Unashamedly Bearable: a Book Review.

R. T. Kendall, former senior minister of Westminster Chapel is a Charismatic-friendly old school Evangelical from Kentucky. On all counts he’s felt the public stigma for being who he is, living out his faith, and holding the convictions he has. Being a Christian does not win favor in business, in academia or in the wider-culture (but it could get you elected). Kendall wrote this book to get Christians to embrace the stigma that comes from living lives faithful to the Gospel. To this end, I commend much of what he says here.

I think most people reading this would find points of disagreement with Kendall. I name two. I think his summary of the gospel is reduces the truth, and I think he is too instrumental in his discussion of suffering for the sake the of gospel.

Kendall defines gospel as “the good news that Jesus died and that His death turned God’s wrath away from our sins and satisfied His justice. (43).” Beyond overemphasizing penal elements of the atonement, this summary of gospel reduces it to Christ’s death with no mention of his incarnation, his fulfillment of Israel’s story, his resurrection, the political implications that Jesus was King and Caesar is not, etc. While I certainly agree with Kendall that Christ died to affect our salvation (and personally trust in that fact), reducing the gospel to questions of eternal destination obscures the implications of the gospel for our earthly life. The good news is that Jesus is King and has a kingdom and this calls into question all other powers, principalities and dominions. By embracing a richer and fuller view of the gospel, the stigma of following Christ actually increases. People are not as upset by my assurance of salvation as they are by my contention that America is not, nor ever was, a Christian nation (Canadian readers substitute province for nation and Alberta for America).

Concerning Kendall’s instrumental view of suffering, Kendall says, “The greater the suffering the greater the anointing; the greater the anointing, the greater the suffering. By this I simply mean the promise of a greater anointing is on offer when you suffer for the shame of Jesus’ Name (78).” In the Bible anointing indicates a setting a part for special office, such as priest or King; in charismatic circles anointing is short-hand for some combination of spiritual power, authority, blessing or giftedness. While I think it is certainly true that God blesses those who willingly suffer to remain faithful to him, I am wary of pointing to suffering for the gospel as a means of gaining ‘anointing.’ Certainly I like the way Kendall exhorts us to suffer for Christ and not chase the comfort of the prosperity gospel, but I am skeptical of suffering to get God’s blessing.

But perhaps Kendall mediates against the wrong appropriation of his message, by insisting that we should suffer ‘for the gospel’ and not for our idiosyncrasies. At one point he says:

If I offend anybody I pray it will only be because of the sheer word of God in an atmosphere of love–the Gospel, the person and work of Jesus Christ and all that encourages us to true godliness. I do not like to offend at all, but if I do cause offense I do not want it to be because of my weird personality, my eccentric habits, my foolish points of view that have nothing to do with sound theology, my unguarded comments in the pulpit, my political opinions, the color of my shirt, my insensitive comments to you about your lifestyle or my being nosy regarding your personal life. (99)

He exhorts us to let the Gospel and our convictions regarding the Word of God offend and not our own abrasiveness.

I appreciate Kendall’s pastoral and practical insights and appreciate the thoughtfulness he brings to his writing (sometimes missing among fellow charismatics). I have friends that would enjoy and find this book challenging and helpful, and other friends who would find this book quaint and reductionist. I think it’s a little of both.

Thank you to Chosen books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

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