This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the wedding of Brett and Janelle Bauer. While there I was inspired to start blogging again by two of the three or four people who actually read this blog. In the day that followed the wedding I also was hit with some ideas of stuff I want to write again about, primarily on the joy of discipleship and sadness. But, I try to be a person who finishes what he starts. I started this "God told me _____" series a long time ago and I finally want to finish it. In the last part my intention was simply to make some brief comments on how the content from the first 3 parts plays out practically.
Before I start this section, I need to post a quick tidbit and define some important terms from Vern Poythress' excellent article on charismatic gifts Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology
"A key distinction here is the distinction between rationally explicit processes, such as those involved when Luke wrote his Gospel, and intuitive processes, such as those involved with the Book of Revelation. One type of process is not inherently more “spiritual” than the other. Both the Gospel of Luke and Revelation were inspired."
In the article, Poythress defines the rationally explicit process as a discursive process (in his example, to write his gospel Luke actually sits down and thinks and reasons through his gospel), and the more intuitive process as a non-discursive process (in his example, John didn't sit down and think "now, logically, what will the end be like? I see 7 horns on 7 beasts etc. John was led more through intuition and just recorded that). I use these terms this way throughout the post. Read the article, especially the first few paragraphs under point (3) if this is still unclear. Now that that's out of the way...
What I essentially argued in the first 3 parts of this blog series was that decisions we make that aren't explicitly spelled out for us in scripture are made through wisdom, i.e. a logical process that uses our minds. So attempts to arrive at decisions from subjective impressions of "God told me ______" are inadequate.
But here's the question we now have to ask: in the wisdom process, where does wisdom ultimately come from? As I showed in James 1:5-6 and 3:17 in earlier posts, wisdom comes from God Himself. Therefore, when we make decisions we are not to see ourselves as rationally reasoning through everything independent of God. We are dependent on God for the wisdom process. This is what the Bible often calls guidance (e.g. Psalm 48:14).
In the New Testament, it seems the Holy Spirit is identified as the member of the trinity who performs this guiding function. Romans 8:14 is the clearest example in my opinion:
"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God."
There we have the idea that the Holy Spirit leads God's children. So as Christians we aren't mere rationalists. We are utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide us, but He guides us through the wisdom He gives from above (see James 1:5-6, 3:17 again).
This doesn't mean we never get subjective impressions of the Spirit's leading in our lives, but it does mean those our sense of those leadings alone are inadequate. They should be subject to wisdom, because the wisdom from above is "open to reason" (James 3:17). That wisdom should be derived from God's Word (this is explained more in parts 1-3). Let's look at two examples of how this plays out:
1. Jesus commands me to love my neighbors. I think to myself "how could I apply this?" I ask God to give me wisdom to do that. As I'm thinking about it I realize: well, I have literal neighbords who I've never met. As a way to love them, I will host a cookout and serve them a meal and seek to get to know them. That was a thinking process. No subjective impressions, just straightforward logic. It is what Vern Poythress would call a "discursive" process in the article I referenced above.
2. For some reason I wake up one more morning with a burden for one of my neighbors. I feel an impression that God wants me to engage them relationally. I feel like a cookout would be a good way to do that. That is a very subjective impression, or what Poythress calls a non-discursive process. I would argue that at this point I should test my subjective impression against wisdom. When I do, I realize Jesus has called me to love my neighbors and this would be a good way to do it.
In the way most of us today talk about decisions 1 & 2, people in situation 2 will say "God told me to reach my neighbors" while people in 1 will say "I decided to reach my neighbors." I think both terminologies should be dropped, and I would rather say that both were "led by the Spirit." I also don't think one is inherently better or more spiritual than the other. I see this in the first case through a discursive process and the second through a non-discursive process (see the Poythress article). In both cases we are dependent on the Holy Spirit and in both cases He deserves the glory for our decisions, not autonomous reason or mere feelings. I would perfer to speak of the Spirit's leading however because I think it's the terminology the Bible uses and I want to gaurd "the Lord saith ______" and "God told me _____" for things we actually know God said, which for us means only the words of scripture.
I would further add that when it comes to making decisions that go past what scripture has explicitly commanded the primary means God calls us to pursue is a discursive process. We are commanded to ask for wisdom, not "the still small voice of God." That could quickly become another blog article, but also hear me say that I'm open to the Spirit leading through subjective impressions, I just don't think it's the primary means we're called to seek when making decisions, i.e. God initiates it and it's still subject to wisdom.
In summary: When faced with decisions that fall outside of what scripture explicitly commands, we are called to pray for and exercise wisdom. That wisdom comes from above, specifically through the Spirit's leading in our lives, which can start either through discursive or non-discursive processes but in either case should be subject to wisdom, which is "open to reason." Therefore in all of our decisions we are to be led by the Spirit, but we should expect that leading to come primarily through our thinking and to always be subject to wisdom. For the practical concern of maintaing the uniqueness of the words of God that we know for a fact are God's words, it is my opinion that we should refrain from calling this leading of the Spirit "God's words." So while I affirm that many instances of "God told me _____" experiences could be legitimate, I also maintain in this series that some are not inasmuch as they fall short of biblical standards of wisdom, and that those which are would be better referred to as examples of the Spirit's leading.