The Teaching of Henry Blackaby:

A Challenge to Modern Fundamentalism*

How should we react to a book which teaches that God is still speaking today as He spoke to Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and that He is still revealing specific instructions just as He did when He told Noah how to build the Ark and He gave Moses the blueprints for the tabernacle?

Would we reject such teaching as charismatic falsehood, insisting that the canon of Scripture is closed and that God's revelation to mankind ceased when the New Testament was completed?

Or would we embrace such teaching and conduct 12-week courses of study in our churches to indoctrinate our members to believe that God is still speaking today as He did to the Old Testament worthies?

For thousands of Baptist churches in America today, as well as churches of many other denominations [including Roman Catholic churches], the answer has been that they accept and embrace this teaching, as found in the best-selling workbook Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, by Henry T. Blackaby (co-authored by Claude V. King and published by Lifeway Press of Nashville, Tennessee).

With more than 1.6 million copies in print, as well as a Spanish edition and an Experiencing God Study Bible available, the influence and impact of this teaching should not be underestimated or ignored.

The authors are not Pentecostals, but rather Baptists, which increases the acceptability of their teaching in Baptist circles. Henry Blackaby was formerly a Southern Baptist church planter in western Canada, and he relates many of his experiences with the Canadian mission work in the book. He currently serves as Director of the Office of Prayer and Spiritual Awakening at the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. [This SBC connection alone should raise eyebrows in true evangelical churches; moreover, Blackaby's ecumenical, charismatic, and Promise Keepers connections should cause outright alarm (see below).]

In 1992, Blackaby became well-known when he participated in revival meetings in February, 1992, in Brownwood, Texas, involving Southern Baptist, independent Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Nazarene churches. The meetings featured young people confessing their secret sins, in the manner popularized by the famous Asbury Revival of 1970.

In February, 1996, Blackaby was a featured speaker at the Promise Keepers clergy conference in Atlanta, Georgia. At a press conference on that occasion, Blackaby was asked for his views on the so-called "Laughing Revivals" and he responded, "We don't try to evaluate that, and neither do we take a position regarding women serving as pastors."

Just what does Blackaby's best-selling book teach? One of his main themes is that God is still speaking to us today in the same manner as He spoke to the Old Testament prophets, such as Noah, Abraham and Moses. This theme is developed at great length, with deep emphasis. On page 36 he gets to the point:

"In the Old Testament God spoke at many times and in a variety of ways. Through Jesus, God Himself spoke to His people during His lifetime. Now God speaks through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will teach you all things, will call to your memory the things Jesus said, will guide you into all truth, will speak what He hears from the Father, will tell you what is yet to come, and glorify Christ as He reveals Christ to you. Does God really speak to His people in our day? Will He reveal to you where He is working when He wants to use you? Yes! God has not changed. He still speaks to His people. If you have trouble hearing God speak, you are in trouble at the very heart of your Christian experience."

And on page 77 we read (emphases added):

"When God spoke to Moses and others in the Old Testament, those events were encounters with God. An encounter with Jesus was an encounter with God for the disciples. In the same way an encounter with the Holy Spirit is an encounter with God for you."

Note in the above quote, Blackaby clearly states that God is giving revelation to us in the same way He did to Moses and Jesus, only now through the Holy Spirit versus direct communication with God the Father. It certainly appears as if Blackaby is teaching that God's revelation is continuing today just as when the Old and New Testaments were written. This impression is reinforced by such statements as that on page 21, where he says,

"Whenever God gets ready to do something, He always reveals to a person or His people what He is going to do. (See Amos 3:7.)"

One looks in vain for a disclaimer in which Blackaby explains that God is no longer speaking today in the same manner as He did when He inspired the Bible. To Blackaby, the Bible is God's Word, but God also speaks in other ways -- as described on page 83:

"God speaks through a variety of means. In the present God primarily speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church."

This certainly appears to place extra-Biblical revelation on the same level as the Bible itself.

To our amazement, we find that God is still giving detailed instructions to mankind today as He did when Noah's Ark and the Tabernacle were constructed (p. 75):

"Only God can give you the kind of specific directions to accomplish His purposes in His ways. After God spoke to Noah about building an ark, Noah knew the size, the type of materials, and how to put it together. When God spoke to Moses about building the tabernacle He was very specific about the details."

Blackaby implies here that God is still giving revelations to His people as detailed as the instructions for constructing the tabernacle of Moses. This is certainly remarkable, yet Blackaby does not give any written transcripts of such detailed revelations from God that are coming through today.

But the examples he gives, taken from his church planting experiences in Canada, deal heavily with such questions as church budgets and building programs. On page 169, he dismisses church members who might vote against such proposals by the leadership as being either "so out of fellowship with the Lord that they could not hear His voice" or else "purposefully disobedient." It is no wonder that Blackaby would be irritated with church members who would dare to vote against proposals handed down from heaven in the same manner as the blueprints for Noah's Ark and the Tabernacle.

On page 62, we find that God is giving detailed instructions not only for the churches but also for individuals:

"Have you ever asked God to give you several alternatives, so you can choose the one that is best for you? How many options does God have to give you so you will have the right one? God always gets it right the first time!"

This implies that in all decisions in the life of a Christian, there is only one right option that is in the will of God, and that all other options are wrong. If this is how life really works, why are we not instructed about this in the New Testament? In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were not told that there was only one right option for each decision. On the contrary, they were given only one wrong option, to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Everything else was permitted to them--whatever they chose to do, it was within the perfect will of God. In Blackaby's scheme, however, it would appear that a new revelation from God would be required before we can do anything. But, of course, Blackaby has already taught that God is still giving out such new revelations today.

In contrast to Blackaby's teachings, the Bible teaches that we are permitted to do most things that we want to do. The Apostle Paul encourages us to stand in our Christian liberty, and forbids us to judge others in their exercise of Christian liberty. He tells believers to eat whatever they want, and advises widows they may marry any man they wish, "only in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:39). Nowhere are we told that there is only one right option for each decision, and that we have to find the right one. If so, how would we ever know what the right option was at all times? Blackaby does not really explain this. My experience has been that Christians who believe this way will constantly be asking their pastor what to do, and that some pastors will abuse the trust that members have placed in them.

In fact, Blackaby is encouraging just that. For those who are having trouble hearing God's voice and knowing what God wants them to do, Blackaby teaches that one source of revelation is the church. He goes so far as to teach that we do not have the option to say no to the church (p. 106):

"The people of God at this church had a need for a leader. As they prayed, they sensed that God put me there purposely to meet that need. I, too, saw the need and realized God could use me there. As a servant of Jesus Christ, I did not have an option to say no."

Here we have a word, "sensed," that Blackaby uses over and over again. Because of what some other people "sensed," Blackaby felt that he did not have an option to say no. (Again, if God is speaking today as clearly as He did to Moses, why do we need to do all this "sensing"?) What would have happened if two churches had made two simultaneous and conflicting demands on his time--how would he decide through which church God was really speaking?

With all these new revelations from God coming through, with God still speaking to us today as He did to Moses and the other prophets of old, the question may arise as to just who decides what is a true word from God and what is not. The careful reader will finally find that , in addition to the church (p. 106 above), the pastor becomes the spiritual guru (p. 166):

"When God wants to reveal His will to a church, He will begin by speaking to one or more individuals. Because of the nature of his call and assignment from God, this is often the pastor, although it may be another member of the body. The pastor's job is to bear witness to the church about what he senses God is saying."

In other words, the pastor is to decide when God is really speaking and when He is not. This teaching may appeal to some who favor the principle of "preacher rule" or dictatorial leadership by the pastor (particularly in independent Baptist circles). It may also appeal to some charismatic and Campbellite groups which teach extreme forms of "discipling," "shepherding," or "accountability," in which the pastors or cell group leaders must approve all life decisions of their followers, whether major or minor. Blackaby does not [openly] teach either of these systems of leadership, but his teaching definitely lends itself to use (and abuse) by those who favor authoritative and manipulative methods of control over their followers. [Perhaps this is the reason for the popularity of "Experiencing God weekends" in Jesuit/Roman Catholic circles?] After all, if God is still speaking today as in Old Testament times, and it is the task of the leadership to tell the people just what God is saying, this makes it a lot easier to persuade the sheep to go along with church budgets, building programs, or whatever else the leadership wishes to propose [or impose].

Blackaby would not totally eliminate congregational rule or votes by the membership, but he encourages decision-making by the spiritual leadership, and regards those who would vote against leadership proposals as being out of touch with God. [This mentality of "God's appointed leadership always knows best," and to disagree is to be out of the will of God, is also prominent in elder-rule churches.] Decision-making by majority vote [even on mundane matters] is discouraged, since the leaders have already "sensed" what God's will is (p. 165):

"In our physical bodies we do not take votes based on majority rule, ignore conflicting senses, or choose to listen only to one sense and ignore the others. To live that way would be very dangerous. Because a church is the body of Christ, it functions best when spiritual leaders and members share what they sense God wants the church to be and do. A church needs to hear the whole counsel of God through its spiritual leaders and members. Then it can proceed in confidence and in unity to do God's will."

It is important to note again that in many of the above quotes, Blackaby refers to people "sensing" the will of God. Various forms of the word "sense" appear repeatedly and monotonously, showing us that Blackaby's system of understanding the will of God is purely subjective. Although God is still speaking today as in Old Testament times, we have to strain ourselves to "sense" the voice of God, and we have to sort out conflicting "senses" of what God is saying. Why would it be necessary for everybody to have to try to "sense" what God is saving, if He is really speaking to us just as He did to Moses, Noah, Abraham, etc.? The objective basis of our faith, God's complete and all-sufficient revelation in the Bible, has been replaced by the quicksand of uncertainty as we seek to hear God speaking through the Bible, prayer, circumstances and the church.

On page 37, Blackaby warns us to "be very careful about claiming you have a word from God," but he never satisfactorily explains how to sort out the true words of God from the false words from God, except perhaps near the end of the book where he assigns to the pastor the role of bearing witness to the church as to just what God really is saying. He also says,

"Claiming to have a word from God is serious business. If you have been given a word from God, you must continue in that direction until it comes to pass (even 25 years like Abram)."

In other words, we may have to wait 25 years to find out if the revelation we received is a word from God or not, and until it comes to pass, we really do not know.

Finally, on page 148, Blackaby tells us,

"If you know that God loves you, you should never question a directive from Him. It will always be right and best. When He gives you a directive, you are not just to observe it, discuss it, or debate it. You are to obey it."

I heartily agree with this statement with regard to directives found in the revealed Word of God, the Bible. However, this is not all that Blackaby is getting at here. He has just spent 148 pages teaching us that God is still speaking today, that He is still giving detailed instructions today, and that He speaks through the church as well as through the Bible. A statement such as this, in the context of the teaching that God is speaking to us through the church and that we do not have the option to say no, sets people up to be manipulated and totally controlled by the church leadership. This may not be Blackaby's intent, but the potential is certainly there for someone to use his teaching in that manner, to get control over his followers.

With millions of copies of Blackaby's book in circulation, and with millions of Baptists and other Christians who have carefully studied his workbook, usually in a congregational setting [along with endorsements by such evangelical leaders as Dave Hunt -- see report on index page], we ignore the impact of Blackaby's theological beliefs at our own peril. How should fundamentalists respond?

First, we must firmly affirm the conviction that God's special revelation to man was completed in the Old and New Testaments, and that God is no longer revealing Himself to man in the same manner as He did in the Bible.

Second, we should affirm the principles of Christian liberty as taught by the Apostle Paul, and avoid giving the impression that Christians have only one option for each life decision that would fall within the will of God. Such teaching implies the need for continuing revelation from God to show us His perfect will for every situation, and raises the question as to just how we can possibly obtain that new revelation from God. For those who think in those terms, Henry Blackaby is waiting in the wings with the answer. Is his answer a Scriptural and practical one? In the judgment of this reviewer, it is not.

* Adapted from two articles by Thomas Williamson (Assistant Pastor of Tabernaculo Bautista Metropolitano, Chicago, Illinois).

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 6/98