In the interests of avoiding a reputation as an iconoclast, I thought it might be good to offer a positive follow-up to my previous post, God Is Not My Fall Guy. Some of you perhaps were scandalized by the post, supposing that the only alternative to invoking supernatural divine leading in ministerial decision-making is resorting to unadulterated autonomy. What I’d like to suggest in this post is that this is a false dilemma—and one that needs to be laid to rest.
While other reasons may be cited for ministerial appeals to supernatural divine leading, I’d like to suggest that a principal reason (in my circles at least) is the lingering effects of Keswick Theology. The governing mantra of Keswick Theology, viz., “Let Go and Let God” epitomizes the dilemma I just introduced: when a decision is made, either I make my decisions (which is bad) or God makes my decisions (which is good). Faced with this dilemma, of course I want the latter! But the dilemma is a false one.
What is the elusive excluded middle I am suggesting? Namely this: we make decisions not by “channeling” God’s supernaturally communicated and infallible will (as reflected in the old hymn “Channels Only”), but by incorporating God’s wisdom as our own. Kevin DeYoung has written recently and ably on this topic, but my favorite source is still James Petty’s book, Step by Step: Divine Guidance for Ordinary Christians, esp. chaps 8-11. In these chapters Petty gets to the theological crux of the issue: the wisdom, providence, and counsel that God makes available for decision-making are not revelatory and extraordinary, but supplementary and ordinary in nature. They do not replace “self” as the decision-maker; rather, they advise the decisions of a capable new self, which has been “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24) and which is “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col 3:10). I don’t wait for God to make my decisions for me by proxy; instead, I make God’s wisdom mine (Petty, 165) and then make my own free decisions under the ordinary tutelage of providence: Scripture, prayer, counsel, and spiritual wisdom.
To summarize, God does not make my decisions for me supernaturally and irrespective of my will; rather, he equips me to make prudent decisions and then grants me the humility to take responsibility for them.