioned earlier in this review I highly recommend, since they deal in more detail with the issues that interest JOTGES readers.
Jeremy D. Myers
Director of Publications
Grace Evangelical Society