Sister Johnson had a way of cutting through the mess. I found this out after I started teaching a Sunday-school class, replacing the previous teacher who quit unexpectedly. Standing in front of a roomful of adults, I asked a question: “Why do we sin?”
Sister Johnson, who was in her sixties, piped up as soon as the last word left my mouth.
“Because we want to.”
At that moment, a thousand volumes of Christian theology were rendered redundant.
Holy Roller is two parallel stories; the birth and growth of a black Pentecostal church and its pastor and a white writer who unknowingly stumbles into its midst and discovers that the heart of the faith she has been seeking in her life beats within this unfailingly honest body. Julie Lyons skillfully intertwines her story with that of the The Body of Christ Assembly and Pastor Frederick Eddington. Many churches attach the label ‘spirit-filled’ to their biographies but you often discover little of His presence once you in the walls of their meeting hall. Pastor Eddington and the Assembly on the other hand are true believers in the power of the Spirit and demonstrate the power of His work over and over in the life of the church and community beyond its crumbling walls.
Lyons weaves the story of her early ‘faith of facts’ with the charismata of the Spirit driven Church. The dichotomous church life of her early life is familiar to many evangelicals, a church experience where one is said but another is done. Cynicism of some measure had set in when she proposed a story to her editor about churches on the fringes of South Dallas and their ministry in the midst of a crack cocaine crisis. As she passed by numerous small churches with their lights turned out she finds herself in front of the tiny, ramshackle house that strained to hold the Holy Spirit’s work. A young girl (?) points out Pastor Eddington to Julie and she asks the questions that will quickly transform her life.
“Do you pray for crack addicts?”
“Yes” replied the pastor.
“Are they getting healed?” asked Julie.
The story that follows in Holy Roller is a multi-threaded page-turner rooted in a faith that takes the promises of power in the Holy Spirit at face value, believing the Bible and its promises of transformed lives and demonstrating for the world to see that these things are indeed true. It is not a Christianity of constant theological argument over arcane points or concern with the finer points of Greek exegesis where the truths are analyzed but not necessarily applied. Lyons tells the story of moving from one world to another as she witnesses the changed lives she spends time with in becoming a part of the Body of Christ Assembly and the challenges that came with the shift.
Transformation is the heart of the story. Frederick Eddington moving from psychologically challenged man to pastor. His wife Diane changed from a party girl to the first lady of the church and Julie and Lyons who were exposed to new racial relationships and faith founded in the living Spirit. As expected, the integration is not always easy and significant challenges are recorded for all of the people we encounter. The common thread linking them together is a profound trust in the power of Christ to make things right, even if it doesn’t happen overnight. The average American evangelical reading this book is going to come to one of two conclusions as the pages are read. Either they will continue to view the Pentecostal church in a low church light and with considerable skepticism or they will view the evangelical church and its lack of Holy Spirit power as needing a restorative dose of reformation itself.
Mrs. Lyons is transparent in documenting her personal struggles alongside the challenges she encounters as a member of the church. She has done a stellar job of telling all of these disparate stories while passing a connecting thread through all of them. I became deeply enmeshed in the lives she reveals to us and spent a good deal of time contemplating the sometimes weak power of the Spirit in my own faith life. At the conclusion of the book, I was immediately set to reread it again and consider how I have personally viewed the work of the Spirit and consider whether I desire more of Him or more arguments over the Arminian/Calvinist divide. I’m pretty sure the Holy Ghost is going to win.
More information on the book can be found here.