Finding the Will of God, a Pagan Notion? by Bruce K. Waltke

Not since Garry Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God have I read a satisfying book on the modern day Christian phenomenon of finding God’s specific will for one’s life. When I purchased Waltke’s volume my hopes were high that someone would add insight to Friesen’s work. My hopes soared in the early portions of the book with statements such as these, “When we talk of ‘finding God’s will’ we generally want divine guidance on specific choices, but it should be noted that this specific term is never used after the Holy Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost. The apostles, upon whom the church is founded, did not teach that we are to seek God’s will in this way” (pp. 10, 11; cf. p. 53). And “When we seek to ‘find’ God’s will, we are attempting to discover hidden knowledge by supernatural activity…. Finding in this sense is really a form of divination. This idea was common in pagan religions…. But that sort of pagan behavior is what Christ saved us out of” (p. 11). Again, “The New Testament gives no explicit command to ‘find God’s will,’ nor can you find any particular instructions on how to go about finding God’s will…. God is not a magic genie. The use of promise boxes or flipping open your Bible and pointing your finger, or relying on the first thought to enter your mind after a prayer are unwarranted forms of Christian divination” (p. 12). Amen!

Waltke believes that we follow God by developing our relationship to Him, not looking for signs. Sign watching is shown to be what it is, paganism (chapter 2). Nor is He impressed with the terrible exegesis used by many Christians to find God’s will (see pages 17-18 concerning Proverbs 3:5-6; cf. p. 54). He writes, “Any time you take the Bible out of context you destroy the intent of God’s Word” (p. 18). And he correctly understands that a special circumstance found in Scripture cannot be made into a norm for us today (p. 19). So far, so good.

But unfortunately what Waltke gives with one hand he takes away with the other. He begins to compromise his position as early as page fourteen by allowing for a bit of divination when it comes to the call to ministry, “In my view, ministry is a calling, and God not only puts a burning desire in the heart of the learner….” How does this burning desire in Waltke’s heart differ from the “hunch method” he decries (e.g. p. 17)? He also has a semi-neo-orthodox understanding, which runs throughout the book that God speaks to us through people, books, the church and circumstances (pp. 16, 114, 115, 173). Certainly God uses people and circumstances to accomplish His purpose in our lives, but He does not “speak” to us through these means in the same ways as He speaks in the Scriptures. More concerning is that Waltke believes that on occasion God gives special revelation today (pp. 19, 53, 162).

Even in his excellent chapter on reading the Bible (Chapter 4) he stumbles headlong into the pagan’s camp. As he meditates on Scripture, “Sometimes my heart burns within me and I have no doubt that God is speaking to me…. I don’t hear an audible voice, but I find that the Lord is able to fill my mind with his thoughts. This isn’t a form of inspiration, but illumination. Sometimes it might last five minutes; while at other times it may go for an hour. But either way is a chance for me to stop talking and listen to God” (p. 80). He supports this unbiblical teaching by a misapplication of Psalm 77 and a quote by none other than Erasmus, the Catholic enemy of Luther (p. 182).

Waltke also places a great deal of stock in our heart speaking to us (p. 95), falsely equating the feeling in our hearts with faith. He is convinced that God gives us our desires and seems to leave little room for the desires of the flesh. He assures us that “You can rely on the desires of your heart, because God is in control of them,” yet he makes no mention of Jeremiah 17:11. He even goes so far as to say “God speaks to our hearts sometimes in direct opposition to our reason” (p. 146), but gives no Scripture to support his statement, for there is none. When God spoke to individuals in the Bible it was clear and without questions that He was speaking. We have no examples of God speaking to anyone’s heart in an authoritative manner.

Waltke ends his book strong by calling on us to “stamp out of our vocabulary the nonbiblical and misleading expression ‘finding God’s will’ “(p. 169). His beginning and ending are great; it is in the middle that he muddies the waters. Overall Waltke lets us down far too often to recommend this book.

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