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.”
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.iii) 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.
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).
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).Paul commands us to pursue love and to earnestly desire spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1; cf. Heb. 11:6).
Zeloute denotes cultivating a stance of eagerness…[the] NRSV’s strive for positively conflicts with Paul’s insistence that these are “gifts of grace” (as in 12:31, charismata) which God chooses to give or to withhold in his sovereign freedom to “order” the church as he wills (12:18). To read strive for can be pastorally misleading and theologically doubtful.A. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2000), 1082-83.
In 1 Cor. 14:31 Paul's statement "...so 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.
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).
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]
Early in his ministry, Francis Schaeffer faced a minor crisis. He and his young family needed temporary housing during a transitional time, but had very little money. They needed a “minor miracle” from the Lord. While Francis was praying about this, he said to God, “Where can we live, Lord? Please show us.” Immediately, in response to his question, he heard an audible voice…The voice simply said, “Uncle Harrison’s house.”Surprised by the Voice of God (Zondervan, 1998), 130.
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.
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.