Book Review: The God I Never Knew

“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.

8 comments on “Book Review: The God I Never Knew

  1. […] writing a review a few days ago of a book with horrible teaching about the Holy Spirit, I was reminded of this […]

  2. I am right there in the point that you have had the “final straw”.. I am going through the book with 2 very good friends and one of their mother (who is very Pentacostal) I and my friends are reformed baptists. We had decided to start some book studies as a small group and since the mother is hosting the studies, she insisted on choosing the first book, uh-hem. Anyway, we just completed the 10-11-12th chapters and Session 5 from the study guide; needless to say this book has led to some very “spirited” discussions. I find that the author has a common ability to build a foundation of thought upon eisegesis and pure conjecture, leading many, my friends mom included, to believe that there are indeed “levels” of Christianity…uh-hem. I appreciated your partially complete review. Though, I must say, as a brother in Christ, I would have like to see you suffer through it with me! 😉

    God bless.

    • John Gardner says:

      I just started seminary, so my tolerance for less-than-stellar non-required reading is pretty low. Maybe after you power through it you can let me know whether there are any redeeming qualities in the latter half of the book. I won’t hold my breath…

  3. […] question has been a little heavier on my mind recently, in light of my recent review of Robert Morris’ book The God I Never Knew. His book contains some blatantly heretical […]

  4. John says:

    When are we going to get past the minor differences in our churches? We need to stand for one cause: Bringing people into a relationship with God through Jesus. Come on! Lets rise up in unity for the sake of one cause! There will always be differences when we focus on differences but we all have one thing in common, Jesus.

  5. Robert Scarpati says:

    John, I truly can appreciate a sincere desire for all true Christiansnto walk united in Jesus, but please realize that there are false Christians and, according to the Bible, a false Jesus – please see 2 Corinthians 11:3-4. Here is a link to some quotes on unity (though I may not agree with everything on that website): http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Quotes/qunity.htm

  6. Eric says:

    Woah, why don’t you tell us how you really feel?

    First, you didn’t even read the entire book and yet you have the audacity to write a scathing review. I see alot of pride and arrogance in that.

    Second, your conclusion that Morris was teaching readers that someone can be saved simply by proximity is a complete assumption. The obvious emphasis of the one sentence you quoted out of context from the book you didn’t bother to finish, was that the Holy Spirit was working so powerfully inside of Moody that it could be felt in a tangible way that led people to salvation. By what means they arrived to that point is completely speculation. You even stated from the beginning that you “have always been skeptical of Pentecostal teachings about charismatic gifts and the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”” This mindset completely affected your ability to remain objective when reading this book and explains your bias towards coming to the conclusion that you did.

    Third, if you’re gonna be a jerk, at least be fair about it.

    • John Gardner says:

      Hey, Eric. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      While we’re talking about making assumptions, you are assuming that my motivation for writing this review was “pride and arrogance”, though I stated up front that I was writing the review solely out of an obligation I had made to do so. Typically I wouldn’t write a review of a book I hadn’t finished. But, hey, if that sounds to you like I’m an arrogant jerk, so be it. I’ve been called worse.

      As far as biases… everybody’s got them. I try to be open about mine in my reviews, as I was in this one. This is just an instance where my bias was confirmed, despite my sincerest attempts at objectivity.

      And for the sake of dialog, let’s assume for the moment that you are correct, and that I have quoted out of context the bit about D.L. Moody, when in fact what Morris meant was that “the Holy Spirit was working so powerfully inside of Moody that it could be felt in a tangible way that led people to salvation.” What does that mean, and how is it fleshed out? In other words, does this “tangibility” of the Holy Spirit require folks to hear, believe, and respond to the gospel between their proximity to a passing “empowered” evangelist and the time when they “would fall on their faces and be saved”? If you could provide a quote from the book (or, preferably, from Scripture) that can show me where I’m either misrepresenting Morris or wrong on my soteriology, I’d be more than happy to reevaluate my conclusions.

      Lest I be thought a jerk for this last request, I want to be clear that this isn’t sarcasm (one of the inherent problems with blogs is that it’s difficult to adequately communicate tone). I have lots of Pentecostal friends, and really do want to understand better where they are coming from. It’s just that I haven’t yet encountered any compelling rationale for charismatic teaching that gives me cause to change my mind about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you can make a better argument than Robert Morris?

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