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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Book review: Release of the Spirit, by Watchman Nee


Watchman Nee, Release of the Spirit (Indianapolis: Sure Foundation, 1965)--my personal impressions from reading this book (one may or may not consider this a "review" in the formal sense of the word)

Back on August 10, on Frank Viola's blog, he picked what he considered the five greatest ministry books ( From that, I decided to read one of them, Watchman Nee's "Release of the Spirit." Back in the '70's, I tried reading Nee, but found it to be something strangely difficult to understand.

Have you ever attempted to assemble an item with a large amount of parts, such that you were following instructions like "put bar X into slot on plate BB, then insert nut J into hole at end of bar X and attach nut K"? After one does it right once, the directions finally make sense. Likewise, the more one has actually walked and lived through some of what Nee describes in this book, the more one can learn from what is left that one hasn't gone through. Conversely, when I attempted to read "The Spiritual Man" in college, when I had only been a believer since high school, and still attended what in this culture is traditionally considered a "church", and certainly had not had the years of following God's direction both correctly and incorrectly nearly as much as now, his writing seemed to be to be too difficult to get much out of, in spite of the words being simple.

Likewise, in reading this, what you have already experienced, you can relate to, even though you may never have seen anyone attempt to describe it in a sentence, and what Nee's writings are notable for is teaching for ministry from one's spirit, as opposed to the western norm of teaching God's ways through the intellect or emotion. The more that one has walked through what he is writing about, the more one can learn from the rest. If one has not desired to do what Nee is describing in the beginning, the harder (maybe it is impossible) to learn from what he writes later. I would guess an unbeliever would find this irrational nonsense, or, in the case of some involved in Eastern thinking, come up with some bizarre interpretation of parts.

Early in this book, Nee refers to Brother Laurance's "The Practice of the Presence of God." That book is short, easy to understand, and something of a prequel. I know that Nee was influenced as a young man by T. Austin-Sparks. As Austin-Sparks made his works available such that most of it is now online (, but I have yet to read any of them, I may someday wish to add some of those to a list of good introductions to this book, but, obviously, I cannot at this time.

I found the first three chapters of this book to be the most difficult to read, but this is where Nee sets up concepts that are necessary for the rest of the book. This is a book where one cannot just sit down and fly through it, even though it is very short, as books go (under 100 pages)(a). You may need to read a paragraph, or even a sentence, and then stop and think about what Nee has said, and compare it to your experience in following Jesus, with regard to both when you walked rightly, and when you didn't. Chapter 3 is about everyday things that can distract us from spiritual things. Albeit a valid point, I don't practically know how one gets around that when one needs to be in the world working. I am saying this in the light of a person who has held a normal job for most of my life (i.e. not in a church position), but am now in a position where I cannot work eight plus hours a day, and have more time to think.

Chapter 4 is about the worker as spiritual doctor. Some readers may recognize this as an early Reformation concept. Nee uses the same words, but approaches this phrase in the manner of discerning another's spirit, as opposed to plugging a problem into a theological answer. Even here, he is not speaking of modern Pentecostal "discerning of spirits", but a more general realization of whether you sense a person is attempting to follow the Holy Spirit, and opposed to plugging everything into an intellectual or emotional or some type of worldly framework. In my opinion, Chapters 4 through 9 are easier to read than 1 to 3, but I believe that the latter part will not make sufficient sense unless one works through the first third.

Chapter 7 gets to the beginning of Nee's conclusions, with this chapter dealing with God revealing his way of seeing things to us. He refers to this as enlightenment (one must note, with no surprise, that this is quite differentment than the western use of the term, both in Christian and the world's circles of thought), and that only that shows us how to divide soul and spirit. Chapter 8 is titled "What Impression Do We Give?" My feeling is that what Nee says gets really simple now, but all of the previous writing was necessary to build up to this. Chapter 9, the last chapter, speaks more on an idea that has been brought up continually in previous chapters, that to truly move in Spirit-guided ministry, a prerequisite is to allow our spirit to be broken of its sinful independence from God's moment by moment guidance, and submitted to the Holy Spirit's guidance, to truly be God's servant. Nee discusses the qualities that indicate that in a person.

Ultimately, this, I believe, explains why there are so many ungodly acts going on in our supposed "churches" and "ministries", particularly among leaders. Nee is speaking about the believer's walking in serving God, which is God's, although not man's, idea of leadership, which is not connected to having a title. Those who are, as Nee describes, are those of unbroken will, be it to favor their intellect, or emotion, or cleverness, or whatever, would misconstrue this criticism. Those who are unbelievers will, or more properly, have considered such books something to be ignored. The last sentence of this book sums up this teaching: "The inward man is freed only after the outward man is broken. This is the basic road to God's service."


a) Note that most modern books are forced by publishing companies, without regard to genre, with the possible exception of textbooks, to be no less than 160 pages or more than 250 pages. Note over time, if one reads a book in which the material seems to be stretched, that it ends exactly on 160.

I have noticed over the past couple of years that the blog postings of mine that get the most page views are the book reviews. Personally, if I could ask you to read any one of these writings, it would be my post on June 20,2012, entitled "13 definitions of the word 'church'". None of it is my ideas, as indicated by the footnotes at the bottom of it, but I believe that it might make for some stimulating research. If one can read it (if one has not run into it previously) and not look at this idea further, whether to confirm or debunk what I've said, I would question what one cares about.

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