I want to announce to the world that I've been having some queasy spells, intermixed with giddiness and even a little euphoria. So if God hasn't been speaking to me, He's at least mumbling a little. Anyway, just last weekend I felt something running up my leg and whatcha know! Just like Jesus gave the disciples the Lord's prayer, He gave me the Pastor's Prayer. It's to be prayed on Saturday night. Here it is:
Speak, God, speak. No, don't roll over. Speak. I have a sermon to give tomorrow and, well...I need to spice it up, so I need You to say something profound or at least funny. Come to think of it...funny actually works better. All I've got is the passage I said I'd preach about last Sunday and, well...it's all doctrinal. Why in Your Name did You have to put so much doctrine in the Bible? Don't You know how hard that makes my job? I need funny and I need it now.--The Pastor's Prayer.
Oh, yeah--um--ingeezusnaymuhmen. Huh--almost forgot.
If someone actually acted like that, it'd be fairly blasphemous. Lots of MEs do act like that.
There was a time when, unless you were in a seriously pentecostal church, never would you hear any preacher say "And God told me...yadda yadda yadda..." The reason's simple. The Hebrew Scripture makes it clear that anyone who claims to have heard from God who hadn't actually heard was very evil. He was to be killed at the hands of the first folks who heard him say such things with stones. The entire nation was to witness the execution. God sees this sin as so heinous that the OC (Old Covenant) called for death and the NC calls for expulsion and shunning. We aren't even to eat with someone like Pat Robertson.
Now, however, not only do preachers claim this sort of thing all the time, but folks in Sunday School classes and Bible studies stake their little plot of turf in God's revealed truth all the time and no one even challenges them. The goal of this post is to get you to tell anyone who sins this heinous sin ever again in your presence that they are no Christians at all and they are to leave your church, Bible study, or small group because they will infect the rest of us with a filthy slime that isn't welcome here--ever. They sin the sin of subjectivism.
WHEN GOD SPEAKS, HE DOESN'T MUMBLE.
Among the many sins of my generation in the ME movement, it's hard to pick the worst, but this has to be close to the top of the list: Devotions. It is one side of the quadripartite sin of subjective practices made popular by my generation--subjectivity in personal worship, subjectivity in group worship, subjectivity in personal relationships and subjectivity in determining truth (actually a devaluation of truth--as in "doctrine isn't important"). Devotions as practiced today isn't a biblical practice and I doubt that it ever was. Even if "devotions" was practiced as the biblical habit of studying and memorizing the Scripture, the name "devotions" is a name that seems to indicate something else. It seems to deal with the emotional, not the intellectual. It's like the term "inspirational". "Inspirational" side steps truth for the emotional. "Devotions" doesn't deal with truth. Just as one can be inspired by anything true or false, one can be devoted to anything, whether true or false.
True doesn't care if you're inspired or devoted. True's true whether you have a shimmy up your leg or not.
Stop having devotions. Crack the Book and start learning.
WHAT IF GOD SPEAKS TO ME?
Get over it.
What is often called a "word from God" isn't. Unfortunately, today's MEs believe that God's word comes to us in feelings we get at special times, like devotions or group worship. This idea isn't an ancient idea from the Bible, but a recent idea from men who failed to obey Scripture as final. The man who popularized this sin most recently was Henry Blackaby in his famous book, Experiencing God: How to Live the Full Adventure of Knowing and Doing the Will of God. This idea wasn't all new with Blackaby, but he did a lot to popularize it among MEs in the 1990s.
A BIT OF HISTORY CONCERNING SUBJECTIVISM.
I wrote earlier that the practice of claiming that a feeling contains a "word from God" is new and not biblical. That was only half the story. This sort of thing is dealt with severely in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 18:20 says, "But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die." Notice four things about this passage.
1. The first act is to presume. The Hebrew zud means to act presumptiously, rebelliously, or proudly. If one of us is to speak a word that God hasn't given we first must decide that it's okay to act in proud rebellion against God--take the authority of a prophet just because we want it. So, while you may think you're innocent reporting to the folks at your Bible study that God said something to you with a feeling you got last Wednesday at the park, perhpas you may wish to slow down a little and think.
2. The message is always verbal. Let's be precise. "Verbal" in the English doesn't mean spoken. It means having to do with words. Verbal communication is communication in language, spoken or written. "Oral" means having to do with the mouth. Hence, an "oral" exam is one taken face to face with an instructor who asks questions and expects spoken answers and "oral" surgery happens at the dentist's office. The false prophet presumes to speak a word he hasn't received. Both "speak" and "word" are from the same root. Dabar means a message or individual word and the verb form means to speak. God isn't in the business of communicating with feelings. Never in Hebrew Scripture, to my knowledge, do either of these have to do with anything other than communication in words. I read the Hebrew Bible in the Hebrew once a year. Dabar may mean a matter or thing. But when it means a message, that message is in words, not feelings.
So was Moses really taking on subjectivity here? Not entirely, but it's included. Let's look at some background. During the rebellion of Miriam and Aaron, this pair challenged Moses. The complaint was that Moses had married a Cushite, but God didn't address that. Instead, He addressed their desire to be as important as Moses. Moses was the law-giver. Evidently, they wanted to speak for God, too, with a law of their own about the Cushite lady, though God had said nothing about the situation. They presumed. In Numbers 12:6, God tells all three of them how to know if you're a prophet and speak for Yahweh. He said, "Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream."
Visions and dreams are times when God is actually seen and/or heard. Notice, too, "Hear now My words..." WORDS. Not feelings. And notice "I speak to him in dreams." If God doesn't speak to you in actual words, you're not a prophet.
If you have a tingle down your spine, tell your chiropractor.
3. Those who spoke for Yahweh without specific, verbal communication from Yahweh, were to die just like other false prophets who spoke for completely different gods. Notice the two kinds of false prophets--the one who spoke presumptuously for God and the one who spoke for other gods. No difference. If you speak for God based on a feeling, you're no better than a Buddhist priest, a Scientologist, a JW, a shaman, or the oracle at Delphi. You're a false prophet.
Think THAT over. And while you're thinking about that, think about this: If we shunned all who did this sort of thing, how many ME books would be on the market? How many ME televangelfrauds would still be on the air? How many ME book stores would be in business? How many pastors would still have a job?
4. Notice the word "commanded". The prophet is to speak only the word Yahweh has commanded. A feeling isn't a command. A command is verbal. With a man's life on the line, one would think that man would be certain before he spoke. How can you be sure of a feeling? Wouldn't that man wait for a clear command? Today, one says God said this. Another that. Is God really contradicting Himself or is someone pretending to be sure of something no more solid than a feeling?
Despite the clear teaching of Scripture, seeking something that can be called a "word from God" has a recent history, too. Friederich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834) was the grandson of two pastors and lived at a time when philosophical rationalism, resulting from the Enlightenment, was dominant. In reaction, he turned to a group who emphasized the mysterious, imaginary, and subjective. Schleiermacher attempted to find a middle path between the philosophical rationalists and the Reformers, who based their doctrine on Scripture alone. Naturalistic philosophers wanted to reach a knowledge of God by way of nature and human reason applied to nature. They called this natural theology. Schleiermacher's "positive theology" was an attempt to ride the fence. As in our time, critics of the gospel disliked the miraculous. So Schleiermacher decided that the Bible wasn't an account of actual acts by God in history complete with miracles and resurrections, but a record of internal religious experiences. The experiences were important. Facts about actual historical events were unimportant. Thus, Schleiermacher could keep the Bible, flawed as it was in his opinion, and avoid the harsh criticism of those who would call believers intellectual obscurantists. The essence of true religion was in the religious experience, not the facts of the Scripture. It was emotive, not cognitive. Subjective, not objective. (1)
Clever huh? Haver you ever heard someone say that Christianity is a matter of faith, not evidence and reason? Sound familiar? This is why in the 1800's and 1900's we see words like "inspirational" replace words like "true".
The next really big name among those who normalized the sin of subjectivity is Karl Barth (1886-1968). Barth was learned in the tradition of classical religious liberalism in which the Bible was regarded as a collection of religious writings to be criticized, not believed. Barth wasn't satisfied with liberalism. Liberals talked little of God and much of man. He had a breakthrough when reading Romans which dealt harshly with man as a sinner.
Yet, Barth couldn't make himself believe Scripture. Barth's god was a transcendent god who was "Wholly Other". The problem came, though, in Barth's rejection of the reliability of Scripture. His god was so high He could have nothing to do with anything on earth, not even the words of Scripture. Thus, the word of Barth's god came down to man as a revelation that this god gave as a personal experience a human had while reading the Bible under the influence of the "Holy Spirit". Sound familiar? (2) Barth's ideas initiated the school of thought called "dialectical theology" or "neo-orthodoxy". (3) Eventually, Barth fell into an actual apathy toward factual reality, whether physical reality in the present or historical reality. The mysterious revelation of his god was all that really mattered. Both his god and his experience were personal and untestable. (4)
Of almost no intellectual significance is Henry Blackaby and his book, Experiencing God: How to Live the Full Adventure of Knowing and Doing the Will of God. However, this book made the rounds of ME churches with the same sort of dependence on the subjective that Schleiermacher and Barth advocated, but in popular, not scholastic, form. So for that reason Blackaby is important. Churches, schools, and denominations who would never have been guilty of teaching the subjectivism of Barth or Schleiermacher embraced the Evangelical language and style of Blackaby. He was a Southern Baptist preacher, so most couldn't imagine that he was liberal. But he was heretical.
Most Southern Baptists are cessationists. In other words, they don't believe the "sign gifts" are for today. These "sign gifts" include tongues, healing, and prophecy. This is why it's so amazing that Blackaby's teaching was accepted. It was a true watershed moment when non-Pentecostal Evangelicals adopted the belief that God was still speaking today outside of the verbal revelation in the Scripture. Whether MEism had fallen so low that sola scriptura was passe and the teaching of a heretic like Blackaby was welcome, or whether the teaching of Blackaby provided the push to send MEism down the stairs isn't important. Just realize the idea that our feelings are a major source of revelation from God is recent, not biblical.
Experiencing God sold 4 million copies and was translated into 45 languages. (5) And if you think only I and other Blackaby critics see Blackaby as a mystic, read this gushing article by a fan. The first paragraph calls him a mystic in disguise--an accurate assessment.
Blackaby's main influence was to convince many that God was revealing His will to folks right now in the same way He spoke to the Old Testament prophets. (6) However, what Blackaby taught as God's method of speaking wasn't what the Old Testament describes. It's mystical; it's internal; it's non-verbal. So, Blackaby's disciples don't have a clue about how God spoke to the prophets. Just why it's assumed that God spoke through the mystical isn't explained. It's just an assumption.
And a bad one.
Remember the passages we looked at? Well, here's the common pattern found in the books of Moses: "And God spoke to Moses, saying..." He spoke, saying. No mention of feelings. God didn't say, "And God gave Moses a back rub, making Moses feel this way or that..." or "God sent a warm, wet, goose-bumpy tingle up Moses' right arm and down his left..." Please check to make sure I'm not lying. Pick any page in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy. That is always the pattern and it happens once or twice every chapter or two. "...spoke...saying..." What could be more clear?
How did we decide that a feeling was "speaking"? We didn't get that from the Bible. Do we ever speak like that when involved in any other subject? Do we feel the truth about history, biology, or math? NO! So why do we shelve our brains for knowing God? Is it any sillier to do that for chemistry than for studying God's revelation?
While many MEs see the feel-talking god as a spiritual enhancement, it's not. That idea and Blackaby's teaching made a frontal assault on Scripture. Read what he said in the first few paragraphs of his book:
...for a Hebrew person--like Jesus--knowing something entailed experiencing it. In fact, you could not truly say you knew something unless you personally experienced it...So it is significant that, when Jesus spoke about knowing God, He was speaking like a Hebrew. (7)
There is only one problem with this reasoning. It's a lie. Hebrews weren't genetically different. They were perfectly capable of knowing intellectually, just like you and I. They had scribes, didn't they? They communicated with words, didn't they? The ladies exchanged recipes, didn't they? Indeed, personal, intimate knowledge of God is the goal, but faith comes by hearing, according to Paul, not by feeling. Cognitive, academic knowledge precedes and is a necessary element for intimate knowledge. You can't intimately know a friend until you are first aware that he exists and is present to BE experienced. Even salvation depends on hearing words and understanding them with the mind. Then the Holy Spirit brings the intimate knowledge.
I'll end with a question. If I test my feelings to find out what's true in the spiritual realm or to find my future, how is that significantly different from a witchdoctor who throws chicken guts on the floor or reads tea leaves? Tell me the difference.
Think it through.
(1) Brown, Colin; Philosophy and the Christian Faith; Intervarsity Press; Downers Grove, Illinois; 1968; ISBN0-87784-712-6; pp. 109-111.
(2( Van Til, Cornelius; Christian Apologetics; P&R Publishing Company; Phillipsburg, New Jersey; 2003; ISBN-10: 0-87552-511-3; pp. 170-172.
(3)ibid.; p. 32.
(4) Brown; pp. 250-260.
(7) Blackaby, Henry, Blackaby, Richard, and King, Claude; Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Revised and Expanded; B&H Publishing Group; Nashville, Tennessee; 2008; ISBN-10: 0805447539; p. 10.