Friday, November 14, 2008

Finding the Will of God

I recently finished reading Bruce Waltke’s Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? This book was recommended by Howard Griffith, professor of systematic theology at RTS D.C. So far I haven’t ever been disappointed by anything that Dr. Griffith has recommended to me so I picked it up on a recent trip up to Westminster Theological Seminary.

After reading it I can safely say that if I were to make a list of books that I think every Christian should read then this would definitely be on there. When it comes to “finding God’s will” Christians tend to vacillate between two positions. Waltke argues that many Christians engage in Christianized forms of pagan divination to find God’s will. Waltke argues that the two big problems with this is that it engages in practices that God’s word specifically condemns and that it refuses to acknowledge that God is a loving Father. If we truly believe that God is a perfectly loving Father then why live and act as if he hides his will from us and we have to jump through hoops to find out what it is? Shouldn’t we believe that our heavenly Father desires to communicate clearly with us?

On the other hand, Waltke also critiques the tendency of many Reformed believers who speak of God’s will only in terms of God’s decree and not in terms of something that can be known for making big decisions in life. Waltke believes that it is possible to find and know the will of God for what college to go to, what major to pursue, what job to take, who to marry, and other important decisions in life. He outlines six principles for discerning (at this point Waltke has dispensed with the phrase “finding God’s will”) the will of God for our lives:

  1. Read your Bible – The order of these strategies is very important to Waltke and he notes that whenever we want to know God’s will we must begin with his verbal revelation in Scripture. Whenever we need to make a major decision we should begin with God’s word and not with our own personal experience.
  2. Develop a heart for God – Waltke reminds us that the heart of the law is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” He says that the foundation of God’s will for us in Scripture is that we become holy and that we love God. This means a change in our perspective and our desires as God sanctifies us. Waltke argues from Scripture that as we are changed into people who love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength that we will have desires that correlate with Scripture, with offering our bodies as living sacrifices, with faith, and with prayer. This means that one of the ways to know what God’s will is to examine our sanctified desires as they have been given to us by God.
  3. Seek wise counsel – Waltke writes that when we seek counsel we must be careful to go only to those who are spiritually mature because those are the believers who are going to be familiar with Scripture. He advises praying for that person before going to them so that God will work in them to prepare them to give godly advice.
  4. Look for God’s providence – Waltke argues that this is an application of what we believe about God’s sovereignty in his creation. Nothing ever happens by chance but everything is according to God’s design. Sometimes we desire to do things that are not forbidden in Scripture and are confirmed by the assembly of God’s people but it just ends up being impossible to carry out. Waltke says that this may be God providentially revealing his will to us. Waltke argues that when this happens we ought to attribute it to the overall plan of a God who loves us and knows best.
  5. Does this make sense? – Waltke notes that God created men and women with faculties of reason. Reason is to be used thinking God’s thoughts after him. Often God guides us simply by letting us think through the situation and reason to the proper conclusion. Waltke gives a few principles for using reason to make decisions. First, reason should never lead to a conclusion that is contrary to Scripture. Second, reason should take into account the gifts that God has given us. Third, reason should take into account the abilities that God has given us. Fourth, reason should take our circumstances into account. Finally, we should reason to a decision in terms of an overall plan and not just flying randomly from one choice to another.
  6. Divine intervention – Waltke is very careful to clarify what he wants to say here. He notes that miracles are not the normal way that God works and that we should remember that Acts is telling a story of what God did to establish the church and not revealing how God works in his normal providence. Yet we should also remember that our God is a God who can and does work miracles and he may change our situation to reveal his will. We need to be careful not to always wait for a miracle before acting but we must also be willing to follow God’s direction when he does work this way.

There are a few minor quibbles that I have with the book. For example, in the chapter on divine intervention Waltke uses Peter’s vision in Acts 10 as an example. I don’t think that Waltke interprets the passage in context and stretches it a bit to make his point. I do think that his argument in this section is valid but that there are better passages that he could use to make it. A bigger one is when Waltke critiques the practice of casting lots (and similar modern practices) and in the course argues that the disciples’ decision to appoint Matthias to Judas Iscariot’s place by casting lots was wrong. Waltke says that this is confirmed as Matthias never really comes up again in the New Testament. I think that this is a pretty bad interpretation of Acts 1. I do agree with him about casting lots but again, this passage in Acts is misinterpreted to support the argument.

Those differences aside, I still maintain that this book will be immensely valuable for Christians to read in learning how to make decisions according to God’s guidance and will for his children. I highly encourage all believers to pick up and read this book.

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