Selwyn's Story

A look at Selwyn Hughes: My Story, a 2004 autobiography [ISBN: 1-85345-296-3] published by CWR, Waverley Abbey House, Waverley Lane, Farnham, Surrey, England. GU9 8EP.

"...While Selwyn's own approach to Christianity was obviously quite emotional, my own approach has always been heavily doctrinal, and this was an additional point of fascination for me in reading his words..."

L ook, let me make it clear right at the outset that I never met the late Selwyn Hughes, my fellow Welshman. But when a friend recently gave me a copy of his 2004 biography, Selwyn Hughes: My Story, I knew that I just had to read it, for I have always loved biographies and the opportunity to read the personal story of a highly-noted preacher just had to be seized!

Selwyn Hughes (1928 - 2006) was, of course, the Welsh Christian minister best known for writing the daily devotional Every Day with Jesus series. He founded the UK-based Christian ministry CWR (Crusade for World Revival), and also wrote around fifty Christian books. Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has described Hughes as a "giant in the faith." There are various daily devotional Bible booklets around, and, in the past, I have checked out several of these and was not always impressed, but I always thought that Every Day with Jesus was the best of those which are generally available here in the UK. Of course, in time, Every Day with Jesus went around the world, and I think that it thoroughly deserved to. It has been claimed that - at it's peak - this valuable publication was read daily by almost a million people in 130 countries around the world.

I always thought that these Christian devotional booklets had great value, especially perhaps for the growing 'unchurched Christian movement,' as well as for those many people who would wish to attend Christian services but just cannot get to church on any sort of regular basis due to illness, travel costs or for other reasons.

I am somewhat fascinated by the Selwyn Hughes story for several reasons. One of these is just how different Selwyn's approach to Christianity was from my own approach. In my own case, I had originally been influenced - not by biblical Christianity - but by a Christian-related sect. When I came to see the errors involved with this legalistic group, it meant that, henceforth, my own approach would be very doctrinal and heavily biblically-based, for I had no intention of ever being deceived again. At just the right time, a door opened for me to take a theology degree which included the study of both Hebrew and Greek, and I eagerly jumped at it. Pastor Hughes never had that experience, right from his Welsh valleys birth he was surrounded by biblical Christianity so he never felt the need for such an in-depth reappraisal of what the Scriptures taught, mark you, as a child, he was surrounded by a particular brand of Christianity, that of fervent, Welsh valleys 1920s revivalism. I don't think he ever questioned that general approach throughout his life. Reading through this 2004 autobiography of 384 pages, written just two years before his death, I have noted that Selwyn's approach to Christianity was very emotional. Also I had once thought that this man was a baptist minister and was surprised to discover that he was in fact a Pentecostal, starting off in Elim, then moving on to the Assembly of God. This surprised me greatly because whenever I checked out anything which he had written I never found any signs of Pentecostalism, although I must admit to never having read any of his books, only his many tracts and booklets. It also surprised me that his becoming an AOG pastor here in the UK was ever a realistic option for him since I had always believed that this Pentecostal group, whilst certainly strong in the US, was very small over here in the UK.

So while Selwyn's own approach to Christianity was obviously quite emotional, my own approach has always been heavily doctrinal, and this was an additional point of fascination for me in reading his words. At no point in this quite large autobiography does Selwyn ever either define or defend Pentecostalism; I am not being critical of him here but I do find that incredible, perhaps that is because my own approach has always been so doctrinal. While this is an autobiography, not a theological treatise, I do remain surprised that there is never any point in this personal account of his life and ministry that he ever really sets out exactly what he believed; he was a Christian preacher and teacher and one just has to leave it at that. His more emotional style necessarily colours certain aspects of this book. I have to admit in having a problem when Christian writers liberally use such phrases as, "night after night people found Christ" (an oft-repeated claim in this book, although not always expressed in exactly the same words), I just wonder whether these phrases are just too emotional and too untestable. Did all such people really come to Christ on any such nights, or were they merely enthused about what they heard, and maybe were already Christians yet found a new enthusiasm, or even maybe would not yet fully commit to the Faith for some while. Yes, Selwyn's emotional approach is evident in his delight for such phrases. There is no doubt that his general approach was rooted in Charles Finney and in the very American Grahamesque style.

Selwyn Hughes in Singapore

While many of us may regret the entry into evangelism of such unbiblical, disturbing and ultimately worldly trends as 'triumphalism,' 'success-based living,' and "Christ-empowerment," the later involvement of Hughes in the apparent support of such things seems to have been sincere, even if occasionally possibly a little naive.

But this very sincere man's rather emotional approach always seems to have been one of enthusiasm for the name of Jesus, rather than very careful theological contemplation.

Here Selwyn Hughes is pictured speaking at a "Christ Empowered Living" seminar in Singapore in 2002.

Certainly, this is an honest book by a fine preacher/writer who is already missed so - in respect to his recent passing - I would not be too comfortable in overly-deeply pursuing possible problem areas in his teaching. This book has underlined to me that God is somewhat less interested in Christian doctrine (as long, of course, as the basic and foundational ones are in place), than many of us tend to be, for there is no doubt that God used this worthy man to glorify Christ.

Especially perhaps in later years, Selwyn Hughes came to work with certain American preachers who have since become very controversial figures indeed, especially with regard to their financial strategies and approach (Morris Cerullo, for instance, gets a warm mention), but I don't feel that he should be particularly blamed for this; he simply wanted to make the name of Christ as widely known as possible and seemed to see this as a helpful way forward. However, in this matter, his highly-emotional, enthusiastic but possibly doctrinally-lose approach maybe becomes especially evident.

Selwyn writes of a remarkable incident in the 1970s when he was holding a three-day crusade in Jamaica:

"On the last night, one of the concrete lamp posts in the park gave way through the crush of people around its base and toppled towards me as I preached. There were screams and I looked up to see it coming down on me, but I managed to step back in the nick of time and the post hit the back of a truck - missing me by inches." (p260).

Apparently, a few weeks later Selwyn Hughes heard from a British woman who had suddenly awakened one night with a strong desire to pray for him. It turned out that this was the night on which he had the near miss with the concrete lamp post. This lady was even able to cite the time in which she knew she had to pray for him, it was 3AM (UK time), but this would have been 9PM in Jamaica - exactly when the incident occurred!

In reading Selwyn's story I found accounts of several very moving incidents, including the 1986 loss of his wife, several quite amusing incidents, and a few truly puzzling ones too. For myself, the account of his childhood days in the remote Welsh mountain village of Fochriw, plus the early awakenings in his life of religious faith, had far more interest than his description of the founding of the Crusade for World Revival.
Selwyn pulls no punches in the account of his own, often problematic, private family life and I deeply respect him for such appealing honesty. He is utterly candid about the long struggle with alcoholism which so marred the life of one of his children, plus his eventual realisation that he had neglected his wife's emotional and loving needs in his total dedication to the gospel. The overall impression (which Selwyn doesn't duck), is that he could occasionally be quite difficult and demanding to work with, I also seemed to find the occasional glimpses of a certain naievity and even an impetuosity which he had to strive to control.

The story of Selwyn Hughes is not, perhaps, a great autobiography and probably will not appeal at all to those outside of the world of Christian evangelism, but it was an absorbing and fascinating 'read,' and it seems very clear that the Lord was very much at work in this life of faith. Selwyn is certainly missed.
2009 Book Review by Robin Brace.