(Kregel: 2009; 269 pages)
I have always loved the format of these multi-perspective books.
Spokesmen for particular views on disputed issues (prophecy, ordinances, doctrines) present their own positions relatively concisely, then interact with each other. With this volume, Kregel presents a symposium of sorts on the vital issue of the will of God.
Douglas Huffman edits the work, and brings a fair bit to the subject. Huffman researched this topic for his MA thesis at Trinity, and starts the book off with a useful introduction (13-32). In it, he defines terms, sets up the book, and lays out case studies with which each proponent must deal: people in dicey situations, needing to make decisions. It is a creative touch, and a great opportunity for each "school" to show how the rubber meets the road
However, at the book's end Huffman provides a conclusion that I found more hazy than helpful ("Hey kids — what if they're all right?"; 235-248). But, after that he provides a jewel of a Bibliography, which is labeled according to the authors' perspectives (249-256).
In the body of the book, three views are presented.
First to sally forth are Henry and Richard Blackaby, presenting the "Specific-Will" view (33-85). I have already interacted with this at length here, in my usual ambivalent and mealy-mouthed way. To wit:
This chapter is just about the single most appalling trainwreck I've read in recent memory, whether viewed exegetically, hermeneutically, theologically, or pastorally. The implications, if taken and followed out seriously by anyone (—God forbid!), are absolutely catastrophic.I still agree with me.
Then, the first to evaluate it is Garry Friesen, author of Decision-Making and the Will of God, representing the "Wisdom" view. To my everlasting bafflement, Friesen comes across in a manner that...okay, I deleted what I wrote first, took a few deep breaths, and will make this much nicer comment instead: it makes me wonder two things:
- Does Friesen really believe that his approach is the Biblical approach? (I certainly do, and I surely think Friesen does.)
- Does Friesen just not see what a prescription for a living nightmare the Blackaby approach is? (I certainly do... and, reading this, I have to wonder whether Friesen does.)
Then Gordon T. Smith critiques from the "Relational" perspective. He's a good writer, and his critique is effective, but lacks the rigorously Biblical edge Friesen eventually brought to bear.
Next up is Garry Friesen for the "Wisdom" view (101-159). Again, inexplicably, in presenting his view, Friesen begins... by praising the Blackabys! "Their books are examples of speaking the truth in love" (101, emphasis added). Well, if their books are "the truth," then I take it Friesen will be retracting his own? Because if the Blackabys are right, then Friesen's central contention is nonsense — and vice-versa.
One more word on that. The Blackabys do not return the favor. Clearly, Friesen's powerful Biblical critique and solid case have shaken them — though not enough. Even when they're not supposed to be critiquing Friesen, they do, and not particularly kindly, displaying none of the flattery Friesen shows them.
I dwell on this to make the point we often make and try to model here: critical truth is worth a spirited, bare-knuckled confrontation. Some ideas badly need to be exposed and body-slammed for the wretched mishandling of Scripture that they are. Ideas I say; ideas. And ideas have consequences. As we saw in the metas for the previous posts, real people and real churches are hurt by the Blackabys' doctrine.
I think Friesen goes too far in showing charity towards the Blackabys, by seeming to embrace and coddle their harmful, un-Biblical ideas. If their teaching is un-Biblical, then I think our main concerns should be (A) the honor of God, who I think is misrepresented in this view; and (B) the people and churches whom this teaching harms.
Friesen comes to summarize his own view in four principles:
- "Where God commands, we must obey
- "Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose
- "Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose
- "When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good" (103)
The Blackabys mock his view as invented (159), subjective (159), and not as popular as theirs (160; yes, they really do say that). They try to do a lot of damage-control, and bring out-of-context Scriptures in a weak attempt at propping up their position (i.e. maybe Philip had an inner impression, even though "Scripture does not identify" it as such ). To add to the list of hermeneutical and theological oddities noted in my previous posts, they reject the long-established Biblical categories of general and special revelation (166), and seem to reject Romans 9:19 as well (167).
Smith's critique is much more friendly and appreciative; he agrees with Friesen to a great extent, but fears that Friesen's approach by itself amounts to a sort of practical deism (170).
Which brings us to the "Relationship" view, presented by Smith himself (174-226), It is... a strange chapter. The view is a sort of mediating view between Friesen's and the Blackabys. Scripture is the basis, but the Christian life is about a relationship with Christ, which (to Smith) demands emotional and other communications of Christ ("speaking") to the believer, through the Spirit, apart from Scripture.
It is "strange" in that Smith does not actually build his specific case from Scripture, except the verses that depict the Christian as having a relationship with Christ. To fill in what is missing, Smith leans heavily — not on Scripture, but — on an assortment of later, uninspired writers (187-201). And what an assortment! I kid you not: Origen of Alexandria, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius Loyola. The latter ges 4.5 pages. Thaaat's right, Ignatius — founder of the Jesuits, servant of Jesus, Mary and the Pope — has more of specific use to teach us about having a relationship with Christ than the Scriptures.
Smith then says that "This listening [to Christ, personally and intimately] ...is the foundation of our Christian experience—a listening evident in our attentiveness to the inner witness of the Spirit" (202). Yet he came nowhere near either exampling nor establishing such a "foundation" from Scripture, to my mind. Like the Blackabys, he insists on God "speaking" to us apart from Scripture; and like them, he made no case from Scripture that we should expect any such thing.
This is always remarkable and significant. Leaning so heavily on post-Biblical writers, many of them not Biblically orthodox, is (to me) a tacit admission that the case cannot be made from Scripture. Charismatics are forced to do exactly the same thing in explaining how to get baptized with the Spirit, how to tell when the Spirit is nudging you, how to get tongues, and so forth. I would think — I would hope! — that a little light would go on for such well-meaning souls. "Hm, if I can't make this case from Scripture, then maybe... just maybe...."
Friesen seizes on this, and deals it a kind but very effective blow (227-228). At the same time, Friesen is right to acknowledge that he stands to learn from Smith's stress on a heart-relationship with God, and that his view is often faulted for seeming mechanistic, though he intends no such thing (226).
Features: Bibliography, footnotes, indices.
In sum: another very solid contribution from Kregel, who deserves our thanks for delving into this vitally practical subject. Recommended.