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"

28 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting on this Bish. It's increasingly prevalent, but often I reckon we're not too good at responding perceptively.

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  2. '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.' - brilliant!

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    1. The Bible IS a book of Examples, Not a book of Exceptions. It is a book of Examples, because it is true - It is NOT a book of Exceptions, also, because it it True.

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    2. Hi Anonymous,
      I think you've missed the point being made.
      There are examples but it's not telling us "because God spoke in this way in this place he'll do exactly the same today" ... rather the account of God speaking in that way then IS God speaking to us today.
      Segments of books aren't just things to copy, they're part of books that are the very voice of God speaking to us.
      There's a difference :)

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    3. I agree and disagree, the statement that God is the same yest. today and forever comes to mind, why wouldnt he speak directly to someone today?

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  3. It is interesting that you would say this, because I have been doing the study on his book. Did you read the book How to Hear God's Voice by him? It talks about how you MUST have at least two, and preferrably three spiritual advisors in your journaling and walk with God in general. It also talks about how if you pray with an idol in your heart, God will answer according to that idol. (Read the story of Balaam.) That is why you have to take a certain posture when approaching communication with God.

    He is talking about hearing rhema- not logos, but rhema leads us to logos and God uses logos to lead us to rhema.

    I was extremely skeptical about this whole thing, because I have done similar studies and found it lacking, and geared toward works, not the bible, but this may be the most thorough study of an intimate walk with God I have ever seen.

    It's funny when people say prophecy is okay for this or God uses this for that. Be careful to not put God in a box, or you'll end up there, too. It doesn't say prophecy is only for a "service" it says "if the whole church comes together..." what is the whole church? The church isn't a building or a group, but all of us. The entire body of Christ. So does that mean we should only use it if the whole body comes together?

    Anything we do out of our own effort, through our mind is of no use. Only through hearing God-"knowing" him as Adam knew Eve (This word know is the same as Paul uses when he says "that I may know Christ") can we act out of His strength and truly work diligently.

    Of course the bible is God speaking to us, but it can become an idol in itself. How can you trust your heart to intereperet correctly, if you can't trust your heart to discern the Spirit? Maybe study enough? Study as we know it isn't used once in scripture. KJV has it three, but the meaning is "diligent" not study as we know it. Meditate is used 20. Look up what meditate means in the Strongs.

    Just a few thoughts in love as a sister....

    Brianna

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    1. Thank you Brianna. I agree totally with everything you have said but could not have put it so well. I found this course has revolutionised my prayer life and ability to trust what the Holy Spirit says to me. I am training for ordination so have plenty of the head stuff, this is God speaking to the heart at the deepest and essential level.
      Blessings Margaret

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  4. MUST have?? I don't doubt the benefit of other Christians to help us, but God does speak plainly. And we do live Christian life in the community of God's people... but what God has said is clear in his word, whereas any 'journalling' is going to be lesser.

    I've not read Virkler, but I did hear him teach on a number of occasions.

    The word is food and joy to us isn't it? Psalmists speak of worshipping God's words - because you can't separate God from his word. I struggle to see that I'm likely to attribute too much value to God's word when my sinful heart loves to sideline it.

    But the word of God is a delight to my heart when I eat it (Jer 15v16), it's sweeter than honey, more precious than gold. The word is life to me.

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  5. I feel to respond to your comments.

    Firstly I want to say that I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is "God breathed" as 2 Timothy 3:16 says. That it is true, all of it. That Genesis 1 is true, literally.

    Secondly, the early church only had the Old Testament (OT) scriptures available to them. Now there is a sobering thought, they had only the OT to guide them until they received the Holy Spirit. We should be careful to not place more importance on the New Testament (NT) than on the Holy Spirit that inspired it.

    Regarding your note that our hearts are deceptive above all things (from Jer 17:9), yes initially they were but as Jer 17:14 says God is the One that heals us (our hearts) and saves us. In Psalm 51:10 David prays for a new clean heart, Deuteronomy 30:6 says "The Lord your God will cleanse your heart..." So although we definitely initially have hearts that aren't pure, that is not God's will for us.

    You ended by saying "I need an open Bible". Again I totally agree, and what ever God says to you through journalling will never conflict with the Bible. If it ever does we know it wasn't from God, and therefor we need the Bible. Just as you mention that prophecy needs to be weighed and tested, likewise we need to weigh and test what we feel we hear from God firstly against the Bible, and then secondly also with Christians above us.

    God bless you,
    Magnon

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  6. First of all I want to say that I believe that God speaks. I believe he speaks through the inspired word of God, the Bible, as well as through impressions and words that come from the Holy Spirit.

    It blows my mind away at the doubt and unbelief in the church. I am currently working through Mark's Course on how to hear the voice of God and it is confirming many things that have happened to me in the past. For instance, on many occasions, with all glory to God, I have had the Lord speak to me a personal message about someone and I have grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and written in faith, allowing the Lord to speak to me and many times I have given people words that have comforted them and drawn them closer to God. For instance, on one such occasion, I saw a women sitting in the bar of the restaurant that I worked at and I saw the words depression and divorce over her head. As I contemplated on what to do, eventually I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and started to write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don't remember the whole thing as it was 5 pages long, however I did write that since you were a little girl you have been wanting to know the love of a father however you have been hurt by broken relationships in the past but God wants to reveal to you his love....and I don't recall all of the rest. Point being, she looked at the Bartender who gave her this piece of paper as to this day she does not know that it came from me and said "how did he know that my dad died when I was 5?" I had no idea, but the Holy Spirit did. I think it is interesting that this person wasn't a Christian yet I believe that this was a seed that was planted that will draw her to Christ. I could go on and on about other stories with the exact same situations but I won't. My experiences belong to the Lord. My point is that what Mark teaches is only a validation of what I have already experienced. The Bible says Be according to your faith. If you want to choose to believe that God does not speak today than that is your choice, however I will continue to listen to him speak to me and draw me closer in communion with Him as well as draw others closer to communion with Him as well. Mark isn't the only one who teaches on the voice of God but you're probably not interested in reading The Voice of God by Cindy Jacobs, Spirit Talk by Larry Randolph, Surprised by the Voice of the Spirit by Jack Deere or listening to teachings on the subject by Derek Prince found at http://www.derekprince.org but perhaps there are others out there who want to hear God speak to them. I wish you all the best. God bless you.

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  7. I've read and appreciated Jack Deere's book, though I thought Sam Storms did a better job in Convergence.

    I'm not saying that God doesn't speak outside of scripture - I believe he speaks in many ways though all others are subject to what he's given us in scripture.

    And that we need a right suspicion of our own hearts and a right expectation for renewed hearts, and a rigorous scripture testing.

    My personal experience with the Virkler approach didn't really have this, and it's influence as an approach concerns me.

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  8. ...the early church only had the Old Testament (OT) scriptures available to them. Now there is a sobering thought, they had only the OT to guide them until they received the Holy Spirit. We should be careful to not place more importance on the New Testament (NT) than on the Holy Spirit that inspired it.

    Just come back and read this. Let's not underplay the OT as divine revelation... they had the OT that resounds with the glory of Christ on every page... Let's not pit the NT against the Spirit or against the OT, all three testify about Christ.

    We have the Bible, we have the gospel, we have the word that made the world. God's voice rings forward, my concern is if we elevate our subjective experience of God's word ahead of what he has definitely spoken. That's not to underplay prophecy which I entirely believe in, nor his voice through other people or through creation, or through dreams and vision. Yes to all of them. But, our danger is not so much that we pay less attention to the Bible than we could/should/must.

    Check in on Transformission: The Word of God for some really tasty food.

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  9. The Bible is the Word of God. It is not the Word that John gives us in his gospel when he says "the Word was God". Many believers don't differentiate between their Bibles and Jesus, the Word. Here's how you can tell the difference. When was the last time you fell on your face and worshiped your Bible? You never did and will never do it. If you really believed your Bible was Jesus, you would set it on an altar and worship it first thing in the morning.

    Virkler's study will get you out of your box and into communion with God, who wanted to have an intimate relationship with you before the world was even created. Be open to communicating with your heavenly Father in every way you can, otherwise you may miss out on a wonderful journey with God. The two disciples said that Jesus wanted to go further with them on the road to Emmaus, but they turned in to their home. Will you only stay in your comfort zone, or will you go further with Him?
    Blessings,
    David

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  10. I'm with Luther - Jesus is The Word of God, as is the gospel, as is the Bible. None of which is to say that the book is to be worshipped, You're shooting straw men, no-one does that nor would they. I love the Bible because there Jesus shows himself to us.

    Rather, the Bible reveals the word of the gospel which is all about Jesus. The Bible isn't the only revelation of Jesus but it is the supreme way Jesus speaks to his people - echoes in prophecy, creation and through his people.

    We get weird when we seek revelation of God that is apart from Christ and the gospel, such revelation lacks an anchor and defies and ignores the Father who makes himself known by his Son in the power of the Spirit.

    I don't think we can argue that the Emmaus Road disciples were in their comfort zone - they were face to face with the risen Jesus! And yet, Jesus says that not seeing him that way we are more blessed than they.

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  11. Jesus said in John 14:25-26
    "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." [NIV]

    So according to Him we should look to the Holy Spirit for teaching. Not just the Bible.

    Reading the Bible without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is just reading a book. Reading the Bible through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit makes it the Bible the Living Word of God.

    -Magnon

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  12. Magnon, you write like you're disagreeing and yet neither my post or comments is contrary to what you observe.

    Scripture by the Spirit. And subject to testing by Scripture we should eagerly desire prophecy and many other kinds of revelation by the Spirit... that we might know Him more and build up the church.

    My issue here is the side-lining of Scripture (and a rampant individualistic spirituality), not in any way a denial of other forms of revelation. I'm very eager for what the Spirit has to say to the church.

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  13. My main intention was to express my view [which I feel is well grounded in the Bible], not to oppose what you said. It's meant to be food for thought for people reading this article with it's comments.

    Since I see the Bible as an authority, it seems only natural to start looking into what it says on the topic.

    I believe being led directly by the Holy Spirit is essential to my Christian walk. And I have to be able to hear/perceive/understand how I'm being led before I can actually do it.

    As Jesus says in John 10:2-4,27
    v4 "...his sheep follow him because they know his voice" and in v27 "My sheep listen to my voice"
    John 14:23 "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching..." [NIV]


    If satan could convince us that we can't hear God's voice, or that God doesn't speak to us... would we expect to hear from God?

    Jesus said in Matthew 9:29 to two blind men
    "According to your faith will it be done to you."

    My faith expects to hear from God.

    Here's a couple of sobering thoughts/questions:
    a. Where is [each facet of] your faith leading you? (in reference to Mat 9:29)
    b. What is [each facet of] your faith based on/what scripture is there to back it up?

    Love Magnon

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  14. Mark doesn't encourage people to hear from God on their own. He says that you must have at least 2 spiritual advisers to test the thing you believe God gave you. I only briefed your article and found your point on this. "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!)" Clearly you don't know Mark or what he teaches so you probably shouldn't issue a judgement about him and how God is using him to bring people closer to Jesus. He never says throw out your Bible.

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  15. The bible is totally the inspired inerrant word of God. All prophecy, words of knowledge, wisdom, personal revelation, etc... must be judged according to the bible. But when we begin saying that God cannot speak in any other way than through the bible then we begin to serve a dead God. The bible points us toward the living God. It teaches us what was done on our behalf and how to recognize His true character etc... If God only speaks through the bible then that means He is done speaking. It makes us unconsciously think that God wrote the bible and then died. We then become worshipers of the bible instead of the God who wrote the bible. The bible is not God. It is the word of God. The Virkler approach does not "depend on an entirely subjective divine voice" as you said. By that logic, so did the Apostles. When the Apostles heard the voice of God, they obviously compared what they heard to the Tanakh (Old Testament). The early church after the Apostles did the same. The Desert Fathers did this. What eventually became the Catholic Church did this. Mark Virkler's method does the same with the whole bible. Yes, the Catholic Church became Mary worshipers and idol/relic worshipers but they still practiced these methods of hearing God's voice. The protestant reformation unfortunately threw them out when they renounced the idol worship and works doctrines etc. Branches of protestants forgot how to meditate on God and His word and became intellect worshipers. The bible says "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." We are supposed to be led by the voice (rhema - spoken word) of God and use the bible to judge whether or not what we hear IS the voice of God and not from Satan or ourselves. This "Subjective Divine Voice"(rhema) as you say, is subject to the word (logos) of God in Mark Virkler's teaching. The bible shows us how to behave, how to live morally, it tells us about the character of God and how much he loves us, how he freely gave all things to us through the Blood of Jesus etc... but it doesn't tell me if it is better to move to California or stay in Florida. That is when I need the voice (rhema - spoken word) of God. The bible also teaches us how to COMMUNE with God. This would be pointless if God no longer spoke today except through the bible. When you said: "What we're left with is hear God by getting away from things rather than by getting the book open", Where did that even come from? No one even implied that. No one gets that message from Virkler. It seems to be a statement pulled out of thin air to bash Virkler. Isn't that what's known as a straw man argument? You make up a belief and say that the other person believes it when they don't? Here's an idea. Why don't you meet Mark Virkler face to face and see if your uninformed criticism still holds any water.

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  17. The jury is still out for me. However I have spent some time face to face with Mark Virkler and I assure you if his teachings are errent in any way, this man is still a man after the heart of God. And for me that says a lot. We should never take any man's teachings at face value and always test them against what the bible says. My best advice for any book you might find yourself drawing from is that you take some and leave some and continue to follow after God with everything you have. Afterall the only relationship that truly matters is the one you have with Christ. So go after it. Go after the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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    1. "I assure you if his teachings are errent in any way, this man is still a man after the heart of God"

      It's not the man I have issue with, but the mis-emphasis as cited in the post above.

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  18. I've been through a Communion with God seminar with Mark Virkler, and he does NOT teach people that they don't need the Bible.
    In fact we were instructed that we need to test everything we believe that God is saying to us by the Bible, which is God's written word to all of us.

    The Bible came vastly more alive to me AFTER learning Virkler's principles.

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    1. Praise God that the Bible came more alive. The post doesn't say he's saying we don't need the Bible, it's a question about what role Scripture plays in revelation of God. Again, no issue with the man. I too benefitted from his teaching. I'm merely picking up a particular emphasis that is widespread and which he illustrates.

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  19. I believe that God speaks to His children. In fact Jesus clearly said that His sheep hear His voice. This cannot be by logos Word (scripture) alone, yet the rhema Word (spoken) will never contradict the logos! Man does not live by bread alone but by every Word which proceeds (present tense) from the mouth of God.
    For the best account of how to hear the voice of God I would suggest "My Sheep Hear My Voice" by JC Hedgecock. It has many checks and balances and it is backed up by hundreds of scriptures.
    God bless you all on your journeys!

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  20. You guys make me confuse. Is Mark Virkler's teaching really good for Christian?. In one of his video he said " I'm righteous because I put on the righteousness of Christ" . I wonder what he really means by that.

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  21. I'm going to try this. "My Sheep Hear My Voice" by JC Hedgecock. No, I'm going to DO this. I need to know the voice of my shepard.

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