Book Review: Wayne Grudem, What the Bible Says about How to Know God’s Will: “Factors to Consider in Making Ethical Decisions”

What the Bible Says about How to Know God's Will: "Factors to Consider in Making Ethical Decisions" by [Wayne Grudem]

Wayne Grudem, What the Bible Says about How to Know God’s Will: “Factors to Consider in Making Ethical Decisions”80 pp. Crossway Books

Wayne Grudem is known for his popular level book Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Systematic Theology. In this short book, he tackles the topic of God’s will. There has been plenty of books written on this topic. I read this book by Grudem in one day. It is barely 80 pages. I have also read my share of books on this topic.  Grudem says that, human actions have at least four dimensions that need to be considered when decisions need to be made:

  1. The action itself 2. The person’s attitudes about the action 3. The person’s motives for doing the action (the reason why the person does something) 4. The results of the action. – pg. 11.

He says, “sometimes there is no time to ponder a decision, and a person simply has to use his or her best judgment at the moment and make the decision quickly. But at other times there is more opportunity to ponder it, and in that case, several different sources of information should be considered, especially if the decision is quite significant.”- pg 17.  He then lists nine sources of information to consider: Information from the Bible, Information from Studying the Situation, Information about Oneself, Advice from others, Changed Circumstances, Conscience, Heart, A person’s human  spirit, and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Grudem places a large emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit.

He notes that  since Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18 speak of leading by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is surely a personal agent, being “led by the Spirit” in these verses should also be understood to refer to situation-specific detailed leading to a specific location or decision. We should also notice that in both Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18, Paul uses a present-tense verb to describe a quality that characterizes the lives of “sons of God” generally, and therefore it is appropriate to understand the present tense as indicating a continuous aspect to this leading, something like “all who are being led regularly by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Paul does not speak of a person being guided merely by his or her own moral convictions or desires, but by the Holy Spirit himself, who is a person.’ -pg 34- 35.

Grudem notes that all four factors listed above (the conscience, the heart, the human spirit, and guidance from the Holy Spirit) may be called “subjective factors” because we become aware of them instinctively, as something we feel or sense, rather than by logical analysis of ideas or by observation of facts in the natural world.”- pg 36.

I was happy to see Grudem response to an objection that was made by Gary Friesen’s  book Decision Making and the Will of God: Grudem notes the following objection:

“Subjective Impressions Can Mislead People.”  Grudem responds by saying:

“It is certainly possible for people to make mistakes in the area of subjective guidance. A person’s instinctive sense of what to do can at times be wrong, and I am not saying that Christians should always trust such subjective impressions. Other, more objective factors must also be taken into account, especially the first five factors I listed above: (1) information from the Bible, (2) information from studying the situation, (3) information about ourselves, (4) advice from others, and (5) observation of changed circumstances. And the teaching of the Bible must always have the highest priority. Christians can make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on guidance from subjective impressions. But I am also concerned about another kind of mistake, the mistake of teaching people not to pay any attention to subjective impressions about what decision to make. This cannot be right, because God has made us as whole persons, including a conscience, a heart, and a human spirit, and has given us the ability to relate to him through the personal presence of the Holy Spirit.” – pg 37.

I like Grudem’s response here. It is important to see as as whole people. We need balance. I should note that Grudem does say he does agree with much of  Friesen’s  book Decision Making and the Will of God.

What are my thoughts on this short book? Having read several books on this topic, I can’t say I learned anything incredibly new. When I read the Friesen book a ways back, I found it to be quite refreshing and more realistic that anything I had seen. And the issues they addressed in that book were from their experiences in helping Christians with guidance.  The biggest takeaway for me from Grudem’s book was the fact that we always need to strike a balance. We need to remember the objective Word of God as the primary way God guides us. But we also need to remember the work of the Spirit. Obviously, the Bible doesn’t address a lot of personal decisions. So we need help. We will make mistakes. The biggest problem I see with Christians is they are absolutely petrified of making a mistake because of  missing the perfect will of God. Or, this is what Friesen called “the dot theory.” If you do not find that single dot, you will forever miss God’s best Thus, God has “one” person to marry, “one” job to take, etc…. This is just nonsense and limits the work of God. Anyways, this short book can help someone who is getting started o n the topic. I would then move into the Friesen book and then Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will.

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