A question of guidance: a reflective review of John’ Eldridge’s Walking With God

The various understandings of how Christians receive guidance from God are intriguing to me. In this review, Carolyn Nystrom reflects on John Eldridge’s take in his new book Walking With God. I am very like the people Nystrom describes in this paragraph:

A second concern regarding Eldredge’s book is that this kind of moment-by-moment seeking of God’s will is not for the marginally sane—which includes many of us at various stages of our lives. Seeking God’s guidance for each momentary choice can become so paralyzing that a praying Chris-tian fears to take even one step out of his or her current circle because it might go in some wrong, un-God-guided direction.

And I also worry about the issues that Nystrom raises in the second half of the same paragraph:

Alternatively, a person accustomed to constantly listening for an inner voice from God may begin to mistake all sorts of inner urges and motives for God’s voice and thus lose the basic spiritual skill of self-examination. And, sadly, some Christians really do hear voices and see visions brought on by schizophrenia. Schizophrenics fairly often mistake the hallucinatory voices of their illness for the voice of God.

Even so, I also do not want to quench the Spirit and be insensitive to the voice of God. In the final analysis,  my approach to guidance is likely closer to what I imagine Nystrom believes, which is only skectched out briefly in this article, though I imagine more fully here.

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10 thoughts on “A question of guidance: a reflective review of John’ Eldridge’s Walking With God

  1. Her critique of Eldridge is similar to my critique of the charismatic movement. In a similar way, I wonder, what prevents us from listening to the wrong inner voices? And what we are supposed to do when God seems silent…as He is from time to time. I mean some early Christians waited for years to hear God’s voice!

    I must admit, I would feel WAY silly asking God would have me eat oats or eggs. Are we really supposed to think so much about every mundane detail of our lives? ahhh I don’t know. I think this is where faith comes in. We must step out sometimes regardless if we “hear” God’s voice. We need to hold things up to the Bible as a whole and pray for guidance, but we must largely rely on making choices based on what we know about God’s character and the laws He created for us. Don’t get me wrong, I would love if EVERY decision came from that still small voice, but I just don’t buy it. I mean? Why would we need the law if we were meant to make ALL daily decisions based on a personal encounter with God?

    Thanks for hosting Hennapalooza! It was wonderful.
    .

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  2. I feel like I should add this caveat, I have not read the book being discussed. That is to say that I agree with Nystrom’s concerns about such a view, but could NOT confirm Eldridge because it seems to coincide with things he stated in “Wild at Heart” which I have read.

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  3. Oh I meant to say “…but could NOT confirm Eldridge holds this view. However, I assume he does because it coincides with things he stated in “Wild at Heart”…

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  4. I agree Heidi. In some sense though God orders all things and so cares about them all, does he really care what we eat for breakfast? Put more positively, like you said, because of God’s ordering of the universe according to natural and moral laws we can be confident in ordering our lives by them. And God gives us a great deal of freedom within the context of living within those good laws, I think. Now taking this view to an extreme view might lead to a sort of deist view, but we needn’t take it to that extreme.

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  5. As a charismatic pastor myself I am passionate about teaching responsible, scripture-based decision making.

    Dare I say it? –even more so than my Reformed theology brethren with very good and scriptural theological reason.

    I am afraid Nystrom is making the will of God sound too easy, too comfortable to find.

    May I invite y’all to read my newly released Not Even God: The Curious Partnership of God and Man?

    See NotEvenGod.com

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  6. Bryan, thank you for your comment. I have just recently perused the web page for your book and I think that it seems to me to be a book more about the nature of God’s sovereignty rather than guidance. Am I correct in that assumption? Of course sovereignty certainly does involve the will of God so they are related questions.

    Indeed, Reformed folk believe that God knows and at a fundamental level orders all things, without being the author of evil, which he hates. Now, admittedly, that seems to be a bit of a paradox. And, indeed, so much has been written on this issue with a dizzying number of positions of the spectrum that ranges from hyper-Calvinism (though Calvin does not seem to be a hyper-Calvinist) to open theism.

    Regarding guidance, in some ways Reformed folk should be the ones most asking what God’s specific will is, as they are the ones who believe it has already been conceived by God and is being worked out. And, yet, for many, convictions about the nature of spiritual gifts and their time of action and, I am ashamed to say, an often latent anti-supernaturalism, caution them from seeking specific guidance in this way. And I believe that fear may be involved as well i.e. “What if God actually answered. That might be kind of scary.”

    On the positive side of the equation, and I actually think that this is more formative of the views of a person like Nystrom (and I would put myself more or less in this category) is the conviction that God has already revealed the large part of his will for humans in the Bible and, yes, even in nature to a degree (i.e. just how things work) and that these, particularly the former, are to be our major touchstone. I.e., generally, God does not need to tell us what we should do because he already has. Still the question of guidance in specific areas remains open. I suppose I agree with Nystrom that God gives us great latitute in this area. And that we should seek guidance through his word, godly counsel, and from God directly for issues that are not clear.

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  7. Hi Neil, Not even God starts with the premise that God does not necessarily get his way down here in the trenches and why this is so. Complicated contingencies leave us hanging, vulnerable, responsible. If God does not always have his way, how can we see that he does?
    That’s where guidance comes in. A great deal in the book is devoted to knowing and doing God’s will, moreso the doing, for, as you say, we already know a great deal about what we are supposed to do.
    I agree with you that it is our responsibility to learn God’s word so we learn God’s will. While I am a charismatic and believe in and have experience with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I am sceptical of the moment-to-moment kind of discussion-with-God that Eldredge testifies of.

    Back in 1987 the bridge taking the NYS Thruway over the Schoharie Creek collapsed and ten people died in the gorge before traffic on the highway was waved to a stop at the brink. I use the example because it took place quite near where I live. What was God’s will that day?
    Ten deaths? No.
    The saving of the first person who managed to park his car at the brink? No.
    The state engineers’ closing of Mill Point Bridge, ten miles upstream from the collapsed bridge? Yes.
    Mill Point Bridge did indeed collapse that day, but no one was injured because of the engineers’ quick action. Whether the engineers knew it or believed it, they are the ones who did God’s will that day.

    Take care of the wounded man on the Jericho road. Love your neighbor as yourself.
    Blessings,
    Bryan
    NotEvenGod.com

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  8. Bryan, thank you for your comment. It is odd that I find myself arguing this position in the opposite direction than I was last year when I was taking classes at a Reformed seminary. But is that not often the case, that we fall on a sort of spectrum and find ourselves alternately defending our position in both directions? At least that is where I often find myself. Also, I find that such discussions are very difficult to have comprehensively in this format, especially as books and books have been written on these topics. Here are two recent, very concise ones in a sort of counterpoint to one another:

    http://tinyurl.com/44kjgq

    http://tinyurl.com/4jsu62

    Having said that, I think that your position perhaps makes God too contingent upon human wills. I think that ultimately you would believe that God does get his way, in that many, many people will be saved from Hell and that the universe will be renewed, right? Does this not mean that in some sense that God orders the doings of the world and, yes, even the choices of humans in order to arrive at those ends? Or would you say that God foresees choices and then crafts his greater will in accordance with those choices? Or can God not really see the future at all?

    I appreciate the fact that you are upholding the righteousness of God in affirming that he does not delight in the death of people, even the wicked, as scripture affirms. And God is not the author of evil. And, yet, I agree with the Reformed folk in affirming that God controls and orders all things, even as he hates evil and wickedness and the effects of sin. I cannot put these things together in my mind logically but hold them in a sort of tension as scripture affirms them all. And I remind myself and others that it is not all some sort of pre-scripted game which is emotion-less. God may surpass human emotions in signficant ways, particularly in their compulsiveness and fickleness, and yet He does show emotion time and again in scripture. Jesus is sorrowfully angered in his heart upon the death of Lazarus, even as he knows that he will raise him for a little more life on earth.

    Ok, I will stop for now. Thanks for the conversation.

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  9. Hi Neil,
    I like the pair of titles! There needs to be a third: “Why I am not as confused as I sometimes seem.” 😉

    God has his way sometimes, more or less when a soul makes it out from under the sentence of hell by God’s grace in Christ. God will have his way in the Apocolypse and in the regeneration of the heavens and earth. He doesn’t have his way often enough though.

    Let’s admit it. Not even God can have it all–a project of love, a creation that includes free will, and an empty hell. God himself lives with the constraints required by his god-ness. He cannot make a waffle he cannot eat, for to do so would require him to deny himself.

    The reason I have added my book to the very large expenditure in ink that has already been allocated to the subject of God’s sovereignity and our free will is because a pastor’s voice is needed. I could care less about walking away from a theological discussion with a little fuller rationale for this or that. I am only interested in walking away WITH a theology. In other words, the only theology we truly own is the one we live out. That’s why each of my chapters contains a poignant testimony about the way one of my friends met the challanges of life with the Lord.

    You don’t know a person’s theology by what he says in a book or blog. You know his theology by how he lives.

    Thanks to you, too, for indulging me on your blog!
    Blessings, Bryan
    NotEvenGod.com

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  10. Interesting. I have read nearly all of John’s material and am meeting with some of his staff this weekend. I am convinced you are confused with the “moment to moment” idea all together.

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