RT Kendall: 'The Church is in a deep sleep'
Author and preacher RT Kendall turns up at the restaurant where we're meeting out of breath – "I'm so sorry I'm late, I got caught up at my last interview. I've run all the way here from the tube," he pants, before realising that he left his wife of 56 years behind.
With an eternal twinkle in his eye and a dry sense of humour (he insists that his initials stand for 'Right Theologian') RT is endearingly enthusiastic about his latest book – In pursuit of his wisdom. "People are saying it's my best book yet, but I think that about them all," he laughs, before suggesting that I describe him as "The best apostle since Paul...and the most humble since Moses".
That sets the tone for the rest of the interview – he's refreshingly honest, incredibly quick-witted, and clearly passionate about pursuing God's heart.
"Twenty years ago a lady who was deaf came up to me and said, 'Would you consider writing a book on wisdom?' Well, I hadn't thought about it and wasn't sure I could, but I've never forgotten it," he says.
"But a couple of years ago it began to burn on me, and I just started writing it."
Kendall's latest offering explores the subject of wisdom from a biblical perspective – he describes it as "the greatest gift" on offer to us from God.
"All you have to do is look at the stupid mistakes people make – look how many ministers go wrong, how few finish well – they lack wisdom. This is what we need," he insists.
"My definition is that wisdom is the presence of the mind of the Spirit, because you get what he wants – wisdom is knowing what to do next, and so if the Holy Spirit will show us what to do next and we follow it, we're less likely to mess up.
"The trouble is, like Joseph and Mary ran ahead of Jesus and thought he was with them, and then they had to go looking for him, we can do that with the Holy Spirit – we run ahead of him, and think we're speaking in the Spirit when it's our own silly talk.
"I've tried to make it clear I'm not writing a book because I've attained wisdom, [but because] I'm in pursuit of it."
Despite it being so important, Kendall suggests that wisdom still carries the unfortunate nametag as "the gift that nobody wants".
"I dare say, if you gave an invitation and say 'All who want the gifts of prophesy, miracles and healing, come down this aisle, and all those who want the gift of wisdom come to this aisle' – which do you think they'd choose? That's what I mean," he says.
"It's first on the list and people just run right by it. It's an exaggerated statement [to say nobody wants wisdom], but people seem to be more interested in the spectacular gifts – prophesy and healing – and I like those things too, but I'd rather start out with what Paul says is number one, and I think it honours God to ask what he wants.
"When Solomon asked for wisdom, and not long life, or wealth, God was so pleased that he said: 'Solomon for that I'm going to give you what you ask for, plus what you didn't ask for'. But the trouble with so many preachers today, especially in America, is that they preach health, wealth and prosperity. They're saying: 'Seek after these things'. Well no, I say, seek after the Kingdom of God and his righteousness – that's wisdom."
So how do we become wiser? "The main thing is to learn what grieves the Holy Spirit, and then don't do that," he says.
"The Spirit is a very sensitive person. In Ephesians 4:30 it says: 'Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God'. 'Grieve' comes from a Greek word which means 'get your feelings hurt'. So the Holy Spirit is a person who's very sensitive, and when we speak of a person who's hyper-sensitive it's not a compliment, but like it or not, that's the way the Spirit is. He gets his feelings hurt so easily.
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"What's the main way we grieve the Spirit? It's by anger, bitterness, losing your temper, holding a grudge or unforgiveness, and when we grieve the Spirit it's kind of like the metaphor of the dove coming down on Jesus– when we grieve the Spirit, the dove leaves us. It's a metaphor – the Holy Spirit never leaves us – but we can lose the sense of his guidance, his presence, and when that happens we're devoid of wisdom.
"If we want wisdom, the only way is for the dove to come down and give us the presence of his mind and show us what to do. And if we're quiet and don't rush, he'll tell us things. I believe God will do that today, and when we obey him we won't mess up, we won't get it wrong."
Kendall is also keen to highlight the idea of 'concealed wisdom' which he spends an entire chapter of his book exploring. It's the idea of wisdom that's not apparent, for example, doing things which look odd to everyone around you.
"Take Mordecai in the book of Esther," says Kendall. "When the King puts Haman in charge and everyone bows to him but Mordecai just sits there – it's like 'Mordecai that's not smart, don't be dumb. This guy's important' – and it doesn't bother him at all, he just looks the other way. That doesn't look like wisdom to me, but it's wisdom concealed. There was a plan, and it ends up changing the whole life of the Jews.
"Another example of concealed wisdom is Good Friday – Jesus on a cross. You say: 'That's the way God's going to save the world? I don't think so. Dumbest thing I ever saw – if that's the Son of God, why would God let his Son do that?' It's concealed wisdom. See what I mean? Look for the examples. God said to Abraham: 'Sacrifice your son' – people would have been like 'You call that wisdom? I don't think so'.
"You can be clever and not wise. Wisdom will never leave you ashamed – but you can be brilliant and be a total fool."
Finally, a challenge for everyone. What does RT Kendall think God might be saying to the global Church at the moment?
"Two things," he responds immediately.
"One: it seems to be that there has been a silent divorce in the Church between the Word and the Spirit. And when there's a divorce, sometimes the children stay with the mother, and sometimes they stay with the father.
"In this divorce you have those that are on the word side – like Westminster Chapel, All Souls [Langham Place], St Helen's [Bishopsgate] – and then on the Spirit side you have Kensington Temple, Holy Trinity Brompton and St Michael le Belfrey [in York].
"Now that's an over simplification, and it's an unfair analysis – but I'm using them as examples so you get the point, because I'm sure at HTB they preach the Word and so on, and so it's not black and white. That said, if the Word and the Spirit were to come together like in the book of Acts where they not only preached the gospel but saw healings, not only worshipped at the Lord table but they saw miracles and heard God speak directly, the combination would result in spontaneous combustion. A revival that would shake Britain would take place.
"Second thing, I think, is that at the moment the Church is in a deep, deep sleep. It's like the middle of the night. And Jesus said "At the time of the last days the Kingdom will be like 10 virgins, five wise, five foolish, and bridegroom will come while they all slumbered'. I think that's a prophesy of what the Church will be like in the very last days, and so I think the Church is in a deep sleep right now.
"The last thing they're expecting is the call that will wake them up in the middle of the night – in Matthew 35:6 it says 'At midnight', which is a word that we tend to think means 12 o'clock, but the Greek is 'middle of the night', so in the middle of the night, metaphorically speaking, when the church is not expecting any kind of wake up call, they're going to get it. And I think it's going to happen any day – no one's expecting it. It'll be like September 11, 2001 – in hours the whole world knew. It'll be like that."
"The Church is powerless. Nobody is afraid of the Church today – it doesn't bother them. But when the cry comes in the middle of the night, that'll change."
RT Kendall's book In pursuit of his wisdom, published by Hodder and Stoughton, is available July 17.