(November 1997 – Volume 3, Issue 9)
In our last paper we began dealing with the widely popular teachings of Henry Blackaby in his best selling book, Experiencing God. While we are in agreement with many things Blackaby teaches we have grave concerns about his approach and use of Scripture. We challenged him with distortion of Scripture along three fronts. Last time we highlighted his general misuse of the Word of God. In this paper we will examine Blackaby’s neo-orthodoxy and highly mystical view of Scripture.
The second front along which we want to challenge Blackaby is that of his neo-orthodox leanings. We need to carefully explain what we mean here. We are not saying that Blackaby is neo-orthodox, he would surely deny this handle and he may know very little about the system. However, this does not mean that he has not been influenced by neo-orthodox teachings. I recently challenged a “biblical” marriage seminar leader by telling him that his teachings were closer in line with those of Dobson and Crabbe than with the Bible. He told me that could not be, because he had never read the works of Dobson or Crabbe. That is a little naive! Many humanists have never read the Humanist Manifesto, but they are humanists. Most people have never read Carl Rogers or Sigmund Freud, yet their ideas permeate our society. Also, a large number of Christians are not familiar with the origins of a great variety of concepts that they accept, often believing them to be biblical.
Neo-orthodoxy is a “Christian” theology which finds its roots in the existential teachings of Soren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth. Barth was a German theologian attempting to move away from liberalism by starting to march toward conservative orthodoxy — he never made it. Along the way he formed his own views which eventually took the name neo-orthodoxy or Barthianism.
There are many teachings stemming from the neo-orthodoxy camp that we do not accuse Mr. Blackaby of holding. Blackaby is not a true Barthian, but his view of Scripture has been influenced by this movement. In fairness, Blackaby is not alone in this — many evangelical leaders have a semi-neo-orthodox view of the Bible.
Barth reacted to the subjectivity of liberalism. Liberals had no authority — no word from God. Barth believed that man needed an authoritative word from God, but he did not turn to the Bible for that word. Instead, Barth taught that Jesus Christ was the Word of God and the Bible is only a witness to that Word. It was Barth’s teaching that the Bible is not the Word of God, but it can become the Word of God if and when God speaks to us through it.A very important aspect of this viewpoint is that other things, such as sermons, newspapers, or novels, etc. can also become the Word of God when God speaks to us through it.
In his little book, Neo-orthodoxy, Charles Ryrie writes:
The chief characteristic of the theology of the Reformation was its return to the Bible as the final authority in all matters. The chief characteristic of neo-orthodoxy is its call to the Word of God as the authority, but the Word of God is not synonymous with the Bible, and this is the point of deception” (p56).
John MacArthur explains it this way:
(In neo-orthodoxy) the Bible itself is not objectively the Word of God, but it becomes the Word of God when it speaks to me individually. . . . What the Bible means becomes unimportant. What it means to me is the relevant issue (Reckless Faith, p26).
In other words, one of Neo-orthodoxy’s “contributions” to evangelical Christianity is the view that revelation to man from God takes many forms. The Bible is no longer the sole authoritative voice of God in this age, it is just one of them. God not only can, but we should expect Him to, speak to us in visions, dreams, circumstances, hunches, feelings, poems, novels, music, etc.
The neo-orthodox view is widely accepted today among Christians, thanks to the influence of the Charismatic movement. Therefore most readers of Experiencing God are not shocked when they read, “God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways. When God speaks to you, you will be able to know He is the One speaking, and you will know clearly what He is saying to you” (p87).
Additionally, not only does revelation come from sources outside the Bible, but even the Bible itself is not the Word of God unless God chooses for it to be. Blackaby puts it this way, in response to the question, “Can’t I get a word from God from the Bible?” (Notice that even Blackaby recognizes that his system confuses people about what is the Word of God.) His reply, “Yes, you can! But only the Holy Spirit of God can reveal to you which truth of Scripture is a word from God in a particular circumstance” (p88). Do you see what has happened? Blackaby is not saying that only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to biblical truth (the doctrine of illumination), he is saying something entirely different. To Blackaby the Bible is no longer the “Word of God,” it becomes the word of God when God uses it to speak to us through our experiences or circumstances. God can also speak to us in a poem, the Wall Street Journal, through our mother-in-law, or through impulses, as well as dreams or visions. Blackaby has thus made the Word of God totally relative and subjective, rather than biblical.
This is pure neo-orthodoxy and is almost identical to the doctrinal teachings of the Charismatic and Vineyard movements. For example, compare what Jack Deere, a leading Vineyard theologian writes:
God can and does give personal words of direction to believers today that cannot be found in the Bible. I do not believe that he gives direction that contradicts the Bible, but direction that cannot be found in the Bible (Vineyard Position Paper #2, p15).
I defy anyone to show me the difference between Deere’s view of revelation (an openly Vineyard teacher) and that of Blackaby’s. There is none – and that is our concern.
In Blackaby’s program this view of revelation becomes intensely practical. He writes, “Your task is to wait until the Master gives you instructions. If you start ‘doing’ before you have a direction from God, more than likely you will be wrong” (p89). This sounds very spiritual, but how does it work? Do we wait for God to speak to us personally and directly before we make a decision? If we don’t hear from God, are we to do nothing? Still, the question always arises, “Once we have accepted the neo-orthodox view of revelation, how do we know if it is God, or the devil, or our own emotions speaking to us???”
Since Blackaby never attempts to deal with this problem, we must turn to someone who shares his same basic view of Scripture. The most honest effort that we could find is that of Wayne Grudem, another Vineyard theologian who is a wholesale believer in extrabiblical revelations of all kinds. He attempts to answer the previous question when he states:
Did the revelation seem like something from the Holy Spirit; did it seem to be similar to other experiences of the Holy Spirit which he had known previously in worship. Beyond this it is difficult to specify much further, except to say that over time a congregation would probably become more adept at making evaluations. . . and become more adept at recognizing a genuine revelation from the Holy Spirit and distinguishing it from their own thoughts (emphasis ours) (The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, pp120-121).
Grudem is arguably the most careful and well-respected Charismatic theologian in the country. He teaches Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois (which is affiliated with the Evangelical Free Churches of America). Yet, the best that he can devise in answer to our concern is, “Did it seem like the Holy Spirit” — and, “A congregation would probably” be able to get better at discernment over time. While we are fumbling around trying to decide if something felt like the Holy Spirit (nothing in the Bible helps us here) and hoping that we will get better at all of this discernment stuff, Blackaby tells us that we dare not even make a move until we are certain that we have heard from God. Pity the poor Christian that believes this trash — they are hopelessly tossed about on a sea of subjectivity and mysticism.
At this point, Blackaby, Deere and Grudem would cry foul. They would claim that while they believe that God speaks to His people apart from the Bible today, that these revelations are not on par with Scripture. That is, God speaks today but not with the same authority as He did in His Word. So do not accuse us of adding to Scripture, they would say. Interestingly enough, this brings up another issue. We find in the Bible that God did speak, either orally (including through His prophets) or through the written Word, but in both ways — always, His Word is authoritative. It was nothing less than a word from God — one that must be obeyed and heeded!
Now, Blackaby (and others) are telling us that God is speaking in a third way today, a way never found, described or hinted at in the Bible: God is speaking today, but His Word is not authoritative, and it can be weighed and examined. We are not even certain when He is speaking, and when some think that they are certain that He is speaking they still believe that the revelation may be partly in error.
This is how Wayne Grudem explains it:
There is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the Charismatic movement that prophecy is imperfect and impure, and will contain some elements which are not to be obeyed or trusted. The Anglican Charismatic leaders Dennis and Rita Bennett write, ‘We are not expected to accept every word spoken through the gifts of utterance. . . but we are only to accept what is quickened to us by the Holy Spirit and is in agreement with the Bible. . . one manifestation may be 75% God, but 25% the person’s own thought. We must discern between the two’ (Ibid p110).
How?? Scripture does not tell us!
It remains a mystery to me why people are attracted to this view of the Word of God. Surely it is not an improvement over, “Thus says the Lord.” Surely the uncertainty of this system pales in comparison to the certainty of the Scriptures (II Peter 1:19-21).
Mysticism is the idea that spiritual reality is found by looking inward. Mysticism is perfectly suited for religious existentialism; indeed, it is its inevitable consequence. The mystic disdains rational understanding and seeks truth instead through the feelings, the imagination, personal visions, inner voices, private illumination, or other purely subjective means. Objective truth becomes practically superfluous. Mystical experiences are therefore self-authenticating; that is, they are not subject to any form of objective verification (John MacArthur, Reckless Faith, p27).
Banking off this definition of mysticism, we find evangelicalism, in general, and Experiencing God, in particular, to be completely infiltrated with mysticism. Following are some examples of what we mean:
Blackaby’s co-author, Claude King, writing in the preface, sets the tempo for the book with a personal experience:
Two years before, God had spoken to me through His Word that a time would come when I needed to leave my job and when I would need to be free of those job responsibilities to be more fully available to Him. I began to pray and ask Him if this was the time I needed to leave my job and walk by faith. . . . By Labor Day weekend, God had convinced me that I must resign my job and walk with Him by faith as I completed this new project (ppXII-XIII).
((Comment: Claude King makes a job change based upon God speaking to him, and God convincing him. How did God do this? Mainly through inner impressions and feelings, even though he claimed that God spoke to him through the Word and through the counsel of people. This is mysticism, not biblical principles of decision making.))
Still in the introduction, Blackaby assures us that the Holy Spirit will mystically convince us that the teachings of Experiencing God are from God. “When I present what I see as a biblical principle, you can depend on the Holy Spirit to confirm whether that teaching comes from God or not” (p3).
((Comment: I hate to disillusion Mr. Blackaby, but the Holy Spirit confirmed to me that what Blackaby writes is mostly nonsense. How did the Holy Spirit tell me this? Not through some warm fuzzy and a sense of peace, but through the careful examination of the infallible Word once for all inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit confirms truth in the Scriptures not through feelings.))
Blackaby often makes the following type of statements, “When God reveals His work to you, that is His timing for you to begin to respond to Him” (p35, cp p81,99). “Truth is not discovered; it is revealed. Only God can tell you what He is doing or is wanting to do through your life” (p46). “When God starts to do something in the world, He takes the initiative to come and talk to somebody” (p66, cp. p73). “When He comes to a person, He always reveals Himself and His activity” (p69). “What God speaks, He guarantees will come to pass” (p82). “When God reveals truth to you, by whatever means, that is an encounter with God” (p85, cp. p86 — this type of mysticism is also neo-orthodoxy). “When God speaks to you, you will be able to know He is the one speaking, and you will know clearly what He is saying to you” (p87, cp. p100). “What you do in response to God’s revelation (invitation) reveals what you believe about God” (p135 — note the constant use of the word “revelation”). “We forget that when God speaks He always reveals what He is going to do — not what He wants us to do for Him” (p137).
((Comment: Please note that Blackaby is not talking about God speaking to us through the Bible. He is clearly teaching that God speaks, reveals, talks or invites the believer through extra-biblical, mystical means.))
How then are we supposed to hear the voice of God? Blackaby tells us to pray the following prayer: “God, I pray that I will come to such a relationship with You that when you speak, I will hear and respond” (p90). What if you question this mystical approach to God? Then you clearly have a spiritual problem: “Oh, don’t let anyone intimidate you about hearing from God. One critical point to understanding and experiencing God is knowing clearly when God is speaking. If the Christian does not know when God is speaking, he is in trouble at the heart of his Christian life” (pp83,94).
Not only do you have a spiritual problem, according to Blackaby, but you also are in direct disobedience to the Word of God, “When He gives you a directive, you are not just to observe it, discuss it, or debate it. You are to obey it” (p158). Mr. Blackaby has now clearly placed these subjective, mystical feelings on par with Scripture. This whole paradigm also comes with its own special blessing, “If you walk in a consistent relationship with God’s provision for you — the Holy Spirit and His own presence in your life — then, you should never come to a time that you do not know the will of God” (p170). This unsupportable concept is perhaps the attraction to Blackaby’s whole system.
The teachings found within Experiencing God are a dangerous mixture of biblical truth with mysticism, neo-orthodoxy and good old fashioned misuse of Scripture. Blackaby follows and perpetuates a trend that has found great acceptance in many evangelical camps today. It is the trend toward a personal relationship with Christ even at the expense of truth. Whether a teaching agrees with Scripture does not seem to matter, all that many people think is significant is that they feel better and seem closer to God. In the process the sheep are led further away from the true God and the Word of Truth is displaced and belittled!