Book Review: In His Service

In His Service:  The Memoirs Of A Modern-Day Messenger Of God, by Eric Wheeler

I was given this book to read and review by a fellow member of my congregation, as happens from time to time, and as is often the case I wonder the reason why I was given that book, what the person who gave it to me wanted me to think about, or how they expected the book to be received.  There is a lot in the author that I can personally relate to, something in the context of the book that I find a bit alarming [1], especially the fact that the author shows painfully open discussion of the matters of his own life that others would be inclined to shy away from, and the author’s own sense of populist horror at the extravagant materialism of the second generation of leadership in Worldwide Church of God.  Even given these marked similarities, as well as the tendency to write about the struggles of life in memoir form [2], this book can be considered as a classic example of the post-WCG memoir [3], and if you are fond of that sort of material, you may be fond of this book.

In terms of its contents, the book is in many ways an apologia pro vita sua of the author’s legitimacy as a self-appointed prophet [4].  The structure of the book follows a melodramatic U-shaped structure beginning with the author’s youth and experiences in the Worldwide Church of God and his frustrated personal ambitions for offices of leadership, and his justification of the refusal of God to give such offices as allowing him to be free of corporate control from higher human authorities.  The book then proceeds to a discussion of the author’s marriage and work as a salesman of video cartridges and his initially successful experience as a youth pastor before running afoul of the post-1995 WCG authorities and his eventual disfellowshipment, his establishment of a full-time ministry, and his eventual marital and business struggles.  He writes about confronting people with their sexual sins, naming names in a way that others are likely to find greatly uncomfortable, about baptizing people and having healing hands and so on and so forth, even as his life crumbles around him “in the wilderness” and he shows a tendency to apply certain scriptures to himself without showing an appreciation or understanding of biblical law.

On the one hand, this is the sort of book to be appreciated on some levels.  The author is clearly honest and sincere, showing a great degree of openness about his own struggles with faith, with being a loving husband to a wife that showed him a great deal of coldness and contempt and did not support his prophetic ministry before leaving him.  He shows some appreciation for the health of his children and has an almost fatalistic belief that God called him to immense struggle and difficulty in life.  Despite the book’s troubling examples of a decline in faith and knowledge, including a denial of the biblical commands for holy convocation, this author’s story of increasing personal mysticism and a belief in the direct communication of the spirit, taken to be the Holy Spirit, in place of harmonious relationships with other people, is a common example among those who have departed from any fellowship and who do not, as a consequence, feel it necessary to fellowship with others and put up with those who do not feel and think exactly as they do.  And so congregations and families divide while everyone does what is right in their own eyes, as in the days of the judges.  Even if this book is not exactly a good one, even if it is a bit tiresome and repetitive, and even if the author’s stubborn pride in his own self-appointed capacity and in his privileged spiritual life is a bit tiresome to read, this is a book that is important in giving a first-hand personal account of a descent into self-absorption and isolation.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/book-review-in-search-of-stones/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/an-introduction-to-the-naming-our-abuse-project/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/book-review-the-people-of-the-sign/

[4] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/apologia-pro-vita-sua/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/if-i-was-half-a-man-i-wouldnt-sleep-alone/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/book-review-the-making-of-a-prophet/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/profitless-prophets/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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16 Responses to Book Review: In His Service

  1. Monte Howey says:

    Nathan,
    I did not really expect you to write a report about this book. I thought that we would just talk about it for a few minutes. But, I guess writing book reports is what you do… and I appreciate you going to the trouble. I will share a few thoughts that this review brought to mind.

    I noticed that you repeatedly called him (the author) a “self-appointed prophet”. Then you wrote: “The author is clearly honest and sincere…” That is a contradiction. Either he is what he says he is, or he is not. If he is; then he is not “self-appointed”. If he is not; then he cannot be “honest and sincere”.

    Have you noticed that Paul in 1 Cor 14:29 seems to assume that on any given Sabbath this church would have 2 or 3 prophets to speak to them? He thought that was normal. In the COG, some of have sat in church for decades; have NEVER heard a prophet speak; and we think that is normal. One reason that this book resonated with me is that it reinforced an idea that I have had for some time. That is; that the reason why some of these gifts seem to be so rare or completely absent among us is that they (the gifts and those who have them) are simply not welcome in the modern day Church of God. They would clash with the way we are used to doing things, and what we used to call “God’s Government”. To be honest, Nathan, your take on this book also reinforced that idea.

    We have been taught to automatically assume that anyone who would claim that God speaks to them is a “self-appointed prophet”. Paul wrote to “desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” We have been taught in many ways NOT to desire such gifts. I am sure you will disagree with this, but you are wrong:)

    You wrote: “Despite the book’s troubling examples of a decline in faith and knowledge…” I believe that could read: “He came to understand things in a way that I disagree with…”

    You wrote: “this is a book that is important in giving a first-hand personal account of a descent into self-absorption and isolation.” I think you could write the same thing about many of the OT prophets… especially Jonah.

    Having said all that, I will admit that I have some doubts about some of the things this writer said in the book, and in person when I met him a few months ago.

    • Thanks for your response. I do not think that calling him a self-appointed prophet is contradictory to the way he discussed matters in his book, since he spoke himself that he had been given no office and delighted in the fact that he was beholden to no hierarchy. I do not consider this necessarily a bad thing, but what I mean by a self-appointed prophet has nothing to do with any divine sanction, a matter beyond my own knowledge, but rather with the fact that he did not receive the laying on of hands by someone with accepted legitimacy. The fact that his experience mirrors that of some OT prophets (who lived tough lives, to be sure) does not indicate that his prophetic claims are genuine–there are two tests the Bible gives, that his doctrines are in harmony with God’s law (and his are not) and that his prophecies come true (which his have not yet).

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