Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mark Virkler and the voice of God

I encountered Mark Virkler's teaching on communion with God in the late 1990s. His approach is reviewed in Christianity Magazine this month. Only the start of the article is online so I don't know what the magazine conclusions are but Virkler's resources are available: Four Keys to Hearing God's Voice. Even if you've never heard of Virkler you'll recognise what he writes as being woven into the general consciousness of British evangelicalism today. Mark Virkler says that if you want to hear the voice of God you should "begin with the Bible" - which is great, until you read on a bit:
Begin with the Bible. Think of people who heard God speaking, about whom the Bible describes a little of how they began to hear. Who comes to mind? Moses at the burning bush, Samuel in the Temple, Elijah on Mount Horeb are three characters many think of. You may have others in mind. Now think: ‘Where were these people?’ Moses was on the far side of the wilderness, a long way from his father-in-law’s home. Samuel was in the Temple at evening. The lamps were lit but the work was all done. Elijah was at the end of a long journey running away from likely retaliation. Each was away from home, away from the routine of the day, in an out-of-way-place or an out-of-the-busyness time. The same is true for most Bible characters listening to God.
The problem here is that it's begin with the Bible as a book of examples rather than because the Bible itself is God speaking to us. The examples do have something to teach us but what we're left with is hear God by getting away from things rather than by getting the book open. I don't doubt that a bit of peace and quiet is helpful... but we're on sinking sand if we're listening for God away from or beyond the Bible. John Frame is helpful here:
"The God of the Bible directs his people to a book. To be sure, he does speak to some men individually—Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Paul; but he instructs his people as a whole to find his will in a book. When God first led his people out of bondage in Egypt, he gave them a book..."
The Virkler approach depends on an entirely subjective divine voice. I do believe in contemporary prophecy for the strengthening of the church, but it has to be weighed and tested by the church (not away from everyone!) against the Bible in full accordance with 1 Corinthians 14. The Virkler approach seems to puts more confidence in the individual experience and whilst his website encourages retrospective testing of what is written in "journalling" I'm not sure that's practiced much by those I've known who've practiced it. And indeed in my experience of doing it several years ago. A fatal flaw is that my heart is deceptive above all things. Left alone I don't get a"flow of spontaneous thoughts that comes.. quite definitely from God." My heart is an idol factory not a reliable discerner of the will of God. The voice I hear from myself doesn't know God. I need an open Bible, and I'll be well advised to be reading it in the company of his people - knowing that the centre of all God's speaking is Jesus.

Another reflection on Mark Virkler

For some more useful words on hearing God see:
Peter Adam - Hearing God's Words
John Piper - This Morning I heard the Voice of God
Pete Lowman's Gateway's to God
Lowman observes. "Life comes to us as we learn to pioneer in his Word: exploring its unknown regions, discovering what his Spirit has stored there to show us God's glory"