I've made what I think is a telling observation about those who hold to a dual source of special revelation. Whenever an organization says, "We believe the Bible is inspired plus we believe our leadership is inspired," or "We believe the Bible is inspired plus we believe this other book of ours" (like the Book of Mormon, for example) "is inspired," the Bible always ends up taking the back seat instead of being on equal footing with these other sources of special revelation.
I think most Christians will be comfortable with that assessment. This, though, raises a question about Evangelical claims to multiple sources of special revelation. For all our talk about sola Scriptura, many also hold that God speaks to them on a regular basis giving true information about Himself and specific directions for their lives. Their claim is, essentially, "I believe the . . .
Does God talk to you personally? Would you bet your life on it? Claiming to receive personal messages from God on a regular basis places subjective experience on the same level as Scripture, Greg argues. This is the claim of a prophet, and not even Old Testament prophets did so unless they were willing to die for the claim.
|I've made what I think is a telling observation about those who hold to a dual source of special revelation. Whenever an organization says, "We believe the Bible is inspired plus we believe our leadership is inspired," or "We believe the Bible is inspired plus we believe this other book of ours" (like the Book of Mormon, for example) "is inspired," the Bible always ends up taking the back seat instead of being on equal footing with these other sources of special revelation.
I think most Christians will be comfortable with that assessment. This, though, raises a question about Evangelical claims to multiple sources of special revelation. For all our talk about sola Scriptura, many also hold that God speaks to them on a regular basis giving true information about Himself and specific directions for their lives. Their claim is, essentially, "I believe the Bible is a bona fide source of information and the Spirit also gives private information directly to me." The second step frequently follows the first: The personal, subjective sense of what a person thinks God is telling him trumps the objective Scripture.
I was teaching from the Bible recently in a large Evangelical church here in Southern California, and I was publicly opposed by a woman who challenged my view not on the basis of a better interpretation of Scripture (she completely ignored my exegesis), but on the basis of what she was convinced the Holy Spirit had told her. She called me a heretic and said I was sinning because I was "analyzing and dissecting the Bible" instead of letting the Holy Spirit speak to me. My view was merely "man's interpretation." You'd be amazed at how often I run into that kind of response by otherwise orthodox Christians.
Note that I have a very robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I'm charismatic in that I believe in the perpetuity of spiritual gifts and in energetic worship. The real question is-- and this is vital-- Are we justified in claiming that our personal, private, first-person, subjective experiences give us authoritative knowledge about God, or about what God wants us to do?
If a woman said, "God told me to marry this man," that wouldn't be contrary to Scripture unless he was a non-Christian or already married. Even if he was a Christian, though, the statement begs a different question: Does Scripture give us the liberty to assign the authority of divine fiat to our subjective experiences?
My answer is nowhere does the Bible give us that liberty. It does not enjoin us to assess our feelings and then judge whether they are a manifestation of the voice of God or not.
This is a delicate issue, so I want to take a moment and clarify my view regarding whether the Bible teaches that God speaks to us in this fashion.
The question is not whether or not Jesus lives in our hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit. Having believed, we've been sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. We've been baptized in the Holy Spirit. He indwells us. He convicts us of sin. He teaches us. The Holy Spirit regenerates us, washing us in the blood of Christ. He comforts us in difficult times. He confirms in our hearts that we are children of God. The Holy Spirit is in and through every part of our lives, and He ought to be. All of this is specifically taught in the Bible.
The question is not whether there is a Holy Spirit, or whether that Holy Spirit indwells us, or whether that Holy Spirit does things for us or to us in an experiential, subjective way. All of those things are the case.
The question is actually two-fold: Is it enough for Christians to simply say, "'You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.' I have the confirmation of a subjective experience. I feel Jesus.'?"
The answer is no, it is not enough to say that. Because the Mormons feel Jesus. And the New Ager feels Jesus. And a Jehovah's Witness feels Jesus. Lots of people feel Jesus. They have psychological certainty that they're children of God and that they're right with God.
The point I'm making is that the foundation of our confidence cannot be placed on the subjective side, because it's too easy to be misled by subjective elements. There must be something else that gives us reason to believe that our subjective certainty-- our personal confidence that Jesus is ours-- is more than just an empty confidence, but is, in fact, the truth.
Hasn't it been the case, friends, that you've felt absolutely certain about something that later turned out to be false? Of course you did. And the question is: How do we protect ourselves from that error? How do we represent the truth of Christianity to another person who may not be sharing our subjective certitude, or our subjective experience?
We must have some objective foundation. We must be able to point to more than just our feelings to prove the truthfulness of our faith and the legitimacy of our confidence that Jesus is in our lives.
But there's a second step here. There's another factor that goes beyond proving to ourselves or others that Jesus is true beyond our psychological confidence.
Do we have biblical justification for the idea that one of the ways the Holy Spirit is active in our lives is that He, as a standard operational procedure, gives Christians personal and individual messages from God, contentful, propositional information like, "Marry that person"? Does the Bible teach that having a personal, live connection with God speaking to you is God's way for Christians? Does the Bible teach that this represents the optimal Christian life? You hear His voice and then you know what to do in your life?
Is it the case that the Bible teaches that the Bible itself is not the only source of authoritative information about God, but rather, our subjective experience is also a source of authoritative information about God? And can we expect God to speak to us and fill in the gaps, as it were, on things the Bible does not address (e.g., the specific person I should marry)?
My answer is, the Bible does not teach such a thing. It's ironic that so many Christians who hold to sola scriptura in debates with Roman Catholics, would also hold that they receive authoritative pronouncements from God. For goodness sake, at least the Roman Catholic Church relegates that only to the teaching magisterium of the church, and to the Pope when he speaks from the chair.
But we have Protestants who hold to sola scriptura who then, in the next breath, speak about the authoritative messages they've received from God that they're obliged to follow.
By the way, if you're in the habit of saying, "God told me to do..." thus and so, keep in mind that you're making the claim of a prophet, no less than any prophet of the Old Testament. The testing for a prophet was very severe. A prophet of the Old Testament never made that kind of claim unless he was willing to stake his life on it and die for the claim. In fact, if the claim wasn't true, that's just what happened. The prophet found himself under a pile of rocks.
So Christians would be good to guard their mouths and not flippantly make proclamations that God has been speaking privately to them. Even the prophets of God did not make those claims with such a cavalier attitude.
We ought not assume that maturity as a Christian means receiving daily authoritative revelations from God when the Bible itself does not give us the justification for believing that such a thing is a standard work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit does many things, but it doesn't teach that the Holy Spirit does that.
This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It is made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason. Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. ?1998 Gregory Koukl
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