Question: Is “Experiencing God” (Henry Blackaby) Biblical?
Question: In 1998, Greg Koukl (host of Stand to Reason) heavily criticized Experiencing God (EG) in his article entitled, “What’s Wrong with ‘Experiencing God.’” In 2013, John MacArthur, in his Strange Fire conference, disowned the Charismatic movement as being not part of the historic Christian faith. In 2015, a visitor to an AMI church, evidently under the influence of Koukl and MacArthur’s teachings, had this to say:
“It appears [this church’s] embracing [of the Charismatic movement] . . . is in error that jeopardizes the faith of many and at minimum causes confusion, which is not from God. So far no one has responded with convincing rebuttal of Koukl or MacArthur. . . . . Would you . . . provide . . . any examples from Scripture of the Holy Spirit giving private/personal and direct extra-Biblical revelation that is identical to modern practices?”
In short, this inquirer, based on Koukl’s critique of EG, does not believe that God speaks to individual believers (i.e., privately and personally) today.
Response: First, understand what Koukl means by “first-person private revelation.” He writes: “On Blackaby’s view, experiencing God . . . depends on receiving direct, first-person private, special and unique revelation from Him. . . . First-person private revelation is a communication from God that is not directly available to other people. . . . Prophecy given in the church is third-person public, even though it is miraculous. . . . However, if you have a first-person private revelation, I have no access to it except as you are willing to share it with me.” Now, recognize what Koukl isn’t against: the gift of prophecy as a revelatory gift. He writes: “I believe in the perpetuity of spiritual gifts, so I am charismatic in that regard. I am not questioning the possibility of God working through gifted people, like prophets. Yes, I believe such things are possible, biblically.”
Of course, Koukl doesn’t believe that the messages received through the gift of prophecy are equivalent to “inspired prophecy” that became the Scripture (2 Pet. 1:20-1). Neither does EG nor AMI. The fact is that many prophecies from God aren’t recorded in the Bible, meaning they weren’t inspired prophecy. For instance, while Saul, upon meeting “a procession of prophets . . . joined in their prophesying” (1 Sam. 10:10), the Scripture doesn’t record what they prophesized. After the Pentecost, Judas and Silas, both prophets, encouraged the Antioch congregation with prophetic words (Acts 15:32) but we don’t know what was said. These are, then, non-inspired prophetic or revelatory words that are dissimilar to “prophecy of Scripture” (2 Pet. 1:20).
Interestingly, contrary to the inquirer’s assumption that MacArthur and Koukl are on the same theological page, the latter breaks with the former on prophecy since MacArthur teaches that today’s prophecy is equivalent to biblical teaching or preaching. In fact, he agrees with Robert Saucy, his seminary professor, who writes, “The ministry of prophet . . . gradually died out. . . . Their place of exhortation was taken by the regular local ministry of pastor-teachers (1972, p. 139).
Then what is Koukl against? He writes: “Historically, the first-person private revelation has been reserved to a very select group of people: prophets, Jesus Christ, the apostles, or those with unique gifts in the Body of Christ. In each case, first-private revelation is given to a properly qualified select few who then pass it on to the rest of the church to study it in a third-personal public way. . . . The main thesis of EG is that this kind of special revelation isn’t unique, but meant to be an ordinary part of every Christian’s life. . . . I tell you unequivocally . . . this doctrine . . . is not biblical.” Notice two things here. First, Koukl correctly sees that prophecy, at the outset, is a first-person private revelation, after which, is shared with others (third-person public). Second, Koukl believes that while God still speaks today through the gift of prophecy (contrary to what the inquirer thought Koukl taught), it’s not for every believer. This point is incorrect in light of Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, which is Paul’s instruction for “all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2).
Accordingly, who ought to prophesy, that is, receive first-person private revelations from God? Paul writes in vs. 1, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy”; in vs. 5, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy”; in vs. 24, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all; in vs. 31, “For you can all prophesy one by one”; in vs. 39, “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy.” In light of this, it is reasonable to conclude that the receiving of private revelations from God should be normative for all believers. In fact, Paul’s teaching echoes the sentiment expressed by Moses 1,500 years earlier: “Moses said to [Joshua], ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’” (Num. 11:29).
Afterwards, any messages received privately ought to be shared in third-person public. Paul, prescribing what a typical worship service should include, writes (vs. 29), “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” This depicts ordinary believers sharing in third-person public (“others”) what was, initially to them, a first-person private revelation. For instance, during my second year in Mexico as a missionary (2002), I received a prophetic message from an unknown person. That morning, frustrated over my lethargic ministry, I had prayed, “Lord, when do I leave Chihuahua, Mexico?” Later that day, an elderly woman called me to share a private message she received from the Lord: “Hermano Ryun, you need to stay in Chihuahua.” This encouraged me to no end. Soon, so many doors opened that by 2011, I ended up training thousands of church leaders and producing many theological courses and books, including one that was published nationally. And many people (i.e., third-person public) have been encouraged whenever I shared what was, to this woman, a first-person private message from God.
However, this is what concerns Koukl, that private messages from God are considered inerrant and infallible. He writes: “On this view, there turns out to be two special revelations. We have the special revelation of the Scriptures, and we have the special revelation of God’s unique word to the individual Christian. Both are inerrant, by the way, and infallible. Though the voice of God to individuals is not the same as the Scriptures in the sense that the Bible is meant to be for the whole church and the voice of God is for individuals, the individual voice of God is still a word of God and therefore, of necessity, inerrant and infallible.”
This is a straw man argument because EG isn’t practiced like that (i.e., first-person private revelations kept private), certainly not at AMI churches. First, the EG participants meet as a group in varying sizes. So in this third-person public, people share any private messages they may’ve received from God. No one believes that these private messages are infallible, since 1 Cor. 14:29 assumes that they can be erroneous. That is, not every private revelation that allegedly came from God is actually from God, when its content is biblically unwarranted.
For instance, the aforementioned Mexican woman shared with me in 2006 another message allegedly from the Lord: “God wants you to write a book on The Da Vinci Code.” She even had the title for it. However, after carefully weighing in prayer what she said, I didn’t believe it was from God. For one thing, I had been researching for several months to write a book called Comparative Systematic Theologies, to unify feuding pastors from different denominations. At the end, Christ’s call for “all of them may be one” (Jn. 17:21) weighed more for me than exposing the lies of the novel based on revisionist history, particularly since numerous books against it were already inundating the market. On another occasion, I said to a man who believed that God told him to go to China as a missionary at that very moment without his young family, “God may have told you that (Matt. 19:29) but you should first abide by 1 Tim. 5:8 before leaving: ‘But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.'”
The inquirer said, “So far no one has responded with convincing rebuttal of Koukl.” You be the judge whether this response is an adequate rebuttal of Koukl’s criticism of EG.
*Regarding John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, see my earlier blogs.