22 January 2007

Misreading God

by Dan Phillips

Reading providence is a fool's game, yet it never lacks players.

Discontented with Scripture, yearning for something God never promises, countless Christians read feelings, circumstances, events, hoping to discern God's personal coded messages in them. They may not use tea-leaves and chicken gizzards, but they no less are acting as diviners rather than divines. The results can be devastating and enslaving.

One particular point of conventional diviner's wisdom is the idea that God's hand can be discerned by the feelings a situation creates. A girl I knew decades ago decided against something important because thinking about it made her feel confused, and "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33, kidnapped at gunpoint from its context), so it could not be of God. QED.

God's hand, His presence in an event, is discerned (we're told) by the feelings of serene peace, joy, love, and/or closeness to God that we feel. If it makes us happy, if it makes us feel close to God, then it is of God. If it's frightening and repellent, God cannot be in it.

When you state it in broad sunlight, it's fairly silly on the face of it, and advocates must hastily trot out the "but-but-but"'s. But one passage in particular, from Mark 6, strikes me as fairly fatal to the view.
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. ...47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."
Note again verse 49—"they all saw him and were terrified."

What was it they saw? It was in fact Jesus. They actually were looking right at Him, they saw Him on the water. And He was there to do them good, with nothing but love in His heart for them. But they misperceived Him, they did not see Jesus as Jesus, and they mispercieved the significance of what they did see. Instead, they saw Him as a ghost, a being that struck horror in their hearts. The emotions that seeing Jesus stirred in them were not peace, joy, love, and closeness to God. They were terrified, they were filled with alarm and fear at the sight of Jesus.

It was Jesus they saw; it was not Jesus they perceived. What they experienced did not mean what they thought it meant.

Now, a Spurgeon could make a wonderful sermon out of this, but, since "a man's got to know his limitations," I'll be briefer, more direct, vastly less eloquent.

Perhaps you've had a horrid turn of events in your life. Perhaps, in fact, you've experienced nasty, bitter, painful reversals (or worse) in your ministry, your marriage, your family, your health, your job, your relationships. Perhaps the immediate effect of this (or these) is the grinding misery of despair, the daily, downhill erosion of hope—or at bare minimum, a temptation in that direction.

Your most natural fear is that this reversal reflects God's heart towards you. Is God trying to tell you something, by these calamities? Is He sending you a coded message? Is God telling you that He is angry with you, He is displeased with you, He doesn't love you anymore? Is God trying to hurt you, and "spank" you? If so, the spanking seems to stretch on and on endlessly, though you've no idea what you've done to anger Him so, or how you can make it right with Him.

Alternately, we might reflect for a moment on a private individual (or a pastor, or other leader) who is experiencing great success. The person is getting his way at work, family, church, society at large. A lot of notches are being scored. Does this signify God's pleasure? Is this — as I've heard countless times — "the Lord's blessing," not to be argued with nor gainsaid? Can five thousand Frenchmen be wrong?

Yes, they can. Five thousand, five million, or one; French, Hispanic, or American. Whether pastoral ministry or personal life, the interpretive matrix is not and cannot be the experience itself. Experiences are not self-interpreting. For the Christian, insofar as he is practicing the faith he professes, the Bible provides the interpretive grid.

So again I ask the question: Is this how a Christian should respond to life's miseries or successes? Should he try to read them as encrypted messages from God, trying to discern His heart and directions from them?

Of course we should search our lives for sin. We should test ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:32; 2 Corinthians 13:5), we should be killing sin lest sin be killing us (Owen; cf. Romans 8:13). But we should do that at all times, not merely when things are going badly. The "fatness" of the wicked is no sign of God's approval (Psalm 73), nor is the adversity of the righteous a sure indicator of His disfavor (Job). In fact, the precise reverse may be the case (1 Peter 2:20b).

Read God's stance towards you, and discern God's will for you, in the perspicuous volume of Scripture—not in the opaque codebook of Providence.

Is the Lord "in the storm"? I think it depends on what we mean by that. Rather than guessing and second-guessing, we must at least embrace that the Lord owns the storm, and He controls the storm (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11), and can either send it (Jonah 1:4), or still it (Psalm 107:29; Mark 4:39 ["Hush! Be still!"]).

But the storm is not what tells you whether God loves you or is pleased with you, or what He holds you accountable for doing. That is found in the Word, and in Jesus Christ to whom the Word points. In Him we find God's love, and His unshakable purpose for good, a good that brings life's storms into its train of invincible purpose (Romans 8:28).

Providence, when it can be read at all, is usually read only in retrospect, in the "afterwards," the "later" -- as in "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).

The great '50's movie The Thing from Another World ends with the words, "Keep watching the skies!"

The better watchword for the believer is, "To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Isaiah 8:20).

Dan Phillips's signature


Jon from Bucksport said...

Great as always DJP!

One of the things you touched on is what I like to call "Disney Theology." We have been thoroughly indoctrinated by the Seminary of Mouse that our hearts and feelings are trustworthy guides to all of life. It is a dangerous thing to believe and I often find myself falling into the trap. We need to preach to ourselves dependance on the Word of God and we need to encourage others to lean on the rock of truth and not the reed of feelings.

BTW-First Post!

Lee Shelton said...

Great post, Dan. It's interesting to note that ever since Adam and Eve tried to hide from God in the Garden of Eden, sinful man has only been able to respond in fear to confrontations with the Almighty. People seem to forget that.

Timotheos said...

Thanks, Dan
Spoke with a two pastor friends of mine within the last week who explained God's leading in their lives to new ministry by focusing on circumstantial situations that led them to jettison their present ministries.

How troubling it is when we justify our desires by focusing our perceptions of what we want to feel rather than what is taught.

This is not to say that the Lord can't use circumstances in our lives, however we must tread carefully with circumstances.

One of the most troubling thing that has plagued evangelicalism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries is the reliance on most in the church on pragmatism rather than Scripture to discern God's Will.

donsands said...

"His presence is discerned by feelings"

Not too long ago I felt very despondent, and wanted to "crawl in a hole and die", as Marshall Tucker puts it.

But God is so faithful, and He actually helped me, not only endure, but engage the situation.

It was a time of difficulty, but I believe it honors the Lord, when we don't complain a whole lot, and when we do complain, we repent. And we keep on loving people who are upset, and even resentful, for unjust reasons.

I surely did take inventory, and made sure I wasn't holding onto any particular sin during this situation. And where needed I asked for forgiveness.

I learned from this trial. And it's so true what you wrote in this post, and the Body of Christ really needs to be hearing teachings like this one.
Good stuff.

DJP said...

Very good comments, Jon, thanks.

Ebeth said...

This is so timely. Our women's Bible study is going to be studying the book of JOB for the next six weeks, and there was a whole lot of misreading going on during those days too.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Great post, Dan.

If believers would spend the kind of time and energy focused on God's revealed will as they do His secret will, there would be no need for making decisions based upon leadings, feelings, or inner peaces (sorry, wanted those to all end in 's'), for wisdom and discernment would be had by all (believers) who focused on and diligently mined the revealed will of God (the Bible, in case you weren't sure where His revealed will is located), and any decision that contained unknown factors could be made with confidence that God-given wisdom had been employed to make said decision!

Wow...was that all one sentence? My apologies.

Phil Perkins said...

You said, "They may not use tea-leaves and chicken gizzards, but they no less are acting as diviners rather than divines."

Bingo. I call it a soft paganism. It's also exhibited when we sit around at a "Bible study" and expound on what a passage "means to me." Which is really reading the tingles we received when we read it. It is motivated by laziness in the study and the ego rush of everybody being the teacher.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

Terry Rayburn said...

Excellent, Dan.

Even the question, "What is the purpose of God in that?" is to betray the tiny limits of man.


Because it's likely that God, in His infinity, has thousands, or millions of "purposes" in every Providential act.

One may take a class in computer science for several different puposes. For example, to get credit for a degree; to prepare for a desired career; to impress their dad who thinks they're incapable of thinking digitally; to make more money in their uncle's company; to make their girlfriend happy; to run the Pyro graphics department some day; and just because they love computers.

Multiply that multi-purpose scenario by the factor of God-Head-ness, and to even think in terms of a single purpose is to not get it.

When Hubble took photos of what we thought was dark empty space between the galaxies that we had already photographed, vast new galaxies mysteriously appeared.

That's the Lord who promises to work all things together for good to those who love Him, even when we can't fathom how.

Unknown said...

This subject is dear my heart and the heart of my family. In the past 1 1/2 years our family had a number of things come our way. Katrina took my parent's home. Our son was born with spina bifida and has had to endure a number of surgeries. We were robbed. There have been deaths, medical problems, strife in the extended family, etc. But the Lord continues to be gracious.

William Cowper, a man acquainted with struggles wrote the beautiful hymn "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." This hymn has been a tremendous comfort to us, and we've reveled in the goodness of God in all things. My favorite verse is the last;

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain. God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

-Thomas Slawson

FX Turk said...

waitaminit --

timotheos, you're saying that pastors do this sort of thing? Pastors?! Lean on their own feelings rather than on Scripture?

I can't believe that.

Certainly none of the pastors reading this blog. Not ever.

FX Turk said...

Terry --

You keep talking like that and somebody is going to understand what you're talking about. We can't have that.

I think. Something like that.

Jim Crigler said...

1. If you don't watch out, you may actually resurrect the personal revelation thread that got hijacked last year by the cessationist / continuationist debate. (Phil, are you listening? I'm still waiting with bait breath, I mean bated breath, for the bits on Gothard and Blackaby. There, I said it. I can wait till February now.)

2. Re: Perhaps you've had a horrid turn of events in your life. Perhaps, in fact, you've experienced nasty, bitter, painful reversals (or worse) in your ministry, your marriage, your family, your health, your job, your relationships. Perhaps the immediate effect of this (or these) is the grinding misery of despair, the daily, downhill erosion of hope—or at bare minimum, a temptation in that direction. If I read the beatitudes correctly, these things, if they come at you for the sake of the Gospel (and not for the sake of any offense you add to it), are to be taken as blessings from God.

David said...

As the husband of a wife who may be about to receive some adverse results of a CT scan, this essay could not have been more timely.

"Jesus owns the storm." "Jesus controls the storm." May my family not try to divine God's providence by the (potential) storm itself.

Jim Crigler said...

1. If you don't watch out, you may actually resurrect the personal revelation thread that got hijacked last year by the cessationist / continuationist debate. (Phil, are you listening? I'm still waiting with bait breath, I mean bated breath, for the bits on Gothard and Blackaby. There, I said it. I can wait till February now.)

2. Re: Perhaps you've had a horrid turn of events in your life. Perhaps, in fact, you've experienced nasty, bitter, painful reversals (or worse) in your ministry, your marriage, your family, your health, your job, your relationships. Perhaps the immediate effect of this (or these) is the grinding misery of despair, the daily, downhill erosion of hope—or at bare minimum, a temptation in that direction. If I read the beatitudes correctly, these things, if they come at you for the sake of the Gospel (and not for the sake of any offense you add to it), are to be taken as blessings from God.

DJP said...

Frank--stop hijacking my comment threads.

Terry—those are excellent thoughts, and I had never really thought of it from that angle. Thanks very much!

Frank--stop hijacking my comment threads.


Connie said...

Dan said, "For the Christian, insofar as he is practicing the faith he professes, the Bible provides the interpretive grid."

Yes, and THIS is where we can and need to stand firmly when counseling ourselves AND others! When our experiences don't line up with Scripture we must discipline ourselves (and others) to prefer Scripture and submit to it's authority--not attempt to rewrite or reinterpret.

BTW, loved the gizzard and native american graphics! :-)

FX Turk said...


Sorry. I did what the spirit told me to do.

ricki said...

Sorry Dan - not clear on your point at all, at least not in light of the comments that you seem to agree with.

If you post is intended to say that in all of our decisions, we must diligently search Scripture and pass all options through that grid. I agree. And I'll agree that many don't search the Scripture with the passion and tenacity that you have often rightly advocated.

Or, if you are saying that what what can be confused as peace may not be God's leading, again I'll agree.

But ...

If you are saying that those you mistakenly refer to as leaky-Canon are more likely to do that, show me the Scripture.

If you are saying that all of the answers to every specific choice is found explicitly in Scripture, show me the Scripture.

If you are saying that your ability to reason through Scripture is any less subject to the effect of the fall than emotion, show me the Scripture.


I was tempted to let it go since this is all more of the same basic discussion but the comments were turning into too much of a love in...

I felt compelled to register a dissenting vote.

Phil Johnson said...

I think the Total Moron's Guide books deserve to be a regular motif here, kind of like the Biblezine parodies. Next up: The Total Moron's Guide to the Vocabulary of the Emerging Conversation.

It'll have to be rated PG13, of course.

Kaffinator said...

>If you are saying that your ability to reason through Scripture is any less subject to the effect of the fall than emotion, show me the Scripture.

This is a puzzling request, Rick. I thought that Dan's whole point was that discerning the content of our own emotional state is a pointless exercise if we wish to discern God's will. God's will and my emotions don't necessarily have anything to do with each other.

It sounds like you're suggesting that if the Fall wasn't a factor, we could easily discern God's will either by studying what He says, or by examining what we feel. Do you really believe that is the case?

Kaffinator said...

>If you are saying that those you mistakenly refer to as leaky-Canon are more likely to do that, show me the Scripture.

Couldn't 2 Tim 4:3-4 apply to folks who believe they need extra-special revelation that is just for them, "in accordance to their own desires"?

DJP said...

As I've noted, Rick, every time someone affirms Scripture's self-testimony, it troubles the leaky-Canon set.

Since I don't "mistakenly" refer to anyone as "leaky-Canon," the first question is meaningless, and cannot be answered.

As to the second, I already have. (Mercy, Rick, it was just earlier this month! You aren't committing these to memory?)

As to the third, my ability is not the subject of the post. God's provision is. So, again, done.

Daniel said...

<sarcasm>But what if someone feels at peace with a leaky canon?</sarcasm>

ricki said...

Kaffinator - Nope

DJP - I know you know I disagree. And I know you know that I know that you will disagree with my disagreement.

You probably even have a list by now of who will jump in on which points of a given post. I bet you're even a bit disappointed when some don't. I sense (no - I don't have a Scripture for this) that you take a little pleasure in some of this (as long as people don't get stupid, overdo it, etc.) - and if you write a post that is not antagonistic, you may even consider adding a point or two just to stir it up a bit.

That's ok - I've grown to enjoy it.

And, I don't plan to belabor the point because (1) I fear Phil and (2) it only takes away from the excellent point of Biblical due diligence.

As you say, it's all been posted before. I was just "representin'" lest you forget that some of your fans do not always agree with all you say.

And it feels important to me to let your readers know that not all is "matter of fact" and that they need to "stop and think" - regardless of which side they end up on. The comments thus far were a little too "Dan is great" for my blood.

joey said...

as a "leaky canoner"...or leaky canonite"...or continuationist as we like to call ourselves sometimes...I would have to say that I had nothing to really disagree with in this post at all...wait let me check again...ok maybe not nothing. But the point that our feelings are super untrustworthy and scripture is completely trustworthy is such a good point. So I'll leave it at that.

DJP said...

BTW, Rick, before any further dialogue, I think we should just get this out there:

I did not even use the term "leaky Canon" in the text, right?

So you're offended at the use of the term in a caption!

Just wanted the record clear.

Next: you'll object because you'll know I was thinking it when I write my next post. (And you'll probably be right!)

Phil Walker said...

Thanks, Dan, I needed to hear this. The temptation to look in on myself and ask, "what's the Lord trying to teach me in this?" rather than looking to him and saying, "give what you command and command what you will" is one with which I constantly struggle.

Learning Grace said...

So this is all well and good. Kudos on the Sola Scriptura, down with the touchy-feely not-even-veiled mysticism that seems to be all the rage on KLOV, but... uh, what do we do?

I'm sure this is a topic worthy of its own post, so maybe y'all could just give me some advise as to where I could go find out how one goes searching through scripture for specifics of everyday life. I've got a bit of nerd syndrome. I can explain the nuances of Soli Deo Gloria and its place in historic Christianity, but you got to talk real slow when it comes to tying my shoes.

Any way, I'm sure this is all besides the point, but that's never stopped me before.

ricki said...

DJP - you are right. I was only heeding the numerous warnings to not comment without reading the post. I assumed that included captions - remember 4given was "really frustrated" in November when you slacked on using them.

And, not offended ... just "riled up" ... as I wearily contend that not all in the set you describe as leaky-Canon have an issue with affirming Scripture's self-testimony. Many of us are very with you in this affirmation and it's one reason we read you.

I don't know if you are the best author on this stuff. I don't have time to read everyone but you are informative, persuasive and entertaining. I always have time for that.

Kaffinator said...

Dan, I'm hoping you can solve a sort of riddle for me. In exchange I will try to be as open as I can (for a guy hiding behind a pseudonym anyway).

I know several people who use the kind of language you have been calling out in recent posts. They are "seeking His will" by trying to "listen to God" in prayer and such. I have worried whether they (and I?) were enslaving themselves to exactly the kind of futile quest for "God's personal coded messages" as you put it. Your posts have been challenging and timely for me. I'm convinced that I need to see more clearly using God's light from His word rather than my own idealistic notions of what a walking-in-the-spirit Christian looks like. This is...hard to do. Prolly I'm one of the ones that Phil told you to be gentle to, who really hasn't yet been captured by a thoroughly Biblical doctrine of Providence.

So. Here is the riddle. I would like to commend you by saying that I feel God is using you to speak to me. But if I say that then I can't say that, can I? Cut this gordian knot if you can!

DJP said...

Learning grace — please check out THIS POST. I hope it helps.

David A. Carlson said...

Dan's post is about:
"Christians (who) read feelings, circumstances, events, hoping to discern God's personal coded messages in them."

He was pretty focused. He was not stating anything about the true role of the Holy Spirit in believers lives. That would be a different post.

Jim Crigler said...

I apologize for the doubled comment. I didn't know until just now it happened. My connection was troubled at that point. I won't be offended if the proprietors here delete one of them and this one.

DJP said...

Yeah, but it was worth repeating.

And, oddly, I don't have my little delet-o thingie working on this pc. Maybe later.

Kaffinator said...

Hi David,

The "Circumstances" Dan mentions would necessarily include things I heard, read, or saw, which in this case include my reading of Dan's post. Would it be inappropriate to say God "spoke to me" through such a mechanism? Isn't this what all godly teaching attempts to accomplish? To speak God's word into us?

But as soon as I perceive God has done so, am I not engaging in tea-leaf Christianity? Am I not reading God's providence in leading Dan to speak and me to read? This is not a flippant question (or at least I hope it is not).

DJP said...

Rick--The comments thus far were a little too "Dan is great" for my blood.

I appreciate your being solcitous for my soul's health. You can take some comfort, though, in the knowledge that plenty is built into my life to prevent me ever suspecting that I'm much.

donsands said...

"For the Christian .... the Bible provides the interpretive grid".


And what a precious blessing to know that, as well as have this treasure in such abundance.

The truth must rule over every experience. If not, we will be "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine".

"In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes". Prov. 3:6-7a

BTW, I love that picture of Marshall Matt Dillon.

Royzoner said...

If we really want to be biblical for decision-making
we should cast lots like the Apostles did in the book of Acts, Chapter 1v26.

Jmv7000 said...

Great post,

One of my favorite "misreads" is when a person misreads the situation he or she is in. Specifically when a person is steeped in a sin, yet continually declares it to be a trial by God, rather than understanding that his "trial" is a result of his own sin (reap what is sown).

For example, a person in a rehab center views the loss of friends, finances, job, and / or family as a trial, rather than understanding that his sin has consequences.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

They are "seeking His will" by trying to "listen to God" in prayer and such.

QUESTION: How does God speak to someone through prayer? I thought prayer was when we talked to God.

In response to the post here on Pyro, I posed some questions on my site for those who hold that God speaks outside of Scripture. My main question is, HOW does God speak outside of Scripture - using what medium?

Assuming it is a given that He DOES speak in extrabiblical mediums - leadings, feelings, impressions, billboards - HOW specifically does He do it?

Can ANYONE who gets these messages from God give a quick answer? Audible voice? Writing on the wall? Through a dream? What?

Or is it just a 'feeling' that God is talking to you - directing you...because I can't recall any instances in Scripture where God talked to individuals through their feelings...I seem to recall an audible voice being used, and the individual in question having NO doubt what it was that God said.


UK67 said...

>God's will and my emotions don't necessarily have anything to do with each other.

Let me tell you from great experience in this area that the average human being has very little understanding of what emotions are. Substitute, for instance, the term - and thing - conscience for emotions in the statement above and it sounds a little less on-the-mark, no?

Conscience is real. That is has been called God's voice within you is something I find very little to disagree with.

The question of conscience and reliablity is not one of divination so much as the degree that conscience is buried within one. The more buried the more faint the voice. Part of getting a new heart and of sanctification is the unburying of conscience.

Robert Ivy said...


And now to propose the leaky-canon side, buahahahaha.

K so not really, I agree with you on this one (clenching fist and gritting teeth). Although I do feel that the point you made was already fairly obvious. So as one who likes to dig deeper:

1. What does it mean to wait on the Lord? (Perhaps the subject for a different post.)

2. Can we ever know if our prayers are answered? If the request does come about do we thank God for acting or do we just distrust that what happened was actually from God?

3. Can faith ever have a real object in our life? Can we actually expect God to ever do anything specific in this life?

Just a few queries that stemmed from reading your article. But I appreciate the main point. Scripture is to be trusted, not feelings.

JackW said...

I believe that God does indeed communicate with us during prayer, however it is always related to scripture. It’s very difficult, for me anyway, to approach the throne of God without being affected. That’s because of the attributes of God that I’ve discovered from studying the Bible. Often when I’m talking to God about something, a scripture will come to mind. I do feel that during those times that God is “speaking” to me and when that happens I go to the scripture to understand the context and meaning. I think that feelings do play a part, but I try to understand my feelings in light of the scripture rather than the other way around.

David A. Carlson said...


It seems to me that which seperates tea leaf reading from following the spirit is that the Holy Spirit leads us to do things that are in direct conformance to what the bible teaches.

As an example, when Phil presented his testimony, he said (this is a paraphrase from memory) that one of the first things he did was go start attending a church - I believe he said he was drawn to it, but I could be misremembering.

To me, that is a classic leading of the spirit - no outside person told him to, it was not from some type of bible study, he was drawn to it and did it.

And of course meeting with believers is a clear teaching of scripture. Why did he do it - I would say that was through the encouragement of the Holy Spririt.

When we find joy in giving things to other who are in need, that joy is from the Holy Spirit - I have to tell you, giving away things is not a rational thing to do in a materialistic society (and I am not talking old cloths here), but there have been fewer things that have brought my wife and I greater joy.

God really calls us to just a few things. Belief, and then obedience to his revealed will - revealed through the scripture. I believe that when we follow the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the spirit will be in our lives - and those are the emotional gifts of joy, peace and love

But as Dan pointed out, those gifts may not come at the beginging of the effort. But I believe they will come, because the scripture teaches us they will.

It is a funny thing, but we are called to rejoice in all things - even the horrible. The only way we can achieve that is through the Holy Spirit in us.

Well, thats my meanderings for the morning. The Holy Spirit leads us to do things that God wants us to do, in conformance with the scripture. Feelings are irrelevent. It is conviction that occurs. The feelings of joy, peace, etc come after obedience - not before. And sometimes the feelings come not for a long times afterwoords, and perhaps not until we are with him.

Family Blogs said...

'The perspicuous volume of Scripture—not in the opaque codebook of Providence'.

Priceless. I would plagiarise that phrase only anyone who knows me would quickly work out that I didn't come up with it!

Your sentiments stand as an important corrective to much of our situational interpretations as believers. Too often we have a karma-like understanding of providence and circumstance. Your point about 'the Lord's blessing' perhaps shows the origin of this for many. Without touching on it specifically what you write here points up the logical outcome of following 'prosperity' logic - broken hearted, disappointed people, with no theological filter through which to pass their painful experience.

Learning Grace said...

Oops, guess I missed that one. Thanks, that did help.

Terry Rayburn said...

I don't think the question of God's internal leading of us can be Biblically understood without a trichotomous anthropology. That is, without distinguishing the difference between "body", "soul" (comprised, loosly speaking, of mind, emotion, and will) and "spirit".

When one is regenerated, or born again, it clearly is not our "soul" which is made new, since the Mind must still be renewed over time, the Emotions may still run amuck for good or evil, and the Will is still not tamed even close to perfection.

And if I'm any indication, our Body is certainly not made new either.

It is our "spirit" which is not only made new (the new creation, 2 Cor. 5:17), but actually made one with the Holy Spirit, Who now resides in us (1 Cor. 6:17).

Now, with our spirit and His Spirit together, He is able to direct our steps through our spirit, not just in right-and-wrong issues, but in morally neutral day-to-day matters as well.

We can't say it's "verbal", however, but more akin to "instinct" in lower animals. I'm sure the Arctic Tern, unlike Pat Robertson, doesn't get a "word" from the Lord. Few Terns even speak English, though a few may have discovered the inspired 1611.

And because it's not verbal, it can't be considered "authoritative" in the same sense as the Word of God written or spoken by the Prophets and Apostles.

Since the Scripture clearly says that a believer can walk "by the Spirit", or "by the flesh", it is important for us to walk "by the Spirit" as much as we can, since it's in this area that we are a new creation which fully loves Christ, and hates sin.

"Hearing God", in that sense, may be mysterious, but it's not mystical. It's simply a product of walking by the Spirit, and being led by the Spirit, which is a mark of a believer (Rom. 8:14).

It's interesting that the Rom. 8:14 passage (which says that sons of God are led by the Spirit of God) is just two verses before the passage which says, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."

Bears witness? How? Ah-h-h, that's the mystery. But it's not mystical. It's Biblical Anthropology. It's part of how we're fearfully and wonderfully made.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Terry, your 'body, soul, spirit' terminology sounds a lot like Witness Lee and Watchman Nee's trinity of man heresy. I'd be careful with that stuff.

I just hijacked the thread, didn't I...sorry.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Terry, I just checked out your site and confirmed my suspicions...you a part of gracewalk - Steve McVey.

Much to be concerned about, for sure.

MSC said...

While I agree with the general thrust of many of the comments here, I fear many have regarded the affective dimension of the human soul as something intrinically bad, perhaps an aweful by-product of the fall that we just have to soemtimes deal with. Modern evangelicalism has made too much of a distinction between heart and mind. Some latch on to unfettered emotions as the sine qua non of spirituality and others have so exalted the mind that so long as you 'think' correctly regardless of how you 'feel' than you're okay.

Yet I suggest this is an unwarranted bifurcation that finds no support in Scripture. One commenter says that "our hearts and feelings" are not trustworthy guides to life. Yet Proverbs 4:23 says – "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." Jesus located the fundamental problem of humankind in the heart not the mind (Matt. 7 & 12). The heart is mission control central, not the mind. Nonetheless, without spiritual understanding (1 Cor. 2), something I believe involving both heart and mind, one's heart will be inclined to that which decieves, not that which enlightens.

It is both the mind and the spirit that are renewed in regeneration (John 3:1-6; Rom. 12:2). However, as Jonathan Edwards so powerfully argued genuine Christianity rests in the renewed affections of the heart that result from the transformation wrought by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Edwards stated, "He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion" The Religious Affections .

The Bible consistently locates the focus of genuine faith in the affections. For example the Bible often speaks of godly fear; hope in God; love to God, Christ and mankind; hatred for sin; holy desires or longings after God and holiness; holy joy; brokenness of heart; gratitude toward God; compassion and mercy; zeal; and the list goes on. These are not matters of cognitive indifference, but that which grips and engages the heart. Anything less in my mind smacks of Stoicism and not Christianity.

C.T. Lillies said...

But what about that little aside, "...and he intended to pass them by..." Whoa! They were in trouble, but he was going to leave them in it?

I must have misread that.

"...the word of God is not bound."
--2 Timothy 2:9

Terry Rayburn said...


You wrote: "I'd be careful with that stuff."

I'm always careful. Thanks.

I'd be careful, as I cautioned Nathan repeatedly, to struggle to contain yourself from quickly putting people in boxes, so you can throw the box overboard without thinking.

I've yet to meet the teacher I totally agree with. But it's a poor student who can't learn from someone with whom he has some disagreement.

There is no doctrine that we should fear to examine and re-examine, as long as we do so in light of the Scriptures with an attitude of sola scriptura.

Thank God the Reformers did, heh?

For the record, a trichotomous view of man is not new. It was taught in various forms by Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Didymus of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Caesarea.

Later by Martin Luther, in fair detail in his commentary on Luke, regarding the Magnificat of Mary.

Others have been been Delitzsch, Thiessen, Chafer, Lockyer, and Oswald Chambers. Along with many others whose writings I must admit I'm not familiar with.

None of these names impress me, however, preferring a Biblical examination. I only offer it to give a little perspective.

I'm amazed how much the word "heresy" is thrown around to avoid thinking. The Cardinals did that a lot in the 1500's.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...


You can line up all the names you want who have held to and still hold today to a trichotomous view of man, but that will not make it any less dangerous and wrong.

Man is body and soul (spirit)...two parts...not three.

The variances between our views on this results in a huge difference of how we handle the way we believe God may or may not speak to us today, and how we view and handle things such as tongues.

This is not the place nor the thread...but I believe your trinitarian view of man is indeed heresy. I am addressing the theology, not you personally.


Doug said...

Voice of the Sheep, I don't know Terry Rayburn personally, and I may disagree with his Anthropology, but I didn't see anything on his sight or in his comments that would equate him with Witness Lee or Watchman Nee. He sounds like a standard dispensationalist.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Hi Doug,

Terry's site has a link to gracewalk.org, the ministry of Steve McVey. Terry also runs a radio program on Grace Walk Radio. A quick perusal of the gracewalk site shows an endorsement of both Watchman Nee and Andrew Murray (another proponent of the trichotomy of man). Terry is closely affiliated with Steve McVey AND Gracewalk, its teachings and theology.

It has been a long while since I read McVey's book, 'Grace Walk', but it was there that I was introduced to Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, and quickly saw its terrible system of theology regarding man, sin, the flesh, etc.

The teachings of McVey and Gracewalk (and thereby Terry) should be suspect. Again, nothing against Terry personally, but once you understand where he is coming from with respect to the trichotomy of man, it is easier to understand the full spectrum of aberrant theology that stems from it.

And Terry, I wasn't using the term 'heresy' to avoid thinking, as you suggested earlier. I have thought long and hard on this subject and fought it at our former large SBC church.


Kaffinator said...

Hi David,

Thanks for taking the time to respond. I know what you and Phil mean when you say we are “drawn” to things, which we attribute to the Holy Spirit. In my own story, I was drawn into salvation. At the time, I had no very little understanding of reprobation, election, or regeneration. But after being exposed to a consistent gospel message I felt (yes, felt) God’s conviction of sin upon me. This led me to the foot of the cross in short order.

Few Christians, I hope, would dispute that this is exactly the kind of work the Holy Spirit does, and thus could offer no serious objection to my reading the event as a genuine work of God. Yet, we come to such conclusions as a result of an analysis of events, feelings, and effects, as we read God's providence in the light of holy scripture.

Years later, now I find myself in the midst of Christian ministry and a question I frequently encounter is “how do we know what God wants us to do, specifically”. Children’s ministry? Community outreach? Internal discipleship? And so forth. All things that are amply commended in scripture so it’s not really a question of conformance to the Word. It’s a question of, “where does God want us to be laboring in this particular time and place?” It’s not unexpected, then, that we might desire more specific and personal leading on the matter than scripture itself can afford. We want to review circumstance, events, and the feelings that we perceive as prompting from the Spirit and after prayer, study, and fasting, come to a place where we can say, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28), and act with confidence.

I may very well be misreading Dan, but it seems to me this would have to fit his categorization of “reading providence”.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Hi Kaffinator,

Regarding which avenues to pursue, would it be wrong to simply make sure none of them violate God's revealed will (throwing out any that do), and then praying and trusting for wisdom to make a good decision...and then simply make a decision, trusting that God has given wisdom to make it?


Kaffinator said...

Hi VotS,

>Would it be wrong to […] simply make a decision, trusting that God has given wisdom to make it?

You mean, just as Dan described in his earlier post on decision-making? We make decisions like that all the time, and no I don’t see any reason to say this is wrong. But more to the point, I have two questions for you.

#1) Would it be wrong to get to a point where it seemed like two different avenues might be equally profitable, and ask the Lord to make it clear which path was in His will? Is this not what the disciples did in Acts 1? Do you believe they were wrong to do so?

#2) Would it be wrong, having studied out and prayed and come to a decision as you described, and then actually say “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” when referring to that decision?

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Hi Kaff,

Thanks for the questions. Here are my thoughts (keep in mind I'm an amateur):

#1. Is it not possible that BOTH avenues are equally within the will of God? You seem to assume that only one avenue would be acceptable to God. I do NOT think the disciples were wrong to cast lots to find out who would replace Judas, but they WERE the apostles...in the apostolic era...prior to Pentecost. Would it be wrong to cast lots today in the same manner? That's an interesting question. Is that the method you use when choosing between two viable avenues?

#2. Again, regarding the use of the phrase, "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us", we are talking about the apostles...in the apostolic era. In the present - without a direct confirmation by the Holy Spirit (which I have no doubt the apostles received) - how can you be sure that your decision DOES, in fact, seem good to Him, except in hindsight, and by the fact that the decision does NOT violate God's revealed will?

One method seems more subjective to me than the other. If there truly are two or more ways to go, and NONE violate ANY of the revealed will of God, then I would be more confident praying for wisdom, making a decision, and being confident in that wisdom that God gave me.

The truth is, when faced with multiple avenues to take, many of those possibilities - if not all - end up being eliminated (or should be eliminated) because they do violate God's revealed will.

I believe it's the analyzing of our possible choices in light of God's revealed, written, and infallible will that we should focus our energies on.


Kaffinator said...

Hello again VotS,

Before Him we are all amateurs!

> but they WERE the apostles...in the apostolic era...prior to Pentecost. […] Is that the method you use when choosing between two viable avenues?

I think we have all flipped a coin at one time or another to make a decision between equals. But the apostles are doing a coin toss to determine apostolic membership. I’ve never flipped a coin for something that momentous. Maybe I shouldn’t be afraid to do so? Or, by pointing out that they did this prior to Pentecost, are you saying they would have used a different approach to solve the same problem afterwards? If so, what would that approach have been?

> In the present - without a direct confirmation by the Holy Spirit (which I have no doubt the apostles received) - how can you be sure that your decision DOES, in fact, seem good to Him, except in hindsight, and by the fact that the decision does NOT violate God's revealed will?

What form would a “direct confirmation by the Holy Spirit” have taken? If you read the whole passage you see phrases like, “it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church” and “it seemed good to us, having become of one mind” and finally the quote I pulled, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”. If God had supernaturally and audibly spoken, I’m sure it would have been recorded that way. Even more surely, you wouldn’t see that tag “and to us” after it. If I was claiming that God literally spoke, it would make very little difference whether I agreed with him! So the flow of the passage leads me to think that after careful consideration (and even debate) a general and prayerful consensus was reached amongst the saints, and expressed formally by the apostles.

You asked how could I be sure that my decision seems good to the Holy Spirit? Well, that’s the whole question I’m asking here, isn’t it? I guess it is your answer that as long as you have studied it out (as per your last paragraph), then He is satisfied. Right?

> The truth is, when faced with multiple avenues to take, many of those possibilities - if not all - end up being eliminated (or should be eliminated) because they do violate God's revealed will.

If only that were so! But often it is not, even in the example I presented. Perhaps next time I face a ministry decision, you will hear me say, “OK God: heads, I serve in children’s ministry; tails, I serve in adult discipleship.” And then, “Hmmm. Tails. How about we go two out of three?”

Chris Anderson said...


You've delivered the goods in the past, but this is so good...and sooooo necessary in our day.

I've had a lady tell me she was doubting God's love, but then a bird flew into her yard--an obvious message from the Lord. (What would God have been saying if a cat had eaten it, I wonder?) I've had people use the "fleece" of selling their house in 2 weeks if God wanted them to move. (Of course, pouring a bucket of water on the fleece by extending the time period or lowering the price in the weeks ahead doesn't hurt, either. And for the record, where did we get the idea that the "fleece" test was anything less than doubt?) And of course, everybody knows that when a girl says she "doesn't have peace" about dating you, what she really means is that she really prefers the tall dark pre-med fella you'll see her with next week.

I have a feeling that we live to much by feelings.

Terry Rayburn said...


So let's see if I understand you...

1) your "suspicions" are confirmed....moohaha....spooky

2) You say Terry's views affect how he deals with things like tongues (even though almost no one I mentioned who teaches the trichotomous view, believes in the so-called "tongues" of today)

3) "...much to be concerned about..." -- wow, that's scary

4) You say you "met" Witness Lee in Steve McVey's book Grace Walk. Interesting, since McVey never mentions Witness Lee (who, by the way, was "nutty"...but certainly not endorsed by McVey or me....Did you make that up, or just forget?)

5) You say a trichotomous view of man is "dangerous", but of course "this isn't the place or the thread" to even mention *why* it is dangerous. (Meanwhile, I have walked for 30 years -- I presume since you were in diapers -- in this glorious truth, and have found it to withstand the test of Scripture over and over).

6) "Terry is closely affiliated with Steve McVey AND Gracewalk, its teachings and theology."

I have the privilege of being the only Calvinist with a radio program on Grace Walk. Not a bad opportunity, you think?

Though you might in good conscience pass up such an opportunity, I've chosen to exalt the Sovereignty of God in a venue where it's not often heard, while glorifying the Lord for His *after*-salvation Grace, an area often neglected by Reformed guys who see grace for *initial* salvation, but revert to a performance-based or law-based Christian life *after* initial salvation.

Ever since Iranaeus wrote "Against Heresies", the Biblical concept of "heresy" has been watered down to mean, "whatever is against what I believe".

You should study the Biblical concept of the word heresy, from 1 Pet. 2:1ff, in its context of dividing from the Body of Christ on a non-essential of the Faith, and denying the Lord. You might be less inclined to throw that word around.

Bottom line: You offered nothing of substance, but took the opportunity to smear a brother you know hardly anything about. Sort of, "You're a heretic, but I'm not going to explain why, and, by the way, nothing personal."

We share a great respect for the Word of God, which, by the way, is "...piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit..." (Heb. 4:12).

I close with those immortal words of Paul the Apostle:

"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess. 5:23)

Mike Barrett said...

For Christ's sake, literally, go feed the poor or give money to a sick person who hates Christians. Which is a greater heresy, having a weak theology or not helping the weak? All these Calvinisms and Spurgeonisms and Seminarianisms are making me ill.

I have to stop visiting this site.... Ahhhh.

FX Turk said...


I'm wondering -- did you think a blog was going to be some kind of alms-o-matic in which you could see the good working of some people in terms of their checkbooks or how they spend their spare time?

See: I'm on a little bit of a tear right now about the love of God -- I admit it. But you know something? I think that it's not the love of God unless it is God whom we love, amen?

I reject the idea that our theology is some kind of afterthought -- but in that, our theology ought to be robust enough to love and not be puffed up.

And here's the irony: I would rather personally associate myself with a qualified continualist like John Piper or Martin Lloyd-Jones than with a hard-headed, jot-and-tittle legalist or a "baptist" like Tony Campolo.

Why? Because it's a wicked crime to give people bread and comfort and not give them the Gospel. The Gospel is not some unrecognizable truth, and it is not some pal-y iteration of Judaism or Islam: it stands alone in history as the power to save men.

I hope that your efforts to feed the poor and do the work of true religion include something more that a disregard for "calvinism" and "spurgeonism".

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...


I never called you a heretic...I called the theology of man being a trichotomous being heresy.

As to McVey's book Gracewalk, as I said in my comments, it had been a long time since I read through that terrible thing. I will take your word for it that Witness Lee is not referenced...only Watchman Nee, who was Witness Lee's mentor. Or, to put in another way, Lee was a disciple of Nee.

As to not going into great detail, I did not want to hijack this thread any more than I already had. But I did want people to know who might be unaware of the dangerous and unbiblical theology put forth by gracewalk - such as the trichotomy of man.

And, NO, it is nothing personal...so please stop making it personal. I have no intentions of smearing you personally.

If I came across as terse or rude, I am sorry. After having fought this kind of stuff for seven years at our former SBC church, one loses some of the diplomacy that perhaps should accompany these statements.

donsands said...

"theology is some kind of afterthought"

Good thoughts Cent. I was blessed to read your comment.

Each person on this planet has a theology, and whatever our theology is is the most important aspect of our lives.

"Let not the wise glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty glory in his might,
Nor let the rich glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me," Jer. 9:23-24

"I am the LORD, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another." Isa. 42:8

DJP said...

On the subject of Trichot Terry (smile, it's a joke, it means NOTHING BAD), I wade in to say this:

I don't know how much Terry and I agree about. We certainly agree about his first comment on this thread, which was a great one. I'm sure we agree about a whole lot else.

I KNOW I don't agree with Watchman or Witness Nee or Lee on much. But I have no idea what that has to do with Terry.

On TRICHOTOMY, though, I definitely have some thoughts:

1. Some Reformed guys really disagree with it.

2. Some Reformed guys (S. Lewis Johnson, for one) really don't.

3. I definitely have seen trichotomy abused (i.e. cough::Bill Gothard::cough)

4. Abuse of a doctrine doesn't necessarily discredit the doctrine.

5. I can't imagine a planet on which the mere thought that soul and spirit might not be interchangeable is rightly regarded as "heresy." It's a difference among brothers.

Now, let's move on.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Chris,

> I've had a lady tell me she was doubting God's love, but then a bird flew into her yard--an obvious message from the Lord.

How exactly do you know it wasn't? Couldn't God have used the sudden beauty and grace of a bird's flight as a message of hope to encourage one of His children?

Chris Anderson said...

Hi, Kaffinator.

I'm suggesting--even insisting--that our basis for believing that God loves us is that the Scriptures say so...repeatedly, clearly, undeniably. Leaving one to determine God's care or lack thereof by experiences, coincidences and hunches is no kindness. Not only does such an understanding allow events and experiences to trump Scripture, but it also sets people up for inevitable instability and disappointment.

One of the most compelling biblical examples of this is in 2 Peter 1:16-19. Peter actually heard God speak audibly on the Mt. of Transfiguration. That's impressive; way better than seeing a bird! :-) Yet, Peter goes on to say Scripture is even "more sure" than God's direct audible communication. That's amazing. His conclusion in v. 19b? You'd better pay attention to the Scriptures!

On a simpler level, you know how the children's song goes: "Jesus loves me, this I know, __________." :-)

I hope that all makes sense. It's not a minor issue. What is the basis for our entire Christian lives? Objective truth or subjective experience? Everything else really rises and falls on our understanding of this question.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks so much for responding! And I'm glad you pointed out some scripture to examine as we look at this topic.

Is it your interpretation is that Peter is comparing (A) his witness of the transfiguration and (B) "the prophetic word" and calling B "more sure" than A? Instead, I see Peter contrasting (C) "cleverly devised tales" with his apostolic witness. His logic is, “Look, some people want to give you C, but A happened to us: we were “eyewitnesses to his majesty”; we are not just making this up! That’s why you can trust us to deliver B to you, which you would be fools to ignore.” I do not see Peter de-emphasizing his experience of the transfiguration. Quite the opposite: he is using that experience to ground his claim of guardianship of the prophetic word. Would you agree?

> I'm suggesting--even insisting--that our basis for believing that God loves us is that the Scriptures say so...repeatedly, clearly, undeniably.

I completely agree that God reveals His love for us in Scripture. I suggest—even insist—that Scripture is not the only mechanism by which God may make us aware of Himself. For example, Jesus once needed to reassure his disciples about God’s provision. He might properly have referred to the example of manna from heaven in Exodus, but he did not. Instead, he asked his disciples to consider ravens and lilies and asked, see how God feeds and clothes them, and aren’t you more valuable to Him than these? That’s right: Jesus Himself drew a teaching about God’s love from nature rather than scripture. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus was trumping scripture, or setting up his listeners for disappointment by doing so.

Now I'm not saying that Luke 12 gives me license to go waxing on about how ladybugs teach this or that about God. But can they remind me of God's love? Fill me with a sense of wonder and awe? Can that come, providentially, at a time when I'm feeling discouraged or doubtful? And maybe that's all your lady friend was really saying. And if so, I think a better response than guarded skepticism might have been: "amen, sister!"

UncleNut said...

Thanks, djp, for the comments on the dichotomous/trichotomous side-discussion. I was wondering how "heresy" could be so clearly identified on a topic that the Bible itself does not (arguably) provide clarity.

DJP said...

Chris-- very good points, and very pastoral input.

Kaffinator —so, just to make sure we end up somewhere near "on track" at least, this summary:

1. Everything we can and need to know about God's mind, we know from Scripture, alone.

2. All else is distraction.

3. Don't believe that you are hearing God's voice from me or anyone until you check it by Scripture.

DJP said...

And oen more thing, Chris
—your point about the lady and the bird is an excellent one. Thank God you could be of some help, rather than affirming just the sort of shamanistic, pagan thinking that it was the entire point of this post Biblically to demolish.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Dan,

In the spirit of point #3 :-), point #1 appears to contradict Romans 1:20, which states explicitly that God's attributes, power, and divine nature have been "clearly seen" and "understood through what has been made". Can you explain?

4given said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
4given said...

For some reason this brought to mind the sharing of the Gospel. If we went by how we "felt", we would never do it. Why? Because most of us don't have warm fuzzy feelings when such an opportunity presents itself. Most of us start shaking with this impending doom "feeling" of possible and total rejection or mocking... yet it is commanded by God that we share the Gospel. Every Christian is to be ready at any time. Not just the "gifted" ones.
Also, women directing our decisions according to how we "feel"... I liken that to being on a roller coaster ride that has no foot rest, handles or even a seat belt.
Brian at Voice of the Sheep asked if God speaks (audibly) to us when we pray.
I wrote, I do not believe prayer changes God… changes His mind as though He were an open-theistic, non-sovereign God. He is sovereign and yet we are not automotons. Prayer changes me… it is a part of transforming my life and conforming my will to His… prayer plays a huge role in the surrendering of my will for my Holy Father’s will. It causes who I pray for to become more a part of my heart even if I have not met them. I do know that God “speaks” to us through His Word. I do know that God would not “speak” to us anything that goes against what He has already written. I often find that the Lord uses what I have read or studied or memorized in His Word to convict or encourage or change me as though He were speaking to my very soul as His Words have come to mind through the day. It is real… almost as though in my heart it was audible… truly indescribable… but certainly not mystical or actually audible.
That probably sounds utterly stupid to most learned theologians... but this is based on my feeble "experience" in studying the Word of God and longing to grow in the grace and knowledge of my Lord.
As far as God's divine chastisement and wondering if something I am going through is punishment or actually the reality of consequences, I have found that reflecting on His Word in prayer causes me to examine more rightly my motives or heart, etc. to see if I am justly under my Father's divine chastisement or just in circumstances that God has chosen to use to refine me for His purposes (I went through this "self examination, reflection, fervent prayer and searching" most heavily after I was diagnosed with MS)

... Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.--Ps 139:23-24

Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart.--Ps 26:2

Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.--Ps. 143:10

DJP said...

Kaffinator--easily. Paul says God's existence and power are known from nature. I keep affirming, very carefully, the Biblical teaching that His mind is known from Scripture.

Rose said...

Kaffinator said...
In the spirit of point #3 :-), point #1 appears to contradict Romans 1:20, which states explicitly that God's attributes, power, and divine nature have been "clearly seen" and "understood through what has been made". Can you explain?

Let me try to explain. I thought of that verse too but the problem is that the woman that saw the bird picked an arbitrary interpretation of the presence of the bird. If she had a bird phobia she might have interpreted it to mean that God hated her. The only reason that you're giving her the benefit of the doubt is because the interpretation of the sign can be biblically confirmed.

One time I had a dream that my own mother had a demon and when I tried to cast it out via biblical means it laughed at me and said, "hahaha that doesn't actually work." Of course I'd have to say that this dream wasn't from God. If I didn't have a good understanding of scripture and generally believed that God communicated with me through circumstances and feeling (besides the convictions of the Holy Spirit which was already discussed) then I might be tempted to believe that demons have more power then the name of Jesus and that God was trying to communicate that with me. When people look to circumstances for direction and understanding they are likely to make horrible mistakes especially when they can't or won't compare their leaning to scripture. Since everyone that has “heard” from God has to confirm it from the bible then how do people who are new to scripture safely listen to God is this way? If you believe in these extra revelations from God then to be wise you would have to suggest to the scripturally ignorant that they not trust any of their revelations until they know scripture better or someone more mature could test it for them. This begs the question of how any of us could assume that we are mature enough or know the mind of God well enough to intrepret a feeling as his voice.

I think that the role of nature is to display the glory of God (ps 19:1). No one anywhere has an excuse for not seeking him because everyone everywhere can see that there is more to life then their finite existence. The bible does not say that the whole gospel can be had from just observing nature. People still need more revelation (rom 10:14,15). My point is just that romans 1:20 does not conclusively say that God declares his love for us through nature. It only says that some characteristic of God is displayed through nature and that because of that witness no one has an excuse for not seeking him.

Kaffinator said...

Hi Dan, you believe God's mind is completely separable from His "invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature"?

Paul in Romans 1:18-25 is closing a loophole. A Gentile might say, "how could I be expected to obey God if he's never revealed anything to me"? But, Paul responds, oh yes He has. The Gentile "has no excuse" for failing to honor God or give thanks to Him. He should have known better what God demands and has rebelliously gone against His will, regardless of whether he's been exposed to a lick of scripture.

Seems to me there's no functional difference between "knowing what God demands" and "knowing (to some small extent) God's mind". If you say scripture is the only way to know God's demands, aren't you reopening the loophole Paul closed?

Kaffinator said...

Hi Rose,

I totally agree with your post. I want to highlight one thing you said,

> If you believe in these extra revelations from God then to be wise you would have to suggest to the scripturally ignorant that they not trust any of their revelations until they know scripture better or some one more mature could test it for them.

I think when Paul says, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven […] because that which is known about God is evident within them” (Rom 1:18-19), the term
“revealed” is being used in a much more generalized way than when we use it to describe the genuine, theopneustos, verbal plenary inspiration of scripture. My point is that the term "revealed" can refer to different levels of specificity.

I think your point, and Dan's, is that he who looks for revealed-as-in-theopneustos messages in every bent blade of grass is indeed on a fools errand. And I completely agree. But as each God-ordained moment is made known (revealed) to us, and as we constantly soak ourselves in scripture, allowing it to correct and deepen our understanding and appreciation of those moments, then don’t we approach a kind of Christian maturity that is unafraid to say “I see God at work” in this or that circumstance or event? In that context, saying “God encouraged me by revealing part of the wonder of His creation to me” does not sound like, what’s the phrase, “shamanistic, pagan thinking”. It sounds like someone who has a relationship with Him.

If my thinking is flawed or unscriptural I invite any correction.

DJP said...

Again, the Bible teaches that nature reveals the existence and power of God. Only the Bible discloses the mind of God. It isn't a difficult distinction. It's what the article was about. You did read the whole thing?

Kaffinator said...

Hi Dan,

In fact, I read your post closely enough to know that you did not say "mind of God", but rather God's "hand", "presence in an event" "stance toward you" and "will toward you". If all of that is what you mean when you say "mind of God" that's just fine by me.

And, for good measure, I've read all of your comments in the meta, too. You said that scripture is the only way to know anything in the "mind of God" category, which I suppose would include His will, intent, judgment, wrath, stance, expectation, or attitude.

Have you read what I've written? I've presented a case, from scripture, of Paul saying that certain people should have known God would be upset with certain behavior, not from any reading of scripture, but from the plain facts of God revealed through creation. They "have no excuse". That is why it seems to me that Paul is pointing out at least one example that violates your claim that scripture is the only way anyone can ever know God's mind.

donsands said...

"they have no excuse"

Amen, the natural man has no excuse.

"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned [determined]." 1 Cor 2:14

Hope you don't mind me jumping in.

Kaffinator said...

Not at all Don!

I don't find any contradiction with 1 Cor 2:14, because while God made it "evident within them; for God made it evident to them" it's clear they did not "receive" such things in the sense of internalizing, acknowledging, and acting upon what was revealed.

If they had been receptive to God, they might have found themselves akin to the state of Cornelius when Peter found him in Acts 10, "a righteous and God-fearing man", ripe for conversion.

David A. Carlson said...

For a broader discussion of God's guidence in our lives, Mark Roberts has an interesting series of posts recently started.


DJP said...

No, Kaffinator, you haven't really overturned what the Bible says. Each time you're refuted, you simply talk more. Thus you are coming pretty close to Argument Clinic behavior, and I'm getting the feeling that I am endlessly explaining a fact to someone who simply doesn't want to understand. Which I've never found an effective way to do.

Nature is God's nature, He owns it and rules it by His sovereign hand, and it shows His glory (Psalm 19:1-6). But it is Scripture alone that reveals His mind (Psalm 19:7-14).

Bare nature will not tell you who God is, beyond His existence and power (Romans 1:20), a correction that I don't think you've acknowledged yet. It will not tell you whether He is one or fifty. It will not tell you whether He is good or bad. Is he like the mother hen, or the voracious ant? Will He love you, or tear you apart just because He's (They're) hungry? Should you keep your vow to your wife? Do you need to be saved? How? From what? Why?

The mind of God is known from Scripture alone. As Scripture teaches. Leave the omens and charms and fortunetelling to pagans (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 19:10-11; 2 Kings 17:17; 21:6, etc.). Put your attention on the Word alone.

Goodness, I really should devote an entire post to this.

Oh, wait. I just did.

I think this argument is over.

Kaffinator said...

Hello Dan,

I’m sorry, I wasn’t ever trying to needle you, or draw you into an endless debate (unless you define “endless” by the two very short Judo-style responses you had addressed to me prior to this last one). I simply don’t see how the verses you cited say what you need them to say to maintain your point, and so I was hoping for clarification. But rather than be a pest to you I will let it drop.

Have a great day and may the Lord guide your steps. I’ve read so many edifying posts from you and I look forward to the next!

Deutero Q said...

Great post, DJP; perhaps your best yet. Thanks!