“The God I Never Knew: How Real Friendship With the Holy Spirit Can Change Your Life” by Robert Morris
This is a review I’ve put off writing for a long time, but since I received the book as part of the Waterbrook Multnomah Blogging for Books program and obligated myself to provide a review, I’d better go ahead. The main reason I didn’t want to review it is that I haven’t finished the book. I couldn’t. There are simply too many good books to waste time with bad ones. However, I did give it a real effort, and would like to share the reasons why I didn’t find the book worthy of continuing.
First, though, I should tell you the reasons I requested this book in the first place. I have always been skeptical of Pentecostal teachings about charismatic gifts and the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, but hoped that this book might at least help me understand why they believe what they do about those things. I’ve also been curious to learn more about the senior pastor of Gateway Church, which is a very large and influential church. Our church sings a lot of music written and produced by the folks at Gateway Worship, but I knew next to nothing about what those folks believed.
My first reason for disliking this book is purely subjective: I just don’t like his writing style. Every chapter begins with an anecdote, usually a story from Morris’ own life. While I have no problem with an author writing from his own experience, I often failed to see the connection between the anecdote and the point he was trying to make in the chapter. Still, I understand that a lot of people do like personal stories in books, so I was willing to let this go as a simple matter of preference.
The bigger problem with the book is doctrinal. I knew I was in trouble when early in the book (p. 21) Morris makes reference to “the great nineteenth-century evangelist Charles Finney”. While Finney’s influence was indeed “great”, there is nothing else great about him. While many consider him to be a hero, he is largely responsible for the pervasiveness of Pelagianism in the American church (see here, here, and here). A man who denied the Fall, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and justification by faith alone is not someone I’d turn to as an example of someone empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Morris also frequently leaves out essential qualifications to statements he makes. For instance, on p. 28-29, Morris teaches that every Christian has the ability to “know God’s voice and hear Him just as clearly as the most famous evangelist.” This voice, he says, is not audible; “It comes as a thought” (italics his). He continues: “With time and familiarity, you can learn to clearly distinguish between thoughts that are your own and those that come from the Spirit.”
To an extent, this is all correct. However, Morris references zero Scripture to support his assertions, nor does he offer any help in teaching readers how to distinguish between thoughts that are their own and those that come from the Spirit. Without biblical exhortations (such as 1 John 4:1 and Acts 17:11) to “test” teachings and our own thoughts by “examining the Scriptures daily”, the idea that the Holy Spirit primarily speaks to us is through our thoughts is dangerous!
The last straw for me, and the point at which I gave up, came in Morris’ chapter called “Three Baptisms, Three Witnesses”. Besides being an utterly uncompelling argument for a Pentecostal understanding of a “third” baptism into the power of the Holy Spirit, this chapter closes with this disturbing statement:
Some biographers say the Holy Spirit empowered [D.L.] Moody so greatly that he would just walk through factories and workers would fall on their faces and be saved.
While he never acknowledges who those biographers are (part of a disappointing lack of citation throughout the book), it really doesn’t matter. Teaching that people can be saved simply by being in close proximity to someone “empowered” by the Holy Spirit is outright blasphemy! The Bible is crystal clear that salvation cannot come apart from hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Claiming that sinners can be saved in any other way is inexcusable, and was the final straw that broke my determination to make it through to the end of the book.
I do find it ironic, though, that someone enamored with the likes of Charles Finney — whose greatest “contribution” to evangelicalism was his attack upon the heresy of Hyper-Calvinism — would relate a story such as that. The error of Hyper-Calvinism is that it teaches that God saves the elect apart from the preaching of the Word. How is what Morris describes — the Holy Spirit bringing about salvation while circumventing both evangelism and human will — any different?
I can’t find a single reason to recommend that anyone read this book. Even if you are a Pentecostal/Charismatic believer, surely you can find a better representation of your views.