Vital Distinctions to Make When Reading the Bible and Hearing God

September 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

Even though I have been critical of Jack Deere’s assertions based on one verse that we have modern day prophets in today’s world, he does raise an important point about Scripture in his book, Surprised by the Voice of God.

Vital Distinctions to Make When Reading the Bible and Hearing God

Photo Credit: Brett Jordan

Let’s take a look at what I believe is a correct view of scripture that Jack Deere shares in his book.

Deere’s Correct View of Scripture
as Propositional Content

It is important to observe Deere’s view of Scripture and how he believes it plays a strong role in the life of a prophet or Christian.

An important distinction in Deere’s argument must be shared: he believes “all private revelation in any form ought to be checked against the Scriptures” (p. 323). This is comforting for most evangelicals because God is not going to contradict Himself. If all private revelation must be checked against Scriptures, it is important that Christians are constantly in Scripture.

Why?

Because as Deere accurately explains, “Scripture has absolute authority over all believers, everywhere, at all times. Divine personal guidance has authority only over the person to whom it is given. And personal guidance is never given to us to control someone else” (p. 284). This distinction that Deere provides about the unique and heightened authority of Scripture is important because it means, according to Deere, that the personal revelation given to a “prophet” in today’s world is less authoritative than what the Bible teaches. Deere and Dr. Glenn Kreider agree that if the experience or private revelation that a person receives does not match Scripture, then the person should yield to the Bible. 1

However, as Deere points out, this belief in the Bible’s authority must not go too far.

Deere is correct in his description and labeling some Christians as “Bible Deists.” In fact, he even claims that he was previously a Bible Deist. To be a Bible Deist is to look at the Bible and ignore the work of the Holy Spirit. A Bible Deist believes the Bible is the only revelation of God and thus ignores the “voice of God” and limits His divine authority. This means the Bible Deist might even substitute the Bible for God and preach the Bible more than God or Christ (Deere, p. 252). Besides the fact that being a Bible Deist places sole emphasis on the Bible and not enough on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Bible Deism also places too much emphasis on the role of the person interpreting the Bible (Deere, p. 257).

Plainly speaking, Bible Deism is wrong. Christians are not to be “Bible Deists” who depend solely and only on the word of God for guidance. It is important to realize that the Bible does contain answers to a large amount of questions Christians might have about life, but not every single question. In the Methodical Bible Study, Robert Traina explains to Bible interpreters that the Bible “is not an Encyclopedia Britannica in the field of religion. Its historical purpose is not to cover every possible problem which may arise. It contains some specific answers and many general principles.”

What a modern Christian needs is not just the Bible, but the Holy Spirit because He can illuminate the Bible’s teachings to His believers.  

Necessary Elements to Hear God’s Voice

Deere admits what most evangelicals would admit when it comes to hearing God’s audible voice or discerning God’s will: it is laborious.

Deere explains that for modern Christians to hear God’s voice they need to be completely available to Him. They need to be ready for Him to speak and they need to listen (p. 310). Sometimes God’s words of revelation are spontaneous and informal. Thus the Christian seeking to follow God’s will—either by revelation from God or other more conservative evangelical means—needs to constantly be waiting for God to speak and be willing to follow what is said. This state of mind of willingness to obey is one of the main criteria of what God needs to see in order to speak to His people, according to Deere (p. 314).

Another element that Christians need to practice in their lives in order to hear God’s voice is the attitude of simply listening to him. Deere admits that this can take time and that it is hard work, but over time any Christian who consistently spends time in God’s word, practices humility, and seeks to hear God can and will hear God’s voice. If there are criteria that Deere says Christians need to have in order to correctly hear God’s voice, there are also things that Christians might do to push God away and prevent them from hearing his voice.

Conversely, the main thing that pushes God away from revealing His words to Christians, according to Deere, is pride. Deere explains it this way, “God is repulsed by pride, and you don’t normally talk to someone who repulses you” (p. 243). Deere continues by quoting Psalm 138:6, “Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.” If one does adhere to Deere’s belief that God does speak in a revelatory way to Christians (or in a more conservative evangelical manner), Deere correctly points out that pride will keep God distant. Instead Christians need to maintain an attitude of humility toward God.

Distinguishing between God’s Voice and a Prophet’s Interpretation

Deere states that the authority of the Bible is unique and primary while the revelation that Christians receive today is secondary.

Because of this, Deere has to qualify and explain why prophets might be wrong and why their incorrect prophesies do not disqualify them for the title of prophet. Deere states that prophets must “distinguish between revelation, interpretation, and application” (pp. 191-193). This distinction between revelation, interpretation, and application is how Deere justifies a prophet not being 100 percent accurate while at the same time still being a prophet.

In this manner, Deere is able to say that if a modern day prophet received a word revealed from God, interprets it, applies it to someone, and then it does not come true, the error was on either the prophet’s interpretation or application. In other words, Deere believes that the revelation was true but the interpretation of it and the application of it could have been incorrect. The first element (revelation from God) is always correct while the second and third elements (interpretation and application) are susceptible to the human interpreter’s clouding of the prophesy.

Any Bible student recognizes the idea of interpretation of the Bible being a secondary revelation of God as a necessary element in Bible study. The primary revelation is the word of God, Scripture. The work of the Bible studier is to interpret the revealed word of God and try to discover the correct meaning of the biblical text. When looking at the biblical text as history, even the apostles did not put their own confidence in interpretation (p. 120). Deere says that the interpretations that Bible scholars make from the Bible do not give them power (p. 124).

If these interpretations from the primary source of revelation of God, Scripture, are not worthy of significant confidence, there appears to be an error for anyone attempting to give legitimacy to the interpretation of God’s secondary revelation from God (as Deere claims revelation to modern day prophets is secondary to the Bible).

Question: What do you think of Deere’s view of Scripture?

Notes:

  1. Glenn Kreider, Ph.D. “Forms of Revelation in Scripture,” unpublished class notes for ST101 (Dallas Theological Seminary, Summer Semester, 2004), 5.

Christopher L. Scott

Posts Twitter Facebook Google+

Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I also may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."