Alexander Jordan and I have been having a discussion about how to know God’s will for your life, in which he has been proving himself to be pleasant, helpful, humble, and above all, thorough, while I have shown myself to be reactionary and emotional, responding to the feeling I get about the whole idea, rather than the actual arguments in his posts.
In my defense, I have only to say that he has been the blogger, carefully planning his series, and I have been the commenter, responding in the moment. He also seems to have the advantage of a great deal more time in which to structure highly advanced explanations of his position while I am limited to responding quickly in slap-dash fashion. Nevertheless, I wanted to bring the discussion to the attention of my readers and see if I could get some opinion.
Jordan has been describing his view of knowing God’s will as contra writers like John Eldridge, which puts me at a bit of a disadvantage, because I’ve only read a little of John Eldridge, and usually I tend to agree with the general vicinity of where he’s going, but very little with how he gets there. So there’s a danger, I think, on both our parts, of shooting past each other. This is especially true since I have already confessed to not reading Jordan’s posts as thoroughly as I ought. Nevertheless, here’s what I believe is the position he’s advocating:
* He is NOT saying that all charismatic gifts or supernatural events have ceased, and that’s a point in his favor in my book.
* He IS saying that in ancient times as in our own these kinds of experiences and events are relatively rare and are NOT to be understood as God’s primary way of relating to us.
* From a New Testament perspective, charismatic gifts, and prophecy in particular are primarily for the purpose of edification, exhortation, and comfort, and may (or may not) happen on a relatively regular basis, BUT this is a different thing entirely from hearing personal, private direction from God.
* In terms of “knowing God’s will for your life” the primary source that we have is the clear teaching of scripture: Be saved, live righteous lives, have an active devotional life, commit yourself to your local church.
* Beyond the general will of God that applies to all Christians, an individual seeking God’s will should apply their own God-given, Holy Spirit-inspired, Biblically informed wisdom, keeping in mind that, since God controls all things, the decision you make will ultimately be the one Providence intended.
* Above all one should NOT come to God asking Him to reveal special information to you (such as “Should I marry Sally or Lucy?”) because to do so is an insult to God who, in the scriptures, has already revealed to you everything you need to know, and has given you wisdom to make your own decisions like an adult. Leaning on woo-woo mysticism runs the danger of the sin of divination – attempting to force God to reveal his secret counsel against His will.
* Occasionally, God may choose of His own volition to reveal specific directions to specific individuals (“Separate unto me Paul and Barnabus”; “Come to Macedonia”; “Go find Peter who is at the house of Simon the Tanner”; etc.). These events will be very rare and unexpected, since (as above) the person on the receiving end was not pursuing this information.
Remarkably, this argument seems to hang together. I say remarkably because, though I’ve heard this kind of perspective before, I’ve never heard it in such a nuanced fashion that it actually avoided the land mines of cessationism. Jordan is NOT arguing that things have changed since the time of the first apostles. Rather he is arguing that things have always been this way, at least as far back as Abraham. (Seriously, how frequently did Abraham hear God’s direction in his life? Surely not every few weeks!) I say remarkably also because I really really don’t want it to be correct.
Here is my list of objections, without any cohesive argument or support:
* This debate lends itself to decision by personality. The comment I have heard frequently from those who like this perspective is of their gratitude at being freed from the specter of wishy-washy mysticism. I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone commenting that they used to be mystical and “hear voices” all the time, but because of this teaching, they’re going to deliberately avoid all that sort of thing in their prayer life from now on. Regardless of the truth or non-truth of the teaching, either perspective on the will of God will appeal to a certain sort of person whose itching ears will cause them to flock to what most appeals to them. This must be addressed, both in the teacher and in the learner, or people will ignore the actual argument. In case you didn’t notice, my own ears itch for mysticism, so hearing that perhaps they ought not to is hard for me.
* It means a lot to me that Jordan didn’t extend his teaching to a full-blown cessationist position. Actually, I hate it, because I have all these really good arguments against cessationism that just don’t seem to apply to the discussion at hand.
* Absolutely should the primary source for a Christian to know God’s will for their life be the teaching of scripture. Every Christian should concern himself with God’s will for all Christians before considering specific individual calling.
* Absolutely should every Christian apply wisdom, and reason, and plain sense, rather than expecting God to answer directly to questions that shouldn’t be asked. “Should I quit my job and become a Christian hobo?” is not a question that deserves an answer.
* I’m not persuaded that asking God for specific direction amounts to divination. There are too many references in Scripture to people “inquiring of the Lord” and getting detailed, specific information. Granted, most of the events I can think of off the top of my head are actually in the Old Testament, but I’m leery of any argument that says things have changed.
* I’m also not persuaded that characters in the New Testament who received specific direction were necessarily not asking for it. Certainly sometimes they were stopped dead in their tracks and redirected, and no they weren’t expecting that. But Paul, being “prevented by the Holy Spirit” from going into Asia, wasn’t praying along the lines of “well where *should* I go?” when he had the vision of the Macedonian? Really.
Beyond that, without specific reference to any scriptures, I simply have a sense that everything isn’t exactly adding up. I’ve never liked the line in that hymn, “what more can I say to you than I have already said?” and I don’t like it’s implications about God’s tight-lipped nature. I am actually prepared to be persuaded. But I’m going to take a lot of persuading.