About that little voice in your heart...

Phillip Cary is professor of philosophy at Eastern University and scholar in residence at good news book.jpgTempleton Honors College. One of my favorite books of 2010 is Dr. Cary's Good News for Anxious Christians. One chapter deals with the sufficiency of Scripture and the nature of God's speech. The chapter is entitled "Why You Don't Have to Hear God's Voice in Your Heart, Or, How God Really Speaks Today."

Many evangelicals expect God to speak to them in the ways he spoke to the prophets and apostles. But God has not promised this. Indeed it is through his Word that he speaks to his people. He does not speak inside us but to us. His voice comes to us from outside of us by his Word.
Cary writes:
[The] place to look for God's word is not in your heart but in the gathering of God's people for worship, prayer, preaching, and teaching.
That is why the apostle says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Col. 3:16)...This happens when the people of God gather together as a congregation in the name of Christ, teaching and admonishing and singing God's word to one another...
[Nothing] has changed in this regard since biblical times. The Spirit has always spoken through external words. Biblical prophets, for instance, never talk about hearing God in their own hearts. That's just not what they say about their own experience. They often tell us about their dreams and visions, but they know nothing of the practice we have been taught today where you try to quiet yourself and hear God's voice in your heart.
That's not how the Spirit speaks, because that's not why the Spirit speaks. He does not come to give people private instructions - that's not what prophecy was ever for - but to join them to the community of God's people. So the best place to hear him now is in a gathered congregation of the Body of Christ, where he is present to teach, comfort, warn, and guide all who believe. His speaking is not an inner experience but a shared event, just like the teaching and admonishing that happened when the New Testament church was filled with the Spirit...
When I talk about this biblical view of the Spirit with my students, they often ask, "But are you saying God doesn't speak today?" Now you know my answer. Of course God speaks today! His speaking today in the word of Christ is what saves us and makes us Christians, and that is what the Holy Spirit is all about. He speaks when the words of the prophets and apostles found in Scripture are preached and taught and sung and prayed, especially in the gathering of his people for worship. He speaks whenever the gospel of Jesus Christ dwells in us richly.
What my students' question shows is that they have never thought of this as God speaking. For them, the only way God can speak today is in the privacy of their own hearts. That's the only way they have ever heard of God's speaking - the only way they have ever heard it talked about, even in church. They have literally not been taught to hear the gospel as God's word.
Throughout this helpful book Dr. Cary addresses the common pressures put upon believers by the rather new religion of contemporary evangelicalism. He points the reader to historic biblical Christianity which has always understood that intimacy with God grows in the context of Christian community through the ministry of the Word. He exposes the expectations of this newer religion as guilt inducing pressures that have no foundation in Scripture.

This accessible book addresses 10 things Christians don't have to do in order to be close to God. Among the "10 Things" Christians don't have to do are: hear God's voice in their heart, know God's will for their life, and believe their intuitions are the Holy Spirit.