Hearing God’s Voice by Henry and Richard Blackaby
Hearing God’s Voice is virtually a rehash of Henry Blackaby’s earlier work, Experiencing God. The thesis of both books is that “God created us for fellowship with him. He desires an intimate, personal relationship with us, so he will speak to us” (p. 15)! It is the last phrase of the above quotation which has become the trademark of Blackaby’s ministry. He has perhaps done more to promote subjective, mystical (nonclassical) Christian living than any modern noncharismatic leader. He co-authored this book with his son Richard and together they teach, “There is nothing more important in life than understanding when God is speaking to you” (p. 264). They have intimidated people into believing that if they are not hearing from God on a regular basis it is probably because of sin in their lives (p. 264). The Blackabys support their ideas through a combination of out-of-context Scriptures, personal experiences, historical illustrations and authoritative assertions that lack biblical base. It is a lethal combination—lethal to their readers who are sadly taken in by this false understanding of God’s voice.
There is much that is disturbing in Hearing God’s Voice. For example, as in Experiencing God, the Blackabys say much about prayer being two-way communication with God (pp. 113, 117, 122, 131) — we speak, then wait for God to speak. Here they consistently confuse biblical prophecy with God supposedly communicating in prayer. Perhaps their favorite misinterpreted text in relationship to prayer is Romans 8:26-27 (pp. 37, 116, 124, 137) which they take to mean that the Holy Spirit reveals the Father’s thoughts to us as we pray. The passage says no such thing but this does not seem to deter the Blackabys.
One of the major themes of the book is how to discern when God is actually speaking, even though in Scripture we rarely, if ever, read of anyone having this problem. People, even believers, always knew the voice of God and were never given a formula to teach them how to identify His voice. But the Blackabys must add layers of extrabiblical tests to their supposed communication from God. For example, to hear God speak, faith is required (pp. 52-53), as is the conviction that God speaks apart from Scripture (p. 213). In addition, we will be disoriented when God does speak, unless we are in the habit of communing with God (p. 214). Fortunately, according to the Blackabys, though new Christians may not readily recognize God’s voice (p. 257), they will gradually come to recognize it in time (p. 235). Of course, none of this is taught in Scripture. Paul was yet an unbeliever when on the road to Damascus, but he immediately knew the voice of the Lord. Nor do we find anyone in Scripture (except for the child Samuel) failing to immediately identify God’s voice when he heard it.
Chapter nine gets to the heart of the issue as it addresses the question of how we are to distinguish the voice of God from other voices (such as our own or Satan’s). Surprisingly the Blackabys shift their definition of God’s Word (for this chapter only) back to Scripture, and at the same time shift the discussion (for this chapter only) back to the moral or revealed will of God. Not once in the whole chapter do they deal with how to discern God’s voice or specific will. They completely dodge this all-important question. This is disappointing, for this was the Blackabys’ opportunity to tell us (the reader) how to identify the voice of God—and they simply sidestep the issue.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect found in Hearing God’s Voice is the elevation of these supposed “revelations” from God to the status of Scripture. When challenged, those taking the Blackabys’ position always act shocked when accused of this crime. Even though revelation is revelation, no matter what the form, noncessationists usually deny that their “revelations” are on par with Scripture. It would seem that the Blackabys no longer keep the distinction between their private words from God and the Word of God. For example, on several occasions they actually capitalize the word “Word” when referring to their individual messages from the Lord (pp. 9, 52, 173). More concerning yet is the instruction to write down God’s “new” words to you so that they can be referred to later (pp. 227, 229, 230, 236, 241). This understanding of personal revelation as equal to Scripture is most clearly articulated in this statement, “Whenever God speaks, his Word becomes a north star for your life. It doesn’t change. It is sure. As you accumulate a record of God speaking to you over the years, you will have a clear picture of where God has led you. This will give you powerful assurance as God continues to lead you in the future” (p. 230).
The Blackabys are ascribing the attributes of the inscripturated Word to the supposed private revelations received by individuals. If we now write these “words” from God in a book and use them as guides for our lives, have we not elevated them to the level of Scripture? The Blackabys are simply being consistent. If God speaks, what He says must carry the same authority and significance of Scripture. They are taking the next logical step of adding these revelations to the inspired text. Hopefully, many readers of Hearing God’s Voice will see where the noncessionists view takes them. The Blackabys have done their best to make it clear.