A few years ago, Ricky Skaggs brought Bob Jones to my bedside in Vanderbilt Hospital the day after my open-heart surgery. I was not only recuperating from the operation but still coming out of the anesthetic. For that reason, I cannot remember all that Bob Jones prophesied to me—which he did for at least an hour. But what stood out was his repeated use of the word "canopy." He said I was a canopy—that is, a covering over two perspectives or groups, namely, the Word and Spirit.
If we assume the Spirit to imply the supernatural—signs, wonders, miracles, healing and the prophetic—what is the Word? I answer:
Understanding the Bible—for its Own Sake: The Great Reformation emphasized sola scriptura. It was paralleled by the Renaissance, which emphasized learning for its own sake. The Reformation gave people the Bible, which we might call "special grace," emphasizing saving faith. The Renaissance was what John Calvin called "special grace in nature," sometimes called "common grace." During this era, an interest in the arts and sciences along with the invention of the printing press enabled the Reformation to spread throughout the Western world.
Do we need a new Reformation? Yes. We need to rediscover the Bible to see what God is saying rather than using it to promote our biases and prejudices. In the 16th century, people did not have Bibles. In the 21st century, we have Bibles but don't read them.
Knowing Theology: Every Christian is called to be a theologian. This means we should know what we believe and be able to defend it: "to give an answer to every man who asks you to for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15b). Peter was not addressing only pastors but "God's elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces" (1 Peter 1:1b, NIV), in other words, all of God's people. In the 16th century, faith was traditionally defined as "assent to the doctrines of the church." You were to let the church do your thinking for you. But the revival of the teaching of the priesthood of every believer meant that all Christians should know what they believe and be able to explain why. In a world where people are tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14), they succumb to nearly anything they hear. We must pray for a revival of solid thinking so the Bible Belt becomes more than "a thousand miles wide and one inch deep," as J.I. Packer put it.
Comprehending the Gospel: My current book, Whatever Happened to the Gospel?, is a plea that we be unashamed of the gospel–the "power of God that brings salvation of everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16b, MEV). So if someone asks what I mean by "the Word," my book explains it. Paul also believed in signs and wonders—and says so in the same book: "by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit" (Rom. 15:19). The book of Romans is Paul's extended definition of the gospel. This is because 1) the church in Rome had no apostle—and Paul felt the need to make sure they understood the gospel and 2) because he hoped to visit there and wanted them to know what he believed before he arrived. Martin Luther lectured through Galatians three times but called Romans the "purest" gospel. It turned Luther upside down and consequently the world. I wrote Whatever Happened to the Gospel? because you rarely hear the gospel on TV or even in the pulpit nowadays.
I am deeply grateful to write this column. I long to see the Word and Spirit come together. The simultaneous combination means spontaneous combustion. Some say the Word and Spirit cannot be separated. Not true. Many "Word" people make this claim. But when Paul said, "our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power" (1 Thess. 1:5a), it was a dead giveaway that the gospel may, sadly, be preached without power.
If I am honest, I fear that much of my preaching over the past 62 years has been largely Word only. People often said to me, "Thank you for your Word." That is what they came for; that is what they got. They came not to see but to hear. Some go to church not expecting to hear but to see. But when the Word and Spirit come together, those who come to see will hear, and those who come to hear will see. May God hasten the day when this happens in more and more places. And may He also raise up 10,000 "canopies" by which hundreds of thousands will see the remarriage of the Word and the Spirit.
R.T. Kendall is an evangelist, preacher and teacher. He now has more than 60 books in print, including his latest, Whatever Happened to the Gospel? (Charisma House). He was the senior minister at London's Westminster Chapel for 25 years, concluding his time there in 2002. He has earned multiple degrees, including a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University and a Doctor of Divinity from Trevecca Nazarene University.
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