2018 Summer Academic Series: Practical Theology
Dr. Bennett: I want to welcome everybody to another academic series here at Grace Community Church. I’m Chip Bennett and I’m the pastor of the church. We’re the church that hosts this event. We’re soon going to welcome up here Dr. Alan Ehler. I want to tell you a little bit about him so that you understand where he’s coming from and what he’s done. He began serving as the dean of the College of Christian Ministers and Religions at Southeastern University in 2013. Before that, from 2008 to 2013, he served as an Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministries and Chair of the Departments of Church Ministries and Missions, the Master’s Program for Missional Leadership, and the Master’s Program for Ministry for Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. He was Lead Pastor of Warm Beach Community Church near Starwood, Washington from 2000-2008. He also served on staff at Bellevue Neighborhood Church from 1995-2000 after seven years of active duty as a Civil Engineering Officer in the United States Air Force.
He earned his doctorate in ministry from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in 2007. His dissertation was called “Preach to Reach: Seven Characteristics of Effective Evangelistic Preaching.” He did his master’s work at Fuller Seminary and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Liberty University. He has a bachelor of science and civil engineering from Rose-Holman Institute of Technology. So, pretty well-educated and experienced man. Would you agree? Yeah. And hopefully our humble servant, right? No, he is. He’s a great guy. So, on behalf of both of us, we really are glad you’re here. I want to open up the night with a word of prayer, and then we’ll get into this. Let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, I come to you this evening and I ask that you would bless our time together as we do our best, especially as Dr. Ehler does his best, to present Your people, Lord, the truth. I pray that You would be with all of us here. I pray that we would be intellectually challenged. I pray that we would be spiritually engaged. But, most importantly, I pray, Lord, that we would grow and leave here with a greater appreciation for You. Lord, we lift You up in this place. Jesus, we say that we love You. This church is Your church, and these are Your people. I pray that as Dr. Ehler comes and presents to us tonight the things that he will share with us, I pray that You would lead, guide and direct him in every way to say some things that will really help us in our Christian life, and ultimately, lead us into a deeper relationship with You. We love You and we praise You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
As many of you all are aware, the academic series has actually become a hugely successful thing over the summers here at Grace. I’ve always said this, and I’ll continue to say it’s hard to fail at these things when you have such great guys like Alan Ehler coming in to speak. The original vision behind this whole thing was to bring academic scholarship to the local church. I think that we’ve done a good job of that. We will continue to do it. So, please, please, please continue to show up to these things because we want to continue to do them.
A couple of real quick notes here. This is an informational evening. It’s not an evening where we’re trying to indoctrinate anybody. We just want to share, we want to educate, we want you to wrestle with some things. We want people of faith, people in the community and even non-believers to be able to interact with real academic issues. We hope that you will continue to support these evenings by your attendance.
So, with that in mind, two big things we want to try to accomplish tonight is a genuine academic learning experience and for you, at the same time, to be able to wrestle with a particular issue. It’s a good issue: How do I make good Christian decisions? Believe it or not, that is a tough issue. Does God speak to us and then off we go? And if he goes, how come he doesn’t do that for me, someone might ask? How come I never seem to hear His voice? Is there some type of system that we’re supposed to use to divine or get God’s authority on something or His recommendation? What do I do when the decision’s really tough? What do I do when there seems to be multiple things that I could do?
These deserve real answers. Hopefully, you’re going to get some of those this evening.
As you came in, you probably were given, or at least afforded the opportunity to get a 3x5 card. What we would like for you to do with the 3x5 card is as Dr. Ehler is talking this evening, you might have some questions. If you do, please write them down because, at the end, we’re going to do Q&A. We’ll collect the questions and we’ll be able to read them off. It’s also good — a lot of times people ask why we do this. It’s good for us because I can read the question and then that goes to the recording. We record all of these things. Many people watch these online. So, we want to make sure that the questions can be heard.
So, that being said, I am going to turn it over to Dr. Alan Ehler. I hope you all will give him a very, very, very warm round of applause as he comes to the stage. Let’s welcome Dr. Alan Ehler.
Dr. Ehler: Thank you, Pastor Chip. Good evening, Grace. You have an incredible pastor. I’m sure you know that. It’s been a joy to get to know Pastor Chip over the last four years. He’s taught adjunct for us, and that’s a word in academia for teaching part-time while you’re doing something else. He’s been a key part of helping launch one of our earlier sites — our Bradenton site. This fall, actually today, we started our traditional program. Our main campus is in Lakeland. It’s about an hour and a half away. We were founded in 1935, but this is by far our biggest year. We estimate we’ll have about 8,000 students this fall. We have 115 sites all across the country like our one over in Bradenton. Bradenton is our second largest — no, our third largest. I guess the largest off-campus, now, will be in Birmingham, Alabama all the way to California, Washington State and all around. It is a great place, but we’ve never forgotten who we are and keeping Jesus at the center in all that we do.
I have the incredible job — I just pinched myself as I walk our campus. It’s beautiful. If you ever come to Lakeland, it’s just worth it just to look at. It’s so spectacular. But there is just something special that happens there in the love that the faculty have for the community. And I get to oversee all of the Bible, ministry, theology, philosophy, church history, missions professors that teach on campus as well as in our graduate programs. It’s been a joy, and we have some students from your church, as well, who are there and have studied with us. It’s great to be with you tonight. I want to just deal with the question again, and I’m a professor of practical theology, which means how do you take this ethereal step of theology and make it practical? And nothing’s more practical than making decisions. Because how do you make a decision? I mean a big decision. Not what shirt you’re going to wear, but what house you’re going to buy, whether you take the job or you turn it down? Are you going to marry him or that other guy who offered that proposal to you? I mean, these are big decisions and a lot is at stake, isn’t it? Think about it. Has anybody ever made a bad decision you wound up regretting? We’ve all been there. There’s something about that.
You know, things change. When you become a Christian, we always say Jesus is Lord, right? That’s part of what it means to be a Christian. Do you know that word “Lord” — “kurios” in Greek — means “master?” It means “I make myself voluntarily Your slave, Jesus.” It’s like back in my Air Force days. “Yes, sir. Your wish is my command. Whatever You ask, I will do.” If I want Jesus to be my Lord, that means I want to do what He wants me to do. That means my decisions should be His decisions. There’s this big word that we like to throw around the Christian circles: God’s will. What is God’s will for my life?
There’s a lot of ramifications there. Not only are there a lot of ramifications, but there’s a lot of ideas about what that is. How do we find God’s will?
I remember being a brand new Christian. I came to Christ, Jesus rocked my world at age 18 and I went off to college. I’d been a part of different churches, and when I went on active duty in the Air Force, I went overseas for my second assignment. You had the base chap. We were in Anker, Turkey. There were no other options for worship in a Muslim country. I mean, that was it. So, you had people from all different denominations and backgrounds. I remember talking to this lady, every conversation, “Well, the Lord told me this. The Lord told me that. The Lord told me this.”
I’m like, “How come He’s not speaking to me like that? Am I missing something?” I mean, that’s a big question, isn’t it? So, tonight, we’re going to be taking a look at some principles. What is it, what does it mean and how should we make decisions? There are some key points here; some big things. First of all, does God speak to us? If so, how? How do we know it’s God and does He guide some people more than others? Like that lady that I met at the base chapel who’s always hearing from God, was that just something different about her or is there something that is just a matter if you’re listening or not? I would want to know, wouldn’t you? And is there something there?
There’s something about knowing for sure. So, we’re going to be taking a look. There’s a range of theologies over the years that people have come up with on this issue. I’ll use this expression: Divine guidance. It’s sometimes called “special revelation.” Now, I’m not talking about the Bible itself. Most evangelical, Bible-believing Christians, we use that title. We’ll say, “The Bible is our authority. This is God’s Word. I need to know and understand how to put the Bible into practice in my life. But whenever it’s time to renew your cell contract, the Bible’s not going to tell you if you should get an iPhone or an Android. I mean, it’s not going to be in there, right? It’s not going to tell you if you should buy a four-door or a Mazda. It’s not there.
So, sometimes we’re looking for things that are a little different than this general revelation. We call it “special revelation,” sometimes called “divine guidance.” So, there are some people, like my friend, who said, “You know what? God will speak to you. You’ve just got to be listening.” They are, believe it or not, theologians — some, very significant ones. People like Dallas Willard, very influential. He said that you should be able to hear from God all the time on a regular basis. But there are some who say, “No, I don’t think so. In fact, we’ve got the Bible now. We don’t need to be hearing all that other kind of stuff.” But James 1 tells us, “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God and He will provide generously.”
So, a pastor up in Michigan named Kevin DeYoung came out with a great book talking about all this stuff. He said, “How to make a decision without having divine revelation, miracles, dreams, vision, signs in the sky and all this stuff like that.” His point is we should just be praying for wisdom. That’s it. Period. Wisdom isn’t going to be supernatural. It’s not going to be spooky. You’re just going to kind of have a general sense of being able to wrestle through things. But then there’s other people who go even further, guys like Gary Friesen, who would say, “You know what? This is all we need right here. It’s right here. We don’t need anymore. All you need to do is learn how to read it, put it into practice, and then, from there, you can make those decisions and go on from there.” Or is it this idea of determinism? God causes everything to happen that happens, so it doesn’t matter? Believe it or not, this is part of Islam that has this perspective. I served in the Air Force in Turkey for a couple of years. There’s this expression you heard all the time. Has anybody ever been to the Middle East? It’s actually an Arabic expression. It’s “inshallah.” Inshallah. You would go there and say, “Oh, I need to get my car fixed. Can you fix my car?”
“Inshallah.” It means, “If God wills,” which sounds wonderfully spiritual. Doesn’t it? Except it was an excuse to not get things done, basically. It was there. “Inshallah.” It was like, “Okay. All the time.” Nothing ever happened. If God wants it to happen, it’s going to happen no matter what you or I do about it. There’s a perspective we could call hyper-Calvinism. John Calvin wasn’t even this extreme. But they took his idea of eternal election for salvation to say, “God chose you were going to wear that shirt tonight. God chose you would buy the car you’re going to buy. You thought you were making that decision? Guess what? God worked in you, in spite of you and because of you.”
So, is one of these the right answer? What do you think? I mean, some of you, you may have already camped out in one or another of these, but when it comes to answering questions about how God works, where’s the best place to go? Again, back to the Scriptures. What does He say there? Are there some things and some principles that we can draw on? As a young Christian, not just from the influence of that one woman, but from a desire to keep Jesus as my Lord and an awareness that I needed to do everything to please Him, I started to study Scripture while I was still in the Air Force to figure out how can I know God’s will? Does He reveal Himself in special ways?”
It struck me, you know? We have an incredible record of the early Church, alive and well, working under the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. There are things that we can see in the book of Acts that can let us know how the early Church made decisions. But then, later on, it really hit me that not only do we have Acts, we have a good look at the life of the Apostle Paul, but we also have Paul’s letters. So, we’ve got both perspectives. Acts was written by the evangelist — we could call him that — Luke, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke, who traveled with Paul. So, he was eyewitness to a lot of these things. He gave us his perspectives, his views of what was taking place. But then we’ve got Paul’s letters that were sent to the churches and to his protégés that give instruction about what was going on, about what they needed to do.
So, we can kind of take a look both from a third-person view from Luke, as well as from Paul from the inside, to see some of these different things. So, here’s some questions that we can bring to a study like this. First of all, did Paul make decisions based on supernatural, divine guidance? Did that happen? And did he tell others to make decisions based on supernatural, divine guidance? Or did he tell them to use human reason and just stick with wisdom, don’t look for signs in the sky and just use your God-given reason, wisdom and things like that. And then, related to that, is the question does Luke’s account in the book of Acts gives us the same answers if we take a look in Paul’s epistles?
It’s a fascinating study. I could keep you here for about 28 hours. We could look up every verse. There are hundreds of these examples that we can take a look at in here, but I’m just going to give you some examples of how this comes about and how this question gets answered. So, the first one here is in Acts 9, the best place to start. We just get to know the Apostle Paul. You may be familiar with this story. He’s got orders to go and arrest these Christians. Remember? He’s a persecutor of the Church. He’s on his way to the City of Damascus. He’s going to capture some people there when, all of a sudden, what happens? Boom. The light strikes him, he falls from his horse and then the light from heaven shone around.
“Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’”
Is that supernatural, divine guidance? I would say so. Absolutely. Okay. So, what he said right there, what’s the answer to the first question? Did Paul get some supernatural, divine guidance? Yes. Yes. In fact, he repeats this story two other times in the book of Acts as He’s telling other people what’s happening and the events are the same. He gets this visitation from Jesus. He’s not seeking it. Jesus appears to him. Miracles happen. No question. But now, related to this, at the same time, we have another guy name Ananias who gets a vision.
“The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias,’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and to the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’”
Supernatural? Divine guidance? Yes. Notice it’s not just Paul, is it? We never hear about the “Apostle” Ananias, yet he himself got a visitation, a direct vision, from Jesus. And they’re related, right? These are the same circumstances. There are so many things about these that are so key to this question. Notice, how many other times did Jesus appear to Paul in a blinding light recorded in the book of Acts? None. It happened one time. Right? It was a one-time, special occurrence. Notice, also, did Paul get everything he needed to hear on the road? No. It took Ananias showing up, coming to the house. Part of Paul’s message came from Ananias. There was an interdependence that took place. That’s something that is a key element we’re going to see about this idea.
So many of us, we Americans — especially us American Christians, or independent men and women. “We made ourselves strong working by our bootstraps.” We want to have this independent, “I want to hear a word from God personally.” And yet, somehow, there is this idea of the church — and if you look over at 1 Corinthians 12, the passage on spiritual gifts, God gives gifts for the common good, not for the person who receives them. There’s something there about this range of interdependence. So, this is interesting. If this was the end of the story, we could say, “Oh, yeah. Okay. God speaks. God’s supernatural. Stuff happens.” But notice this is it. The next decision, a little bit further down:
“Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight.”
Again, the supernatural. But notice with the same trip Paul is still in the City of Damascus. Actually, I’m going to skip around here just a little bit. Yeah. Let me jump here to this one right here. Paul was still there.
It said, “When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul.”
This is in Damascus. So, there are people who, now, have heard that Paul, who was on their side, isn’t on their side anymore. They want to get rid of him. They’re plot became known to Saul. Is that supernatural? Any clouds? Any visions? Any angels? Any appearance of Jesus there? Is the word “prophecy” used there? No. How’d that happen? Probably — we don’t know for sure, but probably somebody overheard somebody else whispering about it. What do we call that? Anything supernatural about that? No. Did they get a word from God about what to do about it?
“They were watching by the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.”
Any evidence at all of anything supernatural? Divine guidance? Special revelation? None. What were they doing? They had a problem. They had a situation. They made a decision. It was a creative decision. Anybody ever ridden down on a basket over a wall? We got something like that, but did it work? Yes. It accomplished what they needed to. So, this is one of many cases of what appeared to be natural human reasoning, and certainly wisdom. But responding to circumstances using the mind that God has given them, and going that direction.
Another example of clear reasoning further on in Paul’s journey, it takes place in his last journey. He’s heading back. He’s been in Ephesus for three years helping to plant and establish the church. Then he went on a fundraising trip. He went north to all these churches he had planted all around the Aegean Sea. He made his way all the way to Corinth, then he took a boat and went back around again.
It said, “For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.”
Again, any indication whatsoever of anything supernatural there? No. The word “decided” means Paul made up his mind. He had circumstances. He knew on the day of Pentecost there would be Jews from all over the world in Jerusalem. He wanted to be there. He got his mission from God. This is a big key as well. On the road to Damascus, and then in the City of Damascus from Ananias, he got the vision. He knew his mission was to spread the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles. He went out and he did that, but sometimes how he did that was up to him. He exercised his own wisdom, his own reasoning and he knew that if he stopped after spending three years in Ephesus — do you ever have those friends you know if you’re in a hurry you don’t stop and talk with them? That conversation is not going to come to an end anytime soon. He’d been there for three years. They had an incredible movement, this massive church was growing, and everybody’s like, “Oh, Paul. You’ve got to come to my house for dinner,” and Paul’s not getting out of there. By the time he catches the boat, Pentecost is long past. So, he made an intellectual, willful decision.
Another one like that, we see in the Epistles. Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 1:15, “Because I was sure of this,” — this is related to, probably, that same trip — “I wanted...”
Do you ever do something because you want to do it? Yeah. All the time, right? The last time you went to a restaurant, did you order food because God told you what to order? Or did you order, “Man, I don’t know. I just wanted a burger. It looked good. Come on. Let’s do this.” You could say, “I wanted.” Paul made the decision. “I wanted to come to you first so you might have a second experience of grace.”
“I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea.”
And then, further down, he said, “But I call God to witness against me — it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth.”
Again, that’s that same journey, and Paul made his decision about whether or not he would go back to Corinth or not. And that was it. So, again, we have this clear wording and clear concept that Paul made a mental decision. Well, what about Paul’s protégés? He raised up these people. Because some people could say — well, again, if we had time, there are many, many examples of supernatural revelation happening in the life of Paul. We’ll look at a couple more of these. But we also have these natural ones. Some would say, “Well, maybe that was just because Paul was the apostle. He was specially picked from Jesus. You know? They didn’t have the Bible yet, but after Paul, after those first apostles, supernatural revelation didn’t happen anymore.”
Well, we would expect to find out whether or not that was the case by seeing how Paul talked to Titus and Timothy, his protégés, that he wrote letters to.
What he said to Timothy is, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given to you by prophecy...” — that’s supernatural — “...when the council of the elders laid their hands on you.”
So, there’s this expectation we don’t know exactly what the gift is. We know that some of the supernatural gifts, spiritual gifts, involve some different things like that. But maybe not all of them. We don’t know there, but we do know there was prophecy involved in his life. However, this isn’t just applied at the pastoral letters, but all of Paul’s letters. This is a big question. If we could receive divine guidance for every decision, why did Paul even need to write letters? If so, why don’t his letters tell us how to receive divine guidance if that’s what it all was about? Now, in my world, my background, in the churches that I’m a part of — it’s a Pentecostal church. We have a lot of people who think, “Oh, you should never do anything until you hear from the Lord.” In fact, there’s a whole movement, a big missions movement, called “Youth With A Mission.” Maybe some of you have served with them. YWAM. They’re all over the world. They were founded on this principle. “We don’t do anything until we hear from the Lord.” They spend a lot of time in prayer and they have that sort of waiting of anticipation.
In the school I got my doctorate from, George Fox University, named after the guy who founded the Quaker movement, in their worship services they would have no prepared sermons whatsoever. They would just get together in a room and they would wait until they heard from the Lord. And then, whoever, anybody. There were no pastors. Anybody had the right to hear from the Lord, and you would speak up and you would share what you heard. That was it. That was how that happened. That was the expectation. But there have been problems with people who expect that they should always hear from the Lord. In fact, there was a big movement that, unfortunately, started in Florida in the 1970s called the “Shepherding Movement” that kind of got this idea that you would hear from the Lord for your shepherd, that person over you, and you would not do anything until they heard from the Lord for you. So, they would tell you who to marry, what job to take and what job not to take. Let me tell you, there were some very unfortunate marriages that took place because of their “shepherds” telling them what to do. Maybe some of you here in the room tonight could raise your hand and tell me some stories about things like that, but there is some stuff that’s there. And so, the thing is that we have to remember that the Scriptures are, by and large, instructions, but they are situational instructions. There are times that Paul is very clear about, “This is something that happens there.”
A big question here is do we expect churches — did the churches of the New Testament have special revelation taking place? And the answer is yes. Look at Acts 13. This is talking about the church at Antioch.
Notice it says, “There were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger,” — that shows you it was multiethnic church, by the way, because we know what Niger means — “and Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”
Look at that wording. “The Holy Spirit said.” Is that special revelation? Yes. Is that supernatural? Is that divine guidance? There’s very specific instruction. But how did the Holy Spirit speak? I believe the way this is worded, the way Luke wrote this, why would he mention they were prophets? What do prophets do? Prophets speak on behalf of God. How does a prophet speak? They speak through the Holy Spirit. So, if the Holy Spirit was doing any speaking in this church in Antioch, how was He doing it? Through the prophets, probably. That’s most likely the best explanation of what’s taking place in there. So, certainly, it was an experience of those early churches.
Also, we see that Paul gave instructions in his letters for the churches, especially the book of 1 Corinthians 12-14. He expected that it would. He said, “I wish you all would prophesy.” There was just this idea that revelation would take place in the congregation. Spiritual gifts were given so that people could minister to one another, but there was a chance for things to get out of whack. If you’ve ever been to one of our Pentecostal churches, you may have heard some stuff that just is absolute craziness that people say. Like I had a lady one time, when I was brand new on staff at a Pentecostal church, and she came by and she was just convinced. She said, “Oh, oh, they’re out there. They’re everywhere.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, those people. They’re casting demons at me as I go down the road. I see them falling out of their headlights.”
I was like, “Okay. That’s a little bit strange.” She later got pulled over for going the wrong way down an exit ramp and had to spend time in a mental hospital. I mean, there’s things that can happen that direction. So, what Paul does is he gives instructions. This is just the best passage ever on this issue.
1 Thessalonians 5:19: “Do not quench the Spirit.”
Other translations say, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”
That means that we should allow the Holy Spirit to do what He wants to do, but if there’s a command not to quench the Spirit, that means you can quench the Spirit, you can put out the Spirit’s fire. God’s not going to force Himself upon you, and you can minimize the work of these things.
It says, “Do not despise prophecies,” — allow God to speak. However — “test everything.”
Because, sometimes, what may look or sound like it’s from God may not be, and what do you do?
“Hold fast to that which is good.”
So, that seems to be Paul’s instructions to the churches. Sometimes — we have a great example here in his letter in 1 Corinthians 7:10 — he gives a mix of things that he claims as special revelation from God, and some things, he said, are his own ideas.
This, specifically, he said, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord):” — that’s a command from God — “the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord)...” — notice the contrast here. First, this is God’s commandment. But then, here, this is my suggestion — “...that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.”
Then, further down, towards the end of that chapter, he writes, “Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.”
And later on, “Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is.”
And then I love it. It’s almost funny the way he closes:
“And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.”
So, there’s kind of this, “Okay, you should listen to me. I do have the Spirit, but this is just my suggestion. It’s my recommendation.” And even from this in itself, what it is is it gives us this clarity that sometimes God speaks, sometimes God gives us a special, dynamic revelation, but sometimes we need to make our decisions on our own. This is it. So, as we look through the life of Paul, we can see that Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Jesus also appeared to him in Corinth in a dream in Acts 18. When he first stayed there longer, an angel appeared to him when he was on the ship that eventually got shipwrecked on Malta. So, he had these visitations along the way. He had a visitation while he was in prison in Jerusalem. So, that was a regular part of his life. Sometimes he had dreams and visions. Sometimes he heard voices. Sometimes prophecy was specific in his life. We saw the one in Acts 13 that was part of him being sent out on the first missionary journey. There was one later, we see, over in Acts 21.
And then there’s one that starts when he was in Ephesus in Acts 19. He said, “After that, I must see Jerusalem.” The way it’s worded there, he resolved in the spirit. That Greek wording, “in spirit” can mean “in the Holy Spirit,” or it can mean, personally, in my spirit. We would be tempted to say either/or, but as we go on further on, we will see that Paul is very clear. This is a command from God for him to do it. He didn’t get it from anybody else. But, just kind of like how God spoke to Elijah through that still small voice.
For a lot of Christians in America today, this is probably the one that we tend to look for the most and hope for the most. There may be some of you here tonight. Has anybody here ever had that internal sense that you knew that God was speaking to you and there was something specific going that way? That may be something that has happened in that direction.
So, as I took a look at this study and looked at all of the cases that I could find, both in the book of Acts as well as in Paul’s letters, I find that there were times that Paul, his protégés and the churches all had personal, special revelation, but there were also times that they used their own reasoning. It is a very slight majority of the recorder cases that are human reasoning, but I believe the vast majority of them were. They just didn’t get recorded. It costed a lot of money to write in those days. They had to write on parchment. It was not cheap. So, to do that, every word had to matter. If you were Luke and you’re going to write this story of the history of the early Church, which are you going to do? The mundane, everyday — “Okay, Paul woke up. Paul ate eggs for breakfast.” Are you going to put that mundane kind of stuff down or are you going to talk about the supernatural crazy stuff that was incredible, that was very significant? You’re going to do more of the supernatural, right So, even though it’s a very slight majority — it’s like a 51-49 ratio — in reality, all the things that didn’t get recorded, there’s a much higher likelihood they were not supernatural than that they were.
So, instead, what we see there seems to be using that reasoning, applying Scripture, upholding the leaders instructions — especially Paul’s in the letters that he wrote — or responding to circumstances like dropping him in the basket over the wall there at Damascus. They made those kinds of decisions more often. And we also find that Paul experienced more divine revelation than other people did, and he used this as a basis for a lot of his instructions. There are several times in his letters he talked about that. His authority to tell them what to do was not just because he was the apostle, but because he had a word from the Lord, like we saw that passage in 1 Corinthians 7.
Also, as I mentioned, Luke was probably more likely to record the supernatural than the natural. The epistles are more instructive because of that. Notice, also, that prophecy was often descriptive, but not directive. We have one in Acts 11 — the Church was just getting started and rolling there in Antioch. They had a prophecy from Agabus that there would be a famine over the whole world. That was it. That was the prophecy. The prophecy didn’t tell them what to do, but the Christians got together and said, “You know what? Those Christians in Jerusalem, they’re going to have a hard time.”
I love that capitalist explanation for this, because we go back in Acts 4. They sold all their property. They didn’t have any means of production left anymore. So, those people knew that they were going to have to get some help, so they decided to send them an offering through Paul and Barnabas. As they sent them down, then that money was able to be a help for the church and they were able to do those sorts of things going that way there.
So, we have a mix. Prophecy told them what was going to happen, but not what to do about it. Also, we see that Paul often used reasoning to fulfill his divine commissioning. He got that special revelation that he was to go and be the apostle to the Jews and to the Gentiles, but how he made the decision about doing it, step by step, varied from time to time. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Paul gives no instructions on how to hear the voice of the Lord. Being spirit led was never a divine requirement for leadership. If we were to make all of our decisions based on some sort of divine guidance, I think that would be pretty high up there on the list.
Sometimes it took effort to interpret revelation and what should be done. This is a wonderful passage right here. This is Paul’s second journey. He’s heading out from Antioch.
It says, “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”
Now, if you’ve ever been to Turkey — anybody traveled to Turkey, by chance? If you ever get a chance to go there, there’s so much that you can go and visit from Paul’s journeys. We lived and we actually probably went down this same highway that Paul was heading down right there. It would’ve made sense for him to go to Asia because the capital city of Ephesus was the third or fourth largest city in the Roman Empire. But something happened. We don’t know exactly how, but we know that the Holy Spirit forbad him to speak the word in the province of Asia, and Ephesus was his capital city. So, they went north.
Notice the Holy Spirit didn’t tell them where to go. He just told them where not to go. Don’t you hate it when that happens? So, he started to go north. He said, “Okay, what’s the next place to go north?” Mysia. They got up there and they attempted to go in Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. Once again, “Nope. Sorry. Don’t go this direction.”
By this time, I’d be scratching my head. “Okay, Lord. You don’t want me to go west. You don’t want me to go north. We already came from the south. I can’t go east. Where do You want me to go?”
Sometimes you’re just stuck there. He could’ve just stayed there. He said, “No. I’ve still got a mission. I’m going to keep wandering.” He started to go further northwest. They passed by Mysia and they came down to the City of Troas, not far from the City of Troy. Remember the Trojan horse? And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A vision. Is that divine guidance? Mm-hmm.
“A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’”
Would that be guidance? Is that instruction? But notice the way this is worded.
“And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them.”
This is the first time in the book of Acts we see this pronoun, first-person plural, “we.” Why? The best explanation is the guy who wrote the letter happened to be hanging out in Troas when Paul showed up. That’s Luke. But notice, also, what’s significant about this. Paul had the vision, but Paul didn’t make the decision to go to Macedonia by himself, did he? We sought to go to Macedonia, because we concluded that God had called us. There was something about that. Paul took the vision and he needed some help to work that out, to get things clarified, to figure out exactly what that was and how that works.
So, there can be some times, at least in this case, that it took some effort in response, but that led some things there. Now, I would say the implications that I get from this study — and I know there are people who would disagree with me on this. Let me just say that if you do, that is completely fine. This is not something that determines your eternal destiny in heaven. There’s people with a variety of perspectives on this issue. You may go back to one of those on the first slide. You may be like, “God can speak to me every time,” and if He does that, great. Awesome. That’d be wonderful. You may believe that, “No, I don’t think God reveals Himself to us in that way anymore.”
But, as I read through the letters and the book of Acts, I believe that God still speaks. I know it because He spoke into me. Would you like to hear a story of that? There were several for my life. I’d love to tell you it’s all the time, but it isn’t. I mean, there are times that I pray and I pray and I pray. I didn’t even get supernatural revelation when I married my wife. Am I glad I did so? Yes and amen. Do I regret that decision? No. Never. Did I pray for divine direction? Yes. But, at the end of the day, it was a decision of wisdom. She had a call to ministry compatible with mine. She was beautiful. She loved Jesus. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life without her. So, that was a natural decision, but God has blessed it.
But I was serving — as Pastor Chip shared my story of a little bit of my journey. I was teaching full time at a sister school near Seattle. Much smaller than we are, but it was a good school and a great experience. I served on staff part-time at a multi-site church overseeing their branch campuses. It was wonderful. I had a house from the town where I had been pastoring, and I moved to that teaching full-time in 2008. Anybody try to sell a house in 2008? Not a good time. Not a good time. So, I started renting it out and I thought, “You know, I’m never going to own a house again.” Northwest had on-campus housing for faculty, so I lived on campus, thinking, “You know, I’m never going to own a house again except that one up there.”
It was just a little bit too far of a drive for a commute. But then, all of a sudden, it hit me: I’m a veteran. I’m eligible for a VA loan. Maybe I could get a second home loan. I talked to a lady in our church who was a realtor. She said, “Yeah. Let’s check it out.” We took a look at it and, sure enough, I could qualify. In the market, it was 2012. Fall of 2012. The market in Seattle was starting to boom. Let me tell you, since then, the last 17 to 18 months, the State of Washington has the highest increasing house prices in the country. I knew, man, if I didn’t buy a house then — let me tell you, as a professor, you don’t make a lot of money. And as a professor and a part-time pastor, still, I was not going to be able to afford a house again if I waited any longer.
So, we looked and we found a house. It was beautiful, but it was in a flood zone. It was scary. We agonized over it, again, praying for direction. We went back and forth and just made our reasoned decision. But then, right after I put the money down, a couple days later, I got a Facebook message from a lady from the church that I used to pastor. I hadn’t seen her for four or five years. She said, “Pastor Alan, the Lord’s been putting you on my heart.” I didn’t even think about it at the time. I thought, “Okay. That can happen.” I just went on with my business. Then, a couple days later, I got a call out of the blue from Dr. Bill Hackett, provost at Southeastern University. My dean, who had hired me as a professor at Southeastern, Dr. Kent Ingle, became the president. He’s still the president at Southeastern. He had asked Dr. Hackett to call me about becoming the dean of what was then the College of Christian Ministries and Religion, now the Barnett College of Ministry and Theology. I was like, “Whoa. That’s a shock. Granted, that’s a step up and everything, but Florida? That’s the other side of the country. I mean, my wife loves it here. We have all our friends here. My kids are here. I just cannot even imagine moving to Florida.”
But that night I went home, my wife said, “Well, Alan, I don’t think you should just shut that down right away. I mean, we need to do whatever God would have us do.” My kids were supportive. We talked to some other people. They flew us out here and we took a look. Again, I’m just in agony over all this decision about what’s going on. Then I kind of heard from a real good friend of mine, Leonard Sweet, author of many books. He was the head of my doctorate ministry program. He had just spoken at Southeastern. He said, “I hope you consider it. There are some very special things taking place there.”
So, I came out for an interview. It was a 12 hour long interview. Just group after group after group. We met with the President, the Vice President, the provost, the dean and then all the faculty and students, and more of the faculty, all the other deans, and then closed out the meeting with the President and Vice President sitting around dinner that night at nine o’clock after a red-eye flight the night before.
Suddenly, it hit me. Wait a second. I was talking to one of the Vice Presidents. “You know, there was that message from Jennifer from my church. That came just before I got the call from Dr. Hackett. What was it that said?”
I pull out my phone and I’m looking it up on Facebook Messenger. There it is right there. “Pastor Alan, the Lord has been putting you on my heart. I keep trying to press in to see what it is. I get this vision of you. You’re in the midst of a flame of fire, but this fire is a good thing. It’s like a cleansing fire. You’re sending balls of fire all over the world. Does this mean anything to you?”
I replied at the time, “Well, no. I mean, I love what I’m doing.” She said later, “I think God wants to do something new in your ministry.” I said, “Well, I love being at Northwest. I have no need to move, but I’m open to whatever God would have.” And then she wrote back later that night, “I pressed in more. The Lord wants you to know how much this is going to cost you.”
So, while I was pulling it up there and I showed it to that Vice President, he just started laughing. I go, “Why? What are you laughing at?” He was wearing his Southeastern University shirt. “Our mascot is fire.”
How do you explain that? And, again, if that was the only thing, that may not be the case. But there was that, there was evidence and there was all the other people and other voices that had spoken in my life. And do you know what? It did cost us a lot. Way more than I have time to tell you about. Things that I did not expect in coming here. But there’s not been a day that’s gone by that the Lord has not confirmed this is where He wants us. Again, is every decision that way? No. Would it be nice if it was? Yeah. It’d be wonderful. But it doesn’t always work like that. The fact is that most of the time God does not always speak in those ways. In fact, for a lot of things, God is really clear right here. Like when I was pastoring, there was a lady who’d come to me: “God wants me to divorce my husband.”
I go, “Really? Oh, is he cheating on you?”
“No. He would not dare.”
I’m like, “Okay. What makes you think God wants you to divorce your husband?”
“Oh, I don’t have a peace about my marriage anymore.”
I’m like, “Okay. Who’s this other guy in your life who’s attracted your heart? Do you know what? The Scripture doesn’t say marriage is about having a peace in your heart. Marriage is a commitment. It’s one man, one woman and one lifetime. That’s what it says right there. It’s not about what you feel. Fortunately, we were able to walk her through that and help her see, no, what she thought God was speaking was just her heart getting out of control because some really handsome looking guy was taking a little bit better care of himself and a little bit better care of her than her husband was and it was shining onto her a little bit. But fortunately, by the grace of God, we were able to see that marriage restored.
So, there’s so much that we already know. Should I pay my taxes? Yes. That’s not a choice. Alright? It’s in here. Can I tell lies? No. It’s in here. It’s clear. It’s straightforward, up and down. So, we need to go to Scripture first. And then our reasoning, and sometimes community — the people around us can be helpful in doing this. So, this discipline that I get to teach at the masters and doctoral level is called “Practical Theology.” What I’ve done is integrated these things that I have found in an approach that takes some other principles because practical theology, by its very nature, is multi-disciplinary. There’s a whole field of decision science that is secular, not Christian whatsoever, and they have some good stuff. There’s guys like Chip and Dan Heath, and a whole bunch of other people who do a lot of writing and a lot of research. They’ll do social science research on people, how people make decision, how to better make decisions. In fact, part of my doctoral dissertation on preaching was looking at the science of persuasion, including people who tell salesmen how to close the deal. That kind of stuff.
I thought that would be an interesting field to study. And guess what? There are some connections. There’s stuff we’ve figured out as preachers long before the salesmen figure it out. But, at the end of the day, at least we know we’re giving something that’s actually worth something for eternity. Just some stuff there. So, this is it. What I tried to do is put together a framework for decision and action, that you can apply in a variety of contexts, that is founded on and begins with Scripture, but is open to the work of the Holy Spirit and how He might speak, and uses human reason, knowing that there is a place for both that seeks to understand God, how He is at work in our situations and what He wants us to do.
Your pastor, Jeff, I had the privilege of having him in class last year, so he could probably quote this to you from heart, this particular model. I called it “story shaping.” I use that wording because each of our lives are stories. Things are going on. Your story didn’t even start when you were born. Your parents, you were born into that story. But there are things you can do to redirect where you are and where you’re headed. So, we can use this in a lot of different areas. Let me first say it’s a four-step process, but the first step, the real step one half is that you don’t always need to use it.
A lot of neuroscientists have figured out there’s two ways we tend to make decisions. One is a quick decision. We just tend to go with our guts. Some people use that more often than others. That was something that my psychology component of my dissertation found out about people making decisions in preaching. Some of when you, when you came to Christ, you were there, you were in the service and your heart started beating. You thought, “This is true. This is it. Boom. I’m not reasoning. I know it’s true.”
But other people make reasoned decisions. We do this intentional processing. It takes longer. We weigh the evidence. My guess is in the room here tonight, people who buy cars, some of you do it one way, some of you do it the other. Right? How many of you are the quick-thinking car buyer? When you go to the car lot, “Oh, that car is beautiful. I want to drive it.” You test drive. “Oh, I love this car. How much is it?” And that’s it.
The rest of you, you go out there and you buy all the magazines, you visit all the websites, the Kelley Blue Book. You’re taking a look at that. You’re doing all the investigation. You visit 10 dealers to be sure you’ve got the best deal on the best car in the best way out there. How many of you are that kind of a car shopper when it comes down to it? You know, there’s a place for both of those. The thing is, most of your decisions do not require and do not warrant the effort needed to go through this intentional process. You can go with your gut. You can trust those kinds of things. But you want to do this. Whenever you’ve done something like this before and it’s not gone well or you’ve never dealt with something like this, you’ve got a lot at stake. You’re not sure you know what you want to do. Maybe you’re dealing with a group that’s got a lot of disagreement. No clear answer. Something like that. Here’s the steps: First of all, we start over here in this corner. We read the backstory. We go to catching God’s story, crafting a new story, then telling the new story.
It starts by reading the backstory. It’s kind of like you heard from Pastor Chip. I was a civil engineer before I got into ministry. I had to take classes on pavement design and highway construction, and concrete construction and structural design and all this stuff. One thing about concrete is if you don’t put your joints in it, it will crack like this. But something else about concrete is if you live in the state of Florida, you might have a sinkhole underneath. Right? Or, maybe when you poured the concrete, you didn’t do a good enough job tapping down your sub base. You’ve got some issues. So, what if you poured a slab in your back yard and you see a crack like that? What do you do? Is it a problem? Or is it not? Until you know the backstory, you don’t know. Maybe it’s just you needed to put a joint in there and you didn’t do that. Or maybe there is a real problem that needs to be dealt with.
So, when you read the backstory, of course you want to start by asking the author of all of our stories for help through prayer and saying, “Lord, would You help us do this?” Then read the storyline to this point. Ask the question: “What is happening? Why is it happening?” Then determine where is your story headed? What is the decision you need to make? What’s going on? What are you facing? So, sometimes it helps to just kind of write it down. So, take a look at what’s happening right there.
The next is catching God’s story. As we said, we want to start with Scripture because this is objective. Sometimes, listening to the Holy Spirit, seeking that divine guidance, whether through others or through that still small voice, it’s easy to get it wrong. The Scriptures may speak to us about the decision we’re facing. In other cases, it may not be so clear. And then, sometimes, we can go to the Christian community. A lot of Christians through the years have said asking for wise counsel. We get that from the book of Proverbs. The idea that people around us who know what’s going on can help us in making some of these good decisions.
But when it comes to Scripture, let me just say I encourage using what I call the “scriptural filter.” On one side, there are clear commands in the New Testament. These are things that we must do. Are you married? Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. That’s an instruction. That is a command. Go home and do it tonight. Right? Wives, respect your husbands. That’s a command. Do it tonight. Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. No question we need to do it. It’s repeated in the New Testament. Never opposed anywhere in Scripture. Applies to everybody.
Then, over here on the other side, you’ve got clear prohibitions; things that you’re not supposed to do. Like do no commit adultery. “Oh, but she’s really cute.” Nope. Don’t do it. Alright? It’s there. No question whatsoever. Clear command. Applies to everybody. And then there are some things that we could put at this yellow category in the middle. These are implied principles. A lot of times, we can get these looking at narrative passages and looking at examples. Even from the Old Testament, for example, you can read a story of something from the life of Daniel. Daniel got up early in the morning and he prayed. Should we get up early in the morning in prayer? Absolutely. Jesus got up early and prayed. Is that a good principle to live by? Absolutely. So, yes, we can say that this is something that we should do.
But then, in this white area, these are all the things that are not addressed. Things that we deal with in our culture, in our society that were simply not issues in no particular point in time that we deal with today. So, we take a look at Scripture first. Then, as I said earlier, we want to be open to the Holy Spirit, but test everything and hold fast to that which is good.
And then, if you get to this point, after you’ve done that, you may know for sure what God wants you to do. If so, go and do it. But you may have come to that point. You’ve been in prayer. You’ve listened. No specific, divine guidance. Nothing in the Scripture seems to be clear on it. None of your friends say, “Yeah, I know what God wants you to do.” You’re not there with any of that. Then you want to do this process of crafting a new story. It begins by taking a look at, “What do you think are the options in front of you?” And then adding to them.
Most of the time, when we start making decisions, we do something that Chip Heath calls “narrow framing.” We look at either/or. One way or the other. A or B. And that’s it. And the problem is we limit ourselves. Sometimes that may be the best choice. Sometimes you may only have two, but a lot of times when we’re stuck with a dilemma, a dilemma is a decision that’s really hard to make. But when we get limited by that, the best decision is over here on the side. We’re not going to see it until we start opening things. We need to dream. We need to be willing to come up with creative solutions. Sometimes people are afraid to come up with crazy ideas. But, as you do that, don’t shut down the crazy ones. The crazy ones can feed some really good ones. Bring some other people in there and get your list as big as possible. Then begin to reduce the options, eliminate those that are truly crazy, and take a look at those that might work. Weigh them, make your decision, develop a plan to implement them. Then the final step is telling the new story, letting those who need to know hear about it, figuring out how to tell them to get them on board, acting to make the story a reality and then evaluating regularly.
Now, this whole process can apply to a wide variety of different areas. And if we have any questions later, we can take on maybe what that would look like. But this is the idea and the goal. Again, starting with taking a look, understanding what’s been happening, why is it happening, what is it I want to solve? Catching God’s story, turning to Scripture, being open to the work of the Holy Spirit, dealing with the Christian community, those in the church, crafting a new story by expanding your options, narrowing them down to a manageable amount, evaluating those that are left, making the decision, developing a plan to put it into place, then telling the new story to those who need to hear it to make it happen.
Well, I hope that has been helpful and informative for you. It has, again, been a huge honor to be with you. Thank you, Pastor Chip, for allowing me to share today.
Dr. Bennett: I hope that was informative. A lot of stuff to digest. I know it was a lot of things, but it’s a struggle. Wouldn’t you agree? Sometimes you’re trying to do the right thing. You want to do the godly thing and somebody tells you that you need to hear from God, somebody tells you that you need to go fast and pray, somebody tells you that you need to put your hand on the TV screen or whatever it may be. But the reality is that’s a struggle. But thinking through that, I mean, you just got some really, really good, practical things. Sometimes God is going to speak to you, but sometimes you’re going to have to weight those decisions out. You’re going to have to talk to other people. That’s a scary thing sometimes, too, to have to go to somebody and say, “Hey, what do you think?”
But I hope that you’ve got something to think through. All these evenings that we do, we’re here to just help educated and give you some different perspectives. You may have agreed with some things. You may have disagreed with some things. But that’s why we do this. Education, sometimes, is not enjoyable at times. Sometimes it’s the greatest thing in the world. But sometimes it really challenges you. So, I hope that you got something that you can put in your toolbox tonight in making those decisions. What we’re going to do is this: If you have those cards with questions, we’re going to do Q&A in just a minute. So, please, please, please — I know you’ve got some questions. There’s no way in the world that, after that, you don’t have some questions. So, please write them down because we’re going to do that.
But before we do the Q&A, I’d like to have the ushers come. We’re going to take up an offering. Every time we take up an offering, it’s always used to help support whoever we bring in. So, please, if you would, give tonight because it will be given to Dr. Ehler for his time. Let’s bow our heads, we’ll pray for the offering, and then, as soon as the offering’s done, we will be up here to do Q&A. Let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You so much for the opportunity to be able to give this evening. I pray, Lord, that as we give, that You would bless this offering. Lord, Dr. Ehler does a lot of great things for the Kingdom of God and ministers to a lot of people. I just pray that You would continue to bless him, his family, his ministry, Southeastern University, all of the extensions that are represented by that school. I pray, God, that You would continue to raise up men and women that will do great things for the Kingdom of God, that will share the Gospel throughout the whole world for Your glory and for Your honor. Lord, I pray that You would just continue to manifest those things that Dr. Ehler was given. I pray, God, that in the midst of that fire there at Southeastern University, You would just continue to use him to throw fireballs all over the world, Lord, as he does ministry for Your kingdom. Lord, we thank You for this time of giving. Bless it in Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Alright. Are you ready?
Dr. Ehler: We’ll find out.
Dr. Bennett: Did Adam have a belly button? I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding. Just a joke.
Do you feel that Damascus road experiences still happen, and is that too much for one to expect?
Dr. Ehler: Interesting. Well, I could tell another story of my own about how Jesus met me. I was raised in a mainline church. I never really heard the Gospel. We read stories about Jesus, but were never encouraged to make a personal faith commitment. But then, my junior year of high school, we got a new youth pastor who’d been on staff with the Navigators. He was the first guy to ever tell us the Bible is God’s Word, and if you don’t believe in Jesus you’re not going to go to heaven. I thought, “I’d better take out that fire insurance policy.” But I was still convinced that that gaping hole in my heat would only be filled by what Hollywood said it would be filled with: Her. The one. You know? She had to be out there some place.
So, I felt like I was a hopeless geek and there would never be that other woman. Until finally, my senior year, I got involved in a relationship that seemed like it offered everything. I wanted to offer everything that Hollywood said, not what my youth pastor would say. It got physical. But I started to just wonder about those things. His words had kind of been ringing in my ear. So, I did a very dangerous thing. He was leading a mission trip for Vacation Bible School for a Native American tribe in Northern Arizona. So, I said, “Well, Lord, if what we’re doing is wrong, why don’t You let me know on that trip?”
We got there and we stayed in the City of Kayenta. It’s not really a city. It’s a little town. But just north of it is a really cool rock formation called, “The Toes.” And it looks like toes. I mean, that’s what it looks like. I had done some rock climbing. Never technical. Never been trained. But, after the morning service, I decided I’d go out there and climb on my own. Not the smart thing to do. But I went and climbed up and made my way up through there. You had to do the chimney where you work your way up and get up to the top. I saw off the backside it was about a 500-foot drop down to a river below. I thought I’d try to keep going. I got down about a third of the way and came to place where I couldn’t go any lower. There was one little sandstone handhold there that got me down to a little platform about maybe a foot deep, three feet wide. The next one was ten feet down to go about one foot by one foot. I thought, “Yeah. I’m going to miss my footing. It’s time for me to get out of here.”
I turned around and put all my weight back on that one handhold. It was the only way I could get up to the next place that I could grip. Because it’s sandstone, it came off right in my hand. It was like being up against a totally smooth wall. There was no way that I could get out of there. For the first time in my life, I heard the voice of God. Now, people say, “Was it audible?” I’d say, “No. It was a lot louder than that.” The Lord said, “Remember that question you asked me? What you’re doing is not right, you and your girlfriend.”
But behind that was more of a question: “I want all of you. Not just part. Not just enough to get to heaven. That’s not what it is. If I’m going to be your Lord, I need to be Lord of all of you.”
So, I paced back and forth, those three feet, for about five minutes to decide if I was going to surrender my life or not. I eventually realized, “If I don’t, I’m not getting off this mountain.” Even then, I said, “If the Lord loves me enough to answer my question, how stupid would it be to not give Him everything?” I said, “Okay, Lord.” To this day, I do not remember exactly how — I reached up my hand, and the next thing I knew I was back on the top of the formation, crawled back down the front side and I have never been the same since.
Now, like I said, tomorrow, I’m going to tell that story to our senior ministry majors. They’re getting ready to graduate and be missionaries, youth pastors, children pastors, church planters working at Young Life and doing all kinds of things all over the world. And I’m going to let them know your call to ministry may have been supernatural, like Paul’s. And you think about, we are going to look through the Bible. Every one of them is different. How did He do Moses? Burning bush. How did He do Samuel? It was a voice while he was sleeping in the temple. “Samuel, Samuel.”
But not everybody got that supernatural revelation. Acts 16, talking about Paul, Paul heard about a guy named Timothy. Paul wanted him to go with him. Why did Timothy follow Paul? Paul wanted him to go with him. Now, there was something supernatural, as we saw, that he got some sort of a calling there, but it wasn’t dramatic. So, I think we all, each have our own way. God does deals with us as individuals. So, some people have those kinds of experiences. I think where we get into trouble, and what I hope — again, there’s two extreme sides of this debate that I think are unhealthy. One is the side that says, “It should always be that you should do nothing until you get supernatural, divine revelation.”
I say, “No. Not even Paul lived that way. If the Apostle Paul didn’t live that way, you’re going to be spending a lot of nights at home alone waiting for some sort of miracle to take place. You’re going to miss a lot of stuff. But, on the other side, we need to be open because there are those times that God will appear.
Dr. Bennett: Yeah. I think that I would say this: Every time I’ve tried to put God in a box, He doesn’t fit. I just can’t get Him in. I’ve tried so hard for most of my life to get Him into my box, but there’s always an arm or a leg hanging out and I just can’t get Him in there. I think that whenever we do the either/or or we do the, “It can’t be this,” or, “It has to be that,” — I think we need to be careful. God is bigger than we are. He is so beyond what we could even comprehend. I think to say, “Could a Damascus road still happen?” I think we would be remiss to say that it couldn’t happen. Does it always happen? No. But I would challenge everybody to think it through before you go, “Well, that couldn’t happen for anybody again.” Just be careful when you say what God can or can’t do because I think we know that God can do whatever God wants to do.
Right? Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens and he does what he pleases.”
So, I’m going to go with the psalmist on that one. So, good answer.
How would you test the spirits?
Dr. Ehler: Alright. Great, great question. That’s an important question. Well, first of all, you look at Scripture. Like the story of the lady in my church who wanted to divorce her husband without any biblical grounds, we went to the Bible first. There’s a lot that is very, very clear in Scripture. Second of all — and I would say when we turn to 1 Corinthians 12, it talks about the gift of discernment being a spiritual gift. My wife has that gift. Have I paid many, many times for not listening to her? Yes. There are some people who you just know. In some cases, it’s supernatural. In some cases, it’s natural wisdom, too. That’s where there’s a range of certainty you’re going to have when you’ve heard from the Lord. If you’re in an “I think so” time, then getting some wisdom can help you sort things out. And then there are times that we can test things through reasoning. I would say there are those great examples — and we can hear the wonderful stories of people who heard from the Lord and were convinced and everybody else said they were stupid and what they decided didn’t make rational sense, and today they’ve got a church of 40,000. Okay? Yeah. Sure. Something like that. That can happen. They are the exception.
Most of the time, when you get that something you think is crazy, it’s crazy. So, to listen to the people, to get some people that you can know and trust — that’s one of the advantages of having great pastors and lay leaders in your congregation that you can kind of wrestle through. So, when it came time to go to Southeastern, that’s why I asked Leonard Sweet. I even asked the President at Northwest. He was clear he did not want me to go, and the provosts there, but they both said, “No. You’re cut out for this job.”
So, to get their affirmation, people for whom I had worked, was natural reasoning to support what was that divine revelation.
Dr. Bennett: I’m a big proponent of involving community. You know, you wouldn’t have known because we didn’t talk, but one of the things I say often, as a pastor here, is that we tend to see everything through the individualistic lens of the west rather than through the benefit of community. The Lord’s Prayer is “our Father,” not “my Father which art in heaven.” Even the Lord’s table, when He talks in 1 Corinthians 11, He’s setting it up as they’re coming together as a body because they’re sort of factioning off. He’s using that to say, “Hey, when we come together it’s because, man, we’re really all supposed to be doing this thing together.”
Don’t you think that that is a very missed element of when we decide to do something or we want to do something from the Lord, that oftentimes we might see involving other people in our lives as something, but don’t you think that that really, biblically, is almost a good model that the body really does have some sense of realizing and seeing? Because I know some people will rail against that. They’ll say, “No, no, no. That’s not true.” It just seems to me, in Scripture — do you agree or disagree? — that community wisdom is huge?
Dr. Ehler: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, that’s why 1 Corinthians 14, which talks about if any prophecy had to be done, let the others bear witness or pass judgment. There’s this idea of we need the community to help us stay on board. We need to be interdependent. I think that’s why the Holy Spirit is given for the common good. Even the example we looked at from Acts 16. Paul got the vision of the man from Macedonia. He could’ve made his own mind up, but he brought Luke in, and probably Silas and Timothy as well.
Dr. Bennett: Even God, in His essence, is community because He’s a tri-personal being. If we’re going to be like God, it seems like we would want to live in community to me.
Dr. Ehler: Absolutely.
Dr. Bennett: This is great. This is more of a recommendation, I think, than a question, but it is a question.
Could you please go around to the Pentecostal churches and give this talk?
Dr. Ehler: Absolutely.
Dr. Bennett: That’s at you, man. You’re Pentecostal, you know?
Dr. Ehler: That’s right.
Dr. Bennett: I’ll let you deal with that one.
Dr. Ehler: We’ve got about 15 pastors of mega churches who are part of our Master of Arts in Ministerial Leadership Executive Cohort who will be on campus on Monday and Tuesday. So, they’ll be hearing it there.
Dr. Bennett: So, you do this with — that’s awesome.
Dr. Ehler: This is part of this class. Yeah. The framework, the story shaping, what I told you those last five minutes, becomes a major part of looking at a framework for making decisions. Not just decision-making, but planning, resolving conflict and things like that.
Dr. Bennett: You’ve got two of my buddies. Jason Burns and Aaron Burke are in there.
Dr. Ehler: Yeah. They’re in the doctoral program, right?
Dr. Bennett: Do they get this, too?
Dr. Ehler: Not as much.
Dr. Bennett: Okay.
Dr. Ehler: You know, the doctoral program, we go a little bit deeper in different directions.
Dr. Bennett: Because I want to text them and go, “Hey, you guys need to start doing some story shaping.” I’m just kidding.
Dr. Ehler: Yeah. You could do that. But Blake and Jeff, they’ve had it, so they know it.
Dr. Bennett: Yes. Blake and Jeff. Okay. Blake, are you story shaping? Okay. Can you elaborate — you’ve got a book coming out, don’t you?
Dr. Ehler: We’ll see. Zondervan’s looking at it right now.
Dr. Bennett: That’s great.
Dr. Ehler: So, we’ll see.
Dr. Bennett: Can you elaborate on the idea that some hold that there were seasons of special revelation, and that because the canon is closed, special revelation doesn’t happen anymore because then we would have to reopen the canon of Scripture?
Dr. Ehler: Excellent. Great question. Glad you asked that. Let me just, again, say I have total respect for people who hold this perspective, and I know we’ll be in heaven together forever. But this is one thing not just from my experience, but from Scripture itself. Just to let you know, there’s been a core thought that erupted this whole thing of the movement of the Pentecostal movement, but more than that. Charismatic. The idea of expecting supernatural revelation, spiritual gifts and things like that to take place, it really started in the 19th Century and came on big in the early 20th Century. It’s now worldwide, half a billion people who, in one way or another, form part of that group. We could call it Renewalists or whatever word we might want to use with that.
But people on the other side have said there’s a couple problems with that. One of them is we didn’t see it for most of Church history. You don’t hear a lot of prophecy and stuff like that taking place. So, why didn’t that happen? I would say the argument from Church history is a significant one. There have been special times throughout Church history where there were people who received prophecies, visions and dreams. You can read all the kinds of stuff from the Middle Ages, the Mystics and things like that. So, it wasn’t totally absent, it just was not in a predominant place. But when we go to the Scripture to find the answer, the passage that most often gets referred to is 1 Corinthians 13. Notice I’ve been talking a lot about 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14, which is called a chiasm. It’s a V. And 1 Corinthians is structured with several of these. It’s really interesting. Paul will talk about a topic one place, and he’ll talk about it in another, and there’s something in between. What he’s doing is he’s driving home the point because he’s responding to letters that they ask him.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul starts by saying, “Now responding to the things about which you wrote,” and he gives them answers to some of those questions. They were obviously writing about spiritual gifts. They put a higher precedence on speaking in tongues than any other gift. So, he was helping them understand getting an overall healthy framework about the purpose of gifts, how to use them and exercise them in the church. But what he saw is that they were using particularly speaking in tongues, but other gifts as well, as kind of their spiritual badges of honor. They were using it as places of arrogance to show off rather than serve one another. So, that’s why he goes over and over again in 1 Corinthians 12, “But for the common good, to one is given this gift, and to one is given another, but all of these are given.”
He goes on and gives the illustration of the body. You know, not everybody is the ear or the eye. We need each other. Back to what you’re saying about this interdependence. And then, to really drive it home, the main point is 1 Corinthians 13, which is a chapter about love. That’s the main point. But right in the middle of there, he says, “Where there are tongues, they will cease.”
If that was it, we could say, “Yep. That’s it. We don’t need that special revelation stuff anymore.” But the next thing it says is, “Where there is knowledge, it will cease.”
Well, your pastor has a lot of that, so it hasn’t gone away yet. Right? You guys all have that knowledge. And then it goes on to say, “But when that which is perfect comes,” and some have said, “Well, that’s referring to the Bible, isn’t it?” Well, the problem is I know a lot because of the Bible, but I don’t know everything. If I go on with that passage, it goes on to say, “But then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Paul was not talking about the canon of Scripture. Paul was talking about the return of Christ. So, we have to say, “Okay, yeah. Biblically, I don’t see a place where spiritual gifts and the working of the supernatural was to stop.” I also would point to not just what’s happened in my life, but what’s happened around the world and how, again, churches that see and practice this, especially overseas — here in the States, too, granted. But overseas it is unreal. In fact, even mainline denominations regularly have miraculous manifestations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia because they’re open to it. And I don’t think there’s any other explanation. It’s not heresy. They’re lifting up and exalting the name of Jesus. So, there’s definitely something that takes place there.
Dr. Bennett: Don’t you think, though — just as a question here, because I think this is a great topic to talk about. Don’t you think that, primarily, those that are in the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions — and I don’t want to paint with too broad of a brush because you always have the anomalies. But I think most pastors, specifically most academic professors in the Pentecostal or Charismatic tradition, would say, “Yeah. Even if God’s speaking today and He’s saying, ‘Go here,’ or, ‘Go there,’ He’s not contradicting Scripture.” You know? It’s not like He’s giving some new directive. Because I think the thing is it’s almost like there’s this worry that if God were to speak today, would He be adding to what He said? Not necessarily. He might be giving direction and wisdom to somebody today, but He’s not going, “Oh, well, in 1 Timothy,” or, “In Peter,” or, “In Mark it says this, but I say to you, now, this is a new thing.” I mean, Jesus could say in Matthew 5, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you,” because He was Jesus. But I’m not sensing, in most of the Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters that I have, that they’re saying God’s speaking something new. He just still speaks. Would you agree with that or would you disagree with that?
Dr. Ehler: Exactly. Absolutely. From day one, from the earliest part of the movement, there’s always been a primacy of Scripture. I mean, you can read the earliest of the fathers of that movement. And, in fact, they will go in and point to Scripture as the basis for what they’re experiencing, and what they expected to have happen and how they measured what happened.
Dr. Bennett: Is the Holy Spirit speaking to me through my conscience?
Dr. Ehler: Interesting. Good question.
Dr. Bennett: I’ll let you take that one.
Dr. Ehler: Yeah. Ultimately, the conscience is a gift of God, certainly. And is that the Holy Spirit’s supernatural? Possibly. Yeah. It can be. I mean, ultimately, God Himself is going to know. Romans 2 kind of gives an indication that even people who are not born again have a conscience. Their conscience bearing witness is part of the evidence for God. Anybody ever have your conscience violated before you came to Christ? Anybody ever do something you felt guilty about? So, in one sense, there’s a working of the conscience we all get because we are human beings, but created in the image of God. So, we know right and wrong. But there is another sense where we get a stronger sense and stronger working of that because we’re Spirit-filled believers.
Dr. Bennett: Is eternal life after death only? How do we understand the power of eternal?
Dr. Ehler: Wow.
Dr. Bennett: I’m not quite sure I fully understand that, but I’m going to give that one to you because this is for you right here.
Dr. Ehler: Alright. That’s an interesting question.
Dr. Bennett: It says, “Dr. Ehler. Not Chip.”
Dr. Ehler: Okay. Well, let me use a different wording that we will often equate that. In the Gospels, especially Matthew, Mark and Luke, the phrase Jesus uses the most often is the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. Notice this phrase gets often used: The Kingdom of God is among you. Or, when Jesus began His preaching: Repent. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” or, “Is near.” And there was this idea of what did that mean? Did that mean that eternity was about to be here? Yes. Did that mean that there was going to be a fuller experience of God’s work on this planet because Jesus had come? Yes. It’s both the now and the not yet. So, should your life be on a different level because you have Jesus in your life? Yes.
I know what it’s like for me. I remember what it’s like. I still, to this day, remember. I look at people that I know well who don’t know the Lord and I can see in them the void in their life. It breaks my heart that they’re not willing to say, “Jesus, I want You in here,” because eternity itself is a reference to time, but the fullness of life of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, is something we do get to experience at a greater level.
Dr. Bennett: I have a question for you. We’re not an Assemblies of God church. We’re not a Church of God church. We’re Grace Community Church. We want all of Jesus. We want everything that we can do to see. You’ll have people that come to a non-denominational church like ours and they’ve probably heard the stories, they’ve heard the things of if you go to a Pentecostal church, it can get wild and all of this stuff.
What would you say, as a Pentecostal pastor, scholar, professor and dean are some of the things that you feel like people get wrong about Pentecostals?
Dr. Ehler: I would say a very small percentage of Pentecostal churches today are the really weird, wacko types. In fact, it’s almost gone too far the other way. I think we all got so scared about being so weird and wacko that we have put out the Spirit’s fire in some of our churches. I mean, I can visit 100 Pentecostal churches in Florida and I will probably not see anything — other than hear preaching and some good worship, you’re not going to see people prayed for for healing to happen, you’re never going to hear prophecy given or anything like that in 97 of those churches.
So, I would say, on the one hand, it’s good. We don’t want to be exclusive and we don’t want to be weird for the sake of being weird because, the funny thing is, some of them have gotten so extreme they’ll have these three- or four-hour long prayer services, and people will be dancing and waving banners and falling down and doing some crazy stuff. But that does not represent the heart of the movement. So, I think my desire is we don’t do it for show, we don’t do it for impressing people. That’s what the Corinthians were doing that got it wrong and Paul rebuked them. We keep love. The point is love and getting the Gospel out there. But do you know what? I can love you better if God’s given me a gift to benefit you and I’m going to exercise it. So, let’s do it that way.
Dr. Bennett: Isn’t it great that we can come and talk about stuff like this in a church and have different opinions and all of that and not get all mad at each other? Isn’t that great? I love it. I love it. We have far more in common with our Christian brothers and sisters than we — but I do have you on tape about crazy and weird. I’m going to use that.
Dr. Ehler: Okay. Okay.
Dr. Bennett: I’m just playing.
Dr. Ehler: I’d be lying if I said otherwise.
Dr. Bennett: This is a good one.
Could you share some examples of the persuasion techniques used by both pastors and salesmen?
Dr. Ehler: Oh.
Dr. Bennett: You set yourself up for that one.
Dr. Ehler: Okay. So, the classic book on this — now, I’ve read a lot of them, but the one guy who is an actual academic researcher and persuasion psychologist, leader in the field, he wrote a book. It was so funny. When I was finishing my dissertation, a guy who is a salesman — he was a multi-millionaire and entrepreneur — quoted this book. I go, “No way. That’s the one I’m actually using for my dissertation.”
The guy’s name is Robert Cialdini. His book is called “Influence.” So, he has some of these principles. I don’t think we necessarily use them in preaching a lot. Some of them, I think, are a little bit dated. He’s come out with a brand new book just this year that has kind of updated some of his techniques and things like that. But one of them is the “foot in the door technique.” Of course, anybody in the old days, you had a salesman come to your door and you did not want them to get their foot in the door. But they always start by doing that. They’ll get the foot in the door and, once they get their way in, they’re going to work their way in. So, they will open up some things to get you thinking.
Another one is they’ll offer you something horrible, but then offer something that looks really good on the opposite. But it’s not going there that way. But they get you to agree. Another one is they’ll get you to agree to something, they’ll lead you down the pathway of getting you to agree to something that then will take over and go that way.
So, with preaching, those are things — it’s so funny because he never intended for it to be used negatively, but all of the salesmen picked up on it and figured out that, yeah, you can use things and be dishonest, and that’s not it at all. But what I learned from the study of those guys is that speaking to one group, the people who are the indirect processors, those are the quick thinkers, the ones who are just simply looking for cues is a big word right there. They’re just looking for a hint. For them, as a Pentecostal, I personally — let’s just say I’m a Christian. I believe that as we pray, God responds. So, having that sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room is critical. That’s an answer to prayer. So, God’s going to do a work. God’s going to speak to hearts and He’s going to do that.
So, I’m going to pray. I’m going to pray that God speaks to people, those who are going to simply respond that way. Other things that are important there are stories. People respond to stores that help them visualize it. Both the direct and the indirect processors can respond to a story. So, somebody who’s a direct processor, those are the slow thinkers, or weight the evidence types, I want to have a very reasoned, clear argument. One main point and everything else in my sermon’s going to back that up. And I’m going to have it laid out, point by point.
But the stories well help people stay on the pathway. So, the people who are going that way, those stories can help them there because they can be evidence to prove that, yes, this works. Again, trusting that I’m being honest and a person of integrity. But the stories also help the people who aren’t able to follow all of that, but they hear the story and they’re like, “Yes. I want that, too. I may have not understand everything there. I may not be able to quote chapter and verse. But when you shared your testimony about how Jesus made a difference in your life, I want Him to make a difference in my life.” So, that may be a little bit simpler response.
Dr. Bennett: Yeah. I think, probably — and not saying this person did, but there might have been the idea that preachers are salesmen. And you aren’t saying that. You were just saying there are some things that make good for sale that don’t make good for...
Dr. Ehler: Yeah. Exactly. And that’s the point for sure.
Dr. Bennett: Here we go here. Last one.
How do you think God communicated with Abraham, especially regarding Isaac?
Dr. Ehler: Through what we would call a Christophany. That’s often the explanation that is given there when the three men came. Some have said it was the Trinity and personification. That does not seem to be the case. The best explanation — and this is not something we can say for sure — is the visible appearance is sometimes called the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, like appeared to Manoah, Samson’s mom and dad, was a Christophany; a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. But then there were the two angels. The angels were the ones who went down, during part of that same journey, to Sodom and all the stuff that happened there, and talked to Lot in going that direction.
So, that was how Abraham got the revelation was a direct visitation. It could’ve been God the Father in human form. It’s certainly possible that way. We do know that he was certainly given honor as God in that respect.
Dr. Bennett: Great job.
Dr. Ehler: Thank you.
Dr. Bennett: Did you all get good stuff? That was awesome. Fun to have you here.
Dr. Ehler: Alright. Well, thank you. Thank you very much.
Dr. Bennett: Good stuff. Southeastern‘s a great school. I enjoy teaching there.
Dr. Ehler: You do a great job. By the way, I should just tell you, at the Bradenton site, I’ve run into those students several times and asked them who their favorite professor is. Chip Bennett is always number one on the list.
Dr. Bennett: I appreciate that.
Dr. Ehler: I used to get to see his course evaluation forms, and his scores are as high as they could possibly be. Not many people get those up there.
Dr. Bennett: I appreciate that. That’s kind of you to say. Let’s close in prayer. Dr. Ehler and myself will stay after for a little while and answer any questions if you have them. But I just want to say I’m grateful that we get to do this type of stuff as a church. I think these are really cool evenings. To get to see different perspectives, hear different things, I think it’s good for all of us to do that as Christians. I hope you feel the same way. Let’s bow our heads.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You so much for Your goodness and Your mercy. Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross and to rise again on the third day so that we could have eternal life. Lord, I just thank You for nights like tonight. I thank You for Dr. Ehler, for his family. Just blessings upon them and everything that he does.
Thank You tonight, Lord, for allowing us to talk openly and candidly about decision-making and how we do those things and what Scripture says. I believe all of us have something that we can leave here with to think about and to chew on and to pray about. Lord, I pray that we would. And I pray, Lord Jesus, that as we go You would give us safe travels and bring us back again to when we meet again. We love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.” God bless everybody. Have a great night. We’ll see you soon.