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Make Good Choices and Avoid Stupid Ones—Together!

Andrew H. Selle

Part 1: Defective Views of Guidance[1]

We who follow Christ want to know God’s will and do it; we want both guidance and help to act on that guidance by making good decisions. We will roll these together with the word “choices.”[2] This article deals primarily with guidance, and specifically with three defective views. A subsequent article will develop a positive and biblical view of guidance and decision-making.

First an important observation: we who breathe the air of Western culture tend to read Scripture through the lens of the Enlightenment. Among other myopias, this predisposes us to individualism and casts into shadow the overwhelmingly corporate[3] and covenantal emphasis of the biblical story line and biblical ethics. Nowhere is that bias more evident than with the topic of choices.[4] A more biblical view is that corporate guidance, given by means of corporate wisdom, is the big circle and individual guidance a subset of it. Generally speaking, God chooses to give wisdom for decision-making to the church together, and in that context, to individuals. The people of God together are the ordinary locus of receiving wisdom from God and making choices that honor him.

In the extended metaphor[5] of a cross-country bus trip, we will probe the subject of guidance, and illustrate three sub-Christian views of guidance, with a view toward developing a biblical alternative. Let us, then, begin our cross-country journey—with the entire church together on a bus for the long ride. How do you[6] get to your destination?

1. The Discovery View (“Figure it out!”)

The Story: On the bus you have stacks of maps, primary and secondary drivers, and some intelligent riders. You also meet knowledgeable people in restaurants along the way who give advice about local shortcuts: “Don’t go that way! Take Route 18A over the hill to Westfield Center.” This was clearly no chance meeting, as you find yourself breezing along a nice road parallel to the clogged interstate before you turn up into the hills. You’ll need all the specialized knowledge and expert advice you can get. You must read the signs correctly in order to discover the one correct route—and avoid disastrous wrong turns. Occasionally you see small crosses along the road memorializing the poor souls who drove off a cliff. Who decides what roads to take? Sometimes the driver just chooses where to turn. Sometimes the bus tour’s administrative team huddles together and makes the calls. At other times, everyone on the bus takes a vote, and the majority wins (minority loses). Often it’s not even clear who should decide, or how to decide. At least you know where not to turn when you encounter a “Road Closed” sign. But those signs make people anxious: “Did we miss the correct turn hundreds of miles ago?” Things get especially difficult when you hit construction delays, and especially if you’re involved in an accident. That’s when arguments break out and relationships fray. You lose some passengers along the way; some get off the bus in Grand Rapids, some in Las Vegas. You hope your bus will get to its destination, but you know that if it does, it will arrive late, and minus quite a few people.

This is the Discovery View, which may be the most common one among Evangelicals.[7] God has one perfect plan and he wants the church to discover it. You will find it if you read all the clues correctly—reading the right Bible verses at the right time, correctly interpreting the circumstances around you, feeling your inner promptings, encountering “open doors,” listening to others, experiencing answers to prayer, and seeing positive results after a decision is made. And, of course, feeling inner peace.

How, then, do we assess this Discovery View of guidance? We may affirm the following: first, we must appreciate the strong biblical convictions that motivate those who hold this position. They believe they ought to find, understand, and follow God’s will. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and they believe he will lead them step by step. He does. They pray, and God answers. They take steps of faith and obedience—“faith working by love”[8]—and often the Lord richly blesses them.

Second, we acknowledge that most proponents of the Discovery View stake their lives, explicitly or implicitly, on the biblical doctrine of God’s Providence. “God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things.”[9] “Surely, then, we should seek to discover that plan and live according to it,” they might say. In such good soil of faith, good fruit will inevitably result, in spite of other errors in doctrine and life.

We must criticize the following: The foundational error of this approach is confusion about “the will of God.” No believer will deny the biblical requirement to obey God’s commands—his revealed, “preceptive will.” However, Discovery View proponents go beyond this and seek guidance about his perfect will for the future—his hidden “decretive will.”[10] Certainly, we may understand some aspects of God’s will of decree by looking in life’s rearview mirror, for nothing that has already happened was ever out of his control; he is Lord over every detail of history. Yet only the Lord truly understands the past, and certainly he alone knows the future. Bruce Waltke even raises a provocative question in the subtitle of his book Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?[11] Ancient religions, and some modern ones, specialize in devising clever schemes to play the gods, coaxing them to reveal their secrets and manipulate them to our advantage. In a dangerous and chaotic world, we can understand craving after the certainty pagan oracles offered—and why the Lord severely warned Israel against their enticements.[12] Yet Yahweh does not give to his covenant people secret knowledge; he gives them himself as the great Shepherd who leads them through every dark valley.

Herein lies the confusion for many believers: they operate on the mistaken assumption that our God expects us to wrest out of his mind the one “perfect will” for our lives, that one correct route along the journey. They seek unknown information that Scripture does not reveal or even promise to reveal. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”[13] God’s omniscience shatters our sinful pride; every Tower of Babel built to reach the heavens is doomed to failure. Rather, we must rest in the reality that the Lord is God—and humbly accept that we are not.[14] If we want true guidance, we must begin with the doxology, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”[15]

As suggested by the Tower of Babel allusion above, the Discovery View does not bode well for life in the body of Christ. Disagreements are bound to develop over how to figure out all those divine “signs.” And if you miss that one perfect plan, the alternative is God’s “second best”—or third, fourth, fifth, sixth . . . ! The stakes become enormous even for relatively small decisions. It is no wonder, then, that Christians feel so threatened and fight so vigorously for their opinions. Intense church conflicts develop because God is on everyone’s side.[16] “Since your opinion derails our church from its one perfect path, there is no good reason to listen to you. I’m right, and that settles it.” The quest for hidden knowledge leads us to demand an unrealistic level of perfection in decision-making, which, in turn, torpedoes our trust in one another and our fellowship together. We quickly forget our “in-Christ” mindset along with all the “one-another” relationship commands rooted in that fundamental identity. We deny our desperate need for every member of the body of Christ—especially those with whom we disagree. It has been said, “If both of us agree about everything all the time, one of us is unnecessary.”[17] Do we really believe that? We should, for Scripture assumes that God is at work in every member of the body, and therefore we expect to learn his ways from each other. That is the way of wisdom.

The next view we will consider includes elements of the Discovery View but takes them to a more extreme conclusion. It is the Immediate Direction View.

2. The Immediate Direction View (“Follow the Voice!”)

The Story: This is sooo simple. Use your GPS all the way! There’s one driver, and perhaps a couple assistants. You just hope the driver is paying close attention to the voice coming out of that little box, because you want him to make all the correct turns. But sometimes the route seems so erratic you begin to wonder. You also notice a major problem developing: nearly everyone on the bus has their own cell phone with various mapping apps. Some passengers become vocal about it and continually tell the driver where to turn. Those who express their opinions don’t all agree, of course, so they push conflicting directions. The whole scenario becomes terribly irritating to the driver who shuts them out—and sometimes boots them out. The ride certainly feels more pleasant after they leave; but you miss your friends who got off. In the end, the only people left on the bus are those who agree with the driver or feel too intimidated to say anything. But at least there’s no more unsettling conflict—for now.

This is the Immediate Direction View. It is most often associated with charismatic circles,[18] but in fact, elements of it are common across a wide swath of biblically conservative churches. In its pure form, this view believes that God communicates immediately, directly, and verbally to the leaders, usually pastors. The rest of the church is expected to follow without question. Those who do raise questions often end up leaving the church and sometimes starting another one with its own prophetic leader. In the more generic version of this approach, one leader (or a very small group) makes all the decisions because he reputedly knows God’s will for the church. Whether or not that church believes in continuing prophetic revelation, the leader behaves as if he does.

We may affirm the following: We must remain charitable by acknowledging the work of God among many who hold to this position. Behind it is a strong conviction that the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in the church today. God has not abandoned his people, but is immediately present to shepherd and guide them. Doctrine is no mere abstraction, safely flying at thirty thousand feet, but comes right down to street level—our street, our trenches, our struggles. God speaks to the church and moves it to trust Christ and to serve him right where we are, concretely in our situation. They believe in the Lord Jesus who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the ages. He is forever “Immanuel,” God with us.

Second, we grant that many who hold this position have a high view of ordained church leadership and its special role, especially those in teaching positions. In a culture that has become toxic in its resistance to all authority, we must honor those who want to lead the church in Christ’s name as his “undershepherds.” And on the congregational side, an attitude of faithful submission to godly leaders is not to be despised.[19] In the best cases, such a church uses its spiritual gifts effectively and unites together with common purpose and direction. They accomplish great things for the kingdom.  

We must criticize the following: the matter of continuing special revelation through prophesy has been thoroughly refuted by many since the Reformation, so little will be said about it here, other than to observe the unique foundational role of “the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”[20] Foundations are laid only once. Our concern is certainly not to deny the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, or to dictate how he chooses to act,[21] but to defend the doctrine of Scripture as exclusively apostolic, special, and written revelation. As such, it is our only final and sufficient authority for truth and life—a fact that all orthodox Christians affirm. Our fear is that any claim of an immediate “word from God” functionally eclipses Scripture, and the hard work of studying and expositing it, as the church’s means to know God and receive his guidance.”[22]

A second problem with the Immediate Direction View shows up when we consider the church’s identity as the one people of God, a doctrine that carries profound implications for church leadership. Even the apostles were not separated from or above the rest of the body. Paul himself asks for prayer, submits to other church leaders, and personally exemplifies the “humility of wisdom.” Paul and Peter are “fellow elders,” and James (our Lord’s earthly half-brother!) calls himself a “servant.” Together they address the global church with the words, “the apostles and elders, your brothers.” [23] Any church leader who functionally repudiates the equal status of every member, and the church’s corporate adoption by the Father,[24] will drive the bus into a quagmire.

Third, if a church locates the source of guidance narrowly with one leader, it misses the normal process of gaining corporate wisdom within the body. Every believer is taught by God, and therefore must be heard. The Philippians must hear the concerns of others (2:3–4) because every believer enjoys the same “fellowship” with Christ and has the “mind” of Christ. If I am not hearing them, I am not hearing God either. If a leader acts as though he is the sole agent of divine revelation, he denies the Spirit’s promise to build the church in Christ’s likeness “as each part does its work.” [25] We rob the church of the spiritual gifts given by her Lord.

Fourth, when a church places vast power in one person it distributes authority too restrictively. Any Christian body, regardless of its doctrine and polity, errs when its leadership becomes authoritarian and too proud to listen to the concerns of its members. Those with “haughty eyes” will “sow discord among brothers.” [26] The Reformation’s sola Scriptura heritage proclaims that “all church power is only ministerial and declarative,” not “magisterial and legislative.”[27]

Inevitably, a defective view of unique biblical authority allows human pseudo-authority to usurp it, leading to legalism. Usually it is the kinder, gentler variety—not the damnable sort that the Apostle Paul cursed,[28] but a sanitized version we will call “applicatory legalism.” [29] It elevates human opinion to the level of God’s Law. It binds believers’ consciences not with the Word but with particular applications of the Word, thus undermining Christian liberty. And we note also that legalism can be self-originated in the flesh, not necessarily driven by authoritarian leaders.

In our quest for guidance, we ought never to tie up God’s people with the spiritual knots of legalism! We believe the Lord of the Church whose Word declares, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). The means of that wisdom, the fountainhead of that wisdom, will be the Word of God that stands forever. Anything less—or anything more—puts the bus on a bumpy road going in the wrong direction. We will now consider the “less” approach—the Self-Sufficient View.

3. The Self-Sufficient View (“Good luck!”)

The Story: The bus takes off and follows the roads that look best because no one has any hard information, except the general compass points. You’re on your own, but everyone has read articles and heard lectures about bus travel, and you’re feeling pretty confident. With some careful observations of what’s around you, and with a little luck, the bus should get to your destination. Or perhaps a different destination. It all depends on who’s driving and the latest book he’s read. The young man currently behind the steering wheel often glances down to the volume on his lap, Getting There: How to Successfully Drive a Bus. Every so often you feel the vehicle drifting onto the rumble strip, and you wish the driver would just keep his eyes on the road. But no matter, it won’t be long before someone else takes over. Each driver seems to follow his nose, or go in whatever direction seems to fit with the latest theories of travel. When everyone on the bus is getting along, it’s an interesting ride, and lots of new passengers get on board at every stop. Others get off—mainly the ones who don’t like the stops, the drivers, or the other people on the bus. And when people argue, the chaos becomes so bad that you might drive right off the highway into the ditch. When that happens, the trip is done.

The Self-Sufficient View usually involves no consistent plan at all, at least not one derived from Scripture. Decisions are based on the opinions of various experts, secular research, and sound management principles. No one asks God for guidance or, if they do, they do not expect it. The leaders do not need it anyway and are self-confident that they can lead the church and its members, achieving successful results based upon their own training, skills, and resources.[30]

We may affirm the following: when we critique this approach, it is frankly more difficult to keep a charitable stance, although it helps if we admit that every believer and every church is tempted in this purely pragmatic and rationalistic direction. Consider the strength of the temptation. We live in a highly ordered world, and that order is observable and discoverable, especially (we are supposed to think) by experts using the scientific method. And let’s face it, they really are very good at what they do. No one denies that God reveals himself through the general revelation of an exquisitely designed[31] universe that operates with consistency. Wisdom grows as we understand how things work in God’s world and gain practical skill to live in it.[32]

A proper understanding of science has rich implications for our study. The irritating hubris of academia notwithstanding, we should raise no objections to impartial research into social processes, decision-making methods, organizational growth, and other fields, to help us discover best practices within our cultural context.[33] Christians, of all people, are equipped for this task. “We have categories to reframe every tiny bit of secular thinking so it functions as a comprehensible part of the God-centered world. We know what they are really looking at.”[34] Everything we see, and everything atheists see, must be radically recast into a Christian and biblical worldview. Only then do we understand reality accurately.

We must criticize this view, having affirmed what we may about the Self-Sufficient View, by grappling with its glaring defects. We know what we believe; it is all written down on the back pages of those dusty hymnals, right? But have these truths become mere abstractions—beliefs that barely rise to the level of that New Year’s resolution to get more exercise? At best, our Bible reading and prayer serves to give us greater inner peace, and perhaps even communal peace in family and church. But when it comes down to the practical stuff of choices we fall back on pragmatic considerations of what will be most likely to “succeed”—decisions devised from “expert” opinions, straight up, with a few Bible verses sprinkled on top.

Yet the most severe criticism is this: if the Immediate Direction View errs by demanding what God has not promised, the Self-Sufficient View does worse, by failing to ask of God what he has promised. James’s condemnation is well deserved. “That person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”[35] This attitude betrays a prayerless, functional deism, that does not need God or expect much from him because we have everything we need in ourselves. In its extreme form, this approach truncates biblical scrutiny to narrow areas such as personal morality and the “end times”—but thinks that if we really want to understand people and their choices we must employ the methods practiced by business executives, social psychologists, and perhaps mental health care professionals. Thus, we capitulate to a cadre of secular prophets and high priests and sanitize Word ministry out of the church right at the very point it is most needed. The church must ask itself some penetrating questions: Are we being intentional, expectational, faithful, and prayerful in seeking wisdom from God? Or will we by our unbelief be among those who “do not receive because (they) do not ask”?

Against the backdrop of these sub-Christian approaches to choices—the Discovery View, the Immediate Direction View, and the Self-Sufficient View—Part 2 will develop a more biblical approach: The Wisdom View (“Just drive! But Listen!”).

Endnotes

[1] In order to crystalize the issues, these positions are described baldly, without any of the nuancing that their proponents might offer. It is important to the author to express appreciation for other believers with whom I disagree, yet from whom I have learned many lessons of faith and love. I hope my comments about the strengths often evident in those who hold other views will demonstrate that humility and teachability necessary for gaining wisdom! “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).

[2] The topic of decision-making presupposes a prior question, “How do we know God’s will?” The ethical question (“What shall we do?) flows from the epistemological one (“How do we know?”). These are distinct disciplines, yet since they become intertwined in our experience, we combine them in these articles. Daniel M. Doriani poses four classes of questions: “What should I do?”, “What should I be?”, “Where should I go?”, and “How can I see?” (Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001], 9, 98). It is a lovely ditty, and useful as long as we concede that ethical issues are considerably more complex than these four questions, especially if we change the singular “I” to the plural “you.”

[3] The term “corporate” is used here in its general sense of “pertaining to a group” (Lat. corporatus “to form into a body”). Our concern is “Christians acting together,” broadly defined. It could be a church on any level (local, regional, or denominational), a parachurch organization or executive board, an extended family, a nuclear family, or a married couple. And, as a framework for the new humanity, there are useful applications outside the church. Paul’s use of the term “body” for the church is grounded in our federal union with Christ, whose literal body represented the church on the cross (Eph. 2:16). The Apostle draws out the rich implications for “body life” within the church (1 Cor. 12:12–31), yet we must not lose sight of the fact that his concern is first theological, and secondarily practical.

[4] In a survey of the raft of Christian literature about guidance, it is rare to read anything at all about corporate guidance, other than a nod to the need for wise counsel as a means of gaining help in making one’s personal (individual) decisions. Yet it is a worthy topic dealt with by several authors. I recommend: Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Chicago: Moody, 2009); Daniel M. Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001); Sinclair B. Ferguson, Discovering God’s Will (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1982); Sinclair B. Ferguson, From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2014); Garry Friesen, Decision-Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1980); Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton, Let the Reader Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002); J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008); James C. Petty, Step by Step: Divine Guidance for Ordinary Christians, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1999); Dave Swavely, Decisions, Decisions: How (and How Not) to Make Them (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003); Bruce K. Waltke, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995, 2002). Two other works that at least attempt to address church-wide guidance, but badly falter because of a faulty doctrine of Scripture: Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen, Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church (Nashville: Upper Room, 1997); Luke Timothy Johnson, Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1983).

[5] Perhaps it is an allegory; let the grammarians choose.

[6] In the bus stories, read all the “you” pronouns as plural.

[7] So says James C. Petty, Step by Step: Divine Guidance for Ordinary Christians (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1999), who calls this the “traditional” view. But I wonder if the prayerless, functional deism of the Self-Sufficient View (no. 3 below) has nudged into first place. Views 1 and 2 (and the “wisdom view” of a future article) are similar to those Petty describes from an individual perspective, and I have recast them corporately for the church context.

[8] Galatians 5:6, part of a crucial text for Pauline ethics.

[9] WCF 5.1.

[10] Reformed theologians always make this important distinction. “God’s decretive will cannot be successfully opposed; what God has decreed will certainly take place. It is possible, however, for creatures to disobey God’s preceptive will—and they often do so.” John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2002), 528–38. Although the preceptive will is usually described as obedience to God’s commands, I would add “believing God’s promises” given in his Word.

[11] Bruce K. Waltke, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995, 2002).

[12] Leviticus 19:26, 31; Deuteronomy18:10–12; 2 Kings 17:17; Isaiah 8:19. Gideon’s fleece oracle (Judges 6,7) resonates with pagan practices and is a mark of his immaturity and unbelief, not faith. The account does not provide us an example to follow, but it certainly demonstrates God’s grace, patience, and determination to deliver his people from oppression, in spite of their unbelief—a theme developed in the prophets and fully in the New Testament.

[13] Deuteronomy 29:29; cf. Isaiah 46:9–11.

[14] “Our activities and plans …will be no less our own for being His: only less burdensome …, and better made.” Derek Kidner, commenting on Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.” Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1964), 118.

[15] Romans 11:33.

[16] One will never hear believers in a conflict say, “I know this is dead-wrong, but let’s do it anyway!” We do, however, label our opinions as right—as the biblically correct ones—and opposing views as incorrect, even sinful.

[17] Source unknown. Interestingly, research in the area of decision-making errors identifies “groupthink” as a major culprit in disastrous choices. Consultants for business and government actually create structures to foster “constructive conflict.”

[18] Not all who identify with the tag “charismatic” hold to this view. And, as stated previously, I have learned a great deal from my brothers and sisters in such churches. Please read my critique in that light.

[19] 1 Peter 5:1–7; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17

[20] Ephesians 2:20; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10–11; Revelation 21:14. One of the most compelling arguments for a closed canon is the biblical role of written revelation in establishing covenants, drawing on the ancient covenant treaty form that was available (in God’s providence) to Moses and later biblical authors.

[21] A dynamic view of God’s providence acknowledges that God may work in extraordinary ways in certain times and places. We think, for example, of reports about Muslims in closed countries receiving guidance in dreams, hearing Scripture and trusting the Savior. Such accounts, if true, pose no threat to the doctrine biblical sufficiency. These are not experiences the church expects, or demands, or needs for discerning wisdom and carrying out its mission. Yet if, in the Lord’s wise providence, he chooses to give such experiences to some, that is his prerogative.

[22] “Guidance is discerning God’s moral and spiritual preferences as they apply to our life situations. It is not a detailed plan to be discovered or communicated by God in extra scriptural communications.” James C. Petty, Step by Step: Divine Guidance for Ordinary Christians, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1999), 101.

[23] Philippians 2:8–10; Ephesians 6:91–20; James 3:13, cf. Proverbs 11:2, 15:33; 1 Peter 5:1; James 1:1; Acts 15:23; cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:10.

[24] The church is God’s adopted family “in Christ.” The reality of corporate adoption has massive and practical implications for church leadership. For example, the day before a man’s ordination to the pastoral ministry, he is a “brother” to every other church member. The day after his ordination…he is still a brother to every other church member. That fundamental relationship never changes, and his need for the rest of the body never changes. In fact, all the New Testament “one another” commands apply to him in heightened and intensified ways, because leaders must be models for the entire flock in how they love, and listen, and learn, and fellowship with others.

[25] Ephesians 4:16; James 1:17–19, 3:17. We hear that “wisdom from above,” “every good gift and every perfect gift, comes down from the Father of lights,” by listening to our sisters and brothers.

[26] Proverbs 6:16–19. The “haughty eyes” of the troublemaker “manifest a denial of the LORD’s authority . . . and a disregard for human rights. . . . No vice stands in sharper opposition to wisdom than pride (Isa. 2:11-17), and no virtue stands closer to them than humility and modesty.” Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 115 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 346.

[27]Authority is “ministerial,” meaning that church leaders serve Christ and his people, not themselves. It is “declarative” in that leaders are permitted to declare and apply only what God’s Word demands. Of course, we want to apply biblical principles wisely to particular people in their unique situations.

[28] Galatians 1:8–9. This is the heresy of the Judaizers who required converts to become Jews as a prerequisite for becoming Christians. It was a spurious attempt to add meritorious human works to the finished work of Christ, in effect declaring “Jesus’s blood and righteousness are not good enough; you need to improve on this provision in order to be saved.” The lesser forms of legalism move in the same direction, with negative, but much less severe, consequences.

[29] This is my term. Daniel M. Doriani sees four types of legalism. Class-one legalists are the outright heretics. But “class-four legalists can preach sermons in which every sentence is true, while the whole is oppressive.” Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001), 280.

[30] That is the optimistic version of the “Good Luck!” method, which persists as long as everything is going well. The pessimistic form kicks in when the church faces failures, trials, or conflicts, exposing the reality that all their self-guided planning and human effort accomplished nothing. At that point, some people give up on the church, and sometimes on their faith. That version is fatalistic and unequivocally non-Christian. It is atheistic to its core, hopeless, and in the end plays well into individualism. With no God in the way, the only thing left is your own godlike desire to control, get your will done, and make others do it—or despair because you know you never will.

[31] Or just the impression of design, if one is trying to distance oneself from any notion of “Intelligent Design.”

[32] In fact, the entire scientific enterprise was God’s idea, as he commissioned our first parents to name, to understand, to categorize, to explore, to nurture. Wise people learn everything they can from creation, including knowledge of the Creator himself. Lazy people should learn from the ants (Prov. 6:6; 30:25). Isolated or divisive people should learn from the locusts (30:27). All people should learn from the galaxies (Ps. 8; 19:1–6; Rom. 1:20). The roots of science go deep; the prototypical “cultural mandate” to Adam and Eve now demands that God’s people allow no area of human endeavor to escape Christ’s Lordship, as world history moves inexorably toward the New Creation.

[33] For example, there is an extensive and provocative body of research about decision-making in business and political contexts, dealing with topics such as cognitive biases, decision-making errors, framing, stimulating constructive dialogue, collaborative negotiation, conflict resolution, best-practices for various goals, systems theory, etc.

[34] David C. Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context (Greensboro, NC: New Growth, 2010), 257.

[35] James (1:7) coins a term δίψυχος (dipsychos), a “double-souled” man, the opposite of the faithful believer who displays “a wholehearted, consistent, and integral faith commitment to God.” Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 62.

Andrew H. Selle is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as a Teacher at Covenant OPC, Barre, Vermont. He is a biblical counselor and conciliator. Ordained Servant Online, April 2019.

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