(October 1997 – Volume 3, Issue 8)
A pastor who had read some of my writings encouraged me to read Henry Blackaby’s best selling book, Experiencing God. This pastor apparently either thought that Blackaby’s work would compliment my own, or correct my thinking. Either way, I am afraid that I have proven to be a disappointment to my friend. If he felt that I would appreciate and enjoy Experiencing God I have sadly mis-communicated to my readers. The thrust of this book is so foreign to my views of Scripture that I find it incredible that I could be so misunderstood. If so, I repent and vow to try harder to communicate plainly.
On the other hand, if my pastor friend thinks that I would be persuaded by Blackaby’s brand of “story-theology” he is sadly mistaken. Blackaby’s book and seminars are representative of much that I detest in so-called evangelicalism today. They take a purely mystical approach to Christian living and by necessity undermine and distort the precious Word of God. I write about Blackaby’s work, not only to expose it, but also because it is a clear representation of the state of evangelicalism in America.
Where It All Began
In 1990 a workbook, based upon the teachings of Henry Blackaby, a Southern Baptist pastor and conference speaker, was published. The workbook, Experiencing God, has since sold over two million copies, has been translated into forty languages and it has been reported that sixteen percent of all Southern Baptists have taken a course based on this workbook. By some estimates this translates to about half of all active members of the denomination. Churches from many other denominations, including Roman Catholic churches, have gone through the “Experiencing God” course, according to a spokesman for the S.B.C. Sunday School Board. Furthermore, there are now youth and pre-teen editions of the workbook, as well as videos and a leader’s study guide.
The hard back version of Experiencing God (subtitled Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Life Way Press, Nashville, Tennessee) is an expanded and modified form of the workbook (all of our comments will be based on the hard back edition). It was published in 1994 and already has sold two hundred fifty thousand copies. In addition, thousands have attended Experiencing God Weekends and Experiencing God Weekends for Couples. These weekends are open to usually sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention, but are open to all denominations. Even the Jesuits at Boston College had scheduled a Spring “Experiencing God Conversation Series.” The appeal of Blackaby’s ideas is that we can experience a deeper reality of the presence and voice of God. Unfortunately, Blackaby does not derive most of his thoughts from Scripture.
The general teaching of Experiencing God is wrapped around what Blackaby calls the “Seven Realities of Experiencing God.” The discerning reading will quickly recognize that the last four of the “Seven Realities” either contradict or at best cannot be supported or proven by Scripture.
The Seven Realities are:
- God is always at work around you.
- God pursues a continuing love relationship with you that is real and personal.
- God invites you to become involved with Him in His work.
- God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways.
- God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
- You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
- You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His work through you.
Experiencing God is a book that is full of errors, biblically unsupportable assertions, incredible statements and story-theology (views based upon anecdotal accounts rather than upon Scripture). Some examples:
“If you have trouble hearing God speak, you are in trouble at the very heart of your Christian experience” (p87). What does this mean? Does God speak to all Christians individually? If so, how? What Scripture is used to support this? (By the way, Blackaby uses none.)
After praying to God Blackaby advises, “Reflect on your feelings. . . . How did you feel as you walked and talked with God” (p62). What passage from the Bible tells us to reflect on our feelings in order to evaluate our prayer life?
“Knowing God only comes through experience as He reveals Himself to me through my experiences with Him” (p5). Doesn’t the Bible reveal God to us? Are our experiences necessary and more importantly, are they reliable when it comes to experiencing God?
“With God working through His servant, he or she can do anything God can do. Wow! Unlimited potential” (p26). Wow, is right! Kenneth Copeland, Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn and the whole Word of Faith gang of heretics would shout, “Wow!” too. Can believers create? Can they convict of sin? Can they draw men to God? This statement is a gross perversion of Phil. 4:13.
“When God gets ready to do something, He reveals to a person or His people what He is going to do” (p31). This concept is a major emphasis of the book, and a large part of its popularity — but what Scripture supports this? Does God really report to us? Does He reveal to His church what He IS GOING TO DO? If so, tell me, what is He going to do next week? What is the next major movement of God in this world? Or, when will the rapture take place? We can often tell in hindsight what God has done and who He has used, but going forward is a different story.
“You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing” (p38). What kind of “adjustments” are we talking about here? Blackaby often uses this word “adjust,” but I do not find it in my concordance. I wonder why he is so reluctant to use some good old fashioned biblical words like, “repent,” “confess” or “obey.” “Adjust” sounds so nice and clean. “Repent” sounds messy and ugly — maybe that is why!? Modern wisdom tells us that we must avoid offending anyone — even if it is with the truth.
What Is The Word of God?
As concerning as some of the statements that we have mentioned are, the real distress lies in Blackaby’s distortion of the Word of God. Many readers of Experiencing God will, at first, believe the above statement to be in error. After all, the volume is peppered with numerous references to the Bible and much of what the author says is supported with scriptural accounts. Blackaby often speaks highly of the Word, proclaiming its importance; so, how can we challenge him with distortion of the Scriptures? We do so along three fronts:
Misuse of the Scriptures
II Timothy 2:15 is clear that if we are to be a people approved of God we must accurately handle the word of truth. Teachers of the Word of God have an awesome responsibility to understand and deliver God’s truth, not their own opinions. On this score Henry Blackaby fails miserably.
To misuse the Bible as Blackaby does, is not uncommon. His errors are not unique, but that fact does not excuse one who claims to speak for God. Keep in mind that Blackaby is attempting to use the following passages as support of his views:
John 14:26 — “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things.” — “The Holy Spirit of God will be your personal teacher. . . . He will be at work revealing God, His purposes and His ways to you” (p3). Simply completing the verse clarifies its meaning: “And bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” Jesus was not talking to us but to His apostles. The Holy Spirit would teach them and bring to their remembrance those things that they would share with the church largely through the writing of the New Testament. This verse is not a promise to the average believer directly.
John 14:6 — “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” — Blackaby uses this verse to teach that we will know specifically what God wants us to do with our lives. “Who is it that really knows the way for you to fulfill God’s purpose for your life? God is. . . . If you were to do everything that Jesus tells you one day at a time, you always would be right in the center of where God wants you to be. Can you trust God to guide you that way” (p21)? This passage is not in the context of God’s individual will for our lives, but the context of salvation and eternal life.
Hebrews 1:1 — “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways.” Blackaby utilizes this verse with a few others, to prove that God will speak to His people today, outside of the Scriptures. “If anything is clear from a reading of the Bible, this fact is clear: God speaks to His people. . . . God does speak to His people, and you can anticipate that He will be speaking to you also” (p83). Note carefully that Blackaby is not referring to the written Word of God. In using Heb. 1:1 as a proof text, our author does the same as he did with the last verse – he rips it out of context! Reading the very next line, “In these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:2), shows that Blackaby has totally misused Scripture. Rather than a proof text for God speaking to us apart from Scripture, Hebrews 1:1 and 2 coupled with Hebrews 2:1-4, is a proof text of God’s revelation which was “In His Son” and has now been recorded by the apostles in the Word of God. This passage proves that there is no additional revelation apart from the Bible, not that God is speaking to us today apart from the Bible. Blackaby could not be more wrong.
Luke 4 is used as an example of how to use the Scriptures to find direction from the Lord. Rather than teach his readers to carefully study the Word in its context, using proper hermeneutical principles, Blackaby teaches a mystical approach. A story is told of a lady who awakened one night with Luke 4:24 running through her mind (pp105-106). She got up to read the passage and, “That morning the Lord spoke to Gail through the Bible. She realized that even Jesus had to leave His hometown in order to” ‘preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns’ (v24). She sensed the Holy Spirit saying that she would have to leave the comforts and security of home to go with her husband as they served the Lord together. Later that morning, in an Experiencing God Seminar, she gave her testimony of what God had said.” On the basis of God “speaking” to Gail in this way, she and her husband would sell their house and move to another state. This is indeed pure mysticism — it is among the most perverted forms of scriptural distortion!
John 11:4 — “This sickness is not unto death” is used in the same manner (pp119-120). Taken as if it were a personal promise to the Blackaby family, they believed that God had promised them that their daughter would not die of cancer — and she did not. Proof positive that God had spoken, right? What about the thousands over the years who have claimed this same verse only to watch a loved one die? Perhaps it is because of such misuses of Scripture that many professing believers think that God has disappointed — even deceived them. Yet, John 11:4 has nothing to do with Blackaby’s daughter, or anyone else’s. It has to do with Lazarus.
Romans 8:26,27 — Blackaby uses these verses to teach that the Holy Spirit, “Helps us know the will of God as we pray. . . . The Holy Spirit’s task is to get you to ask for it (God’s will)” (pp110-111). Of course the passage teaches no such thing. Rather, it tells us that, “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us.” The Holy Spirit is not some mystical Ouija board from God prompting us to ask for just the right things before we can get them (as Blackaby claims). Instead, recognizing our weaknesses, the Holy Spirit prays for us, according to the will of God.
In our next paper we will discuss Blackaby’s neo-orthodox leanings and general mysticism.