Guidance for encounters with God … and other stuff

In his book, Understanding Folk Religion, Paul Hiebert speaks of the need for a theology of discernment when encountering new religious movements, both Christian and non-Christian.

Noting that healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, and other extraordinary experiences are reported in many religions, Hiebert cautions “People seek signs to assure them that God is present, but apart from the fruits of the Spirit, there are no self-authenticating phenomena.”

Hiebert then proceeds to summarise the criteria which revivalist and theologian John Edwards developed for discerning the work of God. I think these are well worth pondering:

Signs that are not necessarily evidences of the work of God

  • Great religious experiences in themselves
  • Religious experiences that have a great effect on the body
  • Fluent, fervent and abundant spiritual speaking
  • Experiences beyond a person’s control
  • Religious experiences that bring texts of scripture to mind
  • The appearance of love in a religious experience
  • Multiplied religious experiences, accompanying one another
  • Religious experiences that bring joy followed by conviction
  • Spiritual experiences that lead a person to spend much time in religious activities and zealous participation in public worship
  • Experiences that cause men and women to praise and glorify God with their mouths
  • Religious experiences that produce confidence of being in a good spiritual state
  • Religious experiences that are outwardly pleasing and acceptable to the truly godly.

Signs that are evidences of the work of God in a person’s life

  • True believers exhibit divine affections
  • They love godly things – the ground for gracious affections
  • They have an appreciation for the loveliness of moral excellence of divine things, a deep sence of personal sin, and a longing for holiness
  • They do not downplay godly rationality – the sense of the heart
  • They have a spiritual conviction of the reality and certainty of divine things
  • They have a humility that is spiritual and truly godly
  • In them spiritual discoveries alter the very nature of their soul; their lives are transformed into Christ’s likeness
  • They have a spirit of gentleness that leads to a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness and mercy
  • They have gracious affections that soften the heart followed with a Christian tenderness of spirit
  • There is a symmetry, proportion and balance in their lives
  • They strive for spiritual attainment, whereas false ones rest assured in themselves and their achievements
  • Their conduct demonstrates the outward evidence of the inward changes that have taken place

Now, having digested these, consider your own religious experiences. Have you ever experienced leadings that in retrospect seemed less than Christlike? How were they different?

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