Inner Voices

Chip Gaines, in his autobiography Capital Gaines (Chip is half of the “Fixer Upper” duo on HGTV; his wife, Joanna, is the other half), makes the following observations:

“It’s not typical for Jo to come to me with a potentially life-altering decision already made.  She’s more likely to start a conversation so we can hammer out the possibilities together.  But when she intuitively ‘hears’ something and senses it’s from God, there’s no changing her mind or talking her out of it … Even back then, when we’d only been married three years, I understood that when Jo heard God in a way that seemed weightier than usual, her discernment of His voice was usually right on. 

“Jo and I both have strong instincts and enjoy the process of due diligence, but if we specifically feel like God has initiated something, we do not hesitate” (73).

“She’d heard that familiar voice quietly urging her again.  As Jo sketched out an action plan for reopening, I remembered back to that night when she’d told me it was time to close the shop.  Now here she was, more excited than ever, and 100 percent sure that this had been God’s plan since the beginning” (ibid 80).

Such comments are fairly typical among mainstream evangelicals and represent a radical shift in theology that has taken place over the past few decades.  Instead of seeking for truth and guidance in Scripture, many of today’s professed believers seek for an inner voice that they interpret as God or His Spirit speaking directly to them.  This is broadly called mysticism.

In his book Reckless Faith, John McArthur exposes this trend and connects it to philosophical existentialism:

Mysticism is the idea that spiritual reality is found by looking inward.  Mysticism is perfectly suited for religious existentialism; indeed, it is its inevitable consequence.  The mystic disdains rational understanding and seeks truth instead through the feelings, the imagination, personal visions, inner voices, private illumination, or other purely subjective means.  Objective truth becomes practically superfluous” (27).

“(Mysticism) has produced movements like the Third Wave (a neo-charismatic movement with excessive emphasis on signs, wonders, and personal prophecies) … and the modern prophecy movement (which encourages believers to seek private, extrabiblical revelation directly from God).  The influx of mysticism has also opened evangelicalism to New-Age concepts like subliminal thought-control, inner healing, communication with angels, channeling, dream analysis, positive confession, and a host of other therapies and practices coming directly from occult and Eastern religions” (ibid 28).

If believers are not totally rooted in Scriptural concepts; if they do not hunger and thirst for the mind of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit; if they are not exacting and careful students of the Bible; if they become enamored with the world’s philosophies, then they are vulnerable to ideas and practices that sound like the real thing but are in reality cheap imitations.

There is no way for Chip and Joanna Gaines or anyone else to objectively determine whose voice is speaking in their heads – God’s, Satan’s or their own – unless the “voice” directly contradicts Scripture.  If a voice is telling us that it is ok to miss worship for an elective alternative (ball game, concert, homework, etc.) we can be sure the voice is not God’s.  I suspect that people often “hear” the voice that is telling them what they already want to do. 

No law of God’s or man’s can cover every contingency.  Generally, God’s revelation directs us in overarching precepts and principles.  We then take those guidelines and make application to unspecified situations.  In Joanna Gaines’ case, do I close the shop or keep it open?  That question isn’t going to be answered in Scripture per se.

This truth produces a degree of uncertainty that will cause the weak to either collapse or fill in the gaps with their own ideas. 

At the other end, the initial subjective decision is affirmed by the interpretation of the outcome.  In the Gaines’ case, Jo’s intuition developed into a multi-million dollar diversified business.  See!  It must have been God’s voice she heard because she’s become rich and successful. 

McArthur comments:  “Mystical experiences are therefore self-authenticating; that is, they are not subject to any form of objective verification.  They are unique to the person who experiences them.  Since they do not arise from or depend upon any rational process, they are invulnerable to any refutation by traditional means” (27). 

Have you ever tried to tell someone that they haven’t spoken in tongues, or didn’t feel the Spirit moving within them, or they haven’t received a miraculous healing?  Forget it.  It doesn’t matter what Scriptures you cite or what reasoning you use.  When people base their experiences of feelings, Scripture becomes irrelevant.

McArthur again:  “Evangelical mysticism attacks the objective interpretation of Scripture … If we can gain meaningful guidance from characters who appear in our fantasies, why should we bother ourselves with what the Bible says?  If we are going to disregard or even reject the biblical verdict against homosexuality, what difference does it make if the historical and factual matter revealed in Scripture is accurate or inaccurate?  … If personal prophecies, visions, dreams, and angelic beings are available to give us up-to-the-minute spiritual direction – ‘fresh revelation’ as it is often called – who cares if Scripture is without error …?” (ibid 29).

McArthur is right.  Churches are filled with people who don’t know Scripture (and think they don’t need to know it), who are guided by their own feelings (and call it “the Spirit”), who conceive of God as their personal purveyor of happiness, who believe everything that happens to them is an outgrowth of God’s “plan” for their lives.  When you first listen to such people, they may sound spiritual.  They talk about God a lot; they may attend worship somewhere.  But when you dig a little deeper, you find that many of them are merely doing their own thing and use religion to justify their personal ambitions.  “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”