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Book Review: Holy Roller: Finding Redemption and the Holy Ghost in a Forgotten Texas Church by Julie Lyons

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A self-proclaimed black Pentecostal in all ways but one, a young Julie Lyons first discovered a tiny church filled with spirit-filled believers on her beat as a crime reporter in Dallas in 1990. Following a hunch for a new angle on the escalating drug crimes and violence, she was looking for drug addicts who'd been healed, delivered by God from their addictions. Working under the premise that where the spirit moves, freedom follows – Lyons trolled South Dallas until she found The Body of Christ Assembly, where God was working. Shabby in appearance yet full of God’s delivering presence, it was there that Lyons and her family would make their spiritual home for the next two decades.

In Holy Roller Lyons presents not only the establishment and history of The Body of Christ Assembly and her leaders, but intertwines her own spiritual growth and journey into the narrative. I expected Lyons' memoirs to be filled with recounts of drug addicts being cleansed from addiction, prostitutes coming to Christ and the like. There is a certain amount of this present, but Lyons' main thrust is towards giving outsiders a glimpse into the life of a black Pentecostal church.

With this in mind, there are times when Lyons becomes somewhat long-winded as she describes the distinctiveness of Pentecostalism, and indulges in a certain degree of, “My church is the best church because…” monologue. At times, the text reads almost like an elaborate recruiting brochure for the Charismatic movement, but Lyons doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to exposing the sin and ungodliness that is often present in mainline Charismatic churches.

I’ll admit to holding a certain degree of fascination with ‘holly roller’ churches; the exuberant worship, the loud, joyful song and dance, and of course the oft-related speaking in tongues, faith healings, and rolling in the aisles that visitors to Pentecostal churches report with certain degrees of awe and disdain after visiting for the first time. Holly Roller both explains the reasons behind such phenomenon, as well as delivering a number of first person narratives of casting out demons, prophesying, and churches where many are ‘slain in the spirit’. Lyons' accounts proved both informative and intriguing, though I still don’t completely understand the worship practices of members of the denomination.

Throughout the book I felt like a spiritual voyeur, overlooking beliefs, practices, and even church structures that I don’t claim as my own. While I don’t feel called of God to a Charismatic fellowship, I did find Lyons' descriptions of membership in one deeply enlightening. I also discovered that some of the terms Pentecostals use to describe the Christian life are also present in the lives of other born-again-Christians; it’s only the terminology and understanding of how certain processes take place that differ.

Holly Roller is sure to rattle the cages of those who believe that God no longer intervenes in the affairs of this world (a view far too commonly held in growing numbers of lifeless North American churches). My husband and I have often discussed the work that God is performing in India: healings, deliverance from demons, and drawing souls to Himself through these acts. We’ve often wondered why we don’t hear of such clear acts of God amongst His people here in North America, but Lyons has pointed out that He’s busy here as well – as I’ve long suspected. Her work will kindle a longing to be more deeply involved in God’s work and to delve deeply into all that He does amongst His people. Truly, the Holy Ghost is alive and well – transforming lives, delivering from sin, breaking the chains of bondage – as Lyons and her spiritual-kinfolk are well aware. Invite Him in.

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  • Julia Barnett

    Great Review! Thanks!