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Tania Harris: The Church Who Hears God’s Voice

Tania Harris, The Church Who Hears God’s Voice: Equipping Everyone to Recognise and Respond to the Spirit (Paternoster, 2022), 320 pages, ISBN 9781788932462.

This book is a revision of Tania Harris’s dissertation in practical theology written under Jon Newton at Alphacrucis University College. It is based on her doctoral research, but it is also informed by her experience as an ordained minister of the Australian Christian Churches and as the founding director of God Conversations, a ministry that seeks to train believers and churches on actively and responsibly hearing from God. The book offers theological and practical guidance on fostering relationships with God through prayer.

The book opens by describing the events that led to Harris’s research and ministry focus. Her intent is to help build up the church as the place where believers expect to hear from God and are trained on how to respond to what they hear. This component of the Christian life is so important because, according to Harris, the Christian God is distinguished by his knowability and personhood. The self-revelation of God in Christ and in the abiding presence of the Spirit is the basis of humanity’s relationship with God. To frame her discussion, she narrates historical changes in Christian spirituality that shaped how Christians have expected or not expected to hear from God in their daily lives. Throughout the book, she provides short stories on how people have either benefited from acting on the revelation they receive or how their failure to discern properly had disastrous consequences. A central concern of the book is the potential problems that personal revelation and prophecy can cause within churches. These problems can cause some leaders to discourage such practices, yet Harris sees the problems as all the more reason to train people on the responsible exercise of the practices.

Tania Harris wants to help build up the church as the place where believers expect to hear from God and are trained on how to respond to what they hear.

Harris presumes the reader has a strong familiarity with the biblical text even while she gives frequent illustrations from the text. Her insistence that everyone can hear from God leads her to consider diverse social contexts and their spiritual lives, including “mystics in convents and mothers in homes” (85). She also offers guidance on discernment under the assumption that believers should take a skeptical stance towards claims of revelation. By the end of the book, she outlines characteristics of congregations that foster active and healthy spiritual lives wherein believers are empowered to hear from God and act on what they hear towards the upbuilding of the community.

Harris’s book is compelling because it exemplifies the theology it advocates. Her understanding of pastoral leadership is such that church leadership is to help the believers under their care grow in their ability to hear from God, which she does throughout this book. The thorough research she undertakes in scripture and Christian spirituality is oriented towards fostering the maturity of readers. The book is to be commended also for its consciously ecumenical grounding. Harris herself is steeped within the Pentecostal tradition, yet she views it as a scholarly and ministerial necessity to engage Catholic and Protestant spiritual traditions in her discussion of revelation. She is more positive in her treatment of Catholic than Protestant sources; there are even times she draws on Catholic thought in critiquing trends within Pentecostal circles. She also evidences familiarity with contemporary questions and convergences within the ecumenical movement regarding divine revelation. Though the book was written by a Pentecostal scholar at a Pentecostal university, it is not confessionally narrow.

Tania Harris insists everyone can hear from God, whether they are a mystic in a convent, a corporate leader, or a busy mother at home.

The theological claims of the book will raise questions for some readers. Harris repeatedly depicts personally hearing from God as a form of unmediated reception of divine revelation that distinguishes it from other practices, such as reading scripture or seeking counsel from others. There are discussions in systematic theology on whether revelation can ever occur without mediation, which is a question that Harris never addresses directly. However, more serious questions might result from her covenantal theology and understanding of biblical inspiration. She views hearing from God as a gift of grace that is part of the new covenant, and she asserts that this new promise eclipses the experience of the old covenant. Additionally, when explaining the relationship between scripture and Spirit, she says that the Spirit can offer revelation beyond that which is communicated in the Bible. Her claims in themselves are not harmful, but, without careful guidance, readers might fall into errors regarding such important and contentious issues.

I commend the book for its serious, practical, and pastoral insight into the value of cultivating an active relationship with God. The book is written for mature Christians who are theologically literate even if not theologically trained. There are lingering questions on some doctrinal claims made, but these do not detract from the value of the book. Harris pulls off a rare accomplishment in distilling years of research and experience into a work that will contribute to the spiritual lives of churches—an example of practical theology at its best.

Reviewed by Joey Baker


Read an excerpt appearing at “The Theological Problem of Spirit Versus Scripture

Author’s bookstore page (where you may download and read an additional sample chapter):

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2023

About the Author: Josiah Baker, Ph.D. (Fuller Theological Seminary) is the Director of Operations and Research for the Global Christian Forum. He also serves as the Administrative Assistant of the Southern California Commission on Faith and Order and as the Secretary of the North American Academy of Ecumenists. He was an invited contributor to the Stewards Programme of the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe, Germany. His research interests are in ecumenical methodology, Pentecostal hymnody, and world Christianity. He earned his undergraduate degree in Bible and theology from North Central University and is a lay member of the Assemblies of God.

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