Should we say, “The Lord told me”?

June 19, 2017

I recently discovered a podcast produced by serious students of Wesleyan-Arminianism called “Remonstrance.” (For some reason, I’m unable to copy and paste a link to the podcast URL. You can search for it in the iTunes store or wherever fine podcasts are distributed.) It’s been a godsend for me: I’ve been slightly concerned over the past few years that my theological convictions have moved too far in a Reformed direction, especially as it relates to God’s providence and sovereignty. Also, it doesn’t help that my two favorite contemporary preachers are Calvinists.

Still, I’m only “slightly concerned” because, like Wesley, I’m a “man of one book”: I don’t invest anyone’s theology with any authority that doesn’t derive from its concordance with what God has revealed in scripture.

So what’s a Methodist pastor like me to do?

How about digging more deeply into my Wesleyan-Arminian roots and seeing if my current convictions are in line with what Arminius and Wesley actually believed (rather than what modern-day descendants of their tradition believe)? If you’re a layperson, you might wonder why I should need a podcast to help me with this. Didn’t I learn this stuff at my Methodist-affiliated seminary?

And the answer is “no.” While I knew that Wesley was an outspoken Arminian, we studied no original writings of Arminius himself. Moreover, while we read about the disputes that Wesley had with Calvinists like George Whitefield, we didn’t dig deeply into the theological ideas that undergirded those disputes—beyond shallow discussions about free will and double predestination.

And, no, none of us read Calvin’s Institutes, so who among us even knew what we were supposed to be rejecting and why?

Mostly, what we Methodists learned from mainline seminary is that theology isn’t something to get hung up about. (And we wonder why our United Methodist Church is on the brink of schism?)

All that to say, the purpose of the Remonstrance podcast is to dig deeply into the primary sources (and trusted secondary sources) to recover true Wesleyan-Arminian thought. I was relieved to learn, through a series of podcasts, that both Arminius and Wesley embraced meticulous providence and penal substitution. (Neither, by the way, believed in the “governmental theory” of atonement, which is popular in some Methodist circles today.)

So, with that in mind, I want to draw your attention to this blog post from fellow Arminian Roger Olson. He shares a personal experience that (he believes) was supernatural. He worries that too many of us evangelicals (maybe himself included) too quickly reject the supernatural.

I wrote the following comment (now awaiting moderation).

As for the apparent “coincidence” of thinking about your friend, I have no problem whatsoever believing that it’s supernatural. If we believe in the providence of external events (which I most assuredly do)—that God is constantly working through events in the world for his purposes—why wouldn’t we also believe in the “providence of our thoughts”? This is why, by the way, I don’t have a problem (with a few qualifications) with people who say, “The Lord told me…” or “The Lord showed me…” What they usually mean is, “I have an intuition, which I believe comes from God, that I should do this particular thing.”

Here are my qualifications: that we don’t elevate these intuitions to the same status as God’s revelation in scripture; that the intuition doesn’t contradict scripture; and that we recognize that we may be wrong or misinterpreting what the Lord is telling us.

What about you? How comfortable are you with Christians saying, “The Lord told me…” or “The Lord showed me…”?

16 Responses to “Should we say, “The Lord told me”?”

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    I found the Podcast site. There a dozens of them. Any recommendations?

    • brentwhite Says:

      I haven’t listened to all of them myself, but I especially liked Episode 2, “The Doctrine of Divine Providence,” Episode 3, “The Doctrine of Atonement,” and the “minisodes” 8 and 9, Arminius and Wesley on Imputation. Also, since I consider “open theism” the most dangerous idea that’s taking hold in evangelical circles (not to mention the UMC), I loved the recent episodes on that heresy.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    This is a pretty tricky issue for me. I like your “qualifications” and in my opinion they are mandatory. I have a few times had an “impression” (I don’t recall any “words”) that I currently believe came from God. Conversely, I have had other impressions (including “words”) that I now attribute to the dark side. (Very easy to get these if you are bipolar as I am.) At the times that I got these latter, I verily believed they were from God–subsequent events persuaded me otherwise. All of which leads me to be very leery of saying, “The Lord told me.” But my parents certainly believed they “heard from God” sometimes (i.e., words in their mind), and in some instances it seems they were correct (e.g., being called to be missionaries to Korea). By the same token, on another occasion my Dad related what he believed was a “mental conversation” with God which I don’t believe it to have been because I think it was contrary to what scripture teaches (see your qualifications). So, should we “say it,” or not? I guess it is okay if qualified by, “I believe the Lord told me” (or showed me) so you won’t be attributing something to God that he did not say or give. Also: “Test the spirits.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      Testing the spirits is critical. I don’t disagree with you—except how does the “mental conversation” idea contradict scripture? I’ve heard and read credible Christians who’ve said they’ve experienced that. Obviously, I would reject it if God’s “message” contradicted the Bible.

      But on a related note, here’s something I run into a lot in my line of work: When I ask someone to consider serving the church in some way, they’ll often say, “Let me pray about it.” And don’t get me wrong: prayer is absolutely essential. But what guidance do they hope “praying about it” will provide for them? Are they waiting for a warm and fuzzy feeling of some kind, the absence of which indicates that God is telling them “no”?

      It seems to me that these “prayerful feelings” are highly unreliable indicators of whatever God might be “telling us.” For example, one time a youth minister I knew (who hadn’t yet gone to seminary) was trying to decide which seminary to go to. I gave him what I thought was a wise suggestion: for a lot of reasons, it would have helped him and his family to consider going to this particular seminary. He said, “I don’t feel like the Lord is leading me in that direction.”

      And I wanted to say, “Yes, but how do you know that what I’m saying isn’t ‘the Lord’?” Do you see what I mean? If indeed he was praying about the right seminary to go to, and someone like me says he should consider this, why not consider the possibility that the Lord is “speaking” through me?

      Do you see what I mean?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Yeah, as one pastor said to me, tongue in cheek, “I accept light from any source.” A “feeling” is definitely not the test.

  3. Grant Essex Says:

    When you “hear the voice of God”, you are hearing the most elusive and misunderstood member of the Trinity. The following is from Billy Graham:

    “The moment that we receive Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts. Our body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit helps us live the Christian life. There is not a person anywhere who can be a Christian without the Holy Spirit. There is not a person who can follow Christ without the help of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sees everything that goes on. He knows what goes on in our hearts. He knows what goes on in our minds. Nothing is hidden from Him.”

    I believe that when we pray, when we read Scripture, when we simply try and feel God’s presence; that it’s the Holy Spirit that actually speaks to us. Are there sometimes “false voices? Of course. That’s why we must constantly keep God near. God the Father/Son and Holy Spirit will guard our hearts and minds if we let Him.

  4. Bob Says:

    generally, i am skeptical when somebody says they heard from the lord directly. if one is minimally acquainted with scripture, one will have scripture bouncing around in their thoughts, and one can attribute this to God speaking. because He is, if only through echoes. trick is, keeping scripture fresh enough so that one does not invent new scripture. (over head is a very inappropriate CW song.)

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      I generally share your skepticism. I hear too many reports that don’t sound credible. However, my parents “heard God call them to be missionaries” in some fashion or another in a church service, the validity of which seems to have been borne out by how everything transpired thereafter. For me, I can’t say as I recall God ever “speaking” to me in so many “words,” but I have had a few “impressions” that I would attribute to God.

  5. Grant Essex Says:

    Well, I just listened to Episode 1 of Remonstrance and I must admit that I was blown away! Not by compelling repudiation of Calvinism, but by the description of what Arminianism/Wesleyanism was presented as being. I would like very much for Tom to listen to this episode and then for the three of us to discuss the main points. I am struck by a couple:

    “God never fails in His will”
    “It is not a doctrine of Free Will; it is a doctrine of Free Grace”” Only Grace can save.”
    “The only difference is that Grace can be resisted”
    “The only Free Will man has is to say no.”

    The description given for Semi-Pelagianism sounds much more like what I hear Tom arguing, and these folks flatly reject that Arminius nor Wesley were Semi-Pelagian.

    The argument seems tortured at some points, and uncertain at others, but I really didn’t find anything objectionable. Nor do I find any real animosity for the “Reformed view”.

    I look forward to listening to more.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Good, Grant! I thought you would like it.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I don’t think they’re interested in repudiating Calvinism. They aren’t polemical at all. They want to clear up confusion about what Arminianism is and isn’t. If someone wants to reject it, reject the real thing, not the caricature.

      I think that a lot of people think Arminianism simply means “not Calvinism.” That’s not right at all.

      • Grant Essex Says:

        So, is Tom an Arminian or a Semipelagian? 🙂

      • brentwhite Says:

        I’ll let you two argue that out! 😂😉

        But one of the points of the podcast is to show that Arminianism does not mean “not Calvinist.” Just because you’re not a Calvinist doesn’t mean you’re automatically Arminian.

  6. Tom Harkins Says:

    Grant, sorry, I have not had a chance to review this. From you listing above, I would say that people can say either “yes” or “no” to God, not just “no.” “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man will open the door, I will come in.” Sounds pretty straightforward. So whatever category that puts me in, I guess I will have to live with that.

  7. Grant Essex Says:

    Tom, listen to the podcast. I think you will find much to ponder.

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