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I’m grateful that, for the most part, it seems my book Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will has been well received since it came out a year ago. If people have been critical of the book, it’s been in one of two directions.

On one side, a few people have felt like the book was dismissive of prayer and too casual about obeying God. Actually, I talk about prayer several times in the book, but I do not advocate the usual type of prayer that is always trying to divine God’s will. I think we should pray, but for wisdom and good hearts more than for direction. And as for obedience, my hope is that young people will be more attuned to God’s revealed commands when they spend less time worry about all sorts of supposedly hidden commands. Too many Christians waste time trying to be obedient to things God has never said (jobs, spouse, location) instead of focusing on what we know God wants from us (love, joy, faith).

On the other side, some have been concerned that I leave the door open, even just a smidge, for supernatural surprises. I believe the canon is closed and nothing should be added to or subtracted from Holy Scripture. I believe everything should be tested against Scripture. I believe the only sure voice of God is heard in Scripture. I believe the apostolic deposit is the once-for-all, nonrepeatable, non-improvable foundation of the church. I believe waiting to hear from God in dreams or visions is a bad idea. I also believe God can surprise us through non-discursive means of communication.

I was happy to discover (through a well-read man from our church) that Archibald Alexander (1772-1851), the great theologian and mentor to Charles Hodge, perfectly captured my thoughts on the matter in his Thoughts on Religious Experience:

Why God so frequently made His communications to His servants by dreams is not easily explained. Perhaps the mind is better prepared for such revelations when external objects are entirely excluded; or it might have been to obviate that terror and perturbation to which all men were subject when an angel or spirit appeared to them.

Whether God ever now communicates any thing by dreams is much disputed. Many, no doubt deceive themselves by fancying that their dreams are supernatural; and some have been sadly deluded by trusting to dreams; and certainly people ought not to be encouraged to look for revelations in dreams.

But there is nothing inconsistent with reason or Scripture in supposing that, on some occasions, certain communications, intended for the warning or safety of the individual himself, or of others, may be made in dreams. To doubt of this is to run counter to a vast body of testimony in every age. And if ideas received in dreams produce a salutary effect in rendering the careless serious, or the sorrowful comfortable, in the view of divine truth, very well; such dreams may be considered providential, if not divine. But if any are led by dreams to pursue a course repugnant to the dictates of common sense or the precepts of Scripture, such dreams may rightly be considered diabolical. (81)

Rock on, Archibald!

Dreams can be abused and twisted and overemphasized in all sorts of ways. But God can use them too, and has throughout history. Leaving the door open for supernatural surprises could mean you’re a charismatic. Or, just a good Presbyterian.


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15 thoughts on “Thoughts on Religious Experience”

  1. Pastor Pants says:

    “Such dreams may be considered providential, if not divine”

    Good stuff!

  2. Dave Shoobridge says:

    Amen

  3. Zabur 16 says:

    Spot on Kevin. And yes indeed, let’s leave that door open. There are many Muslim brothers and sisters (like, thousands upon thousands) coming to know the Savior through visions and dreams. God still speaks and His Word still cuts!

  4. Malin Friess says:

    I shared my thoughts on your book in our blog. “Just do something” has been very helpful for my wife and I in figuring our what God’s will means for us as we work as medical missionaries in Africa.

  5. David Axberg says:

    I love chapter 9 I call it the “Get a job Get Married chapter” right on. I love your thoughts on young people waiting way to long to get married. They miss out on much of the mystery of our relationship with Christ without being married. Eph 5:31-32 God Bless Now!

  6. david carlson says:

    There are more than a few people who believe in the Father, The Son and the Holy Bible.

  7. Scott says:

    I recently did a mini-series on Sunday mornings on the will of God in which I was greatly helped by your book. After giving it high recommendations, several people in our church have secured copies and we gave away many more to the leaders who work with our children and youth ministries. Thanks for the book, it has served our church well.

  8. Stuart B says:

    You know, I preached on finding the will of God in my church after reading your book, and I got a good 5 minute during the service correction when I got to the good points in your book, especially the “Do whatever you want” part at the end.

    But I think you are right. Just don’t tell my elders.

  9. Nancy DeHaan says:

    ” . . . could mean you’re a charismatic. Or, just a good Presbyterian.”

    Been exposed to both . . . and I am a MUCH better Presbyterian ;-)

    And . . . it was a GREAT book! I have recommended it to many high school guidance counselors and Christian school administrators!

  10. Cheryl M. says:

    Great post. Thank you also for your book. My husband and I read it a few months ago, and God used it as a great encouragement to us in so many ways. Thank you!

  11. Chad says:

    Kevin-I’ve been a big fan of Garry Friesen’s work on God’s Will and see your work in the same vein.

    I wonder what you thought about Francis Chan’s reasoning for leaving his church. Dan Phillips wrote a piece about it. You can see it hear. http://bibchr.blogspot.com/2010/04/taking-step-of-faith-few-thoughts.html

    Dan’s response is somewhat uncharitable and really doesn’t seem to take into account the totality of what Chan is saying. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

  12. Pastor Kirby says:

    Kevin – a great book and a help to the church. But, dream experiences of extra-biblical others (or oneself) does not a good indicator of truth make. It seems crazy to think that you would spend so much time honing the textual basis for God’s will, only to slip here. While it doesn’t ruin the book, the “dream” thing really seems out of place for the other excellencies of it.

  13. Maureen says:

    “Just Do Something” was such a blessing for me as a young person. Although I have already completed all the “transitions” into adult life save one (having children), I still found myself fretting over discerning the will of God for my life and paralyzed by fear of the unknown future or of getting it wrong. So thanks for writing this book! It’s been a great help and encouragement.

    PS My mother had to order a copy for herself from our local Christian bookstore because they had sold out!

  14. Anna Stacie says:

    I would like you to please read my response to the article, The Glory Of Plodding at the following facebook link,

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=1494601799

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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