Rather than providing an exhaustive list of doctrine statements (how boring!) if you want to know what I believe, learn my story. What I believe is constantly evolving as I learn and grow in Christ, and it is the result of my life so far. It will be refined over time. But here is my story so far.
I grew up in Pickerington, Ohio, a small suburb of Columbus. I was raised in a great Christian home, and believed in God from a young age. But it wasn’t until I was about thirteen or fourteen that I began taking my faith seriously. It was from early summer camps and youth group events that my life was changed. I began taking God far more seriously than I ever had before in my life. During the first few years of high school I would wake myself up at 5 AM just to read and pray for an hour (though I often fell back to sleep halfway through!).
During my early years of taking faith seriously, I became what I understand now to be a “fundamentalist”. I took seriously the gospel and the bible, but not as a message of good news, for me it was a message of sin and hell and judgement. I would have never said it out loud, but I believed in my heart that if I did enough for God (praying, reading, worship, etc.), then God will bless me more, love me more, etc. etc. In short, I was in the cycle of religious God-pleasing, striving fiercely to earn His free gift of acceptance.
After about two or three years of shaming all my friends and talking to strangers in the park about how bad they were and how God hated them (serious, I did that!), I went through another reform. I grew past my stage of fundamentalism, and returned to my roots as a pentecostal. The church where I spent most of my life, where I grew up and graduated high school in, was a Methodist church with a charismatic emphasis. My first moments with God were all during worship where I encounter the Holy Spirit and felt God’s presence.
It was probably the discovery of Jesus Culture (the band), and Bethel Church in Redding, California that created this change in my life. I was learning every day from this church, from leaders like Bill Johnson, Kris Vallotton, and others, that “God is in a good mood”. This new picture of God who loved me and accepted me for who I am was revolutionary to my life. In fact, my whole family went through a change during this time thanks to Bethel Church and its teaching. I was working at a Christian book store then, I was in either 10th or 11th grade, and had some disposable income. So I began devouring books from Bethel, and others such as Heidi Baker who were connected with Bethel (my employee discount helped a bit, too). I was “on fire” by ever standard of the phrase. I was seeking God, loving Him, and desiring the gifts of the Spirit.
I loved this time of my life, and look back fondly on all the things God taught me. It felt like every day I was learning something new, as God softened my heart and revealed how loving and kind He is towards me. My legalism quickly faded away.
It was in between my 11th and 12th grades of high school that I first visited Bethel in Redding, California. I was already leading worship regularly at my church’s youth group, and heard they would be having a school of worship over the summer. So I went for a month to Bethel. It was a big step for me (17 at the time) traveling across the country by myself (first time flying alone) to attend a school with a bunch of adults and long time worship leaders. But it changed my life.
I probably learned less about worship than I did about my identity in Christ, and the true nature of God as good. This was a massive shift in my thinking about God, and probably the first spark of my passion for theology. I began to see that what I had believed about God was false, and shattered in the light of Jesus Christ. As Bill Johnson would often say, “Jesus is perfect theology”. I hadn’t even heard of Karl Barth yet, and wouldn’t for a few years, but I’d like to think this is a statement Barth might approve of.
After high school I choose to return to Bethel, to attend their School of Supernatural Ministry. Yes, I was going to Hogwarts for Christians. I didn’t even apply for any “real” schools as all my friends did. I knew exactly where I was supposed to be and I went.
In the fall of 2011 I left my home and drove all the way with my dad and one of my best friends for four days to Redding, California. I did all this in order to attend an unaccredited school for crazy Charismatics wanting to learn how to do miracles. It seemed like nonsense to a lot of people who knew me, but I have never regretted this decision. During my time at Bethel, I spent two years at the school, I learned more about God and myself and the Gospel then I could have ever dreamed. And best of all, I met my beautiful and amazing wife Ketlin! We met during first year and got married halfway through my second year (January 3rd, 2013). Three years later she is still the best thing that has ever happened to me. :)
But theologically this was a very significant time for me. Yes, I learned a lot about the supernatural, and yes, I do believe that the gifts of the Spirit are still for today. I don’t talk about it much but this is still a very important part of my relationship with God. But more than that, I was taught to “think again” about who God is and what the Gospel means for today. In short, I learned to question everything. I’ve always been inquisitive, but now I was free to be inquisitive about God, to ask question and seek answers.
It was at Bethel that I also started to discover the message of grace. Through the writings of authors and speakers such as Robert Capon, John Crower, Benjamin Dunn, and a few others, I turned into a “grace-enthusiast”. The gospel, during this time, truly became a beautiful announcement. It was no longer something that was taught from a pulpit every Easter, yet never really left the pages of the bible. Now it was, for me, the most astonishing news of the entire cosmos. It became truly good news!
And I have not slowed down in this resolve. The Gospel remains the primary interest in my writing and my theology. It is the primary theme of my writing, that God is truly good and the Gospel is really good news.
From these authors I began what I now consider the most significant journey theologically speaking, the one I am still on today. This is the journey of Karl Barth. From reading the wonderful books of C. Baxter Kruger, I first heard the name Thomas F. Torrance. And from reading Torrance, I learned of Barth. And through Barth, of Moltmann, Pannenberg, and many others. This world of theology opened up before my eyes. The three theologians who have had the most significant influence on my thought are Barth, Moltmann, and the Torrance brothers, especially Thomas. I have took the difficult plunge into their massive and daunting books, but I love it. I feel like I am having the time of my life, like I am doing what I was born for, when I pick up a tough book of theology, when I engage with a great thinker of the past.
But this theological journey is not all about Karl Barth. It is about the message of Barth, the message I found reiterated in Barth. When I read Barth, Moltmann, and Torrance, I find a systematic, beautiful, logical theology that supports up the joyous Gospel I had discovered. I had encountered the good news of Jesus, and their theology gave me the thinking to back it up. Through these great theologians and others, I have continued my journey to make sense of the life of Jesus Christ, and to proclaim His good news as truly good news.
This all lead up to my book We Belong: Trinitarian Good News, published in 2015, which I consider to be my most complete book yet. It is my favorite book I’ve written, because it captures the journey I have been on for the last five or six years now. It is a theological journey, but most of all a journey into the heart of the Gospel.
So that’s me, this is where I’ve been. From a fundamentalist, to charismatic, to theologian trying to make sense of God and the Gospel. I’m not trying to stereotype myself with these terms, but they help make sense of where I’ve been. Everything I do at this point in my life is focused on making the Gospel good news—a message not about sin or hell or judgement, but about Jesus.
If you have questions about the details of what I believe, that’s something I’m happy to talk about. But read what I’ve written, especially We Belong. If you want a copy, just send me an email and I’ll happily send you one.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you find encouragement from my story as well as the articles on this website. Here’s some links to keep reading: My Recent Articles, Popular Categories, My Books, and Get Your Free Book.
Stephen D. Morrison