Book Review: The Presence

The Presence: Experiencing More Of God, by Alec Rowlands

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

The author of this book, a native-born South African who is the senior pastor of a Seattle megachurch I am unfamiliar with, took on a difficult challenge in writing about the subject of the legitimacy and role of the Holy Spirit in the church. For the most part, the author handles the subject ably, avoiding the excesses of such follies as the “Toronto Movement” (a hysterical fit of laughing that masquerades as spirit-induced joy) while also pointing out the very real role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of genuine Christians. The author seems more intent on comparing contemporary Christians with Ephesus rather than the more usual Laodicea, but remains consistently critical of the cerebral and intellectual way by which the presence of God is often kept away from the lives of those who profess themselves believers. Even for those of us who spring from very different backgrounds from the author are likely to think of how political processes can get in the way of a genuine desire for God to demonstrate His will in the behavior of churches.

One of the more intriguing and (to this reviewer) unfamiliar aspects of the book is the fact that the author is focused on aspects of revival, by which subtle whispers from a still small voice at the right time have a massive emotional effect on others without deliberate showmanship or a desire to draw attention to oneself. The author has commented a great deal on various revivals, some of which lasted for years, but none of which had lasting societal influences beyond a generation or so. The author comments that pride about having been a part of a revival was part of what prevented the effects from lasting a long time. This particular thought might have been buttressed by some further references to various short-lived biblical “revivals” of faith like that of Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Ezra/Nehemiah, none of which were lasting either. Yet these examples are not discussed, quite possibly because they represent an implicit biblical critique of the reliance on revival as a means of social regeneration for a long period of time, when biblical history suggests that each generation has to renew spirituality for themselves, or not [1].

Although the author has the noble and laudatory goal of letting the Bible be the way in which the spirits are discerned, and shows admirable tastes in congregational discipline in dealing with those who are hostile to authority, pointing out that God’s Spirit is not a spirit of rebellion, but rather an orderly if sometimes eccentric element in our lives, not all aspects of this book succeed. For example, the author falls into a lamentably common but apparently unavoidable trap in both seeking to explain the Trinity as an open circle involving believers while trying to avoid a full belief in the Family of God while also conceding the mysterious nature of God [2], which apparently is necessary in almost any book written by a Christian author, no matter the topic, as a way of trying to prove one’s orthodoxy. Thankfully, the book only spends a couple of chapters on that perfunctory task before heading to more interesting biographical materials. Those readers looking for information about divine providence in the life of the author and his family, including encouragement to be hospitable to itinerant believers, will find much to appreciate here. Despite some flaws, including a lack of emphasis on scriptural commentary on revival, this is a fine book written by someone who has striven very hard and largely successfully to navigate a difficult balance between a sterile intellectual faith that lacks the presence of God and a desire for mystical connection that makes oneself vulnerable to demonic influence, a difficult balance to maintain but one that is worthy of the utmost respect.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: The Presence

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Believe: Student Edition | Edge Induced Cohesion

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