Jack Deere’s outstanding memoir Even in our Darkness — A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life is the most transparent memoir I may have ever read from a pastor. It certainly is in the last 20 years.
I had never heard of Jack Deere before I joined the Vineyard church staff in Urbana in 2004. Once on staff, however, I read another excellent book by Deere, a book now 20 years old. It is called: Surprised by the power of the Spirit.
Let me tell you about Jack Deere. He was a rising Old Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 1980s. Surprised by the Power of the Spirit is Deere’s discussion of the so-called supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, prophecy, words of knowledge) and how they operate. Deere came to believe those gifts were for today and never ceased with the Apostolic Age, as he had been taught. The folks at Dallas Theological Seminary where he taught did not believe that.
By the time I joined the Vineyard church staff, I had embraced these gifts and was comfortable with most people who practiced them. I had friends who spoke in tongues but I didn’t. In fact, I tried to speak in tongues a number of times. Well, I guess I actually did speak in tongues, but I was wasn’t very good at it, and it didn’t seem real to me personally. I knew people who spoke in tongues, and I was happy for them.
But not all speak in tongues, of course. Even at the Vineyard church where I served and attended for 15 years, I rarely heard speaking in tongues and only once or twice heard tongues or prophecy in a public worship service. Still, bless you, if these are your gifts. You have a special gift when communicating with God and others and I encourage you to use it to God’s glory.
I always was curious about the Apostle Paul saying that he was thankful that he spoke in tongues with great frequency — “More than all of you” he told the church at Corinth. Off and on for a time, I did “practice,” almost always in my car when I was driving — driving alone, of course. It was kind of fun, but it never really blessed me and never felt real to me, although it obviously is to those who have the gift, and practice it.
Even though I was by myself in my car “practicing” speaking in tongues, one time I got a little sheepish and broke out laughing. Oh my…
During my late 20s and 30s I was involved in a church that emphasized intimate worship with God. It was a congregation that did not discourage people who spoke in tongues and prophesied, although I didn’t hear it much and it was not overly encouraged. It just wasn’t mentioned much.
Even though I had been raised in a church tribe (the Christian Church/Church of Christ) that taught those “supernatural” gifts had pretty much ended with the Apostolic age, I grew to understand things differently. I went to a Bible college that taught those special gifts had ended with the Apostles, or more specifically, the Apostolic age.
At that college for the first time I learned the word cessationist. By the time I was at this college, though, the Jesus movement was in full swing and I had met a few students at the Bible college that spoke in tongues and believed that God was moving in powerful ways in their lives. They wanted all that God had for them. One night I went to a Bible study in a guy’s basement where several people spoke in tongues. There were some who interpreted those tongues. There was a lot of singing and praying. That was the first time I tried speaking in tongues as I walked back to my apartment in the dark. I got the giggles that night, too.
These fellow Bible college students kept this knowledge on the QT, however, knowing that the expression of those gifts would not be accepted by the faculty and administration.
Although one day in a theology class one of my female classmates told the professor she thought speaking in tongues was for the current age and that she knew people who benefited from this gift (including her, although she didn’t say that in class). The professor quickly cut her off that day, telling her, and the entire class, that those gifts ended with the Apostolic age. “No exceptions,” he said, before moving on.
After class I went up to talk with her. She was upset and crying. The professor was not mean per se, but he was firm and it was obvious he was not willing to have a discussion in class about such practices. I never exactly knew why. He seemed scared when he spoke about it, like what would he do if flames of tongues suddenly landed in the classroom and he totally lost control. My friend felt like he shut her down. And well, he had.
We had a long talk later that day, when she told me she spoke in tongues. I felt honored that she would let me know about this part of her life. No one had ever told me a story like this before. I trusted this girl. Her experience was fascinating to a kid from a working family in Northwestern Kansas who never had spoken in tongues and had been told that special ability had long ceased. Frankly, I believed my friend more than I trusted my professor’s take on the matter.
Jack Deere in his Surprised by the Power of the Spirit masterfully refutes the cessationist theology. Years ago two highly regarded conservative scholars — Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms — said Deere’s refutation was the most convincing refutation they ever had read about the special “charismatic” gifts.
Deere’s book is now more than 20 years old, but I still remembering being deeply impressed with Deere’s excellent mind as he challenged the cessationist movement. Ironically, Deere himself was a young, rising professor at the renowned Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) in Dallas, where you could not practice any of these gifts. Well, of course! How could you practice a gift that no long existed?
It was while he was teaching at DTS that Deere met John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Churches and eventually got himself fired at the seminary for becoming Wimber’s friend and for openly believing in the so-called supernatural gifts of the Spirit.
I had lost touch with Deere in the last dozen years or so until I saw his new book advertised a few weeks back. I read some endorsements by people I really admire and I wanted to get the book, and I am so glad I did.
In his new book, Deere tells the story of his life. And what a story he tells. Wowza! As they say, “You’ll just have to read it for yourself to feel the full impact of the story of Jack Deere.” Believe me, you will not want to put it down.
Jack Deere takes the reader on an incredible ride of beauty through a very broken life, a life that still is being redeemed. Above everything else, through all the ebbs and flows of his life, Deere is incredibly transparent. He doesn’t hold back. I read. I cringed. I cried. I wanted to know more .I said more than once, “I can’t believe he just told us that.” I read the book fast, the entire 280-page book in 2 settings last Saturday. The book is just so incredibly honest.
Deere explores his childhood … both fun and yet so hard. His own father committed suicide when Deere was just a boy. The pain in his young life started and it only got worse. Deere struggled with pleasing and understanding his controlling mother, and we get the details. We read about how Deere fell in love with theology and was a rising start at Dallas Theology Seminary, only to be fired because of his new understanding of the gifts of the Spirit and because of his friendship with John Wimber.
We read about how Deere moved from Texas to southern California to become Wimber’s right hand man, only to get crosswise with Wimber a few short years later and part company with him. We read about how Deere went from the Vineyard church movement to become a Presbyterian pastor in rural Montana, where he was struck with tragedy in his own family.
When the Deere family moved back to Texas from Montana, we read about Deere’s wife Leesa and her serious, almost life-ending struggle with alcohol. Read this book and you will see. It was bad, real bad. But she survived, somehow.
This is a woman who was a sweet young Texas girl who had met Jack Deere when they both were in Young Life in Texas back in the day. She loved the Bible, especially reading it. This pretty young girl came to love Jack, and he fell head over heels in love with her.
And yes, she read her husband’s account of her serious drinking problem before this book was released. Yes, you heard it right. A sweet Young Life girl who back in the day loved to read the Bible growing up, reached a day in her adult, married life, when she started drinking way, way too much and on several occasions nearly drank herself to death.
Life happens, doesn’t it?
In sum, this is a story about transparency, friends. (I’m pretty sure that if we have the courage to believe it, transparency is our friend, or want to be. But how many of us really believe that deep down? We fear the judgment of others. We fear that others will think less of us if they really know “how bad I really am.”)
At the end of the day, this is not just Jack Deere’s story. It is my story. It is everyone’s story. It is the story of God making straight blows with very crooked sticks, the only kind of sticks God uses when making his mark in the world.
I work with pastors all the time, counseling pastors every day in my work. Very often I see them as they are, but I rarely have heard, or read, a story with the kind of transparency found in Jack Deere’s well-written new book.
I never have met Jack Deere, but I would like to. I hope to. I’d like to buy his breakfast and have my coffee cup refilled 3 or 4 times as I listen to him tell me more about his life. There is something about his honesty in talking about his brokenness that is believable, enviable, and even healing for the soul.
Deep down, I think most people just want to be known, and that’s why I’d highly recommend you get this book and read it. Friends, you can’t be known if you don’t take a few risks and tell your story. Jack Deere is willing to put his story out there for all to read. I think reading this new book will change your life for the better and perhaps cause you to say to someone close to you, “I have something I want to tell you about my story. I’ve never told a soul, but I want you to know.”
That will validate Jack’s Deere’s new book. It will be a little humiliating for you, but in the end, it will be good for your soul as you feel the freedom be more honest, more authentic, more real — the real person God wants you to be.