Question [composite of many letters]: We are very concerned about a course being taught in our church called Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. The manual is by Henry Blackaby and Claude King and it seems to be promoting what TBC has referred to as “experience-driven spirituality” (5/95). Some might even call it occultism. What is your opinion of the manual?
Response: We have recently reviewed Experiencing God. With more than 2 million copies sold, it has become very popular among Christians. After an initial cursory look, there did seem to be a number of potential problems with some of the statements made by the authors. For example, they write, “I come to know God by experience as I obey Him and He accomplishes His work through me” (p. 19); “If you have trouble hearing God speak, you are in trouble at the very heart of your Christian experience” (p. 36); “Prayer is two-way fellowship and communication with God. You speak to God and He speaks to you” (p. 87); “With God working through that servant, he or she can do anything God can do. Wow! Unlimited potential!” (p. 17).
Given what is clearly a ravenous appetite for mysticism today, in the world as well as within professing Christianity, those deeply concerned with the biblical health of fellow believers see such statements as highly toxic. Indeed, they are alarming at first glance. However, following a careful reading of the manual, these statements are not as some perceive them to be.
The heart of the manual seems to be a reminder to believers that at the time they received the gospel of salvation, they began “a personal encounter with the living Christ” (p. 212). That reality involves a developing personal relationship with God which will continue for all eternity. Since this is the thrust of the writing, the authors address the elements incorporated in a personal relationship: fellowship, intimacy, communication, love, obedience, service, knowledge, experience, etc. Experiencing God seeks to encourage these elements in every believer’s walk with the Lord, and for that we find the book valuable.
The major problem with the manual, it seems, is not its premise, but the confusion created by its more prominent terms and statements. Not enough care is taken in the wording, especially in view of today’s deceptive spiritual climate. When the authors use the term “experience,” such as in “knowing God by experience,” they mean, first and foremost, through God’s Word: “Interpret experience by Scripture. Look to see what God says and how He works in the Scriptures. Make your decisions and evaluate your experiences based upon biblical principles. Our experiences cannot be our guide. Every experience must be controlled and understood by the Scriptures” (p. 13)....“The Bible is my guide for faith and practice” (p. 14). In other places in the manual, the term “experience” refers to what we have learned about God’s character throughout our walk with Him, i.e., God working personally and practically in our lives and proving Himself as revealed in His Word.
“Hearing from God,” as the authors address that subject, is far removed from the approach taken by today’s contemplative mystics and Christianized mediums. Blackaby and King state emphatically, “God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways” (p. 37). Formulas, seeking signs and wonders, random Bible-verse picking, (fleece) methods, and claiming to have a word from God are all presented with caveats. In the manual, “two-way communication with God,” perhaps one of the most occult sounding phrases, is not the continual dialogue with God as promoted and taught by the various “Schools of the Prophets” cropping up all over the country. Again, the authors, seemingly oblivious to today’s subjective experiential bent in society and the church, have grounded this experience upon God speaking objectively through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit’s ministry, one’s response in obedience, and God working in and through one’s life (p. 84). There are other seemingly problematic statements in the manual but all are clarified (to some degree) by biblical support. Thus, the authors cannot legitimately be accused of promoting mysticism.
In their encouragements related to one’s communion with God, Blackaby and King underscore the necessity of a growing, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ as critical in recognizing His voice (according to John:10:4). While such an exhortation is beneficial to every believer, at times the authors give the impression that hearing from God, as Moses (and other prophets) did, could be the rule rather than the exception. Not only does that go beyond the promise of the Word; even the most compelling examples from the authors’ own lives fall far short of the experiences of Moses, “whom the Lord knew face to face” (Dt 34:10).”
Finally, it’s been reported that some Catholic meditative organizations are using the manual for contemplative, experiencing-God weekends. One reason for this is the almost incidental gospel introduced at the beginning of the manual (p. 8). The authors, writing primarily for believers, added an apparently hasty and even vague presentation of the gospel of salvation. This plays into the hands of mystically oriented groups who deny that salvation comes only by grace through faith alone in who Christ is and His finished sacrifice on the cross.
While we regard it crucial that more cautions should have been given, we commend the authors for challenging us to love God with our hearts and expecting God’s hand to be evident in blessing our lives and service.