‘God prompted me.’ ‘The Spirit led me.’ ‘I received a word of knowledge.’ ‘God called me.’ ‘As the preacher spoke I felt God speaking to me.’ ‘God brought a verse to mind.’ ‘I felt it laid on my heart’, ‘I was given a prophecy.’ My suspicion is that different traditions have different terms for what is often the same phenomena – the Spirit of God speaking to the people of God.
The Power of a Whisper, the latest resource from Bill Hybels, comes in the form of a book, a DVD and a workbook. Its message is clear: God speaks to us today through whispers, and we should be listen for these and be ready to obey. Hybels acknowledges that we can confuse God’s voice with our own desires so he suggests five filters by which we should judge whether a whisper is from God.
- Is this promoting truly from God? (i.e. true to his character)
- Is it Scriptural?
- Is it wise?
- Is it in tune with your own character?
- What do the people you most trust think about it?
(I think I would prefer to phrase the last in terms of your church community because we can easily be selective in whom we ask about these issues, going to the people who will tell us what we want to hear.)
There is much that is good in this book. It certainly encourages Christians to listen to God and does so without the drift towards mysticism that so often accompanies such calls.
The book, though, does lack theological depth. Instead what we get is a fairly relentless series of anecdotes. This is not in itself a problem. Hybels is not writing for theologians. But the book lacks depth where it needs depth. There is a chapter on the biblical basis for ‘whispers’ (‘Our Communicating God’). But in reality this is a series of references to God speaking without any engagement with the questions of whether God speaks now the canon is closed or how his contemporary communication relates to the completed Scriptures. Given the importance of these questions, this is frustrating omission. It also throws up some difficult moments. Hybels recounts receiving a whisper from God confirming his church’s decision to allow women in leadership (151). Now, while I believe women should have leadership roles, I am persuaded that the Scriptures teach that they should not be elders. So what am I to make of Hybels’ ‘whisper’? Does it means I should now reject my interpretation of Scripture? Or was Hybels’ ‘whisper’ not from God? My point is not to damn the book because it is egalitarian, but to highlight the lack of engagement on how whispers relate to Scripture. (It would also have been good to have some discussion on the role of conscience and how this relates to the ‘whispers’ of God.)
I would have liked more emphasis on the Bible as the normative means by which God speaks to his people. The Bible is God’s word, his communication, his ‘whisper’ to his people. I realize there is a way of saying this that portrays the Bible simply as a set of objective propositions from which we learn information in a detached manner. I don’t want to go to the other extreme. Instead I want to bring the word and the Spirit together. The Spirit of God spoke through the Scriptures and the Spirit of God speaks (present tense) through the Scriptures. The Spirit that inspired the Bible then is the same Spirit that now speaks through the Spirit-inspired word to individuals and communities today. Nor do I want to limit the Spirit’s communication to the recollection of Bible verses. Acts 16:6-10 implies more than this. But I do want to affirm the Bible’s normative role, both normative in the sense of being the standard by which we judge ‘whispers’ (which Hybels also emphasizes) and normative in the sense of being the normal means by which God communicates today. It is not Hybels denies any of this. Indeed, encouraging us to memorize Scripture, he says: ‘The most predictable way to hear from heaven is to read and apply God’s Word. When you increase your biblical engagement, you increase the odds that you’ll hear from God – that’s as complicated as it gets.’ (117). Or elsewhere he says, ‘You simply must fill your head with Scripture … Most of the promptings we receive at critical point sin life come as the Holy Spirit reminds us of Scriptures we already now.’ (108) This is great, but notice that the assumption is that promptings are spontaneous recollections of Scripture (which is great), but not God speaking in a personal and applied way through the private reading, group study or public exposition of his word. Maybe Hybels can assume much of this in his context. But this is what I felt I would want to add in conversation with anyone reading the book. So there, I’ve added it. Now you can read the book for yourself!
The movies lack many of the faults of the book. Together with the workbook, this presents the material in four sessions. There the use of anecdote works better as a number are recounted directly by those involved. The occasional less helpful statements in the book are missing. And it is also beautifully shot.
I think whether you use the movies might depend on your church’s culture. Most people in our church come from a more conservative background. They are strong on the objectivity of the word. I think the movies would help them by calling them to a more relational and direct encounter with God through his word and through his Spirit. Instead of talking about what the text meant then, it would encourage people to think about the Spirit is saying to them today. For other traditions, however, it might confirm an unbalanced subjectivity.
One more comment: The ‘whisper’ motif does start to wear thin after a while. Is it really helpful to describe Paul’s Damascus road encounter with Christ as a whisper – a ‘sound’ we are told that knocks Paul to the ground and renders his companions speechless?
Here’s video introduction …