Friday, January 27, 2006

Another Example of the Perils of the Traditional/Mystical View of Discerning God's Will

A while back I quoted Charles Fuller's mystical approach to founding Fuller Seminary. Now we see it from Mart Green and Steve Saint.


Wendy said...

I think we're getting to the crux of the differences here. I bet this ties into your views on cessationism also.

I don't personally have a problem with Saint's account of how things played out (at least not the version in the Christianity today article). On issues not specifically outlined in Scripture, I think it reasonable that God would impress His will in unusual ways. Our pastor gives a strange account of how God impressed on him his need to plant our church. I'm not going to argue with it or discount it. Now, if Saint said God told him in a dream that homosexuality was no longer a sin, we'd have a legitimate issue. But the impressions Saint claims do not violate the expressed will of God in Scripture. Contrary to what many in the blogosphere (especially at SI) are indicating, hiring a gay actor to play a movie role is not in violation of clear commands of Scripture. While Allen is clearly in sin, Saint is not (at least not clearly).

larry said...

I have been thinking about this for sometime. I have held the "nothing more than Scripture" view, but wonder if that isn't too restrictive. I don't believe in dreams and visions for this age, but I wonder if we have not become too formulaic in our approach to God's will.

I wonder if there is not room for some (read "some," not "a lot") of subjective leading of God in this age.

If there were not, it would be hard to explain the illumination of the Spirit in regeneration, and the teaching of the Holy Spirit in anointing. That is certainly something that happens to the human mind that enlightens it to understand Scripture and to apply it to an individual's life.

I toy with (note, "toy with" not "adamantly subscribe to") the iea that the same type of process takes the Scripture and applies it to the human mind in some sort of wind-like fashion (i.e., we don't know where it comes from, nor where it goes) when someone is praying for God's will. After all, if there is nothing more than Scripture, then what would one pray for about a job move, a house buy, a college choice, and ministry switch, a spouse, etc? What is the point of prayer if there is nothing apart from what has already been given?

I am not arguing for extra revelation, or any such thing, and perhaps am unwise to float my comments publicly. Perhaps I should withhold my name ...

John said...

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

John 3:8 ESV

Dave said...


The verse you quote says "So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Note that the point of the metaphor is not the Spirit or even the Spirit's work directly; it is asserting something about those ("everyone") who are born of the Spirit.

This text does not provide warrant for subjective revelations; it is an explanation of the spiritual nature of the new birth.

Dave said...


I am confused by your statement regarding illumination and anointing. Why does there need to be some room for "subjective leading" in order to "explain the illumination of the Spirit in regeneration, and the teaching of the Holy Spirit in anointing"?

The illuminating work of the Spirit in regeneration happens only in connection with the gospel, so I am not sure what subjective leading is involved in this. Actually, to be more clear, I don't see how this aspect of the Spirit's work has any connection to the kinds of things addressed in the post.

Likewise, in context, 1 John 2:20 and 27 seem to clearly tie the anointing to doctrinal/truth issues. There is nothing in this passage that would suggest that this anointing leads one to truth about film production, etc.

Having said this, I would add that I really don't know what you mean by subjective leading beyond the reference to these two aspects of the Spirit's work. I certainly am not trying to argue that there is no subjectivity as we try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. I just don't see the connections or grounds that you are asserting.

Larry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
larry said...


In my haste, I probably communicated more than I intended. My point is only that we allow for the direct work of the Spirit in regeneration and teaching. It is a work on the human mind to understand the significance of Scripture, and how it applies to life. When we pray for leading, we are asking for a work of hte Spirit on the mind to understand the application of Scripture to the particular matter at hand (whether job, spouse, etc.).

I am not saying that regeneration or anointing demands this subjective kind of work. But to some degree, at least with anointing, there seems the possibility of "missing the signs." How else do we explain doctrinal differences?

I am simply referring to the principle of the work of the Spirit on the mind to understand the significance of scriptural principles as they apply to the situation at hand.

I am certainly not defending Saint's dream, or "Joe Blow's" peace about any other decision. I am simply wondering aloud is perhaps we have ruled out too much.

I remember one seminary professor commenting at length on the "supply of the Spirit" in Phil 1. I questioned him about his view with specific reference to a charismatic view. I said it sounded like the difference he was making was one of degree rather than substance. If I recall correctly, he confirmed that his view was one of degree, not a substantive difference. I was surprised by that. As for me, I am not convinced that the "supply of the Spirit" is the subjective kind of supply in Phil 1, but I haven't studied it in depth.

But I wonder what we pray for when we pray for wisdom about various decisions? Are we not asking for the very subjective thing that we often rule out of hand?

As I say, I just think about this. I used to be pretty solidly on the subjective side. I have spent the last 10 or so years on the stark objective side. Now I am considering whether there might be a middle ground.

Dave said...


I think I know the seminary professor of which you speak (didn't he write on this for Frontline?).

Unless I am mistaken, the supply of the Spirit and what we are currently talking about are two different things. Phil 1 and Gal 3 are talking about fresh experiences of the Spirit's work, but neither context suggests anything about leading or direction with regard to decisions.

I hope there is no Bible believing person that eliminates the Spirit's work from our experience. That should not be debatable. The point of discussion here, however, is whether the Spirit provides us with impressions or suggestions.

larry said...


I thought you might know of him, but I wasn't sure. I remember at the time thinking, "Wow, that's wierd." I am still not totally convinced on that one. I don't read Frontline that often so I didn't see it there.

In that view (as I understand it), the "fresh supply of the Spirit" in that passage is certainly not leading or impressions, but it is an experiential work of the Spirit that does not come directly from the word. It is "extra-biblical." I am certainly open to further learning on that, since my understanding could be wrong, and it may even convince me to change my view.

But if we admit to such a work of the Spirit that is 1) experiential, 2) the result of prayer, and 3) not directly from the word, why rule out that "provision" manifesting itself through leading our thinking about a decision that is not specifically addressed in Scripture?

I guess my concern, if you can call it that, is that we allow certain provisions/ministries/experiences of the Spirit in certain things, and not in others, even though those "others" are 1) clearly biblical events (I know the revelatory era was different), and 2) ruled out only by systematizing theology (which is fine, necessary, and proper). My mind simply wonders from time to time if we have not ruled out too much.

I don't subscribe to Grudem's view (and am not entirely familiar with it), but as I understand it, Grudem says that what he calls "knowledge, prophecy, etc" are really what others call "leading." He says that they have redefined the biblical terms so that they can end the sign gifts. I don't subscribe to that, but wonder if there is not at least some merit to the idea.

When you get a chance, or if you get a chance, I would be curious to your thoughts on prayer for leadership/wisdom about a decision. I assume you would say we should pray about making a decision (job change, buy a new house, buy a new car, have another child, etc.). What exactly is one praying for? And how will he know what the answer is?

Several questions I know, and time is no doubt at a premium. IF you get a chance, I would be interested in your response. If not, no problem. THanks for the interaction.

Dave said...


I am not sure what the problem is with an experiential ministry of the Spirit that is "extra-biblical" in the sense that you have defined it. I am sure you agree that indwelling is experiential, yet I don't recall anyone arguing that we are only indwelled to the degree that we are reading the Bible. The Spirit's presence is real and experiential. Granted it commences only in connection with the Word, but it is permanent. Likewise, our spiritual gifts are a "manifestation of the Spirit" (1 Cor 12:7), and that clearly is experiential.

It seems as if your point hinges on a necessary connection between the experience of the Spirit's work and some type of revelation. I don't believe that this connection is necessary or even probable. In other words, experiencing the Spirit's work (e.g., assurance, empowering) does not mean that there is communication or revelation happening.

Now, just to be clear, I have no problem with suggesting that God through the Spirit can direct our thoughts, but the key here is that they are "our" thoughts, not communication of Someone else's thoughts. If this is what you were referring to with the reference to illumination (i.e., God helping us as we think and study about the Word), then I have no problem with that. Illumination happens as we work with the text of Scripture, not in any way that approximates have someone sit next to you and tell you what the text means. It is, therefore, experiential, but it is also non-revelatory.

And this would be where I would tie in prayer for wisdom (something that I think is explicitly biblical given James 1). I believe that God can and does direct us as we work through the teachings of the Word in light of our present circumstances, etc. We are commanded to discern what pleases the Lord (Eph 5:10), so it is work to act as if all things are equally pleasing to the Lord. At no point, though, can we claim the certainty for our decisions that we can for the clear affirmations of Scripture.

My desire is for a genuine, biblical expression of experiential Christianity that does not run into the ditches of experientialism or dead orthodoxy.

Dave said...


I have not gotten into the whole debate about whether they should or should not have cast Chad Allen in this part, but I was wondering if you could share with me more of your thinking on it.

How would you think that the truths communicated in Ephesians 5 about light and darkness correlate with a situation like this? Specifically, do the principles about our response to the darkness and those who practice such things not apply at all in this case?

This is a sincere question and not an attempt to make a point. I am genuinely curious as to issue of making ethical decisions in situations like this. In other words, are we limited to an explicit command that names the very thing or are we to work from principles to specific applications?

Wendy said...

At issue in Ephesians 5 is what is meant by v. 7, "therefore do not be partners with them". I think we can best interpret it by v. 1-2, "be imitators of God ...and live a life of love as Christ ...." So whatever is meant in the rest of Eph. 5 is reinforced, not distinctly different from, Christ's example. And Christ did work closely with sinners to the point that it hurt His reputation. If Christ were making a movie, I imagine He would have been surrounded by sinners. The difference is that when sinners came to Christ, they were transformed. However, when you and I open our lives to sinners, we have a less successful rate. I think Green and Saint were clear in their disapproval of Chad's lifestyle to Chad (this is clear from both Saint's and Allen's published comments). The question was not "what do we think about homosexuality?" The question was "how do I minister to this particular guy who is caught up in the sin of homosexuality?"

I can not find fault with their hope that exposing him to this story and their lives would be used by God to transform his heart. So far, I haven't seen that to be the case, but I still believe they were right to operate on that hope. I'm coming to believer more and more that turning Chad away from the movie after offering him the role would have been the most UN-Christlike response possible.

What's sad here is that the PROTEST has given Allen and his lifestyle a much larger platform than they would have originally had outside the gay community. And sadder still is that the larger Christian community doesn't know what to do with the people who most need Christ.

larry said...


I would not call what I am talking about relevation. Nor do I think it is infallible. What exactly is it? I don't know how to describe it. I don't want to use "peace" or "impression" because of the baggage, and because they are easily misunderstood, both in this conversation and in the practical application.

I guess I am thinking that when we pray for wisdom and direction, we are praying for some work of the Holy Spirit on our minds, in light of our circumstances and desires, that cannot be found directly in the word. It can not be found to contradict the word (e.g., "God gave me real peace about this adulterous relationship"). Nor is it infallible (e.g., " know for a fact God wants me to take this job"). But we want the Holy Spirit to do something/give us something that we will not have if he does not do it. Perhaps part of that prayer is to arrange the circumstances, to change the desires of our heart, to do both, to do something else. But to make it clear what we should do.

I brought up 1 John 2:20, 27 because there, it seems to me, the anointing of the Spirit is not infallibly imparted. If it were, would there not be universal agreement on doctrine? What allows a Presbyterian and a Baptist to come to different conclusions on baptism if the anointing is infallibly understood? I use baptism because I think you and I agree that baptism is a clear revelation in Scripture, though I don't want to overstate your position. Yet people who love God and his word somehow conclude differently about his revelation. Perhaps I am missing the point there, and feel free to correct me if I am, but that work of the Spirit is subject to a number of factors in an individual's life. Why would not this topic of discussion be similar to that?

I do limit what I am talking about to "our thoughts," not the communication of God's thoughts. I would think there is some humanly indiscernable work of the Spirit on our thought process that leads us with wisdom.

I am certainly not the be all and end all of information on this. I am rethinking a lot of it, or at least trying to resolidify my thinking on it. So my thoughts are a work in progress.


Joseph Ravitts said...

As I've remarked elsewhere, the
casting of Chad Allen reminds me of
two contrasting Scriptural cases.
Nehemiah did NOT let outsiders join
in rebuilding Jerusalem; yet King
Solomon DID allow the pagan King
Hiram to contribute to building the
First Temple. I can only figure
that bringing in unbelievers CAN
be permissible, provided they are
not allowed to call the spiritual
shots. This admittedly leaves the
"End of the Spear" issue cloudy,
since on the one hand the gay
actor can't ruin the portrayal if
he plays it as directed, but on
the other hand the publicity does
give him a platform to lie to
people that homosexuality is
compatible with Christian living.

This is the point where someone
usually calls for "a return to the
simplicity"...but a demand for
simplicity at the expense of clear
understanding does damage too.
We'll just have to keep on seeking
God and seeking to discern truth.

Ut fidem praestem in difficultate!

Dave said...


I think we are winding down and not far from each other (in more ways than one). My only comment at this point would be to suggest that 1 John 2:20, 27 don't apply to the issues which you mentioned, but to the central doctrines of orthodoxy. I believe the larger and immediate contexts in 1 John would substantiate this. Because of this, I believe the anointing is effective and does not fail, i.e., no genuine believer will deny or miss the truth of which John speaks (those who depart from it do so because they were never truly part of the church, cf. v. 19).

larry said...


We are probably not that far apart.

I do wonder about the anointing. I agree that 1 John 2 is directly about doctrinal orthodoxy, not this topic. I was appealing more to the principle of it. And no doubt this is way off topic now, but I wonder about it not failing. How do genuinely saved, Spirit-filled men come to different conclusions on matters of doctrine? Is one anointed and the other not? Do we define the problem out of existence by saying that differences are not "clearly orthodox"?

Just wondering out loud ... No need to respond here.

Thanks for the interaction.

Dave said...


I know there is no need to respond, but something won't let me just leave it hanging out there without an answer.

Let me try my earlier point a little differently. Verse 21 says "I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth." There is corresponds with the tense of "you all know" in v. 20. So, the anointing guarantees that they already know the truth and will not depart from it. I feel very comfortable, then, saying that everything that John says (or any other biblical writer) must be known and believed will in fact be believed by those who have this anointing. I simply don't think the anointing, properly understood, applies to anything other than essential biblical, saving truth. Another way to put it would be that all genuine believers will accept the theological components of the gospel (understood in its biblical fullness). Mode of baptism, eschatology, points of finer interpretation are not rightly included in this.

larry said...

I understand the angle you are coming from there, and I agree in the main. My only concern is that such a position wins the battle by definitions. It appears to define "anointing" and "truth" in such a way that is unfalsifiable. If anyone disagrees with what we consider a "theological component of the gospel" we simply say they don't have the anointing. How do we know? Because they don't believe; if they had the anointing they would believe. I suppose that could be fine.

I have tended towards the position you articulate, and I think that was what I preached when I preached through 1 John several years ago.

Thanks for elucidating that point.

Ben said...

Wow. Sorry to have missed out on the fun, but this insensitive cessationist was spending Friday night and Saturday on a mini-trip to listen in on a seminar in which 200+ "reformed charismatics" were hearing some teaching about how to discern their call to ministry. But more on that later. And by the way, Wendy, I have not articulated my views on cessationism to the best of my recollection. I did link to some articles that were worth reading, but as far as I can remember that's all I have done.

It's been interesting and educational to read the interaction between Dave and Larry, and I'm grateful to see them hammer out their views of the text. My real point is less nuanced and less exegetical perhaps. My purpose is not to say that God could not or even does not lead people through impressions or other mystical senses.

My big gripe is when these alleged senses are used to claim a supernatural authority for decisions or sermons or pronouncements for which the text of Scripture gives no warrant. Whether God uses impressions is of little interest to me. What is of great interest to me is when false prophets use the language of impressions to justify their heresy, and when supposedly well-intentioned Christians likewise use them to conjure authority that they do not rightfully possess. And sometimes the line between false prophets and professing Christians seems to get a little fuzzy. Why can't folks just say, "I thought ________ was the right thing to do"? Perhaps because it would diminish the "aura of power" (pun intended) by which they enjoy being surrounded?


I would like to address your questions about praying for wisdom and how we can know we have made the right decision. Unfortunately, I can't do so at the moment. Hopefully later today.