The first time I heard of Jack Deere was when I read his book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Deere, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, became involved with John Wimber and the Vineyard movement, and lost his professorship as a result. The book shares some of what Deere learned, both from Scripture and experience, about the gifts of the Spirit. His purpose: to…
…help you learn how to pursue and experience the reality of the gifts of the Spirit without all the hype and abuses that have plagued others who have attempted to minister in the power of the Spirit. I also want to share with you the biblical and theological objections that I had to the present-day supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the answers that removed those objections for me. Finally, I want to discuss the fears and the hindrances I experienced in trying to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, and how these have been and are being removed.
I liked the book. I’ve referred to it a few times over the years, but I haven’t thought much of Deere since then.
Until now. Deere has just released a memoir, Even in Our Darkness: A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life. The purpose of this book is different: to explore what it means to know God and be known by him in the worst moments of life.
The story is raw. It begins with his son’s casket traveling up the conveyer to a Boeing 757 after he took his own life. Deere then rewinds and tells the story of his childhood, growing up in Fort Worth in a family that disintegrated after his father committed suicide. He recounts becoming a Christian, and then a Young Life leader, shrinking a group from 125 to 15 before learning how to grow it again.
He recounts his struggles: a Christian leader on one hand, and a man crossing lines in his relationship with his girlfriend on the other. He’s honest in his self-assessment. “I cared more about what the kids thought of me than I cared about the kids,” for instance.
By the time he reached seminary, he was a wounded man. Unfortunately, seminary didn’t help. “Seminary erected barriers that kept me from processing the trauma of my youth, and some of this was a blessing. But left untreated, wounds fester.”
Deere doesn’t end his honesty there. He recounts his failures as his husband and a pastor, his pride, and the fights he picked. We suffer as we learn about his son’s struggles, and then as we read about his wife’s struggles with alcoholism. At a hospital, a receptionist gushes. “You’re not Jack Deere the author, are you?…I love your books. I give them away all the time…What brings you to the emergency room at midnight?” she asks. “The doctors are trying to revive my wife from an alcohol binge and possible pill overdose. We’re not sure what she took in addition to the wine,” he replies.
There’s not really a happily-ever-after conclusion to this book, though things do improve a little. There is, however, realization of his own need of grace. “I didn’t become a better Christian— only a Christian more sophisticated in his evil,” he writes. Deere also discovers how his need for grace is fully met in Jesus:
When I lusted after material wealth, he turned my gaze toward eternity. When I sought large crowds, he brought me humility. When I tried to change my wife, he taught me how to love and understand her.
What I really needed all along, more than anything, was to see myself through his eyes.
The best lines in the book, by the way, are the three sentences buried at the end of the acknowledgements. If you read this book, don’t miss them.
I can’t tell you if I liked this book or not. It’s hard to like a book this raw. It broke my heart, and it makes me sad. I wouldn’t wish what Deere went through on anyone. But I can tell you this: I respect a man who tells the truth, especially one who’s been broken and has found grace on the other end of that brokenness.
If you’re ready to ready for honesty on the other side of the mask, and to learn from the pain of someone who’s stopped pretending, then read this book. If you’re not ready, then stay far, far away.