(Looking for God’s will in the new year? We hope this series of columns, first written for a personal email exchange, may help sort through the many ideas, un-Biblical and otherwise, that get about Christendom about how to seek the Lord’s will in life decisions. Please post your thoughts below!)
How disgusting. Just before I prepared to start this introduction to our email exchange on the topic of God’s will hunting, I read this from an Associated Press story (Nov. 4, 2009):
Rev. Brenda Lamothe says in a complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court that Rev. John J. Hunter of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church repeatedly demanded sex as part of “God’s will.”1
Haven’t we all heard of similar situations in which someone said “God’s will is that you do this” when obviously His will is nothing of the sort?
In this case, claiming God wants someone to sleep with the pastor is clearly against the Bible’s revealed words on the subject (unless of course you’re the pastor’s wife). But in other cases, it’s not so easy to find a Bible verse to confirm or oppose the notion of God supposedly telling you to do something — such as take this job, go here and do this, shop at that store, buy that car.
As we talked about last night, Isaac, until recently I didn’t know this was such a controversy. Then a few years ago, fortunately at a time of life when I was considering some very big decisions, someone sent me a little book by John MacArthur with the title Found: God’s Will.
This book was an alert for me, yet mostly a relief. At the time, I didn’t try to listen for some super-secret voice of God before making a decision. So I should be okay, right? No, because in the back of my mind the silent assumption was there: if I did seek the Lord’s will like this, it would be a Very Spiritual Thing to do.
What a joy it was to read MacArthur’s reminders that as long as we are in God’s revealed will — what He has given us in the Bible, sufficient for us (2 Timothy 3: 14-17) — we have much more freedom to make life decisions. When we do, we will find faith after the fact in Him and that His sovereignty is being worked out in our “free” decisions!
Also until recently, I thought the listen-for-God’s-voice assumptions were just Out There in evangelicalism, sort of like always having goldfish crackers and fruit juice for Sunday-school children.
Then in April 2009, Pyromaniacs blog contributor Dan Phillips isolated at least one source of the virus: none other than the Blackabys, authors of Experiencing God and its curricula, and a study Bible. Reading Phillips’ direct and desperate critique (part 1 and part 2) shocked me.
This shock was not because of Phillips’ sternness, but because of the fact that anyone would directly propagate this notion: that we, like the Biblical saints and prophets, must be sure that an extra-Biblical choice, especially a big one, is God’s will before we make it. Otherwise, we’re guilty of disobeying direct words from God, we won’t be walking with Him, and there will be consequences (!).
Phillips says he isn’t caricaturing the Blackabys’ view. I believe him. I’ve seen this kind of reliance on “revelation” outside the Bible among “charismatic” Christians. But it’s also among the Baptist-friendly Blackabys who say things like (direct quote, click here for context): “The Holy Spirit is to function in us in the same way that Jesus led his disciples.”
Red alert! Where does the Bible say that? (Might this even be limiting the Holy Spirit?)
Here is the main issue with such ideas, writes Phillips — it’s “Bible in 2D”:
In order to get here, a fundamental, grave and pervasive hermeneutical error is essential to the Blackabys’ position. There must be a great and violent flattening of revealed, redemptive history. Pivotal moments in the Bible are pounded down, mashed and flattened into illustrations of daily Christian living. Direct, binding, inerrant prophetic revelations are radically down-sized into illustrations of God nudging us today towards a particular spouse or church ministry or university course major. Prophets who speak for God are shriveled into everyday Christians listening for that still, small murmur the the [sic] Bible never calls us to seek.
After learning more about the Bible’s main message of redemptive history (i.e., it’s not just a bunch of stories for moral examples) this strikes me as such a travesty to how we are meant to read the Scripture.
Equally bad, it will wreck people’s lives as they’re sitting around, waiting for God to show them the outcome of a big decision or spiritually confirm it in advance. That spins off all kinds of Biblical true-meaning mutations: you have to “put out a fleece” a la Gideon; you have to listen for a “still, small voice” to confirm a certain choice is what God wants; or you have to have a kind of “inner peace” from God (not unlike the Mormons’ “burning in the bosom” experience) about a decision before you make it.
I’m sure these beliefs have affected my life in the past. At least I can think of several occasions where I just didn’t make a decision because I subconsciously expected someone or something else to make it for me2.
I now see how such behavior is immature and doesn’t glorify God, Who “gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Where I’m still confused is where these assumptions come from among Christians, especially among less-“charismatic” believers. I had thought they tried to base everything in the revealed Word rather than subjective leadings! We can’t blame only the Blackabys either. I understand you hadn’t heard of them before, and yet you’ve previously had those assumptions too. I’d love to hear your story, compare notes, and discuss why this approach to God’s Will Hunting is un-Biblical and doesn’t work. Over to you …
— E. Stephen Burnett
(Next week — God’s Will Hunting, part 2: Watch your language.)