Friday, August 10, 2012

Discovering God's Will, by Sinclair Ferguson


Reformed theologian (and Scot!) Sinclair Ferguson addresses the perpetually au-courant obsession with, well, discovering God's will.  Published in 1982, this little volume (125 pages) pre-dates most of the popular books on the subject (you can tell by the refreshingly nonexistent subtitle).  Or at least it pre-dates most of the ones I've heard of.  Ferguson's position is somewhere between Phillip Cary's Good News for Anxious Christians and Dallas Willard's Hearing God, and in the vicinity of DeYoung's Just Do Something.  Which is to say he focuses primarily on the Word of God and is an advocate of Christian liberty and responsible decision-making, but doesn't seem to be quite so dismissive of the idea of being 'guided by the Spirit.'

The book is loosely based around the 23rd Psalm--'he leadeth me beside the still waters' and through the valley and all that.  The structure is a bit haphazard; the chapters read more like stand-alone articles than chapters in a single, unified work.  Fortunately, Ferguson is a better writer than many of the preacher/authors in the Reformed scene, so the piecemeal nature of the work doesn't detract overmuch from the substance.

Ferguson starts out by centering the discussion:  God's ultimate purpose is His own glory.  Thus, any quest for His will turns on the question 'Will this glorify God?' Ferguson doesn't pretend that this question will provide the answer for all of life's dilemmas, but it's absolutely foundational to the issue of 'God's will.'  From there, Ferguson reminds us that God is also working to make us like His son, and that, as in the life of Christ, this will likely involve a path through suffering to glory.  I found this section both convicting and instructive.  When I 'obsess' over God's will, how often am I genuinely seeking His glory and embracing His plan to bring me to glory through suffering?

The second section celebrates God's Word as the guideline for guidance--it tells us what tends to glorify God.  If we expect God to speak His will into our hearts while we neglect His revealed Word, we are much mistaken.  The more we study God's Word, and think well about His Word, the more we will understand His will.  Ferguson then discusses the subjective heart conditions that are most conducive to understanding the will of God--fear of the Lord, humility, trust, and, as mentioned above, obedience--and the importance of living like a Christian.  After all, in many situations, 'doing God's will' looks remarkably like simple (though not necessarily easy) obedience (a point DeYoung makes in Just Do Something).

Chapter five is perhaps the most practically useful chapter in the book.  Ferguson walks through six questions (taken from I Corinthians) that a Christian should ask in determining whether to take a particular course of action:
  1. Is it lawful? (That is, is it contrary to God's Word?)
  2. Is it beneficial to me? 
  3. Is it enslaving?
  4. Is it consistent with Christ's lordship? (How do I feel about the fact that I am involving Christ in this activity?)
  5. Is it helpful to others?
  6. Is it consistent with biblical example? (That is, the example of Christ and the apostles.  Not, like, the example of Herod or King Saul or whatever.)
I have to admit, I've found these questions tremendously helpful ever since I stumbled upon an article based on this chapter a few years back.  (Mark Driscoll used a truncated version of this list in the infamous tenth chapter of his recent book, Real Marriage.)

There is a chapter on choosing a career, and an obligatory chapter on marriage (the weakest in the book, I think, but not terrible; and after all, there are plenty of great books on marriage), followed by a chapter on waiting on God--because when all else fails, what else can you do but wait on Him?  The final chapter is a meditation on the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's faithfulness in leading His people.  

I really appreciated the tone of the book.  Ferguson is gentle without being weak, and able to chastise without being disrespectful--a valuable skill set in the modern vitriolic age.  I really enjoyed this book--both because of the solid advice and because Ferguson can actually write.  Definitely worth checking out, especially if, like me, you're frustrated by the many simplistic or extreme viewpoints on the issue of Discovering God's Will.

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