One of the panelists at the G3 conference in January 2017 said something like, as long as we have church members who profess to believe the doctrine of sola scriptura and yet also think that Jesus Calling is a good book we have much work to do in this 500th year of the Reformation. In other words, far too many Christians profess to believe the doctrine of sola scriptura while simultaneously believing they hear from God apart from scriptura, and don’t perceive the contradiction.
I would say the same about Josiah’s Fire, a book I reviewed here. I think one reason these books are so easily believed and enthusiastically accepted is because of the strong appeal to sentiment and good feelings. Applied to hearing God, what underlies that vulnerability to sentimentality is a presupposition that feelings can be revelatory. It is normal to hear from God in subjective, private revelations through impressions, nudges, dreams, interpretation of coincidences, etc., and these feelings carry actual messages from God. In other words, many believe that we can hear God speaking from inside ourselves. Since the message is inaudible, the way we sense or perceive His voice is primarily through internal feelings. This is actually subjectivism.
I believe that many who accept this premise and heed their feelings love God and want to honor Him. Many sincerely profess that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, authoritative, and even that it is sufficient. Yet, if it were sufficient, they wouldn’t be seeking more, seeking additional personal revelation. Therefore, in practice Scripture is not sufficient for them.
With this inconsistency in mind, I’d like to use my book review as a springboard to discuss this practical abandonment of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Over several posts, I will debate with my own book review using challenges I, in the past, have raised or heard from others.
Let’s start with a definition. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture teaches that in the written Word of God God has provided all of the revelation that we need for knowing and loving Him and for living a godly life, all that He intends people to have for each era of redemptive history. One basis for this definition is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All Scripture is inspired by God [God-breathed] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
This passage is very clear that the written Word of God is sourced in God, His words, carrying divine authority. It authoritatively tells us that the written Word holds revelation sufficient to save, teach who God is and how to please Him, rebuke for sin/going the wrong way, correct back to right living, and train to make it habitual–that covers every aspect of living. The Bible is “able to equip for every good work.” “Every good work” covers all God-pleasing decisions and actions in every circumstance. There is no decision, no situation, no relationship that is not adequately covered by what we already have in the Bible. No one needs extra-biblical messages from God.
One challenge raised in response is:
But Jesus said, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them and they follow Me” (John 10:27).
I appreciate the desire for intimacy with God, but the John 10 passage has nothing to do with subjectively hearing God talk to you through the day or telling you what decision to make. It is a lesson on the identity of Jesus. The Jews said, “If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus already had and they didn’t believe. Why? “You do not believe because You are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me.” The predestined, hearing the gospel, will repent and obey Christ. (10:24-30)
But “God is the same yesterday, today and forever.” He spoke to people in the Old and New Testaments, so He’ll speak to people today.
We agree that God speaks today. The question is not whether, but by what means.
Unchanging nature does not require unchanging methods. God destroyed the world with a Flood but He never will again. God burned a bush without consuming it, but He’s not doing the same today. God spoke to Balaam through a donkey and donkeys aren’t talking today. God’s character is unchanging but His methods can change.
I think it possible that because in the Bible we see God speaking to various individuals we get the impression that it is normative for all. Rather, the receivers of divine revelation are, naturally, in the foreground of the record. In the background and, therefore, unnoticed are the world population of the era, the local population and family of a main character–a 99% majority of people to whom God did not personally speak. For example, aside from the world’s population at the time, in the family of Noah God spoke personally and directly only to Noah, and very little at that. Abraham lived amidst family and many servants yet to whom did God speak? To Abraham, only a few times, years apart. He spoke to Sarah once and Hagar a couple of times. He didn’t speak to Lot at all except through angels, one time.
If we’re looking for a pattern of God providing personal, direct messages to everyday Johns and Janes as a norm it isn’t there. It is true that 4,000 years ago God audibly spoke to all of the people of Israel–once at Sinai. The purpose was to authenticate Moses so that from then on the people would believe that Moses’ subsequent words from God were indeed from God (Ex. 19:9; Deut. 4:9-13). After that, there walked two million of His followers who didn’t hear directly from God, only through Moses.
After Moses, God spoke personally and directly not to many believers but to Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, and other prophets, who then conveyed His message to the people. Eventually, He spoke only through Jesus. While Jesus walked the earth, no one heard directly from God unless they were in the presence of Christ. If He was in Galilee and you were in Jerusalem, the only communication from God available to you was the Scripture.
Hebrews 1:1-2 plainly states this pattern of using designated spokesmen:
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things…”
God spoke to the ancients primarily by means of prophets and finally by His Son (with the apostles whom He specially commissioned). The vast majority of God’s people have never had the privilege of personal, private, direct revelation from God.
There are also eras when there is no evidence that God spoke to anyone at all, such as between patriarchs, between judges, and between the testaments. So it is quite in keeping with God’s ways that after He founded the church and gave His sufficient Word through validated spokesmen, He would stop speaking directly to people and again work through the Holy Spirit’s use of His written Word and providence.
In all, Scripture records God speaking to very few people in any population of any era, primarily leaders, prophets, and finally His Son with apostles–people key to His plan of rule, redemption, and the provision of written revelation. So, according to the biblical record of how God spoke “yesterday” it is not normal that God would speak apart from His Word subjectively and privately to individual believers today.
This discussion will be continued in the post But I have impressions…
Articles at Grace To You on Inspiration of Scripture: https://www.gty.org/library/resources/any/topic/1?topic=28&cat=all
Articles at Grace To You on Sufficiency of Scripture: https://www.gty.org/library/resources/articles/topic/1?topic=29