I’m starting on the book Walking with God by John Eldredge, which was just released this year. John’s written many popular books before like Wild at Heart. I haven’t read any of his previous books and I don’t plan to read them. This one only caught my attention because it’s about hearing from God. The subtitle to the book goes, “Talk to Him. Hear from Him. Really”.
I’m quite excited about this book in a way. I wrote an entry on Hearing God’s voice about 4 months ago. I have to admit that I haven’t traveled far in this area since then. I know it takes time and commitment to learn to discern God’s voice. But a few events over the past few months have made me more determined to want to see if this works for me.
I first came across this book through Tim Challies’ review of the book. Challies’ blog is perhaps the most popular Christian blog on the Internet. He’s Reformed in his belief. And so a bit too conservative (i.e. non-charismatic) for my liking. Unsurprisingly, his review was more negative than not.
One book that I read very early on in my Christian life and which has had a bit of influence over my thinking (if not consciously, then subconsciously) is the very well-known book called Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen and Robin Maxson. While this book doesn’t explicitly argue against the possibility of hearing God’s voice (it’s not a book about God’s voice per se), it promotes a view of discerning God’s will that implicitly rejects the possibility or need to hear God’s voice. Rather, it argues that in matters that are not explicitly addressed by the Bible, God would want us to use wisdom to choose. That is, God doesn’t speak to us and tell us what we should do, but we’re given the freedom to choose according to our wisdom.
One thing good about this book is that it’s very comprehensive – it’s over 500 pages long! It deals with a lot of Scripture and you know that the authors have done their homework and thought through the issues. And thus I think it’s a good book to start with. Eldredge’s and Shultz’s book would prove useful to me because they are people with the experience of hearing from God. However, Shultz’s book still left me with a lot of questions theology-wise, and from the little I’ve read from Eldredge, I haven’t been too satisfied with some of his reasonings.
I do like good theology. I think all practices should be based on good theology. And I still have a lot of questions regarding the issue of hearing from God. However, while I don’t have everything figured out theology-wise, I do have faith that God does speak and that we can hear from Him. Having moved in charismatic circles for a long time, I know of too many incidents that point to the fact that God still speaks. Of course, I’ve experienced plenty of abuses too, but shouldn’t put me off.
Because of my experiences in charismatic churches, I’ve never felt fully comfortable with Friesen/Maxson’s book. But I like it because it’s comprehensive and I think anyone who promotes a view to the contrary needs to deal with their arguments. In fact, I’ve been waiting for more than a year for the Three Views on Decision Making and the Will of God to be released. One of the views would be argued by Friesen/Maxson and of course we’ll see two other views on this topic and two responses from the two other authors. One of the other authors would be Henry Blackaby, author of Experiencing God: Knowing And Doing The Will Of God, a book which I’m considering buying.
Anyway, let me quote from a section of Friesen’s website which summarizes the authors’ view. This is the main part of their view which has stayed with me all these years. I think everyone who advocates that we ought to hear from God always before making decisions has to grapple with what they have to say here:
The apostles modeled wisdom in their decision making – “We thought it best” (1 Thessalonians 3:1).
It is fruitful, when reflecting on this question, to observe the decision-making practices of the apostles as well as their explanations for the reasons behind their actions. For instance, some weeks after Paul and his companions were forced to leave the newly founded church at Thessalonica, they agreed on a plan. It is explained in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, whereby the fledgling church could receive further help: ‘Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith.’
How was their decision made? ‘We thought it best.’
As one reads of other apostolic decisions in the New Testament, one encounters similar terminology: ‘I thought it necessary’ (Philippians 2:25-26); ‘if it is fitting’ (1 Corinthians 16:3-4); ‘it is not desirable’ (Acts 6:2-4); ‘I have decided’ (Titus 3:12).
When it came to instruction in decision making, the apostles’ exhortations were consistent with their practice. Some choices were commanded on grounds of being ‘good,’ while others were ‘better’ (1 Corinthians 7:1, 9, 26. 38).
All of the decisions referred to have two things in common: 1) since they were not determined by God’s moral will they each qualified as a matter of freedom, and 2) the terms utilized in the explanations (‘good,” ‘better.’ ‘best.’ ‘fitting,’ etc.) imply some standard.
It’s clear from the above that the apostles themselves didn’t always hear from God before making decisions, even if it was an important one! Or perhaps, they did seek to hear from God but God didn’t always speak to them about certain decisions. So for some cases at least, they had to use their own wisdom to make decisions.
Of course, I don’t think it’s right to argue based on the above Scriptures that God doesn’t guide us through speaking to us. I think He does sometimes. But the above indicates that He doesn’t do so all the time and perhaps we shouldn’t expect Him to do so all the time.
So in regards to decision making, I’d disagree with those who say that God always guides us through His voice, just as I’d disagree with those who say that God never desires to guide us through His voice but would always want us to make decisions based on our wisdom.
But hearing God’s voice is more than just for the sake of decision making. As a charismatic, I believe in the supernatural gifts like interpretation of tongues, prophecy and word of knowledge. I’ve seen them in action – again, both genuine cases and not-so-genuine cases. So even if one believes as Friesen/Maxson believe that God never guides us through His voice, there are other reasons for learning to hear God’s voice. A person could be sick and we could ask God for a word of knowledge regarding what we should pray for or what the cause of the problem is. I’m not gifted in all these, but I have encountered too many of such things to know that God still speaks…