Saturday, October 3, 2015

Book Write-Up: The God I Never Knew, by Robert Morris

Robert Morris. The God I Never Knew: How Real Friendship with the Holy Spirit Can Change Your Life. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2011. See here to buy the book.

My church is using this book in its small groups. The book is about experiencing the Holy Spirit on a deeper level.

Robert Morris’ perspective strikes me as charismatic, even though he is critical in the book of those who judge the Christians who do not speak in tongues. For Morris, the Holy Spirit can perform a variety of functions in a believer’s life. He can give the believer clairvoyance about what is going on in someone else’s life so that the believer can help or pray for that person; Morris tells stories about this happening. Jesus in John 16:13 said that the Holy Spirit will guide the disciples into all truth, and Morris believes that “all truth” means “all truth,” not just spiritual truth. According to Morris, the Holy Spirit has guided people on how to make better business decisions, enabling them to act in light of future developments. The Holy Spirit can enable believers, with their cooperation, to speak in tongues, and thereby to edify themselves spiritually (I Corinthians 14:4). The Holy Spirit can bring about physical healing, since, according to Morris, “Jesus bore our sicknesses as well as our sins on the cross (see Matthew 8:17)” (page 142). Citing John 16:11-13, Morris argues that the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin and their need for Jesus and Jesus’ righteousness, as well as assures them that the judgment of Satan is inevitable (John 16:11-13). The Holy Spirit reassures Christians that they are God’s children so that they no longer feel like they are wretched (Romans 8:13-17).

According to Morris, the Holy Spirit also empowers Christians for service. He makes them into little Jesuses, who, according to Acts 10:38, was anointed by the Holy Spirit and went about doing good and healing people who were under the devil’s power. For Morris, this power did not flow from Jesus’ own divinity, for Morris interprets the hymn in Philippians 2 to mean that Jesus at the incarnation “‘emptied himself’ of all his rights and privileges as God” (page 125). Rather, as Morris notes, “Jesus didn’t perform a single miracle until after the Holy Spirit descended upon Him immediately following His baptism” (page 126). For Morris, the same Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus can empower us.

The Holy Spirit also empowers believers to live the Christian life. According to Morris, there are three baptisms. There is the baptism in which the Holy Spirit brings a person into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13). This occurs when a person becomes a Christian. There is water baptism, which symbolizes, and may even entail, the “death and burial of our own sinful self” page 102). Finally, there is baptism in the Holy Spirit, which gives Christians power to walk in a new life. According to Morris, many Christians have received the first two baptisms, but not the third. This can be for a variety of reasons. They may be scared of baptism in the Holy Spirit on account of weird things they have seen among charismatics and Pentecostals. They may fear making themselves susceptible to demons after opening themselves up to the Holy Spirit. While Morris attempts to dispel the idea that the Holy Spirit will make people weird, he does maintain that people should not place conditions on God when they ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Regarding demons, Morris points to Luke 11:11-13: God will lovingly give his children the Holy Spirit when they ask for it, not a scorpion or a serpent (which, according to Morris, represent demons in Luke 10:19).

Morris believes that a relationship with the Holy Spirit is available to all believers. People do not need to consult a prophet to receive a word from God, Morris contends, for they can go to God themselves and hear from the Holy Spirit. Even Simon the sorcerer, who was bitter because the apostles were performing miracles and taking people’s attention away from his sorcery (or so Morris speculates, and this is a reasonable interpretation of Acts 8:20-23), could have received the Holy Spirit without offering to buy it. Morris maintains that all of the spiritual gifts are available to every believer whenever God deems that appropriate, that all Christians (not just a select few) should desire to prophesy (I Corinthians 14:39), and that all Christians can speak in tongues, as a prayer language. Morris does not think that one has to be a super-Christian or a mature Christian to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, for he says that this can happen to new believers. At the same time, Morris does appear to believe that there are certain requirements to being filled with the Holy Spirit. One needs to surrender to God rather than placing conditions on God in asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit. One needs to be humble and selfless rather than proud and self-centered. One needs to try to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and hurting others. Morris tells the story of how he grieved the Holy Spirit when he watched an inappropriate movie. According to him, this resulted in a loss of spiritual power, until he repented.

Morris shares advice on how believers can start speaking in tongues. His pastor advised him to get into a worshipful mood, listen to a praise CD, pray, and then “start praying in a language you don’t know” in abandonment to God (page 175). That sounded rather contrived to me, and yet people I know who have spoken in tongues have told me that it is an ecstatic experience that occurs to them within the context of prayer and worship. It is something beyond themselves that God does, yet they set the stage for it and cooperate with it.

What are my reactions to this book? My personal reaction is rather complex. I want to have more peace, joy, and love, so part of me does desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit. But do I want to be like some people who claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit, who attribute their opinions to God, even though the opinions of “Spirit-filled” people sometimes contradict each other and may even be refutable? Do I fear that having an ecstatic spiritual experience will lead me to compromise my reason, making me into one who ignores or dismisses science or historical-criticism of the Bible? This does happen, but it does not always happen, for there are critical biblical scholars, and even evolutionary scientists, who have experienced spiritual ecstasy. Maybe I fear that I cannot arrive at the state of humility, selflessness, and affection for God that is necessary to have an ecstatic spiritual experience. Plus, do I want to become a purist or perfectionist when it comes to the movies that I watch? Do I even believe Morris’ anecdotes? (As one who struggles socially, I especially appreciated Morris’ story about being stranded at a party, and how the Holy Spirit was sharing with him whom to pray for.) There are plenty of strange stories out there that I am reluctant to believe. But what if Morris is right? And do I actually want God to be that real?

My reaction to Morris’ biblical arguments is also mixed. He offered plenty of good arguments. I am not entirely convinced that every believer can have every spiritual gift or the ability to speak in tongues, for Paul in I Corinthians 12:30 seems to suggest that different believers have different gifts, and that not all believers speak in tongues. (Morris distinguishes, however, between speaking in tongues publicly in the congregation and speaking in tongues in private prayer. The latter is what he believes that all Christians can do.) Morris still presents arguments that deserve consideration.

What particularly disturbed me were Morris’ factual errors and atrocities against the Hebrew language. Morris on page 80 states that the Feast of Tabernacles is also called the Feast of Trumpets, which is untrue: they are two different festivals, which occur in the autumn. The atrocities against the Hebrew language occur on pages 108-109. Morris states that the “h” was added to Abram’s name, making AbraHam, because the Hebrew word for spirit, ruah, has an “h.” That is untrue: the Hebrew word is ruaCH, not ruah, and ruach does not have an “h.” Morris states that Sarai’s name-change to Sarah is about getting rid of the selfish “I” so one can be filled with the “ha.” “Sarai,” after all, has an “I” at the end. But “I” is an English term for I, as in me, whereas Hebrew has its own word for “I,” namely “ani.” I do not want my nitpicking to distract me from the spiritual point that Morris is making—-the importance of not being selfish. At the same time, such atrocities against the Hebrew language exemplify why I am sometimes skeptical of interpretations of the Bible that people claim to get from the Holy Spirit (not that Morris explicitly makes that claim): the interpretations turn out to be wrong.

It will be interesting to see how my United Methodist Church interacts with this charismatic book.

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