When the apostle Paul was writing his final letter to Timothy, he failed to include a number of things that are so frequently hurled about the Christian church today as utterly important, especially when it comes to hearing from God.
For example, the apostle did not instruct his young protégé on the importance of listening for God’s “still small voice” for personal and ministerial guidance. He didn’t remind Timothy about the importance of astutely discerning between God-sent, spiritual “impressions” for direction as opposed to those which might be of a distinctly more carnal nature. The apostle of our Lord also forgot to advise the young minister about the importance of circumstances God may orchestrate in order to provide spiritual guardrails to guide him down the correct, providential path.
Flash forward from those 1st century apostolic epistles, that time when “the household of God was being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone,” (Ephesians 2:19-20; The true church, btw, is still being built on this basis.) to the 21st century church and you’ll find spiritual hucksters galore who are eager to disregard what we have been taught in the faith that was “once for all delivered.” (Jude 3) Once, apparently, wasn’t enough, so modern charlatans and frauds are redelivering a faux faith that more favorably aligns with the modern mind, with its urges for being “spiritual but not religious,” and for self-centered comfort and divine appeasement of our wishes rather than for a faith that requires obedience to “take up your cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
It is here, in the midst of an “it’s all about you,” seeker-sensitive stage, where Rick Warren stands, delivering “another” faith under the guise of “the faith.” Warren, who is known for his discern-less, ecumenical alliances, his complacency with regards to orthodoxy, and his embrace of all things mystical, contemplative, and “spiritual,” has, in his recent Pastor Rick’s Daily Hope, corrected the apostle in his instructive oversight to Timothy.
Warren, in his post, Four Ways God Speaks To You, has minimized what the apostle maximized, and elevated what the apostle didn’t even mention. He has made Scripture equal to experience, precisely the formula of so many other false teachers in the modern church. The four-pronged answer from “Pastor Rick” is in response to an ill-framed, rhetorical question. “How do I tune in so that I can hear God’s voice?”
The premise presupposed by this query is that God wants to speak to you, but that He’s unable to unless you become sufficiently “tuned in” to His divine wavelength. Though this is popular spiritual mythology today – which Warren is all too eager to consistently exploit – nothing in Scripture indicates the inability of our Sovereign God to make Himself known. There is no esoteric, mystical, spiritual wavelength on which God is transmitting to our ill-tuned spiritual radios. It’s new age hogwash. (You wanna hear God speak? Start flipping pages of the Holy Writ.)
But, in Warren’s daily devotion, he gives his readers an answer to this question.
According to Warren, God speaks to you in four ways:
“1. God speaks to us through the Bible.” If you are actually doing what Christ said would define His disciples, abiding in His word (John 8:31), you’ll recognize that this method of divine speech is THE method of divine speech. God chose to reveal Himself in the Word, the Word that became flesh and the Word that would, by sovereign providence, become Holy Scripture, fully realized, finally closed, and ultimately eternal. (Psalm 119:89) If Rick would’ve stopped at point one, and pointed his devotees to Scripture, it would’ve been right in line with the apostle’s exhortation to Timothy.
But for Warren – as with so many other slick-tongued, ear-scratching charlatans that plague the modern church – Scripture ain’t enough. Evidently, God can’t say everything He needs to say – and hasn’t said everything He intended to say – in His Word.
“2. God speaks to us through teachers.” No doubt Warren needs to include this point to perpetuate his own position but the Bible-imbibing believer will understand that God uses teachers who “preach the Word.” (2 Timothy 4:2) To the extent that a teacher or preacher infuses his lessons and sermons with Scripture, Christ will speak through that Scripture to feed His sheep.
This is why expository preaching is so critical. Feel good stories and morally-inclined sermons, sans Scripture, have zero nutritional value for the flock, but such calorie-void fast food, if accompanied by whiz-bang Hollywood-like staged theatrics and music, can create repetitive seatings of goats in the pews who cannot, of course, be fed actual sheep food. (Survey, perhaps, any of the 25,000 or more at Saddleback for more information.)
“It means to preach the Bible in such a way, that the meaning of the Bible passage is presented entirely and exactly as it was intended by God. That’s the challenge – the divine Word coming through the preacher.” John MacArthur on expository preaching
(As to Warren himself, this article from Tim Challies summarizes with a notable point about the Saddleback pastor. “One need only read Warren’s books or listen to a few of his messages to realize how often he explains and applies passages incorrectly. I assume this is because he has not taken the time to first humble himself before the Scripture and determine what the passages really mean. So do not be confused and presume that Warren is an expository preacher.”)
“3. God speaks to us through impressions.” Impressions? The God of the universe wants to speak to me, something that obviously has to be critical – this is GOD, after all – and He has to resort to psychological, mystical, and highly subjective, New Age, subliminal effects to get His point across? Really? Lemme check the color of my aura cuz Rick’s point is really giving me a dark, antagonistic feeling like something’s really amiss here. Call it an impression.
This is utterly unbiblical, but this mystical nonsense sells to those who’ll quickly abandon the Word in their hands for the almost-always carnal, “still small voice” in their heads. Though we have to resort to Scripture to understand this, the Sovereign God of the universe has made it clear that, given His omnipotent nature, He can, has, and will communicate via any means He will choose. On one singular occasion, with a bonafide prophet, He used that oft sought after “still small voice.” But you ain’t a prophet. I ain’t a prophet. And Rick Warren most certainly ain’t a prophet. Not all of Scripture is prescriptive for us. Just because God led Israel with pillars of cloud and fire, don’t expect that sort of divine guidance today.
How does God speak today? Read and study Hebrews (and the entire New Testament) for a thorough answer, but here’s a rather perspicuous Scriptural clue.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
It’s important not to underestimate the impact that our “flesh” has on these “impressions.” Paul exhibited his own practical battles with the flesh in Romans 7.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15-19)
Paul was not speaking merely of succumbing to sinful temptations. It was not only the act that was sin, but his fleshly-inspired thoughts too. (1 Samuel 16:7) Just verses earlier, in Romans 7:8, Paul confessed that “sin … produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” The singular solution that Paul knew and gave is found in Romans 7:25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” The “law of God” was not for Paul, nor is it for us, a subliminal transference of divine instruction. It was not an “impression.” It was the Holy Scripture through which God had both revealed Himself and established His expectations for His chosen creatures. You can live the rest of your entire Christian life and never have a warm fuzzy, but you’ll always have the truth, and guidance, of God in His Word. Assurance, instruction, and guidance come from the Word. Scripture is God’s voice.
“The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions.” George Mueller
But for Warren, so long as you don’t go to the extreme of thinking “every impression is from God” or to the extreme that “no impression is from God,” you’ll be in the middle … right where God can speak. This is epic false teaching consistent with a “wide path” theology.
“4. God speaks to us through our circumstances.” Though God is entirely sovereign and though there is no single event in the universe that occurs that is not in accord either with His explicit or His permissive will, the only way in which we can identify “God speech” through providentially coordinated circumstance is by being saturated in the Word. It is this that allows one with even a superficial reading of Romans 1, for example, to identify God’s current judgment of sin in the world.
To the extent that we understand His written Word, we are capable of seeing the sovereign hand of God at work in circumstances, for there are none in which He is inactive. But the preeminence of the Word is paramount. Apart from the Truth that He has given us in Holy Scripture, we remain – at best – limited to noble conjecture and uncertain speculation about interpreting the events around us. Yet we need not focus on or fret about circumstances, because “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
But according to Warren, “If we’re going to live a life of significance, God’s got to make constant course corrections, and one of the things he uses to do that is the circumstances that come into our lives.”
First, where, exactly, does Scripture tell us we are to live “lives of significance?” We are regularly exhorted to live “lives of obedience,” but “lives of significance” seems glaringly absent from the pages of our Holy Writ.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17
In a preemptive Scriptural rebuke to the musings of false teacher Warren, here are the apostle Paul’s four points … are all fixated on one thing … Holy Scripture.
- Scripture is salvific, the starting point for anyone seeking to hear from God. “The sacred writings … are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
- Scripture is good for teaching and reproof. This pair of attributes speaks to the “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) elucidated by God’s Word. Through it, we learn what is true and, thereby, are able to identify what is false.
- Scripture is good for correction and training in righteousness. These two attributes speak to the power of Scripture to guide our conduct. It corrects us by the convicting aid of the Holy Spirit when we err in sin, and, when consistently digested by the sheep, it trains us to arrive, finally and ultimately, at the fruition of Christ’s ambition for all His sheep … Be holy for I am holy. (1 Peter 1:16)
- Scripture makes us complete or equipped (Paul used two forms of the same Greek word here). The apostle was pointing out that the man of God that Timothy was to become could rely completely on His revelation in His Holy Scriptures. Nothing else was necessary.
Unlike Rick Warren, Paul made clear the singular priority of Scripture. Keep in mind, too, if it had been remotely important for Timothy – who was effectively being passed the non-apostolic mantle of Paul’s ministry – to know how to listen to subjectively-interpretable impressions or distinguish between the flesh vs. spirit voices in his head, or how to read the circumstances of his life in order to hear God’s voice, Paul would have made those things clear. But Paul recommended none of these things simply because these things are not necessary, or Scripturally-prescribed, for us to know when, where, or what God is speaking.
Peter echoes Paul’s sentiments regarding the preeminence of Scripture. Though, unlike Paul, he was an “eyewitness of his majesty,” and though he heard the “voice borne by the Majestic Glory,” Peter says we have something far more valuable than what his eyes saw or his ears heard. “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention.” (2 Peter 1: 16-21)
It may not be enough for Rick Warren or for those seeking spiritual “experiences,” but Scripture was more than enough for the apostles. It is certainly enough for us.
“Whatever is to be revealed by the Spirit to any of us is in the Word of God already. He adds nothing to the Bible and never will.” Charles Spurgeon
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]