Instead of providing an exhaustive list of doctrinal statements, if you want to know what I believe, learn my story. What I believe is constantly evolving as I learn and grow in Christ; it is the result of my life so far. It will be refined over time, but this 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 started seeking God far more seriously than I ever had before in my life. During the first few years of high school, I would force myself to wake up at 5 AM just to read and pray for an hour (though I often fell back to sleep halfway through!).
I quickly became what I would call today a “fundamentalist.” I took the gospel and the Bible seriously, but not as a message of good news; for me, it was a message of sin and hell and judgment. I would have never said as much out loud, but I believed in my heart that if I did enough for God (praying, reading, worship, etc.), then God would 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 (seriously, I did that!), I went through another reform. I grew past my stage of fundamentalism and returned to my roots as a charismatic. The church I grew up in all the way into high school was a Methodist church with a charismatic emphasis. My earliest memories of God were during worship where I encountered the presence of God.
It was probably the discovery of Jesus Culture (the band), and Bethel Church in Redding, California that drove this next 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. 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 enjoyed this time of my life, and I 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 self-imposed 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 I can say without a doubt 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 a truly good Father. This was a massive shift in my thinking, and looking back I could probably say it was the first spark of my passion for theology. I began to see that what I had believed about God was false, and must be 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 another year or two, 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 like 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 to Redding, California. I went all that way 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 the 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, it was at Bethel that I met my beautiful and amazing wife, Ketlin. We met during the first year and got married halfway through my second year (January 3rd, 2013). She’s undoubtably the best thing that’s happened to me.
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 for today. I don’t talk about it much, but this is still part of my relationship with God. But most of all, at Bethel 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 curious about God, to ask questions 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, C. Baxter Kruger, and a few others, I became a “grace-enthusiast.” The gospel, during this time, truly became a beautiful announcement, truly “good news.” It was no longer just a message taught once every Easter, the one that never really left the pages of the bible. Now, for me, the Gospel became the most astonishing news in the entire cosmos, 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 likely the central theme of my writing: God is truly good and the Gospel is really good news.
From this period of questioning and rethinking, I dove into what is the most significant “theological” part of my journey. This was the journey of Karl Barth, Thomas F. Torrance, and others. It was from reading the wonderful books of C. Baxter Kruger that I first heard the names Karl Barth and Thomas F. Torrance. These two individuals opened up a world of exciting possibilities and fascinating ideas. From these two I became away of Jürgen Moltmann, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Paul Tillich, Robert Jenson, Eberhard Jüngel, Rudolf Bultmann, and become fascinated with the church fathers Athanasius, Hilary, Cyril, and others.
I feel like I am doing what I was born to do when I pick up a tough book of theology when I engage with a great thinker of the past. This journey led me to a deep appreciation of the universal Church and its many fascinating thinkers.
When I read Barth, Moltmann, and Torrance, I found a systematic, beautiful, logical theology that supports 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 led up to my book We Belong: Trinitarian Good News, published in 2015, which I consider to be one of my most complete books. Above all, this book captures this journey I have been on. It is a theological journey, but most of all a journey into the heart of the Gospel.
Since writing We Belong I’ve continued my study of theology, diving deeper into Barth (finishing his Church Dogmatics!) and countless others. I am in the middle of writing my “Plain English Series,” which is, for me, ultimately the product of my own learning. Through this series, I work to continue my passion for theology.
So that’s me in a nutshell. This is where I’ve been. From a fundamentalist, a hyper-charismatic, all the way to a 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. I’m also not saying I’ve left behind my past completely; it is who I am. My journey is also not yet complete. But that’s life, isn’t it? We’re all on a journey. We can embrace our journey or we can try to run from it. I’m choosing to embrace it, and we’ll see where life takes me next.
If you have questions about the details of what I believe, that’s something I’m happy to talk about. Thanks for reading this, and I hope you find encouragement from my story.
Stephen D. Morrison