Twenty-seven years ago, Jack Deere published Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, the story of how and why he stopped being a cessationist and started practicing a charismatic form of spirituality. Why I Am Still Surprised by the Power of the Spirit significantly revises and updates its predecessor. The revisions and updates make Still Surprised a substantially new book.
Surprised included 14 chapters, an epilogue, and three appendices. Still Surprised includes 26 chapters and five appendices. Entire chapters have been revised, deleted, and/or replaced. Deere explicitly divided the old book into three parts—roughly, his testimony, his critique of cessationism, and his advice about the practice of spiritual gifts. The new book largely follows this same organizational structure. Deere’s combination of memoir, critique of cessationism, biblical exposition, and seasoned advice about using spiritual gifts is written clearly and engagingly, reads smoothly, and made me think, even when I disagreed with it.
Cessationists—that is, people who believe certain “supernatural” spiritual gifts ceased after the apostles’ death—often argue that Pentecostals and charismatics put experience before Scripture. Deere’s conversion from cessationist to charismatic reversed that argument. “My thinking had not changed because I had seen a miracle or heard God speak to me in some sort of supernatural way. … This shift in my thinking was the result of a patient, exhaustive, intense study of the healings and miracles recorded in the Scriptures” (25).
In fact, Deere reverses the cessationist argument. “There is one basic reason why otherwise Bible-believing Christians do not believe in the miraculous gifts of the Spirit today. It is this: they have not seen them” (48). The lack of experience, rather than sound biblical argument, is wellspring of cessationism. Even so, throughout the book, Deere engages cessationists’ arguments, pointing out to the contrary that the Bible consistently and persistently teaches believers to expect and experience spiritual gifts.
Having shared his testimony and refuted cessationism, Deere goes on to offer advice about how to use the spiritual gifts, especially healing. Readers within the Pentecostal, charismatic, and Third Wave traditions will notice Deere weighing in on some of the intramural debates within our communities, such as the nature of and evidence for being filled with the Holy Spirit, whether certain gifts are resident within the believer, whether Christians can be demonized, and the nature of apostolic ministry.
As a classical Pentecostal, I didn’t agree with every jot and tittle of his biblical exposition or seasoned advice. The book is well worth reading, regardless of these disagreements. Deere is a trusted charismatic teacher and practitioner, and much of his advice is just good sense, avoiding the extremes of cessationist nonuse as well as hyper-charismatic abuse.
One final comment: Among Pentecostals, especially Pentecostal academics, there is an anxiety about evangelical influence on Pentecostalism. I understand that concern and agree with it in parts. Why I’m Still Surprised by the Power of the Holy Spirit serves as a standing reminder that influence goes both ways. When the Pentecostal revival began, cessationists held the commanding heights of evangelical institutions. Today, that is no longer the case, and those cessationists who still exist concede that Pentecostals and charismatics have contributed to the revival of Christianity in this century.
Jack Deere, Why I Am Still Surprised by the Power of the Spirit: Discovering How God Speaks and Heals Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020).
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