Monday, February 06, 2012

"God Told Me"

One of the defenses of James MacDonald for his reception of modalistic T. D. Jakes at his Elephant Room exposed a common error of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, often used to justify many actions.  It was a distortion then echoed by The Gospel Coalition at the time of MacDonald's exit.  I hear and read these types of continuationist statements often in fundamentalism too, especially from the revivalist wing.  MacDonald wrote:

I don’t want my minor role on the Council to hinder their work as a whole or to give the impression they agree with all God has called me to do.

I draw your attention to the words:  "all that God has called me to do."  That's what I want to focus on.  MacDonald would continue the Elephant Room with Jakes, despite any protestation of The Gospel Coalition, because it was what God called him to do.

The Gospel Coalition (D. A. Carson and Tim Keller) wrote in response:

We acknowledge that James feels called of God into these spheres, and we wish him well in his far-reaching endeavors, and many years of ministry both faithful and fruitful.

And here, again, I ask you to focus on the verbiage:  "James feels called of God into these spheres."  The wording leaves room for deniability, because they "wish him well in his far-reaching endeavors," but not necessarily in the Elephant Room, even though that was the, well, elephant in the room.  They have since written a plain repudiation of the work of MacDonald with Jakes that is an interesting read.  Driscoll remains in the coalition and we still hear no instruction on separation in lieu of the pointing out of false teachers.  The question arises, "If you have someone teaching false doctrine and a false gospel, besides pointing him out, what else does Scripture tell us to do with him?"  They don't say.  Shepherds are to be concerned, but then what?

But I digress.  I wanted to consider the statements that involved "called of God."  What is this "call of God" that results in an Elephant Room or anything possible that is like it?  It seems to justify all sorts of activity with the name of God.  It isn't unusual in many different circles.  I was recently talking to another pastor by phone and asked him what he thought about a particular activity and he said something like:  "It depends if it is the will of God or not."  He said it two or three times.  I've heard these kinds of statements much through the years.  So you've got "called of God" and "the will of God," and I believe these are very closely related concepts in what some today would call "soft-continuationism" or more often "soft-cessationism."   I have also heard this type of soft-continuationism associated with a "leaky canon," speaking of extra-scriptural revelation and God saying more than He has already in the Bible.  One continuationist describes it thus:

Continuationists believe God is still speaking today, not only through His overall leading and direction via Scripture and other such means, but even through actual direct and revelatory words. These revelations can come in various manners – prophecy, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, visions, dreams, etc. – but God is still communicating and speaking directly today. He never desired anything less.

The Gospel Coalition has affinity for continuationism with their relationships with John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and Mark Driscoll, to name a few.  Without being continuationists themselves, the language of Carson and Keller hints at continuationism.  This leaves room for some subjectivity as to what God is actually saying.  He finished speaking with the closing of the canon, but if He can still tell you things that He wants you to do, it's easy to play the "God called me," "God spoke to me," or "the will of God" card when something you are doing might be unbiblical.

God is done telling us anything.  He is done revealing any more of His will.  What God tells us and His moral will and what He calls us to do are all in His Word.  The Word of God is also how God leads us.  But what about those areas that the Bible says nothing about?  We still follow the principles of the Word of God and we use them to make the decision.  The Holy Spirit will help you to do that.  That is how He leads us in this age in which we live.  Once the canon of Scripture was completed, God went silent, like He did between Malachi and Matthew.  And His Word is complete or sufficient, so we depend on it to know what the will of God is.

If we are not depending on the Word of God, we are not living by faith and, therefore, we are not pleasing God (Rom 10:17; Heb 11:6).  God doesn't call us or tell us to do things He hasn't already said in His Word.  Even when you pray, you should pray according to what He said in His Word.  You might think of something to pray for, and later find out that the inclination paralleled with an event happening at that very moment.  What happened then?  God's providence was working.  You can trust His providence.  For those who love God, God works all things together for their good (Rom 8:28).

To start, God already said everything to us that He is going to say, until we see Him face to face.  However, if the Elephant Room clashed with Scripture, God didn't call or tell James MacDonald to do it.  When someone like MacDonald or Driscoll or Hyles or anyone else say that they're doing something because God told them to do it, if it's not biblical, then it's also not true in any way that they could mean that.  If God really were still telling people things, then no one should question it.  If God is still speaking, then what He's saying is inerrant and authoritative.  God is not still doing that.  He is not still adding anything to the Word of God that is once and for all delivered (Rev 22:18-19).

We want to see careful exegesis and exposition of Scripture and then accurate application of that to our lives.  The Holy Spirit will help us with that, but not the same as telling us something that He has not already said.  Dismiss men's claims that God has told them anything other than what God already said.


Anonymous said...

This is "spot on." I have heard so many of these types of statements from brethren that it worries me. One pastor told me that he goes into his office at church and prays until God "tells him what to preach." Of course, he was disparaging expository preaching, but his statement is really "continuationist" in concept. Thanks for posting this. I am linking to this article for a few friends of mine.

Steve Rogers said...

Great discernment! I would also add that as a pastor I weary of folks telling me that "they prayed about it" and no matter how much their decision contradicts scripture, as you said, "God's leading me or I feel like this is God's will." I often ask them if God changed his mind since He wrote the Bible!...crickets

Joshua said...

Just wanted to add my amen to this one. It is part of that unholy trinity invoked when one wishes to rebel against God or the Scriptures

1. God is telling me x

2. I prayed about x

3. I have a peace about x

Over my last 5 years, I have never seen anything good come out of those statements. Keep up the good work.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks. We maybe haven't had the terms for what this is, but I like "soft cessationist" or the "leaky canon" terminology.

Thanks Steve.

Josh, I agree.

Thanks for the comments, all.

Don Johnson said...

So, Kent, would you say there is such a thing as a 'call to the ministry' or a 'call to preach' or a 'call to a particular church', etc.?

If yes, how would that be different from what you describe in the article? If no, well, blow me down, I wouldn't have thought so!

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Don,

My post wasn't too in depth at laying any of this out, but I've written on these things in depth either here or at Jackhammer on a few occasions.

I believe "called" in Scripture deals with salvation. The "call" to pastoring, as I see it in Scripture, is a desire that starts and is fed by the Word of God. And if someone has that desire it is good. Whatever giftedness someone has comes sovereignly from the Holy Spirit as we see in 1 Cor 12. I believe God has told people to be a prophet, etc. but not in this era.

As far as going to a particular church, I believe someone applies the Bible as best possible, following scriptural principles, and there is a sending church and a receiving church---they are doing the same. I do believe the Holy Spirit works in all this with regards to aiding a Christian with the proper application of the Word of God, i.e., wisdom. This is a huge subject, so it was difficult to write a short, satisfactory answer, but this is the jist of it.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent

Very interesting. As you outline it in your reply, I think we both see this issue in the same way.

Well, blow me down, as Popeye used to say.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


Popeye was my favorite cartoon character as a child, hence I liked and ate my spinach.

Steve Rogers said...

Well stated again, Bro. B. Too many Christians have made the will of God a mystical experience rather than a scriptural exercise!

Bob said...

It's amazing how so many people "wait for the call of God" to do just certain things in the church, but do not wait for God's calling when they decide to do something for themselves.

I was talking someone who was waiting on God to move him into the ministry. I asked him if he waited on God to buy his new car. Needless to say, he walked away disturbed.

Bob P.