Martin Luther and Wittenberg today

Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Wittenberg 2017

I have just had an amazing week in Wittenberg, Germany. Accepting a wonderful invitation by the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN UK and TBN USA), I was accompanied by Leon Schoeman, Director of TBN UK, and filmmaker Luke Bradford. I was given an opportunity of a lifetime – a thrill and privilege beyond any offered to me: to preach the Gospel where Martin Luther once stood.

The purpose of this trip was to make a film that will be shown all over the world on October 31st 2017 – to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31st 1517. It was the moment that ended up turning Germany and Europe upside down. The film will be partly a documentary but mostly preaching the Gospel that Luther rediscovered. It seemed to me that the best way we could honor Martin Luther was to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That said, this film shows beautiful scenes not only of the landscape and town of Wittenberg today but also of the lovely surroundings of Wartburg Castle where Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1521-1522.

The filming did not come easily. Whereas 200,000 tourists are expected to come to Wittenberg on the anniversary day of the Ninety-five Theses, we still had to work past hundreds of tourists already coming to Wittenberg who wanted to take pictures of the famous Door. In order to succeed in our mission we got up right after dawn and I managed to preach a few minutes as the sun arose before the crowds moved in. We were also given permission for me to speak in the pulpit inside the Castle Church. Luther preached in this church hundreds of times. Whereas the Eucharist had been the center of worship for centuries, Luther’s unfolding of the Gospel, especially as in Romans and Galatians, made preaching popular. People came from all over Germany just to hear the Bible explained to them – an unprecedented phenomenon at the time. The people did not have Bibles in those days nor did they understand the Gospel.

Wartburg Castle is where Luther spent ten months translating the New Testament into German. People bought copies as fast as they could be printed. The irony of today is, we all have Bibles but we don’t read them! Nor do we, sadly, understand the Gospel. Let us all make a commitment to read our Bibles and witness another reformation. This is partly why I have written a book to be published shortly, Whatever Happened to the Gospel?

I may be known as a Calvinist, but Luther is my hero. One difference between Luther and John Calvin is that if you were going to go on a long holiday, you’d rather go with Luther! Luther was fun, crude, never boring and full of life. The three of us determined to have fun on this trip – and not take ourselves too seriously. I think we succeeded to some degree. Do pray for the production of this film. Pray most of all that many thousands will come to know Jesus Christ through this telecast next October 31st.

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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE GOSPEL?

I have just finished writing WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE GOSPEL? I am having difficulty securing endorsements (which publishers want in order to help sell the book) for this one. Some of  my closest friends don’t want to touch it – unless they can give a qualified endorsement. On most of my books I welcome a qualified endorsement. But not this one. This book will probably be my legacy, that is what people who have read it are saying. Some of my friends just want me to tone it down – especially when it comes to criticizing certain heretical views. I won’t go into them all now, but will mention three: (1) I speak against “kingdom theology” which is championed by a pastor in California whose emphasis is on healing: (2) my criticism of the views of a famous British scholar who denies justification by faith alone; (3) annihilation. Almost certainly the overwhelming majority of British church leaders believe in annihilation vis-a-vis eternal Hell.
Annihilation is the view that denies conscious eternal punishment in Hell. The idea is that (either at death or the judgment) the person is annihilated – that is, he or she no longer exists. This teaching is a valiant attempt, either consciously or unconsciously, to destigmatize God. They want to make God “look good” and Hell does not make God look good. But God does not need a public relations person. My job is not to make Him look good but to proclaim Him as He is.
I am tempted to write more in this blog, but my book deals with that more thoroughly and carefully. Please pray that my book will have sufficient endorsements that will help the book spread far and wide. One thing I am certain of: I have chosen the right title for a book to honor the teaching of Martin Luther! One more thing: Luther himself would love it!

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Dr. Michael Eaton (1942-2017)

Dr. Michael Eaton (1942-2017)

My Great Encourager is now in Heaven. He died in hospital aged 74 in Johannesburg, South Africa on June 9th 2017. We had preached together that week in the Cornerstone Church in Johannesburg. Brilliant as always, he preached for the last time on June 6th, 2017. I followed him a few moments later. He sat on the front row listening to me, but got up during the sermon. I found out he needed to lie down and rest owing to a lot of pain. It turned out to be a heart attack. He died three days later.

Michael and I have been linked together for a long time. We were opposites in many ways (personality, style) but when it came to theology – especially soteriology, we were on the same page. I first met him at Westminster Chapel in 1977. He was between churches, that is, he had resigned the pastorate at Lusaka Baptist Church and was undecided what to do next. He came to Westminster Chapel while I was preaching through Galatians. He later claimed that my view of the Law changed his perspective entirely. I hardly knew him, but a few years later he wrote to say that my view of James 2:14 had changed his life and ministry. He decided to accept the pastorate at Rouxville Baptist Church in Johannesburg and grew a multiracial congregation there – a huge and precarious thing to do at the time.

He was the most learned theologian I have met. His knowledge was incredibly vast – exceeding all I have ever come across. He was a walking encyclopedia, at home with Greek or Hebrew; he preached in Swahili. He read Plato and all the Apostolic Fathers and Church Fathers, the medieval scholastics, knew Luther and Calvin backwards and forwards, read many of the Puritans, the eighteenth century Methodists, the nineteenth century British preachers, the main theologians of the 20th century – including Barth and Brunner, and if it was written last week – Michael probably read it! His mentor was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Michael read all of the Doctor’s books and heard the recordings of most of his sermons.

I was a mentor to Michael in a small way, but he became a mentor to me in a big way. I think I would be accurate to say that he learned Paul’s teaching of justification and the place of the Law largely from my expositions of Galatians. But he surpassed me in all that I ever taught him and the result was, he became my teacher! These things said, he was a great encourager over the years. There were at last five things I had come to see that Michael came along to agree with: (1) James 2:14 “Can faith save him?” – the “him” being the “poor man” of James 2:6; (2) the place of Christ’s death and intercession (Jesus died for all but interceded only for the elect which I actually got from John Calvin); (3) the faith of Christ: pistis chistou = literally Jesus’ very own faith (Rom.3:22, Gal.2:16,20); (4)the meaning of the concept of God swearing an oath (Heb.6:13ff); and (5) Hebrews 6:4-6 referring to saved people who forfeited not salvation but their inheritance. These are five examples of what I stood for – presumably by myself – but which Michael embraced and in turn taught me from these! My book Once Saved, Always Saved became the foundation for what Michael and I have taught all over the world for the past twenty-five years: the concept of reward and inheritance, persistent faith as being different from saving faith.

But here is the point: he became my teacher in all these things. He referred to me as being a miner for gold. I would get the nuggets. But he turned the nuggets into bracelets and watches. I learned more from him than I ever saw by myself. I wrote him on the average of once a month for his view on this or that verse or idea.

I don’t know what I will do without him. I will miss him greatly. More than words can describe.

But my memory of him is this: he was my great encourager. When I felt alone and out there in no man’s land, he would come along side to say “R T you got that right”. Not that we agreed on everything. But almost everything.

I always wanted us to do our own translation of the Bible. I mentioned it to him again only five days before he died. I doubt it would have happened anyway, but it was a nice thought (I thought)!

One sweet memory – our being on television together – will survive. TBN UK came up with a Book Show for me. He was on two one-hour programs. They will be a permanent legacy of our ministry together.

Good-bye old friend. I will see you in Heaven. We will find out then if the Lord really approved of what we taught!

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New Year’s Letter 2017

New Year’s Letter 2017

Dear Friends,

“Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: ‘Who am I, O Lord God, that you have brought me this far?’” – 1 Chronicles 17:16.

I have chosen this Scripture for my 2017 New Year’s Letter for two reasons. First, it is exactly the way I feel as I grow older. I was gripped by this verse just before Thanksgiving Day when my Bible Reading (Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s) included this passage. You have no idea how unworthy I feel and how amazed I am that God has brought us “this far”. I can never forget that I come from the hills of Kentucky when our state was second from the bottom in educational standards. Hence our saying in those days, “Thank God for Arkansas”. Not only that; for the first ten years of our marriage – though always in ministry – I worked as a salesman, mostly selling vacuum cleaners door to door.

My closest friends on both sides of the Atlantic are cautioning me to “slow down”. I am asking: is this warning from the Lord? I don’t know. I am almost overwhelmed that at my age (81) we get more invitations from all over the world than I can fill. Please pray for my wisdom in this connection. I find it so hard to say No.

Who am I that the Lord has brought us this far?

Our third grandson arrived a few weeks ago – continuing the TR pattern. We have Tobias Robert (Toby), Timothy Robert and now Tyndale Robert (whom we call Ty). They live about forty minutes from us. TR travels with me a lot these days, although Louise will be joining me in London from February to July.

Pastor Colin Dye of London’s Kensington Temple has kindly invited us back to be on his staff for the fourth year in a row. We dearly love Colin and Amanda and all the members of KT. I plan to preach on the Life of Elisha. My final Sunday night preaching series at Westminster Chapel was on Elijah (now a book – These are the Days of Elijah). I will also be teaching at the International Bible Institute of London (IBIOL) as well as teaching selected themes from our School of Theology series on Friday nights beginning April 21st).

Melissa works for a hospital in Nashville, doing what she was trained to do (with her Master’s degree in psychology). Rex continues to be blessed in his real estate business. They live some thirty minutes from us.

This year we have finally brought R T Kendall Ministries Inc. officially from Florida to Tennessee. We thank God for our Board Members there who served Louise, T.R. and me faithfully for some fourteen years – Richard Oates, Randy Wall and Charles Carrin. We welcome new Tennessee Board Members: Roger Perry (accountant), Joshua Hankins (attorney) and Ricky Skaggs (country singer recording artist).

When asked how people can pray for us, my reply is: for our continued good health, stamina and all the anointing we can be trusted with!

Perhaps the most surprising development of 2017 is that TBN UK have invited me to speak on a regular basis – on any subject I choose. It is a 30 minute program which they call “Word and Spirit”. It reaches all over the UK, Africa and Europe four times every week!

The second reason I chose the aforementioned Scripture pertains to the verses following 1 Chronicles 17:16. It was when David graciously came to terms with the disappointment that he could not build the temple. David accepted this and thanked God for how good God had already been to him. So I ask: will I have to accept that not all I have hoped for will come to pass in my lifetime? David accepted his disappointment with dignity; if I must – by not seeing all I have hoped for, will I be so gracious? I certainly hope so. So many unfulfilled wishes – and prophetic words from good people – remain unfulfilled. Time will tell.

God bless you all. Thank you for your prayers. Louise, T R, Annette, Toby, Timothy, Ty, Rex and Melissa join me in sending our sincere love.

R T – Psalm 84:11

PS – John Newton (1725-1807) wrote a hymn nearly every week when he was vicar of Olney that came from the verse he would preach on. One week he decided to preach on 1 Chronicles 17:16. Being gripped by the words “this far” (“hitherto” – KJV), he wrote “Amazing Grace”. Verse three of his most famous hymn includes these words:

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”.

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Donald Trump and Toby

Donald Trump and Toby

Every grandfather probably thinks his grandson is a genius. But Toby is!

Yesterday at lunch when the conversation with our friend Benjamin Chan (see my tweet of 27-11-16) was about the BBQ we were enjoying at Hendersonville’s Center Point BBQ, our seven year old grandson Toby spoke up out of the blue: “Grandpa, is Donald Trump a Christian?” I replied: “I don’t really know for sure”. “Well then, Grandpa, can God use someone who is not really a Christian to do His work?” I replied: “Yes, through God’s common grace”.

Common grace is God’s goodness to all humankind. John Calvin called it “special grace in nature”. We call it “common grace” not because it is ordinary but because it is given commonly to all people of all ages in all places in the whole world. It is a creation gift not a salvation gift. It is what keeps the world from being topsy-turvy. It is why there is a measure of law and order in all countries. It is why we have traffic lights, hospitals, firemen, policemen, nurses and doctors. It is the basis of one’s IQ, their ability for poetry, science, botany, astronomy. It is what gave Albert Einstein what is (perhaps) the highest IQ in history. It is what gives an Arthur Rubenstein an ability to play the piano, Yehudi Menuhin to play the violin, Rachmaninoff to write a concerto. It has nothing to do with whether you are a Christian. Being a Christian is not what gives you your IQ; you would have had the same IQ whether saved or lost.

Common grace is what lay behind Cyrus (Isa.45:1 – probably the same person as Darius in Daniel 6) the surprising decision to let the Jews return to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity. This to me is a plausible explanation for Donald Trump – that is, if indeed he appoints good Supreme Court justices and does some of the other things he has promised to do.

Perhaps Donald Trump is a Christian. I have heard rumors of this person or that person who led him to the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope they are true. But if not, one should have a theological rationale for God using people like him to be used of God in this wicked world of ours.

Yes, Toby, God can use someone who is not a Christian to do His work in the world. And if Donald Trump is truly born again, all the better for us all!

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