Fleeces. Impressions. That still, small voice. The Bible talks about God’s will, but it doesn’t seem to give us as much information as we would like. How does God lead us? What does the book of Acts tell us about His leading today? What does the rest of the Bible tell us? If we’re led by the Holy Spirit, why does it seem so difficult to know what to do? Garry Friesen, ThM, ThD, a member of the Bible faculty at Multnomah Bible College, has expanded this twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Decision Making and the Will of God to make it more readable and understandable to a broad audience.
The topic of God’s will is one that has no lack of coverage. In fact, this is the third book on this subject that I’ve reviewed (my reviews of books by Waltke and DeYoung can be found here). Yet despite many an authors’ interest, understanding God’s will is still highly misunderstood. It’s an important issue not only because of the heightened lack of understanding, but because its understanding affects the way we live. Friesen says, “For we don’t look at the world through the glasses of the Bible itself, but rather our understanding (or interpretation) of the Bible. And if we misread one part or another, our ‘prescription’ will be out of kilter and our vision will be blurred” (pg. 258).
There are four parts to this book. Friesen starts off his book presenting the traditional view in a fictional story about a college student named Ted and his marital discussion with Pastor Bill Thompson. He goes through a discussion of Ted’s love for a girl named Annette Miller. The problem is that they both love the Lord, both feel called to vocational ministry, yet don’t know what the Lord’s will is. Should they marry? Each other? If so, where would they go? Stay in the states or go to Africa? They want to be obedient to God’s will, but they don’t want to unintentionally disobey and take the wrong path.
We are then given an 8-page outline of the Traditional View (those who want to read a bigger overview of the traditional view can read Friesen’s whole 50+ page overview on his website http://www.gfriesen.net). Throughout the Bible we see God’s sovereign will (His determinative plan of history), His moral will (how humanity ought to believe and live), and His individual will (“God’s ideal, detailed life-plan uniquely designed for each person” [pg. 28] that we can follow under God’s guidance). The last will is one which Friesen calls “the dot” that, if missed, puts us in God’s permissible will. (Friesen also disagrees with the individual will in the sense of finding exactly what God has for us to, every action and decision we make).
Part 2 is a critique of the traditional view. Part 3 is an explanation of the wisdom view. Part 4 is an application of the wisdom view (to the BIG life questions such as marriage, vocation, calling, and education).
The Chocolate Milk
Where to begin? How can I summarize a 500+ page book in a few hundred words? Besides telling you to read this book, I can’t. Regardless, Friesen points out that impressions are only impressions, and the problem is subjectivity. If you saw a car smash-up derby, which witness would you believe more, the one who saw the wreck and “can tell the speed of the car” or the one who drove behind the car and saw his speedometer was below 25 mph? One set of eyes can “tell” (subjectively), while the other can prove (objectively) by fact.
But what about the Holy Spirit’s leading? Frieson’s got that covered too. It’s called God’s moral will, and he proves it my reading the context of a number of Scriptures.
How is following God’s moral will for our lives is concrete guidance? “…God is more concerned about who we are than what we do; He focuses more on our character than our conduct. We want to know what God wants us to do; God wants us to know Him” (pg. 285). We are to be holy for God is holy, and the “law is what love would do” (pg. 119). Our moral duty is to love.
We are to live by wisdom. The Bible provides wisdom to us. The Holy Spirit gives it to us through studying our Bibles, by living in and seeing the world through our Christian worldview, by sanctified common sense, by consulting counselors, etc. We know that God orchestrates history to work all things for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. All things will end with God, and we can trust that He is keeping us in His consideration. We are to follow His moral law, not pray we hit the ‘dot’ and live and perform the exact actions God wants us to.
Father knows best? Yes, but what father tells his children exactly what to do in every instance, even when they are all grown up and should be able to make choices for themselves? “I know a man who at age seventy still lives with his mother, asks her permission before going out, and turns over his money to her each week…. I know other adults who continue to act like children because of smothering parents who never learned to let go. They defy a basic principle of nature: the goal of parenthood is to produce healthy adults, not dependent children” (quoting Philip Yancey, pg. 276).
Friesen never says we are independent of God in the wisdom view, but we realize His place as sovereign King in our lives and history. We continue to pray and trust in Him. When something doesn’t go our way, it doesn’t automatically mean we didn’t have enough faith, or didn’t listen close enough to His voice. He simply has another plan, and instead of whining, we had better get on board like mature adults. Life doesn’t change for us just because we don’t like it. The Father is conforming us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Spoiled Milk
No issues here.
This is certainly recommended. Since I’ve read both Bruce Waltke’s Finding the Will of God; A Pagan Notion? and Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something, I had a bad ‘impression’ that this would be a big book (528 pages, 423 without the Appendixes, Scripture References, and Bibliography) that I would take a long time to read and wouldn’t tell me much more than I already knew. Much to my enjoyment, I was wrong! This large book took much just under a week to read, and that was without reading hours upon hours a day. This was a pretty quick read, though it does help that I already agreed with most of Friesen’s view. And I agree with him much more after reading his book. (He points out that Waltke’s book is good, but focuses too much on our desires which, though God is changing them, are still liable to being led by our sinful flesh).
This would be a good book for those on either side of the discussion to read. Whether you agree, disagree, or are unsure, Friesen encourages you to search the scriptures to decide for yourself. All Christians will have differing opinions on something, yet we are commanded to love one another. Friesen gives allowance to the fallibility of his position, and say it will strengthen the position of the traditional view.
Yet if you are one who struggles with the traditional view, I would encourage you to grab a hold of this book, read it, search the Scriptures, and be relieved. be mature. Be responsible. “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt. 10.16).
- Paperback: 528 pages
- Publisher: Multnomah Books (August 11, 2004)
[Special thanks to Margaret at WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]