A commenter by the name of Keo left some thoughtful opinions under my Gut Check Spirituality post:
I’m not fond of relying on emotion, either, but I think you overestimate Christians’ ability to receive direction from God only through the Bible.
Usually what is in mind with this kind of objection is that the person is thinking I am saying the Bible provides us with specific detailed instructions about making decisions. Because the Bible doesn’t specifically tell a young man to marry Ethel Peppercorn, obviously it is overestimating the Christian young man’s ability to receive direction from God “only through the Bible.” Hence: the young man has to depend upon some godly emotional impulse to pursue the female of his desire.
Moving along, my commenter notes,
Most people I know who talk about God speaking to them through the Bible are really talking about either the same kind of “gut feelings” (maybe just the frozen pizza or maybe it really is the Holy Spirit) or their own desires, shellacked with a few vague phrases from a Psalm here, a Proverb there.
Regrettably, that is certainly true. Like I pointed out in my post, even the most diehard Calvinist will often think in these terms when it comes to making life defining decisions such as whether or not to marry Ethel Peppercorn.
Keo addresses a real life illustration:
Using the Bible Only method, how exactly could that guy have learned that God wanted him to move to California and join your church? Unless, of course, you really mean that God would never tell anyone anything so specific today, and that God only tells us “clearly in His Word” true-for-everyone statements about morality or history or eschatology
In response, allow me to provide my own testimony in this matter because I was once a guy that moved to California and joined the church where I am currently a member with my family.
While at college in Arkansas I came to know the Lord. I was slowly discipled by godly pastors and other older friends. One of those friends introduced me to the preaching ministry of John MacArthur, as well as a number of other sound Bible teachers. John’s radio ministry had a tape lending library where I could check out preaching tapes via mail at a nominal cost in postage. For at least 3 years or so I listened faithfully to sermon tapes on the various books of Scripture and theological subjects John had preached to his home congregation. God used his teaching to help me solidify my theology and overall thinking about the Bible.
As I was growing in the Lord, I also enjoyed imparting the theology I was learning to other believers. In other words, I liked teaching and preaching. Granted, I was extremely rough and amateurish, but it was something that delighted my soul. As I approached my graduation from college, my interest in radio and television as a field of work waned and my interest in a full time ministry of teaching the Word of God strengthened. One could say I had a growing “desire.”
I knew I needed to receive a good seminary education, so my thoughts began to turn to post graduate theological studies. My church had an affiliation with a seminary in Memphis and it was the obvious choice for me, especially seeing that my church offered to pay some of the tuition if I decided to attend. I also knew John MacArthur was president of the Master’s Seminary in California, but for a guy from Po-dunk Arkansas, it might as well have been on the moon. I had no money to pay the cost of living in Southern California, and the thought of moving out of state away from close friends and family was a bit unnerving; plus, with an obvious choice of a seminary nearby, the thought of moving was unnecessary.
The friend who introduced me to John’s sermon ministry had also introduced his teaching to the associate pastor of John’s church at the time. I had a “desire” to begin building a theological library for teaching resources and I was curious as to which commentaries and commentators John used in his sermon prep. So, I got the associate pastor’s phone number and gave him a call. We talked about commentaries and sermon prep for a bit, and then he asked me, “Are you interested in going to seminary?” I told him yes and told him my plans to go to Memphis and he responded, “Well, I went to that seminary for a bit and I can tell you they aren’t going to teach you how to preach the Bible.” Intrigued by his opinion, I asked him to elaborate, and after he gave me an ear full from his personal experience at that school, I relayed to him my concerns with moving to California. He recommended that I at least call the office of TMS, get an application, fill it out and send it in, and see how the Lord may lead.
Now, I can testify that after that phone call was finished I was emotional. I had an inflamed “desire” to move to California. I prayed, made preparations, worked, saved money, and eventually, in August of 1992, I moved to California. The rest they say is history.
Bringing it back around to Keo’s ending questions:
Are you saying that the Bible alone TELLS us that this is how God now speaks to us? Or is that an opinion from an extra-biblical source?
To clarify: I am telling you that Scripture provides for us a foundation for how we must shape our thinking about God. The work of spiritual regeneration by the Holy Spirit to enlighten a sinner’s darkened mind to think God’s thoughts after him provides a person with the ability to now be oriented, as it were, to the will of God. God provides for us through the teaching of Scripture those principles we use to renew our minds or what we could also define as “retraining” our minds to think godly thoughts rather than worldly thoughts. As we seek this renewing by learning Scripture, we will be filled with the Spirit. This is where one’s “desires” come into play. We need to trust the Spirit to be giving us the right desires as we are filled with the knowledge of God’s revealed Word. We then apply that knowledge to the desires we regularly experience, so as to make wise, biblically informed decisions. God’s providence takes care of the blind spots we may not necessarily “see” when we are acting with faith upon our biblically informed decisions.
In my case as a budding young Bible teacher:
– I was growing in the knowledge and understanding of the Lord.
– I had a growing “desire” to attend seminary.
– I was planning on attending a school in Memphis.
– Through the encouraging counsel of a friend of a friend, my desire was moved to attend seminary in California.
– Acting upon that desire, I made necessary wise choices to fulfill that desire.
– God in His providence directed me in seeing that desire accomplished.
The thing to keep in mind is that I was making biblically informed decisions based upon the application of simple, everyday wisdom. Think about it: God didn’t tell me anything via any “gut feeling.” I wanted to attend a seminary that upheld the Word of God, taught it as authoritative, and held to a high view of God, Jesus Christ, and the Christian Church. There wasn’t anything particularly more “spiritual” with attending Master’s Seminary over other ones I considered, but it was where I had a desire to attend. God blessed that desire and I can attest to His providential leading over the years since moving here.
How exactly do I know of that providence? After I had been attending seminary for just a few months, I could not find a job. It was a bit frustrating because I was the only guy in my immediate circle of seminary friends who could not find a job. I began to doubt my decision to move to California as I was swiftly running low on funds. So: I had to make a series of decisions. In my thinking, I figured that if God wanted me in California He would provide the necessary means for me to live there without acquiring substantial amounts of loan debt. I had enough funds on hand to finish my first year, but if I didn’t have a job at the end of the school year, I would transfer back to Arkansas. Yet low and behold, within 48 hours of determining that choice, God provided a job for me at Grace to You, where I continue to serve the Lord to this day. No mystical experiences or checking my gut; just the application of wise, common sense choices and trusting the Lord’s provision, which He most certainly did. And would you believe it, the same method of decision making applies to those big decisions like marrying Ethel Peppercorn.