Book Reviews -- Reviewing Titles from Henry T. Blackaby
|Copyright © 2003 - All rights retained by author|
|Reviews Written by: C. W. Booth|
Henry Blackaby and Claude King believe they have found the biblical pathway that allows a Christian to identify God’s certain and specific will for him throughout his entire life. This is accomplished by teaching the Christian to "hear the voice of God". In fact, they boldly affirm that "If you have trouble hearing God speak, you are in trouble at the very heart of your Christian experience" (page 87). This imperative is the foundational assumption of the book, if not the expressed thesis statement of their work.
On top of the foundational assumption that all Christians are obligated to hear the voice of God speaking to them personally, is the methodology of the listening, or, the conduit of the voice. This methodology is found repeated throughout the book as summarized in the following statement, "When God speaks and what He is saying through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church begin to line up to say the same thing, you can proceed with confidence to follow God’s directions." (page 132)
The theme of this book can be summed up as follows: There is a set of personalized assignments that God requires all Christians to know about and to accomplish that He did not reveal in the Bible. God will only reveal them to the Christian through the process of hearing a word from God. The word from God is sensed when the believer combines Bible reading, prayer, circumstances, and feedback from the feelings of other believers. Once the word of God is sensed, it is to be obeyed as the voice of God issuing directives to His beloved children.
Analysis of the Book
Challenges of Love
There is tremendous appeal and charm in the book. Indeed, I found myself spiritually challenged to godliness and holiness at numerous turnings of the page. Often I found the book prompting me to ask myself, "What am I doing for Christ with my life? Am I holy and pursuing righteousness as God would want?"
It would be a serious impropriety to allege or assume that Blackaby and King do not have a sincere faith or a sincere love for God. Frankly, I found benefit to some of the self-questioning that came out of reading the book. Permit me to cite a few very personal examples.
There are indeed some powerfully positive aspects to this book. Sadly, it is not possible for me to end the review on this high note as there are also biblically troubling aspects to the book.
Challenge of Scripture
Whatever good this book may have generated in its challenges to express our love for God through righteous obedience to Christ and to His Word is placed in danger of being whelmed by numerous errors; some small, some quite weighty. In an effort to be honest with God’s Word, we are obligated to evaluate the public teachings of this book in the light of Scriptural discernment and in the spirit of love for all the brethren. It is never loving to withhold truth from those who seek it.
At the foundation of the book is the assumption that God speaks today, personally, to believers. It is said in the book that there are four categories or conduits through which He speaks: via the Bible, our brethren in the Church, His Holy Spirit, and circumstances. That God speaks through the Bible is certain (John 5:24, 6:63). That we gain counsel from our brethren is expected (Proverbs 1:5, 11:14, 13:10, 15:22). That God’s Spirit communes with our spirit is explained in the Word (1 John 3:24, Titus 3:5). That God’s sovereignty orders all the world and maintains the universe, working all things to conform us to the image of His Son is established in Romans 8:29. With this, all have common ground for agreement.
Major problems do not arise until we begin to see how these four categories of divine speech are defined and explained in the book, Experiencing God. The believer is asked to add together all the forms of God’s speech (the Bible, the Church, the Holy Spirit, and circumstances) and use this to "sense" or "feel" that God is speaking. A small sampling of the many times that the book refers to a word from God as being a sensation or a feeling is given in the phrases below which are partial quotations from the book:
Once you feel a "sensing", and if all four forms of speech "line up" (page 132) and agree with each other, you must conclude that you have a "word from God" (page 89). That Blackaby and King mean this "word from God" is genuinely a prophetic word, similar in nature and authority to the Word of Scripture is discussed on pages 87 and 89.
"As you pray, watch to see how He uses the Word of God to confirm in your heart a word from God. … 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." (page 87)
"Claiming to have a word from God is serious business. If you have been given a word from God, you must continue in that direction until it comes to pass (even for twenty-five years, like Abram). If you have not been given a word from God, yet you say you have, you stand in judgment as a false prophet. … In the Old Testament law the penalty for a false prophet was death (Deut. 18:20). That certainly is a very serious charge. Do not take a word from God lightly." (page 89)
"I challenge you to review what you sense God has been saying to you on a regular basis. If God speaks and you hear but do not respond, a time could come when you will not hear His voice. Disobedience can lead to a ‘famine of hearing the words of the Lord’ (Amos 8:11-12)." (page 91)
When anyone states that a "word from God" must be obeyed and that particular "word from God" is not a Bible passage but is a "sense" (even a "sense" based on an amalgamation of circumstance, feeling, prayer, Bible reading, and opinions offered by others) he is equating that "word from God" with true prophecy. All prophecy is inspired by God, and every prophecy is to be obeyed for it is the very Word of God. And herein lies the major error of the book, Experiencing God, "feelings" and "sensing" become equal to the Word of God and must be obeyed, for disobedience is the sin of rebellion.
In examples so numerous that I have opted not to try to count them, Blackaby and King cite how God brought visions and prophecies to His prophets (Samuel, Jonah, Moses, Abraham, Noah, Elijah, Paul, others) in order to provide them "very specific" details and "specific directions", "where to go, what to do, how to respond". (page 95) A pattern throughout the book is that immediately after citing examples of prophets receiving visions and verbal revelation from God, Blackaby and King call us to receive the same type of "word from God".
"God will always give you enough specific directions to do now what He wants you to do. When you need more directions, He gives you more in His timing. In Abraham’s case, God later told him about the son to be born to him, the number of his descendants, the territory they would inhabit, and that they would go into bondage and be brought out. The Holy Spirit gives clear directives today. God is personal. He wants to be intimately involved in your life. He will give you clear guidance for living. You may say, ‘That has not been my experience.’ You need to bring your experiences up to the Word of God and not lower God’s ways to match your experience." (page 95)
Some will read this review and argue that the "sensing" and "feeling" is only called a "word from God" as a euphemism for convenience in Experiencing God, and that ordinary impressions and intuitions are obviously not the same as prophetic revelation which must be obeyed. Here, I must be firm if not sympathetic. The book is clear enough that every person is expected to get these very specific "assignments from God", complete with details and often foretelling the future. But of most significance is the fact that Blackaby and King call it disobedience to God when such revelations, "words from God", are ignored. When something is disobedience, it is sin. Sin is defined only by God, and the only place that I know where I can reliably find those things defined that are, and are not, sin is in the Scriptures.
To raise "sensing" and "feeling" to the level of Scripture (or as the book says, to elevate "your experiences up to the Word of God") is to make every person a prophet of God. Prophets have the obligation to call on others to obey the word of the Lord that they have received, and those in God’s household, must obey in faith since God Himself will require that obedience of them (Deuteronomy 18:19).
"Before you call yourself, your family, or your church to exercise faith, be sure you have heard a word from God. … When God lets you know what He wants to do through you … If you have faith in the God who called you, you will obey Him; and He will bring to pass what He has purposed to do. If you lack faith, you will not do what He wants. That is disobedience." (page 136 -- bold emphasis added)
It is my opinion that equating the "sensing" of a "word from God" with genuine prophetic revelation is an error so serious as to render the book hopeless in terms of achieving its stated mission. Blackaby and King wanted to give modern Christians a means of knowing the part of the will of God which is not in the Bible, that is, the will of God for your life with regard to the daily decisions you must face and make constantly. And not merely have a general sense for what that will might be, but know it so surely that to make decisions contrary to the revealed path would be the sin of disobedience. Sadly, as this book demonstrates, the only way that this can happen is for every person to become a prophet, receiving unambiguous revelations on a routine basis.
In truth, down though the thousands of years of God’s history of dealing with men, only a tiny number of people have been prophets. In all Israel, at any given time there may have been but one genuine prophet, at other times, a few more. Deuteronomy tells us that only the prophet will receive visions and words from the Lord (Numbers 12:6, Deuteronomy 13:1-6, 18:14-22).
In the New Testament we are told that "all are not prophets, are they?" (1 Corinthians 12:29b) And even the prophets were to have their revelations subjected to scrutiny by the church and the other prophets to see if they were true or false (1 Corinthians 14:29). Prophecy was not a common experience shared by all Jews nor by all Christians. Indeed, speaking from a population-based statistical viewpoint, prophecy was a very rare occurrence and a very rare gift indeed. By demanding that all Christians receive regular "words from God" this book demonstrates an unfortunate lack of appreciation for prophecy, and a certain lack of respect for God’s already revealed Word.
Other Errors Reviewed
With fear that some sincere and zealous Christians will feel that I am unfairly "bashing" either the book, or Blackaby and King, there remain yet other serious errors to identify. Why point up these errors? Certainly not for sport or for personal gain. We conduct ourselves so as to be faithful to the Word which commands us to examine all teaching and all spirits carefully, exposing the ones that are incorrect and holding on to the ones that we find truthful.
No one is able to judge the hearts or motives of Blackaby or King. My assumption is that these men are godly representatives of Christ’s Kingdom. My only intent is to share the Word of God accurately and in love, calling Christians to avoid some of the potentially more costly errors in Experiencing God.
Misunderstanding How Sinners Come to Faith
Blackaby and King express a misunderstanding about how a sinner comes to a believing faith. They assume that sinners, the world, must be attracted to Christ by means of prophecy, signs, wonders, and miracles. Further, they very eloquently state that the unsaved will not be attracted to Christ by means of interacting with a community of loving Christians who do not display supernatural gifts.
"I have come to the place in my life that, if the assignment I sense God is giving me is something that I know I can handle, I know it probably is not from God. The kind of assignments God gives in the Bible are always God-sized. … That is the only way the world will come to know Him. You could name many God-sized assignments in Scripture. … Abraham had no son and Sarah was past the age to bear children. He told Moses to deliver the children of Israel, to cross the Red Sea, and to provide water from a rock. … feed the multitudes … None of these things were humanly possible. When God’s people and the world see something happen that only God can do, they come to know God." (page 138 - bold emphasis added)
The only way the world will come to know Christ is through miracles?
"What our world often sees are devoted, committed Christians serving God. But they are not seeing God. They comment, ‘Well, there’s a wonderful, dedicated, committed group of people serving God.’ They, however, do not see anything happening that can only be explained in terms of the activity of God. Why? Because, we are not attempting anything that only God can do." (page 140)
Blackaby and King give the following miracles as examples of the miraculous things that the world must see if they are to come to Christ. In fact, the authors state that only through the display of such miracles will the world finally come to Christ.
"Our world is not attracted to the Christ we serve because they cannot see Him at work. … Let Christ be lifted up -- not in words, but in life. … When the world sees things happening through God’s people that cannot be explained except that God Himself had done them, then the world will be drawn to the God they see. Let the world leaders see the miraculous signs of an all-powerful God, and they, like Nebuchadnezzar, will declare that He is the one true God." (page 140 -- bold emphasis added)
"The reason much of the world is not being attracted to Christ and His church is that God’s people lack the faith to attempt those things that only God can do." (page 141)
This assumption, that only miracles will draw the world to Christ, is a false assumption. God tells us exactly what draws men to Himself in His Word.
Faith Comes Only by Hearing the Word
A Generation that Requires Signs Receives Only the Sign Of Jonah (Christ Resurrected)
Love and Holiness Will be a Light to the World, Showing the Father through His Children
In spite of Blackaby’s and King’s somewhat cynical observation that "What our world often sees are devoted, committed Christians serving God. But they are not seeing God." the Word says the world does see God when we love one another.
From the verses quoted above, we must also be aware of, and warned that, the only "way" someone will come to faith in Christ is through the Word, specifically, hearing the Word. Honestly, it does not matter how many miracles a man sees, or if he sees none at all; a man’s faith is sparked by hearing the Word of the Gospel, "the word implanted, which is able to save your souls".
Also, it should be commented here that when men show love for one another, and when they live holy lives, devoted and committed to serving God, this is an activity that can only be brought about by God. Again, I am saddened to say that Blackaby and King are very much mistaken when they claim that the world sees loving Christians but, "They, however, do not see anything happening that can only be explained in terms of the activity of God." Quite to the contrary, love cannot be explained apart from God; love is the supernatural activity of God.
Misunderstanding of How to Interpret Scripture
Since faith comes from hearing the Word, and the Word is able to save our souls, we must always be very careful in teaching it and interpreting it accurately. Blackaby and King do not always show the Bible this care or respect. Care and respect for the Word includes being able to comprehend the passage in its own context, understand the actual words written, identify who the speaker and audiences are, and then apply the verse personally according to the plain meaning that the author intended for every person when applying the passage.
Please consider carefully the following example provided directly from the book on how Blackaby and King expect the Holy Spirit to use Scripture in the life of believers.
Earlier I told you about our daughter Carrie’s bout with cancer. That was a difficult circumstance for our whole family. The doctors prepared us for six or eight months of chemotherapy plus radiation. We knew God loved us. We prayed, "What are you purposing to do in this experience that we need to adjust ourselves to?"
As we prayed, a Scripture promise came that we believed was from God. Not only did we receive the promise, but we received letters and calls from many people who quoted this same Scripture. The verse reads, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (John 11:4). … After three months of treatments … all the tests are negative." (pages 119, 120 -- bold emphasis added)
As anyone knows who has ever had a serious illness in the family, this is an emotionally trying time. No one wishes to mock or cast stones at this highly personal event. What we must do, however, is evaluate the story because Blackaby provides it as a real life example of how God speaks today using the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
Sadly, what the family mistook for a biblical promise, was never meant as one for them. Jesus told Mary and Martha that God would use the event to demonstrate that He was the Messiah. He would do this by deliberately waiting a sufficiently lengthy time before coming to assist Lazarus in his illness that Lazarus did indeed die, was buried, and entombed. Jesus then came, raised Lazarus from the dead, and showed the world that He was truly the Son of God and the Son of Man.
Even when Jesus spoke these words, "This sickness is not to end in death", it was not meant as a promise that Lazarus would not die. He did die. It was actually a promise that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead to demonstrate His Messianic rule over the Earth. It is truly frightening to think that anyone might claim this passage as a promise for the illness of their own child while fully understanding what the promise genuinely meant to those to whom it was originally given.
Similar examples of this form of "claiming promises" from verses taken out-of-context are peppered throughout their book. However, I will focus on only one more.
Does God genuinely provide future revelation to all His children for all His plans? More to the point, does Amos 3:7 say that? It is only possible to read it that way when it is taken out of its immediate context and is quoted by itself, alone.
First and foremost, Amos 3:7 says that the future-telling of events-to-come belong only to prophets, "He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets". When Blackaby and King tell us that we must all be able to hear God tell us "what He is about to do" in our area, and that this is the "most important thing to know" (beyond even Scripture itself) they are telling us we will be true prophets of the Most High. Further, Blackaby and King promise us that whatever we sense God revealing to us as His plan for future events, God "guarantees" that these felt prophecies will come to pass. These lofty assertions notwithstanding, we have already shown that the Scriptures warn that "not all are prophets". Nor is there any mention in Scripture of "sensed" or "intuitive" prophecies. Prophecies in the Word are visions and verbalized commandments.
Amos 3 is a frightening prophecy of impending punishment for the nation of Israel because they had sinned against the Lord God. In context, verse 7 is a statement that God would not send cataclysmic judgment on the entire nation without first explaining what the devastation meant: "If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it? Surely the Lord GOD does nothing Unless He reveals His secret counsel To His servants the prophets." Why? As in every instance of God disciplining His people, He desires the repentance of those who might yet fear Him, either from among the imperiled, or from among the survivors. This is summarized in verse 8, "A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?"
When Blackaby and King assert that God shares all His plans with all His people, they fail to properly understand two major aspects of Amos 3:7.
There is much more that is wrong with the theology of the book, Experiencing God. However, the above is sufficient to serve as warning to new Christians and the casual reader. We have noted that Blackaby and King describe intuition, feelings, and sensing as:
We also noted that Blackaby and King state that only through the display of modern day miraculous signs will the people of this generation be drawn and won to faith in Christ. Scriptures refute this theory of evangelism with statements such as "faith comes by hearing the Word" and "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." Only through the "foolishness" of preaching the Word will the lost be won to Christ. Our carnal man desires more, lusts for the spectacular, but Christ is the sign and the wonder for our generation. If we will not believe the sure words of the gospel from the very prophets of God which we already have, why would we believe just because someone amazed us with wonders which even Satan can perform?
We also saw in the book a tendency to "claim verses" as promises from God, even though these verses describe miracles, such as raising the dead. Equally disturbing with regard to handling the Word of God with respect are the examples of taking a verse out of its context, interpreting it incorrectly, and then using it as a foundation stone for further assumptions and teachings.
While the book does have a certain charm, and does contain calls to be holy and active in the service of Christ, it fails in its primary thesis. Blackaby and King wanted us to be able to know the part of the will of God that is not recorded in the Bible. However, the book becomes an unwitting object lesson that to know more of the will of God than is recorded in the Scriptures requires one to be appointed as a prophet of the Most High God.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)
Links to Other Sites' Reviews of Experiencing God.
Note: The Faithful Word.org does not necessarily agree with the content of material or doctrine found at other sites but makes the links available as an aid to research and study.
Pastor Gary Gilley’s three part review of Experiencing God:
"What is Wrong with Experiencing God", by Gregory Koukl, President, Stand to Reason: