The post God Still Speaks – Discussion After Josiah’s Fire used the book review of Josiah’s Fire as a springboard to a series discussing the claims that Christians today subjectively hear from God outside of Scripture (extra-biblical revelation). Answering two challenges, I made the point that such a practice contradicts the foundational Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. Also, it does not actually happen because God is not giving personal, private communications extra-biblically to anyone today. The Bible is called “Word” of God for a reason. When Scripture speaks, God speaks. If we want to hear God, we must read His Word. To continue with another challenge:
But I have impressions (nudges, dreams, amazing coincidences).
There’s nothing especially Christian in that. People from many religions boast of impressions, dreams, and amazing coincidences. No one can prove such came from God, least of all by an appeal to anecdotal experience. According to Deuteronomy 13:1-3, even in cases when an impression or dream proves true it does not mean that God did it.
Despite the warning in Deuteronomy, many Christians confidently credit God for their impressions and sensations, using phrases such as “God told me…” or “God is leading me to…” They “listen” to God “in the heart,” listening for that “still-small voice,” believing that their feelings and ideas are direct guidance from the Holy Spirit. Usually the message is summarized, but sometimes the impression is actually translated into words that, for example, “came into my heart.” So God is quoted, “I’m not askin’ you to witness to him. I’m askin’ you to brush His hair” (Beth Moore: The Hair Brush, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xtk5WgzZcYA).
The practice of listening to God “in the heart” is so pervasive that Gary Gilley writes, “So many are claiming to be hearing directly from God these days that one has to wonder why the Holy Spirit even bothered to inspire the sacred writings to begin with.” (http://tottministries.org/why-definitions-matter/)
Hearing from God subjectively is a practice of mysticism. Mysticism is the seeking of knowledge or guidance from God apart from the Bible and often apart from the intellect. These Christians mistakenly equate their sensations with the Holy Spirit.
The role of the Holy Spirit is illumination, not revelation. By inspiration, the Holy Spirit superintended the transmission of God’s Word (revelation) until it was completed by the book of Revelation. With the canon complete, God is not giving new revelation. Now, the Holy Spirit’s role is illumination. He gives to the believer understanding of His written Word and faith to obey.
Assigning false credit to God is presumptuous. Deuteronomy 18:20 says, “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name [‘God impressed/told me…’], which I have not commanded him to speak…shall die.” If God didn’t really say what one claims He said then it is presumptuous to claim that He did. It uses God’s name in vain. False prophets in Jeremiah’s day credited God as the source of their special information. God didn’t take it too kindly because it misrepresented Him (Jer 23:25, 28-29, 31, 32, 34-40). I know that Christians sincerely want to know God’s will and please Him, but to attribute to God, without qualification, a message that could be from another source is to risk misrepresenting God. What could be worth that risk?
Coincidences are not revelation. Coincidences are outward experiences. Should we take them as guidance? First Samuel 24 records the amazing coincidence in which King Saul entered alone the same cave where David and his men were hiding from Saul’s army. How did those involved interpret it? David’s men concluded that God was delivering Saul to be killed. In contrast, rather than interpret the circumstance, David remembered and obeyed the command in Deuteronomy to respect his authorities. The circumstance was an opportunity to obey the already given Scripture, not a situation by which to interpret God’s will. We ought not presume to know God’s purposes for circumstances, even if amazingly coincidental. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is death” (Prov. 16:25). In other words, it might seem right from our perspective but in reality it isn’t.
Experiences are not self-authenticating. Impressions, dreams, and feelings are experiences, experiences typically realized in non-verbal bodily sensations. People of all worldviews then interpret them according to their individual perceptions and belief systems. Each religion stamps the authority of their divine upon the supposed truth. Christians, too. I felt an impression, I am a Christian, so God must have given it to me. But experiences are not self-authenticating, and our feelings and perceptions are not trustworthy (Jer. 17:9).
David, a man after God’s own heart, felt impressed to build a temple for God. Put in modern vernacular, he “felt led.” He even received confirmation by the godly man, Nathan, who viewed David’s intention as of the Lord. Alas, even King David, a prophet and author of some of Scriptures, who enjoyed deep intimacy with God (seen especially in Psalms), interpreted his feelings and thoughts wrongly. It was not God’s will that he build the temple (2 Sam. 7:1-13; 1 Chr 22:6-10). God’s inspired revelation to him was inerrant and authoritative (1 Chr 22:8ff). His own intentions in thoughts and feelings were neither revelatory nor inerrant (1 Chr 22:7).
Eve was the first human to trust in her experience (Gen. 3). She observed that “the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes.” Based on her experience and perceptions, she made a conclusion, then acted upon it by eating. Big mistake! Instead of trusting her perception of the experience, she should have interpreted her experience by what God had said no matter what her senses told her. If a sinless person in a perfect environment can arrive at a wrong conclusion, how much more can we, whose hearts are deceived (Jer. 17:9), also make erroneous conclusions! Experience is not self-authenticating. Experience is subjective and can be deceiving. Our perceptions are fallible and frequently inaccurate. Illusionists make a lot of money based on that fact.
But what I hear from God isn’t new truth.
For example, listening to God in the heart isn’t the seeking of extra-biblical revelation like in Mormonism. It isn’t new revelation; it is daily guidance based on what God has already said in the Bible.
If it isn’t new truth, if it simply echoes the Bible, then it is superfluous, unnecessary.
As to it not being extra-biblical, if the source isn’t the Bible then it is, by definition, extra-biblical.
As to daily guidance not being new truth, if this refers to remembering a Scripture that applies, yes. But then we give credit to God’s use of His Word by citing chapter and verse, not drawing attention to one’s personal conduit to God.
However, what is usually intended by “daily guidance” is nudges or “feeling led” to particular decisions or actions. In these cases, this argument just doesn’t follow logically. If daily guidance is not new, how not? Is this day a repeat? Every day is a new day with events that have never happened before, so if God is telling someone what to do that day in “daily guidance” then He is revealing something never before revealed. That fits the standard definition of “new.”
Basic Principle: If some truth is not in the Bible then it isn’t needed. If some truth is already in the Bible, then it is superfluous. The Bible is the necessary, sufficient source of truth needed for life and godliness. Instead of trying to supplement the Word of God, study and obey the Word by faith that the Holy Spirit is at work in His use of the Word without your feeling it.
This discussion is continued in the post So if my impression isn’t from God, then where is it from?
ACBC Podcast, TIL 086 : Is God Speaking To Me?: https://biblicalcounseling.com/2017/04/til-086-god-speaking-feat-keith-palmer/
Subjective impressions and providence, with examples to distinguish how it applies: http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2011/08/subjective-impressions-esp-and-reverse.html
The Problems with Personal Words From God: How People Become False Prophets to Themselves, http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue98.htm
Contemporary Christian Divination: The False Claims and Practices of Christian Mystics, http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue83.htm