Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Experiencing Henry Blackaby
Let me state up front that I have never read anything by Henry Blackaby. I first heard about him through numerous reviews of his book, “Experiencing God,” and didn’t like what I read. The reports all pretty much came to the same conclusion, which was that Blackaby’s teachings were not orthodox and should be avoided. Therefore, my report here is based on others’ reviews, which I think are more than adequate to be used as a warning.
According to G. Richard Fisher & M. Kurt Goedelman in the Personal Freedom Outreach’s The Quarterly Journal, “One of the leading exponents of non-Charismatic subjectivism is Southern Baptist Henry Blackaby. His writings include the best-seller, Experiencing God. Charismatics have called Blackaby one who is ‘shaking Southern Baptist tradition.’” They also cite Charisma magazine as saying about Experiencing God, “it urges individuals and congregations to break free from religious traditions in order to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance.” (vol.23/no.3, July-September 2003, Experiencing Mysticism)
Fisher & Goedelman assess Blackaby’s writings this way: “Some of what he says is right. Some of what he says may be helpful. And he has tapped into every Christian’s desire to love God more and have more intimate times of fellowship with Him.” But they also say that some “are disturbed by what they see as semantic and hermeneutical confusion. Some say that what Blackaby gives with one hand in exalting the Bible, he takes away with the other through nuances and caveats. Blackaby’s book [Experiencing God] has good parts, questionably parts, contradictory parts, and problematic parts. An evaluation of the book depends on the evaluation’s focus.” They then cite what a few other evaluators say:
Michael Horton: “they are simply repetitions of the Keswick ‘Higher Life’ teaching.”
CRI’s Elliot Miller: “I do think [Blackaby’s] teaching is largely extra biblical and Scripture is arbitrarily and subjectively used to support principles he has really observed from his own experience. I think his teaching can do some harm, and it disturbs me that he is so widely influential….”
Dr. Jay Adams said: “In [his] book the changes are rung on the word ‘sensing.’ One is guided by sensing God’s will, by sensing that He is at work, etc. … It has been a long time since I have read a book containing more misleading ideas about guidance. There is no doubt that this book has the potential to do much harm.”
Gil Rugh, referencing his pastoral staff: “Upon our review of Experiencing God, we have come to the conclusion that this book contains serious theological errors that disqualify it from being a helpful Christian resource. To summarize, we believe that Experiencing God is in error in the following areas: 1) it teaches that God speaks directly to Christians in ways outside of the Bible; 2) it promotes a view of presenting the Gospel that is essentially the same as the ‘power evangelism’ approach of the Vineyard movement; 3) it takes a neo-orthodox approach to Scripture; 4) it promotes a low view of the person of Jesus Christ; 5) it seriously misinterprets and misapplies texts of Scripture; and 6) it promotes a view of Christian living that is unbiblical.”
So just what is it about Blackaby’s writings that disturbs discerning people? Let me give some examples from “Experiencing God.”
“When God gave directions to our church in Saskatoon, most of the time He gave them through persons other than me. Most of theme came from the members who were sensing a clear direction from God. We created the opportunity for people to share what they sensed God was leading us to be or do. Our desire was not to find out who was for it and who was against it. ... That is the wrong question. ... The right question is ‘With all of the information and all of the praying that we have been doing, how many of you sense that God clearly is directing us to proceed in this direction?’ This is a very different question. It does not ask for members for their opinions. It asks them to vote based on what they sense God is saying to His church.”
Okay, now I have some questions. Is this not still asking for opinions as to personal “sensing”? And does not Jeremiah 17:9 tell us that the heart is deceitful? And can this vote not still be directed by personal agenda? Fisher & Goedelman point out that, “Even more disturbing is the spiritual intimidation he exploits in getting people to ‘sense’ the direction God was supposedly providing.” And then they cite this paragraph:
“People often ask, ‘Did you always wait until you got a 100 percent vote?’ No, I knew that we might have one or more that were so out of fellowship with the Lord that they could not hear His voice. Another might be purposefully disobedient. ... Their disagreement indicated that they might have a fellowship problem with the Lord.”
So, if you disagree with what Blackaby “senses” God wants, then it is YOU who are out of fellowship or disobedient and can’t hear God’s voice! Can I not turn this around and say that those in disagreement with him are the ones truly hearing God’s voice and that Blackaby is the disobedient one promoting his own agenda? Fisher & Goedelman make a good point that, “If one applied a form of Blackaby’s premise to the ten Promise Land ‘explorers’ (and subsequently the entire Israelite community) who stood against Caleb and Joshua..., we see how unscriptural this guidance by ‘sensing’ of the majority can be.”
Thomas Williamson is also disturbed with this teaching. He wrote, “I would just love Blackaby's book, if I was a pastor or religious leader that wanted to make unquestioning zombies out of my followers, so that they would do whatever I wanted them to do without question. I would order copies for every member (our of church founds), get everyone to read and study it, and make everyone feel that their spirituality, and our hopes for revival in the church, depended on their acceptance of Blackaby's teaching.” Can you imagine the Joseph Smiths out there waiting to exercise this teaching?!
Fisher & Goedelman have three major concerns with Blackaby’s teachings: 1) contradictory statements along with a questionable Christology, 2) grandiose claims, and 3) confused hermeneutics resulting in covert mysticism.
As an example of contradictory statements, Blackaby is cited as saying in one place that “God speaks through circumstances,” while later in the book he says, “Never, ever determine the truth of a situation by looking at the circumstances.” Other similar examples are also provided, which demonstrates just how confusing Blackaby’s teachings can be.
An example Fisher & Goedleman give of Blackaby’s defective Christology is how he claims that Jesus had to continually make “major adjustments to be in perfect cooperation with the Father.” Nowhere do we find this in Scripture!
Fisher & Goedelman explain the grandiose claims as being unverifiable “testimonials” about Experiencing God: “Reports started to come in that people were sending copies of Experiencing God to friends and family all over the world. Missionaries were studying it and had renewed senses of call and outbreaks of revival. The book was even being used for church planting....” They then make a very good point: “What is especially disconcerting is to observe that none of the claims made for Blackaby’s book are made for the Bible. Although maybe not intended, the testimonials in Experiencing God of “experiencing God” appear to transcend what Scripture is able to do in one’s life. Consider that the reader is volleyed with testimonies of exhilarating intimacy with God, life-changing experiences, and church revival, all of which have come, not through the living Word of God, but through Blackaby’s book.”
I don’t know about you, but when people give this sort of praise to a man’s book rather than to the Bible itself, I am really disturbed as to their focus.
Fisher & Goedelman continue their examination of Blackaby’s teachings by looking at the book he co-authored with his son, Hearing God’s Voice. (Fisher & Goedelman say this book “is clearly a rewrite of Experiencing God with an apologetic attempt”.) In this book they teach that there are only two kinds of people - those who “know when God is speaking to them” and “those who question whether God communicates with people at all.” So where does that leave people like me, who says God MAY communicate with us outside of Scripture (after all, He is sovereign) but I don’t “know” if God has ever done so with me? And yet in the Experiencing God workbook, Blackaby writes, “If you have trouble hearing God speak, you are in trouble at the very heart of your Christian experience.”
I find this to be very presumptuous!
Blackaby claims that since God spoke to Adam and Eve, Abraham and other patriarchs, as well as Old Testament prophets and the New Testament Apostles, then we “can anticipate that He will be speaking to you also.” The implication is that God will speak audibly to us!!! But where does he find justification for this in Scripture?
Much of Experiencing God teaches a mystical relationship with God and Scripture, based on personal experiences, which is a major problem with Blackaby’s teachings - mysticism. Mysticism as defined by D.D. Martin (cited by Fisher & Goedelman): “an experienced, direct, nonabstract, unmediated knowing of God.”
What does “unmediated” mean? In the O.T. God mediated His presence through priests and the tabernacle. God mediated Himself through Jesus and now mediates Himself through the Word. Seeking a mystical knowledge of God is based on feelings, which leads to much dangerous theology. After all, the Mormons capitalize on the fact that they “feel” a “burning in the bosom” which tells them the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, both of which we know to be false!
Fisher gives also gives a good explanation of mysticism in the April-June 2011 Quarterly Journal: “Mysticism is sensual, rather than cognitive. It is emotional, rather than thoughtful. It wants emotions, not biblical precision. It wants a spiritual Disney World, not doctrine. It cares little for biblical truth and feelings that may follow from truth, but wants feelings written large and leading out in front - truth aside. Truth is no longer the judge of feelings in mysticism, but the reverse. ... Mystics mistake imagination for revelation and and individual’s feelings become God to them.”
Thomas Williamson is also disturbed by things in “Experiencing God.” In his review, Williamson notes the following under his “Some Not-so-good Teachings”:
A sign of possible error in Blackaby's theology can be found on p. 19 of Blackaby's book "Experiencing God" when he states "With God working through me, I can do anything God can do." This statement assigns to man the attribute of omnipotence, which is a mistake. Only God can do anything God can do.
It gets worse, as Blackaby tells us how we can know about God. "In the Scriptures knowledge of God comes through experience. We come to know God as we experience Him in and around our lives." (p.5) "God wants you to come to a greater knowledge of Himself via experience.” (p.19)
I must strenuously disagree with this teaching. We know about God through His revealed, inspired, preserved Word of God, the Bible, not through our experience.
Blackaby teaches that there is only one possible will for the life of every Christian, and that the Christian must learn God's perfect will for every action or else he will go astray. But how can we learn God's will for everything we do without a continuing revelation from God? Not to worry- just follow your leaders and do not disagree with anything they propose. According to Blackaby, true Christian unity means that all members of a church must be in to talk agreement even on non-moral, nontheological matters (such as whether to proceed with a building program.)
Summing up Blackaby’s teachings, Fisher & Goedelman conclude that “Christians who buy into Blackaby’s advice will find themselves in the muddle of the old higher-life school, trying to discern God’s voice and hear God speak. Christians need not jump through all of these hoops, but ask God to help them to understand the power of His Word and to commit to daily devotions and Scripture memorization. These things will bring strength, comfort, direction, and consistency.”
I heartily agree. We can “experience God” through Scripture and prayer rather than some mystical experience which we try to interpret.
For further reading regarding the false teachings of Blackaby, I recommend the following:
Pastor Gary Gilley’s excellent 3-part review:
Gilley’s review of “Hearing God’s Voice”:
[Other problems with Blackaby include his promotion of books by Madame Guyon (mystic and heretic) and Brother Lawrence (Catholic monk and mystic), which promotion was on his site for a time.]