Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Crtique of Hearing God by Dallas Willard

                                    There is not one person this author knows who would not like to hear from God.  Well, author Dallas Willard has written a book in an effort to help people recognize when God is speaking. Willard is a famous author known for his work Spiritual Disciplines, while also being a professor at the University of Southern California’s school of philosophy.  So how well are you hearing from God? There is much in this book to take to heart while there are also things to be taken with a grain of salt. Throughout this work there will be a concise summary of the work, while looking at it with a critical eye, then this author will attempt to apply how this work can affect his life.
                        This work is not one that is very large from beginning to end; it is 223 pages long consisting of nine chapters, preface, and epilogue.  Chapter one is called a paradox about hearing God; in this chapter Willard summarizes the dilemma that some believers feel that they cannot hear from God.  He states that, “I was sure that he spoke individually and specifically about what he wanted each believer to do and that he also taught and made real on an individual basis the general truths all must believe in order to enter into life with him.”[1] Willard understands that for the average Christian, hearing from God is a rather awe inspiring and yet confusing thing. He solidifies that point when he says, “Even those who firmly believe that they have been addressed or directly spoken to by God may be at a loss to know what is happening or what to do about it.”[2]
            In chapter two, he establishes the guidelines for hearing from God. He makes sure to emphasize that there is no magic formula or incantation a person can use to have God speak to them and to grow them to the place God actually speaks and we are able to comprehend. Willard believes emphatically that, “We must therefore make it our primary goal not just to hear the voice of God but to mature people in a loving relationship with him.”[3]
            Chapter three lays a foundation about how we are never alone because we have an omnipresent God. In this chapter, he gives a list of three ways or aspects of sensing God’s presence with us.  We may not always know God is near, but we rely on blind faith or abstract reasoning to move closer to him; another aspect is knowing or sensing a strong impression of God’s presence. Last but not least, we know when he is near because he acts in conjunction with our actions or changes things we are powerless to change.     [4]
            Now in chapter four, he gives us an understanding of how most things have some form of communication and that God speaks to us as his creation. Chapter five is by far one of the best chapters in this work; it is titled the small still voice and its rivals. There are some who would say God has quit speaking individually to people apart from his revelation made through the Bible. “But those who seek to live a life within God’s will can be confused about the significance of the various ways God speaks with us.”[5] In this chapter he refers to the story of young Samuel and Eli in 1 Samuel 3, and how God will speak to us and we have to be quiet and submit ourselves to hearing him speak to us. Along with the still small voice, he lists examples of when angels are used to speak to numerous people in the Bible along with using dreams and visions.
            Chapters six through nine round out the book in giving more detail in how we are to be listening out for the voice of God; how we will recognize it and how redemption comes through the word of God. In the chapter on redemption through the word of God he does not merely limit it to the Bible, but also Jesus Christ revelation, and what the Spirit speaks to us.
            While this is a well-written book, it left me longing for something more. The whole time I was reading this book, I continued to have the nagging feeling that something was missing.  In this work, chapters five and eight seemed to be the most beneficial to this author. Something so easily over looked and yet profound “is when we seek God earnestly, prepared to go out of our way to examine anything that might be his overture toward us—including the most obvious things like the Bible verses or our own thoughts—that he promises to be found (Jer 29:13).”[6] Willard makes the statement  “that God’s speaking in union with the human voice and human language is the primary objective way in which God addresses us.”[7] While I am in some agreement with him, I believe that God does speak with us in languages we can understand I am not sure that it is the primary way.  For a fact, this author’s pastors would argue this point and say that the primary way God speaks to his people is through the Bible.
            He believes that our thoughts are God’s speaking to us. He backs this up when he says, “Although reoccurring thought are not always and indication that God is speaking, they are not to be lightly disregarded.”[8] There are often times that I believe the Lord has spoken to me through recurring thoughts, so there is no argument in the fact that God will speak through our reoccurring thoughts.
            As a member of a PCA church, my pastors hold a very high view of Scripture so much so that they are cessationist; and they would disagree with Willard when he says, “But there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that the Biblical modes of God’s communication with humans have been superseded or abolished by either the presence of the church or the close of the scriptural canon.”[9] But from this author’s perspective God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). Do you assume that if God speaks to you that you would automatically know it? Willard tells us, “We may mistakenly think that if God spoke to us we would automatically know who is speaking without having to learn, but that is simply a mistake and one of the most harmful mistakes for those trying to hear God’s voice.”[10]
                        There is something that can be taken away from this material that helps to deepen the relationship one has with God. One of the major take-a-ways from this material is that God can speak to us through any means in which he chooses.  The one mean that stands out is the small still voice that spoke to Samuel and Elijah. It is this authors hope to reach a place where he will readily recognize when God is speaking to him.  As of right now I am at a place where I sometimes think I am hearing from God, but I am still unsure. I have heard from God before when I was a called into ministry, through a dream.  Currently there has not been any communication with God, me to him or vice-versa.  I have since started speaking with him more and am taking the time to listen. Not only listen for the still calm voice, but other people and situations.
            In conclusion, this work is worth your time if you have read other books on prayer and have developed a certain prayer style. This book does not offer any solid instructions on how to definitively guarantee you’ll hear from God in your prayer life. It does offer help in ways that you can become more open to hear God and the things that will hinder what is heard.  There are two books that could be of great help, Charles Spurgeon’s The Power of Prayer in the Believers Life, and Prayer the Timeless Secret of High Impact Leaders by Dave Earley.

            [1]Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999)16.

                  [2] Ibid., 25
            [3] I bid., 31.
                  [4] Ibid., 51
                  [5] Ibid., 87
                  [6] Ibid., 91
                  [7] Ibid., 96
            [8] Ibid., 102
            [9] Ibid.,, 103
                  [10] Ibid., 169.

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