The following is a short book report written for my Pastoral Theology class.
Every day Christians from all over the world wonder, “What is God’s will for my life?” The pursuit for the will of God can be maddening at times, and downright depressing at others. This is why many Christian leaders have undertaken the task of clearly laying out the way to understand God’s leading. Gary Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God is just such a book, but, like a good novel, it has a twist.
In the beginning of the book Friesen uses a character, Pastor Bill Thompson, to present what he calls the ‘traditional view’ of discovering God’s will. According to Friesen the so-called traditional view presents to us God’s threefold will: the sovereign will, the moral will, and the individual will. The sovereign will includes everything that God has unilaterally decreed to come to pass. God’s moral will is presented in the Bible. “Moral will” means everything that is accordance with God’s character. For instance, it is God’s moral will that we read His word, but He does not override our wills to make us do so. The individual will of God is God’s specific will for each individual. Again, He does not force every individual into his perfect will (that would make it His sovereign will).
Finding God’s individual will is what frustrates many Christians. Through Pastor Thompson, Friesen explains how to find said individual will via the traditional view. There are supposedly seven signs that lead the Christian to God’s individual will. First is the Bible, then an inner witness, personal desires, circumstances, mature counsel, common sense, and special guidance. Special guidance, however, was more for men like the Apostles and Prophets. We don’t hear from God in the same way today.
The traditional view has the advantage of “feeling right” to a great many Christians today, but Friesen holds that the traditional view is hopelessly flawed. This is the ‘twist’ of Decision Making and the Will of God. For him the traditional view is a non-starter. He demonstrates that the scriptural evidence marshaled in its support is usually interpreted wrongly.
Another major problem, according to Friesen, is that there is no such thing as an ‘individual will’ for every Christian. Rather, there is much room for freedom within God’s moral will. This means that all those Christians who hold the traditional view are basically chasing rainbows that will only move further and further away as they grasp at them. This is indeed a frustrating state.
Friesen goes on to demonstrate the untrustworthy nature of the guideposts used to find God’s individual will. Many people play fast and loose with Biblical texts as they apply them to their own situations without consideration for what the author originally meant. The internal witness is easily twisted to fit with one’s own desires regardless of God’s will. Circumstances, mature counsel and common sense are given so many qualifications they are rendered nearly useless in decision-making. Another key criticism is the abandonment of the traditional view in the little decisions of every day life. According to Friesen if proponents of the traditional view want to be consistent they should seek God’s will for what shirt they should wear that day.
On Friesen’s view (the ‘wisdom view’) all God wants us to do is to make decisions that fit within the framework of His moral will. Not only does this relieve a great deal of stress, but it also provides great motivation for Bible study. How can we know the moral will of God if we have not read the book in which He reveals that will? Our task as Christians is to make sure we are making the most wise, godly decision as is possible.
Tradition is a powerful thing. Humans often resist giving up tradition because it has the sense of propriety and rightness, since our parents and grandparents believed it. That is why it is so remarkable when someone can come along and fully dismantle a tradition, which is what Friesen has done in my opinion.
Friesen first removes the scriptural foundation for the traditional view and then provides a strong base for the wisdom view. A close reading of Scripture reveals that the “still small voice” heard by Elijah was still an audible voice, not some ambiguous inner prompting. There is nowhere in Scripture that such a prompting can be shown to exist.
I am now fully convinced that the traditional view of God’s individual will for our lives is a false paradigm. Instead we are to live by the precepts outlined in Scripture. I fear that many Christians, in trying to comply with the traditional view, have put themselves in the bondage of superstition. Though we may not ever be rich, or we may suffer from some terrible disease we can be sure that if we follow the moral principles He has given, God will take good care of us.