Having laid out some various schools of thought and critiqued some particulars of the closed (or “wisdom”) approach to divine guidance, I will now move on to presenting the “missing category”. As we have seen, it is necessary to avoid charismatic methodologies which stray from Sola Scriptura, as well as the more moderate but ambiguous practice of relying on feelings and circumstances. A proper approach must also avoid the weaknesses of the closed model, while providing a Biblical framework for the reality and means of personal guidance from God.
In order to frame the missing category and avoid faulty presumptions, I want to first present some negative propositions of this model.
1. God is NOT inspiring new revelation or Scripture
To make the claim of additional inspiration or revelation would quickly put us outside the safety of Sola Scriptura. Whatever God may choose to reveal to His saints about His particular will for their lives, it does not exist on par with inspired revelation, nor perform the function of it. The canon of Scripture is closed. God’s guidance is acquired from the Word, and is therefore subservient to it. The inherent power of God’s inspired Word is what makes it a reliable source from which to derive guidance. Therefore, divine guidance is dictated by Scripture, not the other way around.
2. The Spirit is NOT revealing new interpretations of Scripture
Just as the content of Scripture is fixed, so also is its meaning. Scripture has many applications, but one interpretation. True guidance from God will never alter or contradict the objective, universal truth contained in the Bible. Although the Holy Spirit may enlighten the heart to apply Scripture to one’s individual circumstances, He in no way adds additional meaning to the Scriptures themselves.
3. The Spirit is NOT revealing new or secret truths, doctrines, or principles
While the Christian ought continually to be adding to his knowledge of the Scriptures through the teaching of the Holy Spirit, what we are taught of God (in interpretation or application) is derived from the things already revealed. Truths revealed by the Spirit are new to us because we have yet to learn or apply them. We are not receiving new doctrines from God (I John 2:7-8). In the case of divine guidance, we may receive a true knowledge of God’s will for our personal lives, but with no differing means or substance than is common to all the saints in this age.
4. God’s will in individual circumstances may NOT be divorced from Biblical truths, doctrines, or principles.
This is simply to say that there is absolutely no conflict between God’s revealed truth found in Scripture and God’s revealed will for our lives. If a conflict arises, we can be certain that it exists only in our understanding. Since divine guidance streams from divine revelation, we must resolve any conflict by anchoring to the Scriptures. All applicable principles should should be employed prior to, and then if necessary, alongside individual guidance. Any attempt to force Scripture to comply with an otherwise unwarranted action is folly. Furthermore, if the solution to a quandary may be discovered solely by direct application of Biblical doctrines or principles, there is no reason to seek personal guidance in the matter.
5. God’s will in particular circumstances is binding ONLY upon those to whom it is given.
Because we’re dealing with applications of Scripture that are non-universal and involve unique circumstances, the only persons required to follow such guidance are the ones to whom the guidance is given. However, those given it are required to follow it! Although this should be a fairly obvious principle, the benefit of its consideration is a better understanding of the type of issues to which divine guidance pertains.
One of the defining aspects of divine guidance issues is the universally amoral nature of the choices involved. That is to say, the issues in play are ones which are not expressly or implicitly commanded or forbidden by Scripture. As we saw in the previous point, right application of Biblical teaching and principles does not resolve the issue. However, I propose that there is a moral component. This may be demonstrated by making a distinction, at least for our purposes here, between a choice and a decision.
A choice may be amoral, while a decision is not. What do I mean by that? One can conceptualize any number of amoral choices, like going on a cruise. However, the decision of whether or not to sail may be very moral or immoral, depending on your individual circumstance. Take Jonah, for instance. God had revealed His individual will for Jonah in a particular circumstance (Jonah 1:1-2), which made his decision to board passage for Tarshish decidedly immoral (Jonah 1:3)! Of course, just because God called Jonah to go preach to Nineveh didn’t mean that it was God’s will for anyone else to go. It was a circumstance unique to Jonah, which infused otherwise amoral choices with a rich moral flavor.
Now that we’ve eliminated some possible misunderstandings of where we’re headed with this model, I would like to lay out a few positive statements that define my position. These propositions will be expanded and defended in following entries.
1. God can and does give guidance to His saints for their personal decisions
This is the basic factual claim, and one that immediately puts it at odds with the closed or “wisdom” approach. There is a means by which God communicates His desire for the Christian in those decisions which are not universally commanded or forbidden by Scripture. Naturally, I am not arguing that one must seek guidance from God for every trivial personal decision. If you have to pray about which pair of socks to put on every morning or whether to first look left or right before crossing the street, then you have issues! However, we all encounter impactful decisions in our lives for which we desire a heavenly direction. I am saying that God does not leave us rudderless in these moments.
2. God has given this guidance to His saints throughout history
The testimony of Scripture is unassailable on this point. Everywhere you look in the Biblical witness, you will find God giving personal direction to His children. A huge question that those from the wisdom approach must answer is why God no longer does so today. I will present numerous Biblical examples of such guidance and also provide what I believe is a compelling theological underpinning which virtually proves that God has not terminated His providential direction in this age.
3. God gives guidance through His Word, illuminated by the Spirit, in response to prayer
Here are the means I propose for divine guidance. There is much to be covered in describing this process and examining the Biblical warrant for it. However, do note that these means are consistent with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and an orthodox view of the Spirit’s function. Although prayer is not an absolute requirement to receive divine guidance (sometimes God gives it unsolicited), it is normative. The Christian normatively seeks God’s guidance in prayer, and the answer is revealed in the Scripture by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
4. God’s personal guidance is consistent with His revealed desire to commune with His people, with redemptive trinitarian theology, and the ultimate purpose of His own glory.
When we examine the purposes and results of divine guidance and compare them with the purposes God has revealed for creation and redemption in the Bible, I believe we will find a strategic, credible connection. God’s personal communication with His people fits with His character, desires and plans.
By establishing a Biblical pattern of divine individual guidance, providing plausible and orthodox means for its accomplishment, and examining God’s purposes in it, we can confidently embrace a system which doesn’t suffer the weaknesses of the other majority positions, and more importantly, is compatible with Scriptural testimony and teaching.