Thursday, April 25, 2013

Divine guidance

I’m going to comment on Grudem’s concept of special guidance, using this article as my point of reference:

In response to Robertson, I think Grudem has the better of the argument. I say that despite the fact that I don’t agree with Grudem’s overall position. And I say that despite the fact that I think Robertson is a more significant, insightful writer than Grudem.

But I’d like to focus on one aspect of Grudem’s argument:

I suspect that Dr. Robertson, with his strong confidence in the sovereignty of God, might agree (though I have not asked him) that God can work through unusual or remarkable circumstances (or “unusual providences”) to direct and guide us in the way we should go. But many times it takes a combination of two or three or four unusual circumstances before we have increasing confidence that God is leading us through them in a certain direction or another. 

But at other times a pastor whom I respect, or a close friend whom I have known for years, or a fellow elder in my church, or my wonderful wife Margaret, have come to me saying that they think the Lord has shown them something that they should share with me regarding my life. In these cases, when such words come from mature Christians whom I know well, I pay more careful attention. On a number of occasions God has spoken through these words to encourage me in a direction in which I was headed but with some uncertainty, or to encourage me when I was getting discouraged about some ministry activity, or to make me to reconsider some ordering of priorities in my life…

My response to this is to say that if God chooses to guide us through subjective reading of the Holy Spirit, or through the contemporary gift of prophecy, then, yes, we are not free to ignore guidance from the Lord himself.

To give an example, I was convinced at one point in my life that God was leading me to cancel my subscription to the Chicago Tribune, mainly because I was spending too much time reading it each morning.  I did cancel it, and I thought I was doing so out of obedience to God.

i) I’m struck by how vague these are. If God wants to send a message, why resort to such ambiguous means? Isn’t that counterproductive?

ii) I’m also struck by how mundane these examples are. Grudem didn’t see a vision. Or have a premonitory dream. No angel appeared to him.

How unlike examples of special guidance in Acts. For instance:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams (Acts 2:17).

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26).

About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius” (Acts 10:3).

9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:9-13).

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent” (Acts 18:9).

23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you” (Acts 27:23-24).

Grudem’s examples of divine guidance are indistinguishable from ordinary providence. There’s nothing distinctively charismatic about his illustrations.

iii) On a related note, take the business about canceling the Chicago Tribune. Why attribute that to divine leading? For that matter, why is divine leading necessary? Isn’t that just a case of making a common sense judgment about time-management? About being a responsible steward of our God-given time and opportunities?

Once again, there’s nothing distinctively prophetic about that conclusion. It’s just a case of using your natural intellectual to make a reasonable decision.


  1. The following is a link to well known and respected Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland's testimony of experiencing supernatural guidance. I could cite other examples by Charismatics, but they'd be less credible to the usual readership of Triablogue.

    Moreland gives numerous examples of very specific Words of Knowledge that he was (allegedly) given. As a continuationist myself, and knowing Moreland is a very logical and committed Christian, I believe 1. he's telling the truth as he sees it and 2. that these supernatural experiences are genuinely from God.

    He starts sharing his personal experiences at 13 minutes into the talk. He continues to do so for the rest o the lecture.

    Discerning God's Voice by J.P. Moreland

    1. As an example, at 32 minutes and 5 seconds, Moreland claims that in a difficult time in his life, he was asking God to speak to him more clearly and intimately. God then spoke to him and told him to ask Him for $5000. He did, and he received a little bit over that amount the very same day. It seems to me that something supernatural is really happening and that the best hypothesis is that God actually spoke to him.

  2. I guess some might have an aversion to that sort of thing, since it might open the door to (or knock down a defence against) Kenneth Hagin/Oral Roberts-type shenanigans.

  3. Steve wrote, “If God wants to send a message, why resort to such ambiguous means? Isn’t that counterproductive?”

    I believe that Dr. Moreland (around 27:05 in the video AP references) uses Nehemiah 2:12 (he said 2:17, but I believe he meant 2:12) with regard to your kind of questions. Steve, what do you think of Dr. Moreland’s lecture? Moreland suggests that you learn to hear the voice of God through “trial and error and practice, just like you learn to discern the Bible.”

    1. i) I think Moreland is a prima facie credible witness. However, why would God favor Moreland with an abundance of miracles and private revelations compared to so many other pious Christians to whom nothing remarkable ever happens?

      ii) To say we need to learn how to hear God's voice through trial and error and practice is special pleading. God can express himself with unmistakable clarity to individuals. Why force Christians to read tea leaves? This is too much like heathen divination, where you strain to discern the will of the gods from ambiguous clues or obscure patterns. That's a snare. That invites self-deception.

    2. Another basic problem is that Moreland's trial-and-error-and-practice method of learning how to hear God's voice doesn't bear any resemblance to the examples of special divine guidance I cited from Acts. Yet that's the closest thing we have to a paradigm of NT prophecy. That gives us actual illustrations.

    3. But even Peter didn't immediately understand what the vision he saw meant or how to apply it.

      Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood at the gate Act 10:17

      In the OT, Samuel didn't immediately recognize that it was the LORD who was speaking to him. 1 Sam. 3:3-10ff.

      If you're specifically referring to the "trial and error" part then it seems that weighing or testing a revelation to determine if it really was from God was a common practice in the NT because of passages like 1 Thess. 5:21 and 1 John 4:1. Even in the OT prophecies needed to be weighed and tested since prophets are still fallible sinners in themselves and can be mistaken. Nathan the prophet gave bad advice which David could have taken as prophetic if God didn't correct him (1 Chron. 17:2-4). Moses sinned by striking the rock when he shouldn't have (Num. 20:11-12). Jeremiah lied about a conversation he had with king Zedekiah (Jer. 38:24ff.). Jonah had a bad attitude. A genuine prophet from Bethel lied to another prophet from Judah about a revelation, then immediately prophesied (by the inspiration of God) the other prophet's death sentence because he didn't weigh his prophecy in light of what God had spoken to him previously(1 Kings 13).

      The prophecies of OT prophets were to be weighed and tested and prima facie accepted to the degree that that prophet had been accurate in the past and had lived an upright life in accordance wit and not in contradiction to the Mosaic Law (Deut. 13:1ff.). That's why it's recorded of Samuel that the LORD didn't allow any of his words to fall the ground (1 Sam. 3:19). If 100% accuracy was always necessary, then there'd be no point in recording that of Samuel. It would be superfluous.

      Some might cite the command in Deut. 13 to kill prophets whose prophecies fail. But as I pointed out in my comments HERE and HERE, I believe that OT command was to be applied to those who claimed to speak directly and infallibly from YHWH in a conscience binding way over everyone nationally in Israel. Not every prophecy in the OT or NT was of that sort. Some are private and non-conscience binding I then gave this dilemma.

      My point is that God could speak to anyone in the OT no matter how seemingly insignificant they were without fear of being stoned to death if the message proved false. Can you imagine Manoah and his wife keeping secret the Angelic visitation least they be stoned to death if the prophecy of a birth proved false? Could you imagine them wringing their hands if they had accidentally or intentionally told someone of the angelic prophecy (which they believed ultimately came from God)? There was no time limit as to when they would bear a son. So, it could have been years later. But if one of them died before the other, then the survivor would end up being a false prophet worthy of death if the traditional understanding of OT prophecy were true.

      So, if 100% accuracy of an alleged divine revelation wasn't absolutely essential in the OT, how much more under the NT. Apparently there were "schools of the prophets" called "sons of the prophets" where there were prophets in training (1 Sam. 10:11; 19:19–20; 2 Kgs. 2:3, 5; 4:38; 6:1). I think both OT and NT prophecy was two tiered and that under the New Covenant, only the Apostles had the counterpart of the higher prophecy in the OT (i.e. the kind possessed by Isaiah, Jeremiah et al.). But even then, the Apostles deferred to the authority of the OT prophets (i.e. the application of Prima Scriptura/Summa Scriptura).

    4. Paul said, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Cor. 13:9 cf. v. 12).

      In the next chapter he says, "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged," (1 Cor. 14:29-31).

      That phrase "let the the others weigh what is said" suggests that just because someone had the reputation of being a reliable prophet in the past didn't automatically mean all of their future prophecies would true/reliable. And unlike the OT, everyone was encouraged to prophesy (verse 31). Surely some people in Corinth (as in modern charismatic settings) attempted to prophesy and gave bad prophecies or words of knowledge/wisdom. Were they then automatically disfellowshipped or excommunicated for a bad or failed prophecy. I don't think so.

      Such negative experiences in the prophetic could the following statement by Paul, "19 Do not quench the Spirit.20 Do not despise prophecies" (1 Thess. 5:19-20). Then the very next verses says, "21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.22 Abstain from every form of evil." The statement of testing and weighing and keeping what is good is in the context of prophecies.

    5. typo correction: Can you imagine Manoah and his wife keeping secret the Angelic visitation least ["LEST" not "least"] they be stoned to death if the prophecy of a birth proved false?

    6. typo correction: Such negative experiences in the prophetic could [EXPLAIN] the following statement by Paul,...Do not despise prophecies"

      In 1 Cor. 14:31 Paul's statement " that all may learn and all be encouraged..." might mean learning to prophesy. If so, then trial and error in learning to prophecy would make sense.

      I mentioned disfellowship and excommunication since it would be the NT equivalent to OT stoning for a false prophet.

    7. The gift of discerning of spirits might have been used not only to determine if a person might be demonized, but also to determine the source of a prophetic utterance. Whether it be merely from the human spirit, a demonic spirit, an angel or from the Spirit of God. It's interesting that in 1 Corinthians 12 "the gift of discerning/distinguishing of spirits" is listed right after the "gift of prophecy", just as the gift of interpretation of tongues comes right after the gift of tongues. There's an obvious connection between the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation of tongues. The latter supplementing the former. The same might be true of the gift of prophecy and gift of discernment. If my suggestion is correct, then that would lend support to the idea that NT prophecy (especially of non-Apostles) allowed for trial and error.

      BTW, I addressed apostolic testing and the testing of Apostolic teaching and prophecy in the posts I linked to above. Here they are again. HERE and HERE

  4. Annoyed Pinoy, How would you reply to Steve's question: why would God favor Moreland with an abundance of miracles and private revelations compared to so many other pious Christians to whom nothing remarkable ever happens?

    1. There are many contributing factors and possible reasons. Some examples:
      1. People are gifted in different ways. Not everyone has the gift of prophecy even though all are encouraged by God (through Paul) to seek the gift (1 Cor. 14:1).

      2. By God's providential plans some aren't supposed to experience such supernatural activities at all, or if so, very little. There are many possible reasons for this. For example, think of a person God wanted to use greatly in apologetics and God used that person's doubt and questions to motivate him to study apologetical matters. Such a person might never have gotten into apologetics after having confirmatory supernatural experiences. Or think of a simple Christian wife & mother in the 1800s who greatly glorified God in the harsh Western frontier by being faithful with the basic teaching she found in her single dusty copy of the KJV bible.

      3. God might have mercy on some people by granting them greater supernatural experiences to compensate for some educational and/or economic disadvantages (think e.g. Pentecostals in Central and South America). On the other hand, here in America, I think the general anti-intellectualism rampant in charismatics circles is self-reinforcing since people can be so satisfied with experiences and feelings and so not be as careful to be able to intellectually and historically argue for Christianity with those whom they evangelize using signs and wonders. Some people are more open to intellectual arguments, while others to confirmatory signs. Of course there are exceptions to charismatic anti-intellectualism (e.g. Gordon Fee et al.).

      4. Sometimes the disparity is due to a lack of faith or pursuit. Our Lord repeatedly encouraged people to grow in faith (Matt 17:19ff.; 14:31; 21:21ff.; Mark 9:23; 11:22ff.; Luke 17:6). Paul commands us to pursue love and to earnestly desire spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1; cf. Heb. 11:6). James says we have not because we ask not (James 4:2).

      Having said all that, I think all Christians can and do hear God's voice (consciously or unconsciously) apart from (and along side) Scripture to some degree or another without the gift of Prophecy or Word of Knowledge or Word of Wisdom. Just as everyone can evangelize successfully even if they don't have the *gift* of evangelism. Or how any Christian can successfully pray for someone else's heaing even if they don't have the *gifts* of healing.

      It hardly needs to be said that the degree of one's faithfulness to God or God's love for an individual doesn't (necessarily) correspond to their supernatural experiences. John the Baptist probably never performed a miracle yet he was the greatest Old Testament prophet. Even above Moses, Samuel, Elijah and Elisha!

    2. To add to #4 above. The apostle James says we are to ask for wisdom from God in faith, otherwise we will not receive wisdom (James 1:5-8). That doesn't mean of course that the only way God grants wisdom is by our hearing His voice. But in my opinion, it surely doesn't exclude that possibility. An example I can think of is what happened to Francis Schaeffer when he heard a voice (God's or an angel sent by God) in answer to a prayer for wisdom. The account can be read HERE. Schaeffer claimed this was the 2nd time God had spoken to him in an audible voice. [At least according to Deere's book]

      For the perverse [or "devious"] person is an abomination to the LORD, But His secret counsel is with the upright. [NASB "But He is intimate with the upright."]; [ESV "but the upright are in his confidence."] -Prov. 3:32

      The secret [or "friendship"] of the LORD is with [or "for"] those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant. -Ps. 25:14 (cf. Prov. 3:32)

      Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.- Amos 3:7

      Steve said,
      ii) To say we need to learn how to hear God's voice through trial and error and practice is special pleading. God can express himself with unmistakable clarity to individuals. Why force Christians to read tea leaves? This is too much like heathen divination, where you strain to discern the will of the gods from ambiguous clues or obscure patterns. That's a snare. That invites self-deception.

      I think Moreland is right when he said learning to discern God's voice is analogous to learning to discern what the Bible actually teaches. Even the Bible seems to teach that people should test alleged prophecies (1 Thess. 5:21). To test the teaching of spirits (1 John 4:1). People also disagreed on the proper application of a divine revelation (Acts 21:10-15). When Agabus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, bound his own feet and hands using Paul's belt, most of the Christians there took that revelation and applied it contrary to how Paul applied it. They thought it meant Paul should stay away from Jerusalem. While Paul took it to mean the opposite. As an indication that God was preparing him mentally for what would await him in Jerusalem where God wanted him to go.

    3. Here's a list of some continuationist intellectuals (some of whom do identify themselves as charismatic and/or Pentecostal): Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Sam Storms, Gordon Fee, J.P. Moreland, Craig Keener, Michael L. Brown, C.J. Mahaney, James K. A. Smith, Jack Deere.