Hearing God’s Voice Today

[display_podcast]A recent interview (well, OK three weeks ago) with Greg Haslam raised again the issue of how God speaks. And given the current interest in the Christian blogosphere in discernment (mainly thanks to Tim), the interview is worth exploring again. I’ve held off commenting earlier, because I wanted to be able to provide a counterpoint example, and until now hadn’t found one. Then, this morning, came the latest Tyndale Bulletin, together with a link to Peter Williams’ interview by Justin Taylor back in August, that provided just what I was looking for.

Both men (Peter and Greg) were describing their change of direction in ministry, and how they had been guided. See if you can spot the difference:

God gave me over fifty personal prophecies that made it clear I would be going there, mostly from men who knew nothing about what was afoot… the Lord had told me that this was ‘For the sake of my wider kingdom purposes in London and beyond.’… I remain officially outside of that movement [New Frontiers], in line with all God told me to do five years ago.

And now Peter Williams:

That job came to an end and I felt compelled to stay in Europe, yet the only job I could find was a temporary post in NT at the University of Aberdeen… I had four wonderful years teaching NT alongside great colleagues in Aberdeen and becoming a Senior Lecturer before sensing that I should apply for the position of Warden of Tyndale House. I would have been perfectly happy to stay in Aberdeen, but I took the offer of the post as guidance that I should accept.

Can you spot the difference? The words that both men use to describe what is essentially the same experience, are poles apart. The words used by Greg would grate severely on most non-charismatics, particularly unqualified phrases such as “the Lord told me” and “God told me”. This is really no different at all from saying “Thus said the Lord”, which (we are told) died out amongst reformed charismatics a generation ago.

Why can’t charismatics be more circumspect in their language? Why not say simply “I felt God was calling me”?

Wayne Grudem has said in his Systematic Theology

prophecies in the church today should be considered merely human words, not God’s words, and not equal to God’s words in authority… If someone really does think God is bringing something to mind which should be reported in the congregation, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I think the Lord is putting on my mind that…” or “It seems to me that the Lord is showing us…” or some similar expression. Of course that does not sound as “forceful” as “Thus says the Lord,” but if the message is really from God, the Holy Spirit will cause it to speak with great power to the hearts of those who need to hear.

Now Grudem is talking about congregational prophecies, whereas Haslam is talking about personal prophecies. Is there a difference? Are we justified is saying “The Lord told me” but not justified in saying “The Lord is telling us“.

Please, can the charismatics explain?


  1. I’ll bite… It is true that many charismatics do not properly appreciate the difference between “God said” and “I think God said”, and are prone to interpret their own feelings as the Spirit’s prompting without proper critical reflection. I would say though that there is a similar dynamic even amongst non-charismatics when it comes to biblical interpretation. “The Bible says…” and “I interpret this passage to mean…” are not always differentiated.

    In short, we need to continue to teach people the importance of discerning and distinguishing between the human and the divine.

  2. Well bear in mind that initially the Chapel were not keen on Haslam at all, and that these prophecies are being described after the event. 50 prophecies later, AND the circumstance of being offered the job and accepting it means that surely it is ok for him to look back and say “God told me I was going to preach at the chapel”

    As an interesting aside I was one of those. I was sitting at the chapel at a meeting being addressed by R.T.Kendall. He announced his forthcoming retirement and his desire to find a suitable replacement before he goes. I happened to be sitting next to Greg or his wife (I cant remember which) and immediately turned and said “I really feel that might be for you” a really odd thing to say and something I wouldnt have said without a ‘prophetic impulse’, anyway oddly the person sitting next to the other Haslem at the same moment turned to them and said the same thing! I was also aware of someone who went to the trouble of printing out a photograph of the inside of an American chapel and giving it to Greg. He said, I don’t know why but I feel this picture has something to do with your future. Totally unbeknown to this guy, the photo was so close to what Westminster Chapel looked like inside, it could easily have been the chapel itself! Those were just two of the examples I am aware of…

  3. I suppose it’s like what Tim Keller said at EMA – the non-charismatic should probably talk more about hearing God, and the charismatic should talk a bit more about having a hunch, or something like that… we all have things to learn about how to talk about guidance methinks.

    I’m more disturbed by the Mark Virkler school of thought that makes it normal to hear God away from the Bible.

  4. I have responded to your post on my blog, noting that we are all subjective to some degree and the charismatic tendency is to attribute these things to God, whereas others attribute the same thoughts to themselves. Please read my response and let me know what you think.

    “Is it Okay to say, “God told me”?”

  5. Thanks for your response, Mark. I did reply, and wanted to clarify that my remarks were really limited exclusively to those subjective impressions inside of us, not the providential circumstances outside of us. I’d appreciate any thoughts you have.

  6. WEll,none of you sound like you believe God can sound as if he is rieght there in the same room talking to you. We are moving across the USA because I did hear a voice clear as a bell to move to ______where we could get beter hel for M—. He has Alzheimer’s and I have prayed much aboout what to do to help him….I was told to move. I doubted until I went online and behold there is help form every walk of life: doctors, clinics , social groups, and of course the church. We are moving because I would rather say thank you than end up in Hell for disobeying. One day in eternity I will learn wheither I am right or wrong. For now, I choose to believe I am right in saying I have been told to move to obtain better help withM—.

  7. Here is something from my experience:

    Hugh and I had briefly worked together in San Francisco on a four month project. He liked my work and asked me to fly in from Dallas, where I was living at the time, to do some more work for him in London for a week or two. I eagerly accepted, who wouldn’t want a trip to London, England?

    In the office in London I was quietly sitting next to a Hugh, minding my own business, when that small internal voice from God impressed upon my mind that Hugh was sick.

    So I started reasoning with God in my mind: “So what if he is sick?”
    But then I asked the question that was to set in motion a whole chain of events, “God if you are telling me that Hugh is sick then why did you tell me and what should I do about it?”
    God responded instantly, “Tell him”.
    “I can’t do that”, I replied.
    “Yes you can”, replied God.
    “I can’t do that”, I replied.
    “Yes you can”, replied God.
    So in the end I gave in and called Hugh aside into a deserted hallway to ask him if he was sick. I had no idea what the response would be and didn’t want anyone else around to hear what I had to say.

    “Are you sick?” I asked Hugh.
    “No” he calmly replied.
    “Are you sure?” I responded.
    By this time my heart had sunk and I was trying to redeem the situation.
    “Do you have a cold?” I asked him.
    “No” he replied quizzically.
    “Are you sure?” I responded.
    “Yes, why?” he replied.
    I then proceeded to tell him outright that God had told me that he was sick. He gave me this “you must be crazy” look and told me that he didn’t believe in God.

    I asked him if he would go with me to the cafeteria and there we had an open talk about Christianity for about 30 minutes. He left stating that he still didn’t believe in God. I flew home thinking that I had now gone crazy for sure, was hearing voices, and I certainly couldn’t expect any more work from that company.

    Unsurprisingly I heard nothing more from Hugh for the next nine months. Suddenly and unexpectedly I got a phone call from a secretary of his in California. Hugh was dead – he had died suddenly from pancreatic cancer. They had found my name and phone number in his diary and were calling me to let me know just in case I was close to him.

    I hope that as his last days approached Hugh remembered what I had told him in London and that he had come to believe in Jesus and to gain eternal life through that. But as much as I hope that, I must confess that I just don’t know what happened in the final days of Hugh’s life. What I do know now is that this is no game – the consequences are eternal.

    For more see http://www.godandemail.com

  8. eddiebrown says

    prophecies are often told by people but the real prophecies are in the word of god that He has declared through those people who really contributed their life for the kingdom of god.Therefore the priest plays a vital role for the up gradation of the church.

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