Friday, November 26, 2021

A Speaking God

 I wrote this article in 2014 and am re-posting it here.

Richard Blackaby gives a great blog post on his site about a controversial subject: Why is it so difficult to believe God speaks?

It was not until I went to seminary that I began to discover how much people in the Body of Christ criticize each other.  I don't mean unlearned, carnal, biblically-illiterate people.  I mean pastors, professors, and leaders criticizing and picking apart what other believers believe and practice - all in the name of being "doctrinally sound."  (I remember being dumbfounded once during seminary listening to some fellow students bash Billy Graham and James Dobson for all of their, in their opinions, for their "unbiblical and unwise" approaches to ministry.  They told me that Billy Graham had done more harm to evangelism than anyone in the 20th century, and that if James Dobson wanted to serve the Lord, he should have been a pastor.  Wow!)  Looking back, I was naïve and was just learning how much the Body of Christ criticizes each other's theology and practice.

Followers of Jesus have often forgotten His statement that "whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40 HCSB). Or, well-meaning theologues mistakenly think that if someone in Christ's Body does not agree with the theological brand with which they agree, then those with whom they disagree are "against Christ."

One of those areas that has come into a lot of criticism is the debate of "does God speak today?"  Through the years I have learned from, appreciated, and agreed with the simple reality that the God who spoke through His Spirit and indwells believers today is still speaking and guiding.  

By "speaking" we do not mean still writing Scripture but instead still shepherding, leading, and communicating with His people as He indwells them. His Holy Spirit guides us, and we are wise to learn to discern the inner witness of the Spirit.  I have enjoyed the teaching and writing of many guides on this subject such as Charles Stanley, Peter Lord, Henry Blackaby, Jack Hayford, Dallas Willard, Gordon Smith, V. Raymond Edman, Priscilla Shirer, Joy Dawson, Loren Cunningham, Kay Arthur, Wayne Grudem, and many others from the evangelical community. 

Primed to Learn to Listen

One of the first books I remember reading for my own spiritual growth in college was How to Listen to God by Charles Stanley.  I cut my freshman-year college spiritual teeth on it and gleaned much that year from Stanley's preaching and testimonies about both  meditating on the Word of God and learning to listen to the Holy Spirit.  The last 20+ years, I have read a number of books on the subject.  For years I was helped by a number of the "Christian living" books on the subject such as Blackaby's Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God and by the testimonies and biographies of Christian speakers, authors, missionaries, and leaders.

In recent years, I have benefited from reading books on the subject written on a higher intellectual-theological level than the previously mentioned ones.  Dallas Willard's Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God and Gordon Smith's The Voice of Jesus: Discernment, Prayer, and the Witness of the Spirit are excellent approaches to the subject.  Another one is Wayne Grudem's The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today - a very intellectual, systematic approach from one of evangelical's most respected theologians.  He helped fill in some blanks for me theologically, intellectually, and application-wise that some of the "practical Christian living" books do not. 

It shocked me a number of years ago when I began to realize that a number of people who take the Bible seriously take great issue with those ideas.  I have appreciated Jack Hayford's thoughts and teachings on the subject through the years, as well as his frustration with the "growing body of verbiage today debunks the idea that God speaks personally to people any more. Although there is value in warning against kooks, I'm disturbed."  You can read more of his article "God Speaks Today" here.

Part of my own frustration with the debate is the fact that I know He has spoken to me at various times through His Holy Spirit - apart from the Bible.  (And I am a person who takes the Bible seriously - I have not missed one day in 23 years meditating at least twice daily in the pages of the Word of God.  I have practiced the old Billy Graham team practice of "no bread, no bread" - if you do not meditate in the Word of God then you do not eat physical food.) 

What It Does Not Mean

In saying that, to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit speaks to you - or guides you - does NOT mean the following:  a) it does not mean that you always hear correctly, b) it does not mean that you always understand correctly, c) it does not mean that do not add some of your own thoughts and perceptions to the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, d) it does not mean that we always see and hear clearly (now we see but a poor reflection through a mirror), e) it does not mean that His ways, instructions, and revelations will always make sense to our logic and reason,  f) it CERTAINLY does not mean that we do not take the Bible seriously, and g) it CERTAINLY does not mean someone thinks that God's present guidance should be written down, put into the back of the Bible, and treated as Scripture. I have never once heard any serious, conservative, evangelical, biblically-minded Christian who, believing the Holy Spirit speaks to Christians today, also thinks those promptings should be written down and treated like the canon of Scripture.  Grudem's book The Gift of Prophecy helps much in explaining these areas.

As the old hymn testified, "He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own."  The intimacy shared between the Lord and His Bride has at times been compared to the intimacy between a married couple.  I remember Charles Stanley exhorting in his sermon "Favorites vs. Intimates" that sometimes we are too busy to get on our face and make love to God. 

Though no illustration is perfect, I have thought numerous times through the years that to me, someone saying that the Holy Spirit does not speak to people today is kind of like a virgin telling a married man that there is no such thing as sex! 

Well, this is one of those debates - like Calvinism / non-Calvinism, the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit, the practice of water baptism, and the role of women in ministry - that will go on until Jesus comes! May we show grace and love to people with whom we disagree.

Blackaby's Thoughts

Richard Blackaby has some good things to say about this debate.  I resonate with his thoughts deeply!

"The Blackabys are not unfamiliar with criticism; of that you can be sure. We have had well meaning critics challenge everything from our choice of Bible translation to our use of sermon illustrations. But undoubtedly the subject for which we receive the most invective is our assertion that God speaks to people.

Invariably if we suggest in preaching or writing that God communicates with people directly, we are quickly reminded by self-appointed orthodoxy police, that we are sadly misguided. If we ask why they are so concerned about our teaching, our critics will hasten to inform us of someone they knew once, who claimed to have received a “word” from God that it was OK to commit adultery with their secretary and therefore it is far too dangerous to encourage people to assume they can receive a direct word from God themselves. . . One hates to think that because one misguided believer lied about hearing from God, now no one is allowed to receive a divine word.

If we suggest that the Bible is our instruction manual for the Christian life and that it provides numerous examples in both the Old and New Testaments of God speaking to people, our watchdogs will immediately assure us that God no longer needs to speak to people directly because we now have the Bible. Therefore, every word of instruction we require can be found in its written pages."

Read the entire article by Richard here.

Pictures used by permission from Pixabay.

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