Rees Howells: Intercessor by Norman Grubb
full of mysticism, false spirituality, unbiblical teaching on prayer
This book came recommended from a source that I trust, as a book that would really help a persons prayer life. I got this book expecting to really like it and to be helped by it. Unfortunately, the opposite was true. Howells turns out to be one of the worst examples of what the Keswick movement had to offer.
Early in Howell’s life, he starts hearing voices. On the way to a Keswick convention, “a voice spoke to him…” and the voices just keep coming, on almost every single page of the book. This is a book about hearing voices in your head, and doing whatever they say. Almost every page contains “God told me” “the Sprit said to me” etc. And what are these voices in his head telling him? This is not just affirming what is taught in the Bible, but specific extra-biblical things like fasting a specific day (p. 55) and when he gave in to eating a little food, the voice said “I will forgive you, but you are not to go unpunished. You will hold up your hands while you pray from 6 to 9 o’clock” (56). Not following “the voice” is equated with disobeying God, i.e. sin! This is reiterated several other times in the book. The voice tells him not to wear a hat (109) otherwise he wouldn’t “gain the place of intercession.” The voice told him to seclude himself from all other believers (113) and not cut his hair or his beard, again in order to “gain a much higher position.” After six months, the voice told him that “he was free” (119). Howells equates the voice that he hears with “God’s word” (139) a phrase usually reserved for the Scriptures, but not for Howells. The voice told him to abandon his son so that he and his wife could go to the mission field. (145) They left him with his uncle, and the voice told him that “for everything you give up for me, there is the hundredfold; and on this you can claim 10,000 souls in Africa,’ and we believed it” (147). The voice told him not to let his wife take medicine when she was sick (151). The voice told him to leave a ministry in which they were deeply intwined in love. It was “a great wrench on both sides. The Council did not want to let them go, and they would not have left the Mission and the co-workers they had learned to love…” – unless the voice told them to – “…for anything less than a direct command from God.” (175) The voice is equated with a commandment from God!
Equating the voice in your head with the voice/command of God results in twisted teaching on faith (believing what the voice says), obedience (doing what the voice says) and prayer. Most of the time this isn’t tied to the Scriptures at all, and when the Bible is used, it is ripped out of context, and misapplied terribly.
Intercessory prayer is like climbing to higher and higher levels of spirituality. The phrase “gain the position” and “abide in the position” are used over and over again. The basic “law of intercession is that “before he could intercede for them, he must live like them.” (121) Before you can intercede for someone, you first have to “gain the position” of intercession, and then “abide in it” for some length of time. Gaining the position is done by either fully identifying with the person interceded for – one time the voice told him he couldn’t pray for the woman with tuburculosis until he was willing to get tuburculosis himself. (75) Once the “position of intercession” has been gained for physical healing, then any physical healing can be prayed for. Now you have to “gain the position” for receiving money. Once that one is gained, you can move on to the next, getting higher and higher in the levels of intercession. “There are degrees and stages of abiding. The deeper the oneness, the more the power of the risen life of Christ can operate through the channel, and new positions of spiritual authority can be gained.” (65) Other ways of gaining a new position of higher spiritual authority are by not wearing a hat (see above), or secluding yourself for 6 months and growing a beard (see above). Fasting can earn you a higher position – “In this period of intercession, the final positions of fasting to which God called Rees were first to one meal every three days, and then to a total fast of fifteen days.” after seven days, “The Lord told him that the intercession was gained, and the fasting could finished.” (122-123). He is always trying to gain a “higher position” (138 for example.)
My criticism of all this? It is completely unbiblical, and presents a twisted view of spirituality and prayer, in which you have to attain to higher and higher levels of spirituality in order to intercede effectively. It appeals to human nature to have effort that results in higher positions and rewards. Kind of like trying to become a black belt. Put forth the effort and training, work hard, pass the test, and you get the next color. Prayer is NOT THIS WAY!! Prayer is a child crying out to his Father. Prayer is a child coming boldly to the throne of grace to find help in her time of need. Prayer takes work, yes, but not this jumbled mess of mysticism, voices, and bizarre tests of obedience.
Not only do I not recommend this book, I would warn any young believer to avoid this teaching. If you want to learn about prayer and have your prayer life to be stirred, read anything by E.M. Bounds. The Essentials of Prayer is excellent. Power Through Prayer is a classic. E. M. Bounds on Prayer (Hendrickson Christian Classics) is three of his books in one that I highly recommend.
For an example of the good that can be found in the Keswick movement, see Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, and for an excellent evaluation of Keswick theology in passing, and Taylor in particular, see John Piper’s biographical message from this years pastor’s conference.