Whatever Happened to the Gospel? By R. T. Kendall. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2018. 200 pp. Paper, $15.99.
Two things attracted me to this book: the title and the author. Both are great. I loved Kendall’s earlier book, Once Saved, Always Saved. I read this book with great expectation.
There are many things to like about this book. And there are at least a few aspects of this book that will trouble most JOTGES readers.
Things to like begin with his treatment of Jas 2:14-26. He is one of the only people I have read who suggests that vv 14-26 continue the discussion of how we treat the poor in our churches, Jas 2:1-13 (pp. 115-17). He suggests that the issue is not assurance of salvation (pp. 115-17). He understands the person mentioned in “Can faith save him?” not as the believer who fails to put his faith into practice, but the poor man who came into the church (Jas 2:2-6) and who was dishonored and not helped (pp. 117-18). And, he suggests that the word justified in Jas 2:24 should be translated as vindicated as some translations have in 1 Tim 3:16 (p. 119). That is all great stuff (though I still think James is referring to the indolent believer who needs saving from temporal judgment).
He talks about hyper grace, which he defines not as the Free Grace position, but as the teaching that says it is wrong for believers to confess our sins, that believers are already forgiven both positionally and experientially of all sins, including future ones (which is why confession is out), that believers are not under any commands, and that to suggest that we are is to put believers under the law (pp. 42-44). Then he makes this comment: “The hyper-grace people make no room for Paul’s urgency that we should hope for a reward at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 9:24 27; 2 Cor. 5:10)” (p. 45).
He has one chapter on hell and one on heaven. Both are helpful.
His discussion of open theism is very brief, but excellent (pp. 46-47).
He rejects assurance by works (pp. 107-108). Super.
On the other side of the coin, his understanding of salvation in Romans is disappointing. He sees it as referring to regeneration. That leads him to misunderstand many verses in Romans, including Rom 1:16-17; 5:9 (e.g., pp. 53, 59-60).
Also disappointing is his personal testimony. He says he came to faith at age 6 (p. 9) while in an Arminian church that by his own admission taught that if a believer sinned, he lost his salvation (p. 11) and which rarely, if ever, preached the gospel (p. 11). Here is his testimony: “I knelt with my parents at their bedside and confessed my sins…I wept as I prayed. I felt a sense of peace and relief. I never looked back. I believe I was truly converted that day. But how much of the Gospel I knew at the time is another question” (p. 9). No mention of Jesus, faith in Jesus, the promise of everlasting life, etc. Strange.
Thirteen years later, on October 31, 1955, while a college student at an Arminian college, he says, “I had what I would describe as a Damascus Road experience, though it was not my conversion. It was my baptism with the Holy Spirit…” (p. 10). Kendall is a charismatic. So this statement is not too surprising. But then he continues, “I entered into a rest of faith; my heart was warmed, and peace came into my heart unlike anything I had ever experienced…My theology changed. I knew I was eternally saved, and I was given a glimpse of the sovereignty of God” (p. 10). Later in the book he says again that on October 31, 1955, “I rejoiced with unspeakable relief that I knew that I was eternally saved” (p. 151). That is an obvious testimony of the very moment at which he was born again. But no. He not only denies that assurance is of the essence of saving faith with that telling, but he suggests that one can be born again knowing little if anything about the gospel and the promise of life.
His understanding of the Greek expression pistis Christou is puzzling and a bit troubling as well (pp. 91-95). Most translations of that phrase read faith in Christ, taking Christou as an objective genitive. Thus Gal 2:16 would read, “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Christ…” (so NKJV, NASB, NIV, HCSB, NLT, ESV, CEV, RSV, NRSV, LEB). But Kendall thinks Christou is a subjective genitive, meaning that Christ is the subject of faith. He understands Gal 2:16 to mean that a man is justified “by the faith of Christ” (pp. 92, 94, 95). Those who hold to the new perspective on Paul translate pistis Christou as Christ’s faithfulness or the faithfulness of Christ (only the NET Bible offers that translation). While Kendall does not suggest that translation, his explanation of what “the faith of Christ” means is unusual. He says, “By this term [pistis Christou] Paul means: “Christ’s life (Rom. 5:10), Christ’s faith (Gal. 2:20), Christ’s death (Rom 5:9), Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 3:25), and Christ’s intercession (Heb 7:25)” (p. 94). But not one of the five verses he cites actually has pistis Christou. Galatians 2:20 is closest with en pistei zō tē tou Huiou tou Theou, “I live by faith in the Son of God.” If we want to know what pistis Christou means, then we should look at places in which that expression occurs. And it always means faith in Christ, not the faith of Christ, whatever that would mean.
(It is, of course, true, that we are to live in light of Christ’s faithfulness. But that is not expressed by the words pistis Christou. And that is not the meaning of Gal 2:16 or Gal 2:20.)
One of the biggest surprises in this book is Kendall’s promotion of something he calls “Implicit Faith” (pp. 120-21). He does not mean by that what a Catholic would mean. Instead he understands implicit faith to mean a person who believes something short of the saving message yet nonetheless is born again because God views what little he believes as “a measure of knowledge that needs to be topped up at some stage” (p. 120). Kendall goes on in his discussion of implicit faith to ask if one of his liberal seminary professors who had once been a conservative will be in heaven (p. 121). He wonders about “millions of Southern Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Lutherans who were baptized” (p. 120). He says, “Who knows?” (p. 120). He ends that chapter (9) with the question about another man who fell away, asking, “Will he be in heaven? You tell me” (p. 121). The implication in this discussion of implicit faith is that most people in Christianity are born again, even if they believe in works salvation. They have implicit faith, and that is enough. At the very least, this is highly confusing. At worst, this leads people astray.
There are some sections that are both good and bad. He has a section entitled, “Faith Is Assurance” (pp. 105-108). That is a great title. And he makes the case that whatever we believe, we are assured is true (p. 105). Nice. But then he turns right around and says, “Being persuaded—being assured—is an essential ingredient of true faith. It is not head knowledge; it touches the heart. It is not mental assent to certain teachings” (p. 105). Confusing. Worse still, he goes on to say that “[for] faith to be faith is being persuaded by evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). The Queen of Sheba believed because she saw. But you cannot call this faith” (p. 106, italics his). What of the eight signs in John that are designed to lead people to faith in Christ? All belief is the result of evidence which convinces us that something is true. We never believe without evidence. We can believe things we see or things we do not see, like the existence of gravity and electricity. But whatever we believe, we believe. And we do so because the evidence has convinced us.
Finally, the last paragraph of the book is especially disappointing. Kendall ends by stating, “If you have any doubt regarding where you will spend eternity, please pray this prayer—from your heart” (p. 183). The prayer is anything but clear: “Lord Jesus Christ, I need You. I want You. I know I am a sinner, and I am sorry for my sins. Wash my sins away by Your blood. Thank You for dying on the cross for me. I repent of my sins. I welcome your Holy Spirit. As best I know how, I give You my life. Amen” (p. 183). There is no mention there of believing in Jesus or of everlasting life. Instead we find confession of sin, sorrow for sin, turning from sin, and giving one’s life to Christ. That is a mild Lordship Salvation prayer.
But wait. Kendall also says this about saving faith: “It is only belief in the heart wherever you are—as long as the Lord Jesus Christ is the object of that faith—that is saving faith” (p. 104, italics his). A few sentences later he adds, “Saving faith is relying on the truth of the Gospel. It is believing in your heart that He died for you. It is trusting His blood, not your works. It is believing in your heart that Jesus is God, that He is the God-man. In a word, it is relying on Christ. You can only do this if you believe in your heart…The key: when you believe these things in your heart” (p. 105). His emphasis on believing in the heart is troubling. In addition, he says nothing there about everlasting life or the equivalent. Even so, that is a fairly good statement. It is certainly far clearer than the sinner’s prayer he ends the book with.
I find this book confounding. It is an odd mix of good and bad. I recommend it for Free Grace pastors, elders, deacons, and Bible teachers. I do not recommend it for new believers or for those who are not well grounded. This book could easily confuse people.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society