SURPRISED BY THE VOICE OF GOD
Dr. Glen Kreider
Dallas Theological Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
ST101OL Introduction to Theology
Jeremiah A. Krieger
In Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God, he takes the reader on a journey of discovering, in his view, what it takes for a Christian to understand how God communicates to His people. The book description on the back cover describes Deer’s work as done with “candor, sensitivity, and a profound understanding of Scripture…[as he] identifies our hindrances to hearing the Holy Spirit…” Through the careful study of Deere’s information, it is apparent that Deere has a broad knowledge of Scripture with a sincere misunderstanding.
While his presentation of Scripture is defunct and disingenuous to the intended purpose of the text, his message is also less than candor and sensitive to evangelical believers who have a different view of Scripture than he. In fact, I believe that Deere is even purposefully offensive in his presentation of his arguments, but this matter is not necessarily presented in this discussion.
In his first illustration, Deere describes a scenario where he has an experience with a student who is struggling with pornography. Without having any prior revelation except his acclaimed impression, Deere claims that he knew about this student’s sin. My first reaction was, “So?” That is, what does an individual experience from Deere have to do with me? Then I raised my eyebrows in skepticism when he wrote about his concern about many Christians who have wandered into a spiritual wilderness devoid of passion and power. What does Deere mean by that? What does it mean to walk in passion and power? Is there something that one must do in order to escape the wilderness? Is this something that Deere believes is the same for every believer?
The answer to the latter questions came in the subsequent chapter. One of Deere’s critiques of today’s church is the void of miraculous experiences as were found in the early Church after Pentecost. He writes about his friend John,
He was taught to read the Bible and consciously not expect its experiences to be repeated in his life. Though we believe all of the experiences in the Word of God are real, to us they have become unreal, causing us to have to ‘spiritualize’ or ‘tone down’ the applications of what we read.
I could not disagree more. While I do not believe that these experiences are necessarily happening today, especially in America, I do believe that these experiences described in Scripture are as real as breathing in. Having a spiritual relationship with God that excludes faith healings, visions, impressions, and so forth does not in any way mean that these supernatural events have been “spiritualized” or “toned down.” The question is, “Should every believer experience these phenomena or are such experiences unique to certain people at a certain time?”
Deere cites a passage that states, “Your sons and daughters will prophecy,” and makes this a prescriptive rite for the believer. Deere writes, “Visions and dreams were now normal for the people of God.” Nowhere in Scripture are there any implications that the charismatic gifts are a universal stipulation for every believer. In fact, the opposite is true. It seems, through general observation, that gifts were dispersed to certain people at certain times with a specific purpose. Deere does a great job citing some of these occasions where prophecy occurred through the vessels of only a small minority of the individuals recorded throughout Scripture. But this was not normative! Erickson quotes Hoekema stating that historically the miraculous gifts were virtually unknown throughout most of the history in the church. When they were present, it was generally in isolated groups characterized by unorthodox beliefs on a number of other major doctrines.
The biggest problem, without a doubt in Deere’s ministry and writing, is that he seeks to teach the experiences of the apostles instead of experiencing the teachings of the apostles in Scripture! As believers, we are to seek out the teachings that were given to the early Church. Besides, the purpose of the charismatic gifts served a purpose greater than themselves. When Deere insinuates that believers should aim to experience these gifts, there seems to be a wrong motivation. Desiring the gift itself for the sake of experiencing its wonder is idolatry. Such miraculous phenomenon was used as a way of attesting to the revelation and the incarnation. This is attested to in Hebrews 2:3-4.
Another huge error that Deere makes is that he makes false assertions. He writes, “Some Christians live all their lives without ever consciously experiencing a direct communication from the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, or one of the heavenly angels.” Really? Is that even possible? This is an absolutely false statement! Every believer has had a direct communication from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! No one can be get saved unless the revealed word of God has communicated personally to him or her. If anyone has encountered the saving knowledge of Christ presented in Scripture, then they have had an extraordinarily direct communication from God. It does not get more direct than that!
In supporting his idea that people lack personal communication with God, Deere also implies that Luke has an emphasis on divine supernatural communication between God and his servants. This clearly is a misrepresentation of Scripture. The emphasis is never on the supernatural communication between God and his servants. It is always on the God’s Word spoken by some of the apostles. Miraculous signs and wonders sometimes accompanied the proclamation of the Gospel as a way of validating what was spoken.
Deere’s overview is an incorrect analysis of the book of Acts. He states that he believes Acts does represent normal Christianity. This simply is not true. Acts is descriptive not prescriptive. It describes some of the acts by some of the apostles in the early church. Even in general observation of Deere’s overview of Acts, it is apparent that supernatural phenomena was experienced by only a few people that God used in miraculous ways in the early church. Such occasions were isolated to only a few of the recorded individuals mentioned. The book of Acts does not represent normal Christianity in the way Deere perceives.
Furthermore, Deere’s entire argument is built on an assumption that God cannot communicate with us unless we give Him permission. In the closing statements of his chapter, “The New Testament Church and the Voice of God,” he discusses the experiences of those in the early church as recorded in the book of Acts. He writes, “the very same thing could happen to you if you gave God a chance to speak to you as he did to those in Acts.” Deere has an extremely warped view of God. Making a statement like the former leads one to believe that God is only able to freely express himself if we are willing to listen. It makes God out to be impotent in the midst of our human will to ignore Him. Where anywhere in Scripture does it even imply that God’s ability to communicate to people is restricted upon the willing listening ears of men? Where in the book of Acts can there be found direct revelation from God as a response to someone’s selfish demand to experience God’s power?
When Deere questions, “What if the Lord of history really saved his best wine for the last days? ” I have to ask, “What if?” and what does that at all have to do with the experiences of some of the apostles in the early church? The best wine is not the ability to prophecy, speak in tongues, feel impressions, or anything of the sort. The best wine is the great outpouring of God’s grace through the person of Jesus Christ on the cross! Deere has an amazing ability to rip Scripture out of context to imply his false notions.
Additionally, the idea that everyone should experience any specific gifting of the Holy Spirit is false. The Holy Spirit apportions the various gifts to whom he wills and as he wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). No one person has all the gifts (12:14-21), nor is any one of the gifts bestowed on all persons (12:28-30). This has several implications. First, as one surveys the book of Acts, he will find that the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of certain apostles at certain times as a divine prerogative, something utterly distinct from any pleadings of the people that were used as vessels to display God’s glory through prophetic utterances. To be fair, there were often times when Paul may have prayed and then we see the Holy Spirit at work. But the Holy Spirit’s work was not compulsory or obligated because of a prayer. The supernatural work starts with divine initiation as part of a bigger picture, not from a human’s lack of faith that would demand God to give visions or signs in order to act in obedience with God’s plans.
Another problem that I have with Deere’s argument is his suggestion in how God speaks through supernatural means. He states that when God speaks to one clearly, it usually means that person is likely to go through a difficult experience. For one thing, I am not sure where he gets this idea. Another problem that arises is simply discerning the voice of God when it is searched for outside of Scripture. How can that voice be trusted? What should one do who thinks he hears God’s voice? Such questions are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg of problems that arise when the heart of the believer gets focused on trying to mystically hear some voice of God outside of the confines of Scripture.
Moreover, even Deere recognizes some danger in this when he writes, “Sometimes we can be tricked into putting our attention on fleeces, dreams, visions, and impressions, while forgetting our basic elements of our friendship with God.” He even states that such attention is like asking for magic or that it can become witchcraft when dreams and prophecies are used against other Christians with whom one disagrees. But why does Deere have to even add a qualifier to this statement? What does the intended use of the prophecy or dream have to do with anything? Cannot one also be guilty of, in a sense, asking for magic or straying toward witchcraft tendencies if his heart seeks such revelation regardless of the proposed use? What if one had good intentions with his desire? What would make that different than the intentions Deere suggests? The point is that it does not matter. The temptation is there either way.
Erickson brings up some good points that are worth mentioning. He does a great job pointing out that just because someone hears a voice does not mean that it was the voice of God. Erickson’s suggestion is that this phenomenon is not unique to Christianity even in biblical times. In his discussion on speaking in tongues, Erickson cites the oracle of Delphi, not far from Corinth, that made utterances like those found in the Corinthian church. He also notes that psychology finds parallels between speaking in tongues and the euphoria caused by brainwashing or electroshock therapy.
In addition, I would add that God spoke to Balaam’s donkey, but this was no seal of salvation for the donkey! Was the donkey saved? What does this mean in lieu of Deere’s theology? Furthermore, this discussion does not even begin to illustrate the numerous problems that were caused by false prophets who thought they heard God’s voice. Then, what about those who were wicked men who heard God’s voice? What about Nebuchadnezzar? He received a vision, but does that have anything to do with his relationship with God? How about Pharaoh who had the dream that was interpreted by Joseph? Was Pharaoh saved too?
And yet, another problem is the influence of Satan. We know that Satan can fill one’s heart to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Satan can enter into a man, like what happened to Judas before he betrayed Jesus. Satan tempts believers (1 Corinthians 7:5). Satan is trying to sift God’s people like wheat (Luke 22:31), and he desires to have God’s people. Satan also talked with Jesus to tempt him in the wilderness. It is also worthy to note that Satan tempted Christ using Scripture! So if there is any credulity in listening to a voice outside of Scripture, then one must be careful in two ways. First, there is a risk that what one is hearing a voice from Satan who is seeking to steal, kill and destroy. But second, if God was really speaking through the Holy Spirit, then one must be able to somehow discern and have great caution in what he chooses to listen to.
There is no real guarantee of a divine connection between an individual and God just because he claims to hear God’s voice. Clearly, the experiences of the early Church were not exclusive to only the Church or to the people of God. In addition, a voice heard is not necessarily God’s voice. So there is no true assurance of obtaining a completely reliable authoritative voice from God outside of Scripture.
A bigger problem arises when one seeks to hear God’s voice outside of the authority of Scripture. Deere discusses his formal denial of all forms of divine communication other than the Bible. He used to be right until he changed his position. Deere sarcastically writes, “After all, dreams, visions, and impressions couldn’t be important now that we have the Bible,” since he, “embraced a theology that justified his unbelief.” In light of this statement, reiterating this problem of listening to voices and dreams as authoritative outside of Scripture is necessary. It was this very idea that started the cult of the Mormon Church. Joseph Smith apparently had a dream and listened to it. The same is true of Islam. Mohammed apparently had a dream and listened to it. Hence there was the start of Islam. It cannot be stressed enough that one must be careful of finding authority of anything outside of Scripture.
A Better Lens
It seems that I could go on and on with the theological problems in Deere’s book. The implications of such theology are worse. There is a great reality that listening to anything outside of Scripture can lead down a dark and dangerous road. The greatest authoritative voice God has spoken through is the Word of God, the Holy Bible. Authority of the Bible refers to the divinely invoked power, ability and influence that Scripture has over people, whether or not they submit to that authority. It is an expression of defined beliefs regarding God’s will for His people telling them how to conduct themselves. What more do we need for our lives?
If one is to deny Deere’s position, then it is necessary for that person to have a high view of Scripture. It is necessary to trust that Scripture is sufficient to meet all the needs for life and godliness. Sufficiency is the fullness of Scripture when it comes to its ability to speak about the will of God as He has revealed it to man. It means that the Bible is complete and that there is no other authoritative revelation of God outside of Scripture. So when applying Scriptures to real life, one will discover that there is enough of God’s Word spoken through the Scriptures to meet the needs of every situation or proposed end in a person’s life.
There is not necessarily any need to intentionally search outside of Scriptures to hear God’s voice. If the Scriptures were good enough to make it into the Canon, then why is there a need to go outside of them to find divine guidance? Canonicity refers to Scriptures collected by the Church throughout history deemed worthy of preservation because they are recognized as being inspired and having come from God. They are considered the rule of faith and practice. What more does the believer need?
Paul writes to Timothy, “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.” If we search outside the writings of Scripture for a divine map to follow God’s will, then we are denying the adequacy of Scripture to fulfill its intended purposes. Scripture is a better lens to see God’s will than the blurry lens of those that seek a voice from God apart from Scripture.
In Deere’s explanation of why some of the perils of prophesy, laying out fleeces, dreams and visions, and so forth, he somehow presents the core issue almost without realizing it. He writes, “It’s very simple to explain how this happens. When someone neglects the Bible, they open themselves up to deception. They lose the ability to discern the nature of spiritual experiences. I believe that is exactly what Deere’s ministry and writing and philosophy can have a tendency to lead toward. It is a path that can gently lead one astray. When there is such great emphasis on the need to hear a voice from God, or to hear a word from God, outside of Scripture, then of course there will be a neglect of the Bible. By definition, that is what neglect is. It is failure to do something. In this case, one would fail to seek the council of God from Scripture. The natural consequence would be entering into temptation to be deceived, even by Satan. The Canon is God’s revealed Word, his message to humanity. It is the only trustworthy authoritative source for the life of the believer. If this were neglected, then how else would one expect to discern spiritual experiences?
Deere, Jack. Surprised by the voice of God : how God speaks today through prophecies, dreams, and visions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1996.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.
McRay, J.R. “Canon of the Bible.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed., 155. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001.
Zodhiates, Spiros. Hebrew-Greek key word study Bible : New American Standard Bible. Chattanooga, Tenn.: AMG Publishers, 1990.