Bren Hughes has written a new book entitled Heaven’s Muscle: Unleashing the Power of the Holy Spirit Within You. I’ll be reviewing the book soon, but today, I’m posting an interview where Bren and I mix it up about his new book.
Heaven’s Muscle looks to be an engaging book. Instead of asking, “what is your book about,” I’m going to ask the question that’s behind that question. And that unspoken question is, “how are readers going to benefit from reading your book?”
Bren Hughes: Three points. First, in reading this book you will encounter me, and I hope it will be like meeting a new friend. My soul bleeds on every page of this book, and by the time you finish it you will know me rather intimately.
Second, part of this relationship involves me making sure that the reader knows all the crucial information from scripture about the indwelling of God’s Spirit and the sort of weapons the enemy uses against those of us who are called by God. In other words, I feel a great responsibility to convey accurate data that’s sufficient for what people need within the purposes of this book.
Third, the book is designed to spur the reader in a positive direction. The data isn’t cold and hard; it’s throbbing with life. In the act of reading this book, the reader and I have worshiped the Lord together and hopefully developed a clearer picture of how to progress in our faith toward a higher level of engagement in the battle for the redemption of the universe.
Tell us a bit about the experiences that shaped the insights in the book.
Bren Hughes: I trained to be a missionary, but my overly intellectual faith could not sustain me. I became an atheist right after I earned my master’s degree in biblical languages. And becoming an unbeliever was the right thing to do because I was worshipping and studying a false god. That god was distant from the world. He was silent. He had left us to our own devices and sat back to watch us like a cosmic Santa Clause keeping a naughty list of souls he plans to destroy. He was a hard god, one you easily offend by accident. That god had to go so I could discover the true God, the one who made Jesus and Peter and John and Paul so happy and fearless and powerful.
My journey from evangelist to atheist and back has taken me some interesting places, and I think my story of rediscovering God can give people hope and validate their own journeys. The great thing about God’s desire for us is that the strength of his love can pull us through the deepest valleys in our lives and bring us into a new arena of peace, empowerment, and usefulness that we could not otherwise have attained.
How is your book different from the many other books on the subjects of spiritual growth and the Holy Spirit’s power?
Bren Hughes: On one hand, this book is not shallow in the least. Some people who read it have been surprised by the sheer volume of scriptures this book covers, and the obscure nooks and crannies of the Bible it explores. Content-wise, it’s meaty stuff. On the other hand, it’s not a book for academics. Each chapter is driven by stories. And not only my story. You get things like the story of the Holy Spirit from Genesis to Revelation and the story of demonic affliction from the Old Testament to the present day and the story of how Jesus calls and equips people. The overall style of the book is very conversational. God’s given me a gift for processing large quantities of technical knowledge and distilling them with clarity and warmth. In this sense, it’s the voice of the book that’s unique. You get a lot of theology, but even more than that you feel my own heart beating on every page.
Give us two or three insights from the book that would be helpful to Christians.
Bren Hughes: If your religion is exhausting you or making you feel guilt and shame and obligation, then you need to find something better. That something better is Jesus. He is alive and he is utterly loving and forgiving. And he lives right inside you through his indwelling Spirit. And the Bible? It’s awesome, but it’s not intended to be an all-encompassing rule book that religious authority figures can use to enforce conformity. No, God is continuing to write his story and he still speaks to his people. He invites you to partner with him in his mission to remake the world. If you come to him with an open heart, the Lord can erase the fear from your life and equip you to vanquish evil wherever you find it.
What is “Bad Religion” exactly?
Bren Hughes: Bad religion is what killed Jesus. And it’s what he fought most passionately against during his ministry. In Matthew 25, Jesus differentiated his true followers, the sheep, from those who were spiritually deluded. What separated the sheep from the goats was that the sheep, the real disciples, cared for prisoners, sick people, and homeless people. That’s the fruit that good religion produces. It’s like how James described good religion (or “pure religion”) as (1) caring for people who suffer misfortune, such as widows and orphans, and (2) keeping yourself unpolluted by mainstream human culture (James 1:27).
Similarly, in Matthew 25, Jesus pronounces curses on the spiritual leaders of his people. These teachers – the scribes and Pharisees – are cursed, Jesus says, because they turn the service of God into a burden rather than a delight. They’re concerned with appearances. They nitpick over little things while forgetting to pursue justice and mercy and relationship with God. When I read these passages as a very religious young man I realized that I had too much in common with the Pharisees and the goats. To me, fighting bad religion is an extension of the ministry of Christ.
Over the last ten years, I’ve encountered so many websites and online support groups for people who feel abused or betrayed or traumatized by churches. It’s a travesty. The New Testament is clear that the Gospel brings freedom and joy and peace. Any religion that thrives on conflict or on manipulating people with obligations, shame, and guilt is bad religion. False religion. Just like immorality or hypocrisy, legalism – by which I mean rule-based religion – corrupts the Good News. Legalistic religion takes something nourishing, the story of Israel and Jesus, and turns it into poison. As Jesus said of the Pharisees, I’m afraid we Christians sometimes convert people to our own point of view, but inadvertently make them “children of hell” in the process.
If a person wants to “cut to the chase” and discover how to unleash the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives, what advice can you give them?
Bren Hughes: I feel like I need to answer that question on four levels. One level has to do with simply asking God for what you’re after. I’m thinking here of Luke 11:9-12, where Jesus says to ask and it will be given to you. He says, if your child asks for a fish, will you give the kid a snake? Of course not. Jesus concludes that, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” There’s also John 14:12-13, where Jesus says the people who put their trust in him will do bigger miracles than even he did. He says that if people of faith ask for anything in his name, he will do it. You want spiritual empowerment? Ask for it. I think that’s implied in First Corinthians 14:1, where scripture encourages us to desire spiritual gifts.
The second level has to with the depth of your emotional connection to God. Are you a person of faith? Do you walk with the Lord? Do you trust him with everything? Do you talk to him often? Do you listen to him through scripture and worship and personal silent meditation? Draw closer to God, James 4:18 says, and he will draw closer to you.
The third level has to do with your personal integrity. When it comes to your character and morals, are you the sort of person God can entrust with great responsibility? James chapter four talks about how God is protective of his Spirit, and that if we want the Spirit to fill us we’ve got to cultivate humility and banish Satan from our lives and separate ourselves spiritually from the world. He says we’ve got to come to God with clean hands if we want to receive anything from him.
And these three levels work together with the fourth, which is simply to be doing God’s work already. Do you want to prophecy and heal? I don’t think it’ll happen unless you’re already praying with people on a daily basis. God gives spiritual gifts as either signs to convince unbelievers or as sources of encouragement for God’s poor children. If I want to develop spiritual gifts, then I can prime that pump by being a witness or a spiritual servant to others. Start praying like the power’s already in you. And see what happens.
If you had to remove every chapter in the book but one, which one would be left and why?
Bren Hughes: There’s a story in this book about how God worked through a courageous and spiritually sensitive young friend of mine on the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If you read anything in this book, read that story and tell me you aren’t interested in getting more in-tune with the voice of God.
What do you hope readers will walk away with after they finish the book?
Bren Hughes: When I read any book, I want to be challenged and changed. And I want to feel like I’ve just spent quality time with the writer and to feel like I’ve gotten to know some of the best and deepest parts of that person. I think I’ve pulled that off successfully. But for me the real challenge of a spiritual book is that I want people to walk away feeling worshipful. I want to convey something of the awe and affection that I have for Jesus. This is a book that I hope will leave people feeling that Jesus is truly close to them. That they aren’t alone. That they aren’t weak. That they need not be afraid of anything. That they are safe to dare to dream and to become their best and truest selves because Jesus is smiling on them and he has their back.
How can readers learn more about your work?
Bren Hughes: My blog at BrenHughes.com is the hub of my online ministry, and it’s where I’d most like to interact with people. It’s a safe place for asking questions, and I try to keep spiritually nourishing content flowing there. The book is available in multiple formats at Amazon, and you can read more about it at HeavensMucle.com. Thanks so much!