Preacher: ‘Duh! God doesn’t talk to you!’
One of my friends from high school shared a link to this sermon via Facebook.
I’ve never heard a sermon quite like this. The speaker, pastor Phil Johnson, spends the first 15 minutes asserting that God does not communicate with individuals by putting words or thoughts in their heads, and ridiculing people (generally and specifically) who believe that God communicates this way.
At the 15:54 mark, Johnson says, “The very same superstition that allows Oral Roberts to believe he got a message from a giant Jesus is the same kind of belief that makes a Southern Baptist reader of [Blackaby and King’s popular Bible study series] ‘Experiencing God’ think that God is speaking directly to him.”
So yeah, anyone can see how absurd that is, right?
Then he explains (starting at the 16:16 mark, and invoking 2 Timothy 3:16-17) his view of how God does communicate: Verbally, God communicates through scripture only — “sola scriptura.” This means that God definitely communicated directly with characters in the Bible and with the writers of the Bible but definitely has not communicated directly to anyone since.
After drawing the arbitrary line of “sola scriptura,” Johnson immediately blurs it by saying (at the 17:21 mark), “beyond that, we just trust the providence of God to order our steps.” This seems to mean that God sets conditions in a way that nudges or entices people in the right direction, placing an obstacle here, clearing a path there. Well, I can still recall being a believer and puzzling over the meaning of each setback (was God telling me to stop or testing my perseverance, or was the devil or ‘the world’ persecuting me?) and each golden opportunity (was it a gift from God, temptation from Satan, or something else?).
One reason it’s tough to determine whether (and how) one’s steps are being ‘ordered’ is that the Bible cautions people against exercising their own judgment. Johnson affirms this principle: At the 19:11 mark, alluding to Proverbs 3:5, he says, “The Bible is God’s message to us. Trust it, and lean on it, and lean not to your own understanding, and especially not to whatever subjective impressions you might feel.”
Now try to follow Johnson as he ‘clarifies’ how God does and does not communicate (starting at the 19:52 mark): “Those urges and sensations that we feel are not revelation. But to whatever degree they are true at all, they are the result, the effect, of illumination — when the Holy Spirit applies the word of God to our hearts and opens our spiritual eyes to its truths. And then we need to guard carefully beyond that, against allowing our own experience or our own subjective thoughts to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure word of prophecy.”
That’s right. Johnson even says the “word of prophecy” is “more sure” than “our own experience.” He reiterates this a while later (starting at the 40:44 mark): He reads 2 Peter 1:16-18, and then interjects, “Peter goes on to say that even what he heard with his own ears and what he saw with his own eyes was not as authoritative as the eternal word of God contained in scripture.” Johnson continues to verse 19, using a translation that includes the phrase “We also have a more sure word of prophecy … .”
Let that sink in. He’s saying that a person who reads in the Bible that the transfiguration of Jesus occurred has better proof of that event than the disciples who allegedly saw and heard it.
We end up with an implied hierarchy of influences, ranked as follows from most reliable to least reliable:
- Personal experience (including seeing God ‘in person’ and hearing him speak ‘out loud’).
- The ordering of one’s steps, “illuminated” by scripture and the Holy Spirit.
- Personal judgment.
- Perceived direct communications from God.
This hierarchy is utterly illogical. For example, Johnson treats it as indisputable that God spoke directly to (or through) certain people thousands of years ago, but inconceivable that God speaks directly to (or through) anyone today.
He explains his stance (starting back at the 16:20 mark) by invoking scripture, and it really could not be explained any other way. His argument is structured as follows:
- The Bible, according to itself, is sufficient for instructing people on how to live.
- If God were to give revelations other than the Bible, it would mean the Bible is not sufficient.
- Therefore, God has given no revelations other than the Bible.
A classic example of “It’s true because our faith requires it to be true.”
By contrast, the two influences that are considered most reliable in the real world — personal judgment and personal experience — are treated as vastly inferior to the Bible.
It depresses me to know that Johnson has followers who embrace this hierarchy in the name of faith — rejecting empirical data and logic in favor of a recklessly assembled (and therefore disjointed and inconsistent) anthology of ancient, mostly unattributed writings.