The humble, the available, and the willing can hear the voice of God through prophetic visions, dreams, impressions, and even (on rare occasions) through audible words. Such is the argument that Jack Deere makes in his book Surprised by the Voice of God. Written as an accessible guide to some of the charismatic gifts, this volume will surprise and offend plenty. It will be most helpful in defeating some of the unfair criticisms and caricatures of Charismatics that so frequently crop up in debate. As a popular level treatment of the controversial gifts of the Spirit this book will help readers see the actual nuances of Charismatic belief and practice.
Deere is no slouch on academic theology. As former professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary he has spent many year teaching theology, writing academically, and debating the nuances of the text of Scripture. He is a scholar who has made his career out of understanding the holy, inspired, written, Word of God. Yet, this book is not an academic treatment of the gift of prophecy. For a more scholarly and detailed study of that subject one would be better served reading Wayne Grudem’s work. This is, instead, a guide for the average Christian. In Deere’s own words:
This is not an academic book. I have not written it for professional theologians. I have tried to write a practical book for ordinary Christians who want to hear God’s voice above the clamor of everyday life. (20)
As an accessible guide, Deere has avoided the nuances of the heated theological debate over the Charismatic gifts, nor has he offered a comprehensive philosophical/theological defense. Such works exist within Christian/theological publishing, but that is not what Deere has done in this work. Yet, despite offering something other than a scholarly treatment, Deere has included some good and compelling exegetical work. His first commitment to the Word of God as the final and ultimate authority is evident throughout the book. He wants to present readers with a guide to hearing the voice of God that is grounded first and foremost in the Word of God. Even his opponents will appreciate that aspect of the work.
The book is broken down into seven parts. Each developing progressively Deere’s guide to hearing God’s voice. He starts by presenting us with the problem. There are plenty of Christians, he says, who know the Bible and yet still live in bondage, un-empowered by the Word of truth. The issue is not with Scripture, but rather with the life of the believer. He gives real-life examples to put skin and bone on this truth. While some reviewed have critiqued the work for its use of stories, suggesting that Deere offers these testimonies as proof of his point, that is an unfair reading of Deere. The point of each story is not to prove the theology, but to illustrate it. He wants to crystallize the abstract, and he does so through actual case studies. He makes his point clear this way.
In part two he walks readers through the voice of God in the Bible and history. He gives readers a look at God’s supernatural work of speaking through prophecies, dreams, and visions in the Bible and beyond. Many readers will be familiar with these biblical accounts, but Deere reiterates them with a keen eye to demonstrate how we have overlooked the dynamic working of God. He also selects from history examples of individuals who experienced God in these same ways. He choses for his case studies here, Presbyterians. Those theologians most presently opposed to the continuance of these Charismatic gifts have, as part of their own heritage, prophets. He gives readers an impressive historical survey of some the Reformers and the Scottish Covenanters who displayed these gifts and experiences.
In part three he walks readers through four distinct chapters on the “language of the Holy Spirit,” or rather the various means by which God communicates to His children. He gives a strong argument for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in chapter 7, demonstrating that a high view of Scripture is not incompatible with a belief in the continuance of these word-gifts – though whether he does this convincingly is to be determined by the reader. He also speaks to God’s communication through experience, supernatural works, and natural means. God has always communicated in these diverse means, and Deere gives good exegetical support to each chapter.
In part four he turns attention to the process of “learning” this language. Chapters 11 through 15 highlight different aspects of the learning process. So, readers will find a comparable analogy between learning the Spirit’s language and learning a natural foreign language. Those pursuing these gifts will be encouraged both to be patient and humble. Trial and error, Deere says, is part of the educational format. He also walks leaders through the facilitation of a prophetic ministry. He also gives great warnings of the language of “God told me…” and other “prophetic pitfalls.” There is no denial on Deere’s part that these gifts can open the church up to abuse and misleading. He gives strong cautions and returns again and again to the role of humility in the service of the gifts. Finally, he talks about the dynamic differences in dreams and visions.
Parts five and six respectively address the differences between those who don’t hear God speak this way, and those who do. While always affirming the sufficiency and authority of God’s Word, he takes care to highlight the difference between belief in the authority of God’s Word and belief in the authority of our interpretation. He notes that there can sometimes be an arrogance in Bible knowledge, a conviction that we know what God’s Word says so perfectly that we don’t really need the Spirit. Deere does an excellent job here of showing the compatibility of the Spirit and the Word (a theme he regularly returns to, and which he ends the book with). He discusses again the characteristics of humility, accessibility, and willingness.
Finally, the book ends by stressing the compatibility and importance of both the Word and the Spirit. Deere is not some hyper-experientialist who discounts the Word because of some feelings. Deere affirms wholeheartedly and repeatedly the Evangelical conviction regarding the Scriptures. Readers of varying convictions on Spiritual gifts will find Deere nothing like the caricatures of charismatic theology so popular among Cessationists.
Overall this is an impressive work. Written for laymen, it nonetheless carries weight. The various stories help to illustrate Deere’s exegetical and theological work, and offer some compelling pictures of God’s work. He gives good critiques of both Cessationist and Pentecostal views in the book, offering correction and redirection respectively. Whether you agree with Deere or not I believe this is a valuable work to read. Surprised by the Voice of God will give readers of various theological stripes a fair and balanced perspective on Charismatic belief and practice. If this work does nothing more than correct some of the unfair characterizations then it is worth its publication. Most of all it will give readers a good and Scripturally rich introduction to Continuationism, but without getting lost in the technical theological debates.