A Little More Guidance on “Guidance”

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105Looking around the internet for some more resources to help you get an idea of just how mystical most modern American Evangelical Christians are, I decided to see what has been written in the way of critique regarding the Southern Baptist phenomenon of the ninties, Henry Blackaby’s bestseller, Experiencing God. A simple Yahoo search yielded an interesting review from 1994 by Greg Gilbert for 9Marks Ministries, the verysame source that got me on this topic in the first place last Monday. Gilbert’s remarks are remarkably positive overall, but has a lengthy caution regarding the very subjective, mystical tendency I’m trying to spotlight. Gilbert writes:

Blackaby’s teaching throughout Experiencing God is heavily tilted toward discerning some particular “assignment” or “task” from God for a person’s life.  His illustrations often begin with words like, “One of our churches believed that God was calling them to . . .” or “Our association was convinced that God wanted us to . . .”(pp. 23, 41)  He writes on page 24, “Whenever God gives you a directive, it is always right.”  What, though, is the nature of such directives?  How does God give them?  Blackaby’s conception of these “tasks” or “directives” seems to be a subjective impression on the mind about God’s will for a particular circumstance.  God communicates directly to the mind of the Christian and tells him, almost audibly it seems, what should be done.  “When God speaks to you in yourquiet time, immediately write down what He said,” (p.172).  This belief that God gives direct, subjective impressions to His people is certainly not without merit.  Perhaps most importantly, it underlines the reality that God is imminently present and involved in the world.  He has not left it to run itself, but is determined to be a part of His people’s lives.  There are, though, some cautions that should be raised about such a belief.  (Read more)

Gilbert not only offered the criticisms contained in the article, but also made a recommendation for those of you asking, “So, if Blackaby’s version of “leading, guiding and directing” by the Holy Spirit is problematic, where can I learn the way of the Spirit’s leadership more perfectly?” Gilbert’s answer is to direct you to the teaching and writing ministry of Jim Eliff called Christian Communication Worldwide, whose stated ”compelling interests are the reformation of the church, biblical evangelism, and the hope for authentic revival in our day.” Elliff has written a book called, Led by the Spirit: How the Holy Spirit Guides the Believer. I’m intrigued. Whenever I get around to ordering it, perhaps I’ll write a few posts featuring his wisdom from the written Word of God on the subject.


16 responses

  1. John,
    Gilbert Marks says, “How is one to know whether that is truly God speaking?” What does John 10:1-5 mean?

    Gilbert Marks says, “Whatever those words meant thousands of years ago when God firs inspired them, they still mean today.” True! But then, the Word of God (Scripture) is “alive” isn’t it? Does it not strike us differently as we mature in the faith?


  2. To begin with, if I may beg your pardon, the reviewer was Greg Gilbert of 9Marks Ministries.

    John 10:1-5 on the Shepherd and his flock uses well-known Old Testament imagery of a king and characterizes his lordship over his subjects. The calling and listening and following is more about the gracious, effectual calling of the Spirit whereby the elect are drawn to Christ. To utilize the references to “hearing” the shepherd’s “voice” and “following” in reference to discerning God’s will in the indifferent matters of everyday life is to allegorize, and thus stray from the point of, the passage.

    The Word of God is not “alive” in the sense in which liberal American judges consider the Constitution to be a “living, breathing” document which can be interpreted and reinterpreted according to the shifting values of society. I don’t dispute that many applications may be drawn from any passage, but the only proper applications are consistent with the one interpretation of the passage. To apply a passage in a manner inconsistent with its one interpretation is to misapply and lose the authority and life-giving power of God’s Word. God’s Spirit will only work through the text as the expositor is actually saying what the text is saying, and if he’s creatively applying it in a manner inconsistent with the main idea of the passage, then he isn’t saying what the text is saying, he’s molding it to say what the expositor wants it to say.

  3. This strikes close to home. I took my wife out of a CRC church for this reason, they were doing “Experiencing God,” as well as “ALPHA,” and buying into Dallas Willard and Richard Foster’s “Contemplative Prayer” garbage. All this in a “Reformed” church. I still can’t figure out exactly what is reformed about that congregation or that denomination, they are just a couple of years away from Mainlineism and it is very sad. There are no other reformed churches in our town so we have to drive 30 miles to the next town for church, but it is worth it.

  4. What a good husband you are, Alan. I know a former CRC guy, but he’s actually an apostate, so your story is consistent.

  5. I know an Elder in a CRC church who has been asked to leave over his opposition to studying Dallas Willard and in opposition to Study Jack Deere’s book “Suprised by the Power of the Spirit”.

    Amazing- The Reformed Church needs reformation!

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  6. John,
    Sorry I got the name wrong. I’m old and make lots of mistakes.
    On the other hand, there are no “indifferent” matters in life, and I disagree that I am “straying from the point of the passage.” Rather there is clear reference that is HIS sheep to whom He is calling andwhom He is leading. When He go before them, they follow because they recognize His voice. They do not follow strangers because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice. (I repeat: I do not hear voices).

    Secondly, my exact point is that the Constitution of the United States is not “alive.” It is forever what it is and means forever only what it says. The Word of God, on the other hand is alive. It is a sword, piercing and dividing assunder, plumbing the depths of man mind and will and the more that man matures the more the Word reveals and controls and guides. It is as alive as the very voice of God.

    Now, stick that in your pipe and smoke it! Which begs the question, what have you been smoking? (and don’t get all those other Reformed guys on my case, either.)


  7. Christian,
    Speaking as one of those “Reformed guys”, that was funny.

    You said…”if he’s creatively applying it in a manner inconsistent with the main idea of the passage, then he isn’t saying what the text is saying, he’s molding it to say what the expositor wants it to say”. Amen.

    The question is…what does it say? On the Road to Emmaus for instance, Christ bore witness to himself and his suffering and glory as the fulfillment of all Scripture.
    In other words, the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms are about Him. He’s the point of the exposition, and should be in all exposition.

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  8. John, Gage,
    Actuallly it was John who made the statement about the creative approch to application. I, however, could not agree more fully (or as I often say, I Wish I’d Said That). Every page of the Scripture (and even smaller portions, if you like) is about Christ. Knowing what the Scripture says (and it always means what it says, and says what it means), having been taught that by the Spirit, one is able to make application to every area of life. God has not left us without Truth sufficient for our journey through life. I am saying the Bible speaks to every issue. Some are a little more difficult to pinpoint than others, but that is what I mean by the Scripture being “alive.” The Truth will fit the circumstance – exactly – because the Word of God is the revealed mind of God.

    And Gauge, thanks for seeing my humor attempts. A little laughter lubricates life.


  9. You haven’t lost me, guys, but I’ve got no time to reply in depth just yet. Look for more out of me tomorrow.

  10. Christian,
    Workin on recognizing it more and more…haven’t always done that, especially w/you.
    Forgive me.

    Here’s looking out for you…

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  11. To try to make the long story short, in defense of my explanation of John 10:1-5 which negates application to Holy Spirit guidance of a believer, Jesus’ words are his concluding remarks to those who observed him heal the man who was born blind in John 9.

    First he utters verses 1-5 and John explains, “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” So Jesus again said to them . . . ” and Jesus utters the words of verses 7-18, which divides the Jews, some accusing him of having a demon, and others expressing a more favorable opinion.

    The words of Jesus in question is nothing more than a “figure of speech” in which Jesus describes his very mission to come to seek and to save that which was lost. He is the Shepherd who comes to call his sheep (the elect); and he is the door through which those elect sheep who enter will be saved and go in and out and find pasture.

    This is the point of Jesus’ words, it is not an exposition of how God will subjectively lead those already born again. Only applications that build on this interpretation are valid applications, and therefore a “guidance” application is not valid, and thus is not the “quick and powerful” Word of God which the Spirit intends to speak from this passage through those called to proclaim his Word, the Gospel.

  12. PS–It warms my heart to see you boys being so nice to each other!


  13. Gage,

    Did you say “nothing more” in regard to the words of Jesus? There is always more!
    More and more and more, etc.


  14. Reverent, but not a denial of my position. To admit a figure of speech is a figure of speech is not to diminish the text, but to interpret it literally in the original sense of Protestant literal interpretation: it’s recognizing the literary nature of the passage and interpreting it accordingly. That’s how one gets to what God is really saying, but it’s not how one can be free to make it say what he wants to think it says.

  15. John,
    Here’s my last comment on the matter. I do not believe God has left us with only the Scripture to “guide” us. I believe we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who communicates with us in a variety of ways. I do not hear voices. I do not accept anything that is extra-Biblical, nor do I have any patience with any attemp to make a Scripture passage say what it does not. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. That said, I will find quiet times, I will find expositors of God’s Word, I will be alert to internal and external promptings. I am comfortable with that (and more) as God at work.


  16. I’ve never denied that the Spirit ever guides by subjective prompting. I deny that it’s the way a believer is to regularly navigate his way through the everyday decisions of his life. Most of the everyday decisions are well tended to by excercising what Proverbs teaches us about prudence. God’s hidden will (Deut. 29:29) regarding the everyday decisions of life will be revealed by one who acts prudently as informed by God’s moral will which is revealed in Scripture. God usually works (and guides) through the means of unmiraculous secondary causes, and our Law-abiding, prudent decisions are usually those means.

    That’s all. I know you don’t “hear voices.” I know you’re not a card-carrying gnostic or mystic or charismatic, you’re a great and loving pastor, and often a cracker jack preacher. I have no intention of making you out to be anything other than a perfectly respectable Southern Baptist pastor.

    See you in future comment threads!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: