December 01, 2003

How does God lead?

One of my favourite Biblical subjects for study is the question of divine guidance. How does God lead us?

There are basically two opposing answers to this question:

  • The "Mystical" View: This is the view that says God's will for your life is like an itinerary, which it is up to you to discover and obey. This is accomplished through prayer, Bible study, and wise counsel, answered by various signs: circumstances, "fleeces," inward impressions and "peace," and so forth. This is sort of the prevailing view these days, easily detected by such catch-phrases as being "in the centre of God's will" or "waiting for the Holy Spirit's leading." Decision making in non-moral matters becomes an exercise in determining what choice God has already made for you.
  • The "Wisdom" View: This view essentially rejects the idea that God has an "individual will" for you to discover and obey. Rather, you are responsible to obey God's moral commands as revealed in the Bible. Within those boundaries, however, you are free to act or decide as you wish. Decision making in non-moral matters is an exercise in applying God-given wisdom, informed by relevant Scriptural teaching, and submitting to Providence for the outcome.

On the BaptistBoard, a month-old thread has recently resurfaced. I hadn't seen it before, so I jumped in this afternoon, and the following two pages of posts turned into a debate between myself ("Ransom") and Helen Setterfield, taking the "mystical" position and claiming that she receives God's guidance through inner "nudges" or "naggings." Amongst her more egregious claims:

  • If I have not experienced the "nudges," they cannot be explained. My response: I have not experienced them, because I have not expected them, because the Bible does not teach that I ought to expect them.
  • My theological model of guidance doesn't square with her experience. My response: It is Scripture that is the rule of faith. Scripture validates experience; experience does not interpret Scripture. Since Scripture does not tell us to expect divine guidance in the form of inner impressions, they are non-authoritative.
  • We are expected to follow Christ's example in all things, and Christ had a close relationship with his Father in which he received all his direction from him. My response: Christ's intimacy with the Father was the direct consequence of his "one Being with the Father," as the Nicene Creed puts it. This level of intimacy with God is utterly outside of human ability and experience; claiming to have attained it is, therefore, tantamount to claiming godhood for oneself. Our imitation of Christ is limited by our human nature. Furthermore, where the Bible calls Christ our example, it is always pertaining to the manner in which he obeyed God's moral will.
  • The Bible doesn't say anything about following Christ's moral example. My response: This is ignorance, plain and simple. I am aware of a dozen places where we are told to pursue a particular virtue specifically because Jesus was our example.

This debate is about as good an example of experience taking precedence over Scripture as you will find anywhere.

FYI, my few Amazon reviews include one book on each side of this debate:

As always, I welcome all feedback. My email address is in the left-hand column.