Thursday, 10 June 2010

Led by the Spirit (2)

Elliff has pointed to moral guidance, but what about the many decisions we have to make for which there is no moral instruction in Scripture. For example the Bible does not directly address where I should live or what career I should take?
He gives a chapter to what he calls ‘illuminism.’ ‘The illuminist seeks guidance from God by getting a series of impressions, which he believes come as God directly impacts his spirit.’ Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760) wrote that members of his religious society ‘were not to use their own brains; they were to wish they had no brains; they were to be like little children in arms.’ Given such a detachment from reason it is not surprising that the Moravians went on to practice such practices as opening pages of the Bible at random for guidance.

All this is not to suggest that Elliff stands diametrically opposed to direct communication for personal guidance. ‘Direct communication by God for personal guidance is not commanded by Scripture nor is their any implication that it is part and parcel of what is the normal Christian life—on the other hand, such guidance is not ruled out.’ ‘Except in rare cases, the experience of direct interventions of God’s guidance in the lives of various Bible characters was not indicative of normal discipleship and they are likely recorded precisely because of their unusual nature.’

‘If I sense God speaking to me in a way apart from Scripture, I need not rule it out. God may do that. He has done it in the past, and he can do what he wishes. But I am still without final assurance that it is his voice. I must use my reason and knowledge of Scripture to test what I feel I am hearing.’

Elliff points to a particular brand of illuminist who seeks a ‘word’ from God through the Scripture. Such a person reads the text until the Spirit impresses a passage or phrase upon them in such a way that they believe it has been ‘given’ to them. ‘Often these verses are wrenched out of context or are interpreted in such a way that is not known to anyone else but that individual.’ He responds by paraphrasing G. K. Chesterton, ‘A person should be careful of reading his own Bible until he can read everyone else’s.’ Elliff suggests that the Bible ‘used in the illuminists way is reduced to no more value in terms of guidance that a phone book or an advertisement on a billboard.’ Surely the proper reading of Scripture results in the text having the same meaning to every Christian who reads it.
Elliff does not want to question the sincerity of those who use the illuministic approach to guidance, ‘Nor have I said that God cannot send a divine impulse to the believer involved in this way of guidance.’ However he asserts that the fact that we cannot be certain about the origin of such impressions points us to the need for ‘sanctified reasoning.’ Neither is Elliff saying that the Lord never brings a text to mind, earlier in the book he says that the Holy Spirit may bring a relevant text to mind in various situations. He is simply warning against the danger of a superstitious use of the Bible in a way that treats it as if it was merely addressed to our individual situation.

In the Contemporary Christian John Stott writes, ‘I cannot deny that occasionally God seems to have guided individuals through a specific verse wrenched out of its context. But I must add that he has done it only in condescension to our weakness.’ Elliff is similarly conciliatory writing, ‘God may use the sincere individual who gets his guidance the illuminist’s way. He may bless him. He may honour his faith more than his method.’ 
Jim Elliff counsels, ‘Christians should be very humble about this matter of hearing God’s voice. If, in some unusual manner, the Spirit gives a direct impression, we should say, “I believe that God is speaking to me in a special inner way about all of this, but I must test this out carefully by other means to know for sure.”’

Elliff finishes his book by talking about the roles of sanctified reasoning and desires in guidance. I will look at these issues in subsequent blogs.


Mr Veale said...

Does he specify how we can check that the "illumination" is real? Or do you have any ideas yourself?

To whom it may concern said...

Good question!

If illumination (rather than illuminism) is God making you aware of the meaning of a text, or reminding you of a text in a specific situation, then such things as talking through with others and reading in light of the whole counsel of Scripture in NB.

You question raises the whole question of how we can be sure that our understanding of the text is correct.

Thanks Mr Veale,

To whom it may concern said...

Mr Veale,
Just looked through the blog again. The reason I mentioned illumination is that I think he does so in the book, and distinguishes it from illuminism.

With regards illuminism and impulses he doesn't give much in the way of how to discern when it is real. This is partly because his main focus is on the risks associated with illuminism. ie he is telling when we might be suspicious of impressions and impulses etc, and not so much dwelling on when to put weight on them.

Again this brings up issues of discernment. Similar to those who, like myself, believe that NT prophecy has a revelatory aspect (aka Grudem and Carson). I suppose the pitfall many fall into is an attitude of 'I know because I know'.

I am going to read the third chapter of your book tomorrow. I still think it is really excellent.


Graham said...

I've just realised that I'm called Mr Veale. So the blog I set up must have been for a student at school. Mystery solved!
Could "illuminism" be tested by Scripture or the experience of other believers? Or both?
Maybe the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral" would be a helpful way of evaluating "illuminist" experiences (or visions, or tongues, or prophecy).

Thanks Paul. Any idea how I can change my name to "Graham" here? "Mr Veale" makes me sound ancient!


graham said...

Oh, I just did!