Mark Dever’s discussion of guidance and the subjective leading of the Spirit is worth a read. I agree with Dever’s theology, but I’m much more militantly opposed to the common sue of guidance and leading language than he appears to be in this post.
My opinion is that the language of leading—“God told/spoke/showed me” has been used appallingly often in a manner that has been spiritually manipulative and abusive. Even a statement that “God led me to” do something is dangerous since we have no objective way to know when God is leading us to do something that is not an act of obedience to God’s revealed moral will.
In no way do I want to deny that God actually does lead believers in a subjective manner. I do deny that we can know either objectively or infallibly when and how he is leading us (at least apart from some sort of vision or sign comparable to what we do see in Scripture). When we claim God’s leading, we are claiming divine revelation and authority that we have no right to claim. We risk dragging God into our fallible and perhaps even foolish decisions. It’s difficult for me to understand how this kind of language is not a serious risk of taking God’s name in vain at best and risking blasphemy at worst.
Instead, why not simply say, “As I considered the choices before me, it seemed most wise and prudent to” do whatever you did. Or if we just can’t excise the language of leading, shouldn’t we at least acknowledge some measure of uncertainty with the caveat, “I believe/it seems that God is leading me to . . .”?
As a brief aside, during the past week I read Paul Pressler’s A Hill on Which to Die, the account of this influential Southern Baptist’s pivotal role in the conservative resurgence in the SBC. One of the themes that struck me most was how often both the SBC reformers and the hard-core liberals claimed divine leading for the starkly divergent directions they intended to lead the SBC. Clearly it’s impossible for both to have been in the right on these points, and it’s entirely possible that both were wrong on some. I think the conclusion should be inescapable that cultivating the unqualified language of divine leading creates a seedbed for theological liberals (to say nothing of manipulative conservatives) to advance their personal interests.
After I wrote the rest of this post earlier today, I spent an hour in a van with a friend who’s done missions work in East Asia for the past nine years. He reminded me of a point I’d intended to make but forgot. We’re both convinced that the prevailing theology of leading has caused many sincere believers to wait for a subjective experience of leading or “calling” to pastoral ministry or missions, when the reality is that they have the 1 Timothy 3:1 desire already present in their hearts. But without this subjective experience they’re taught to expect , they never step outside the flow of the Christian culture around them, with all its conveniences and comforts. So a very real implication of our terminology and the theology behind it may be strangling the spread of the gospel to those who’ve never heard.