Friesen on God's "Specific Will"

Biblical Studies Nov 10, 2009

Here at school, Dr. Gary Friesen is known affection at as Dr. G –the pioneer of the “Wisdom View” which was first articulated in his doctoral thesis and eventually published in the boat-rocking, Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View Last semester, Kregel Press published a compilation work, How Then Should We Choose?: Three Views on God’s Will and Decision Making. In countering the “specific view” as articulated by Henry and Richard Blackaby, Dr. G writes,

The Blackabys take a position that I have called the traditional view, but it is aptly named the specific-will view. This refers to a specific will of God for each individual that will guide him or her to the right decisions. This view uses the biblical term God’s will, but not in its normal theological senses. Theologians recognize that the term can be used of God’s moral will or His sovereign will. The Blackabys hold to these two definitions, but their viewpoint adds a third use of the term will of God. When they exhort us to seek, find, know, and obey the will of God, they mean a specific, detailed plan for each believer.

The Specific-will view has dominated thinking on guidance in evangelical circles, but now it is being challenged. Rather than assuming the validity of the specific will, we must ask, Where is a clear example in Scripture where the term God’s will means a specific will for each believer? It is best to agree with the theologians through the ages that God’s will in Scripture refers to His sovereign will or His moral will.

Mundane Decisions

The Blackabys try to sidestep a serious flaw in the normal definition of God’s so-called specific will. Historically, the specific will has been described as applying to every decision, but the Blackabys say that the specific will covers only decisions that are not “mundane.” The basis for this is not biblical definition but practical necessity. No one can follow the specific-will view for every decision. Which ones are “mundane”? What if some of those mundane decisions turn out to be crucial? For example, where you sit in a college classroom could be the key to meeting your future spouse! Inadvertently, the Blackabys default to a wisdom approach. Apparently, wisdom determines which decisions are mundane. Once “mundane” is determined, they say these decisions “simply require wisdom.” The specific-will view will not work with life’s many small decisions. The options in these decisions are often equally acceptable, but the specific-will view has no category for decisions with equally acceptable options.

The Blackabys also attempt to avoid the concept of a “second-best” will of God, which is common in this viewpoint. Second best is what you get if you miss God’s specific plan. Is there one person in the world whom you should marry? They say, yes. What happens if you marry the wrong person? Well, you lose out on God’s first choice, but you can still have a fulfilled marriage and “God always has a perfect will for your life as of this moment.” Is this a second “perfect” will? Might there be a third or fourth? It is better to say that sin always brings loss, but we can fully please God today by obeying His moral will. There is no need for several “perfect” wills or the “second-best” will.

While I am not yet persuaded to Dr. G’s understanding, I am deeply compelled by his observations. The specific-will view does seem quite deficient logically, theologically, biblically and even experientially. The more pressing question is, Why should I spend my entire life trying to orient my actions towards a vague, somewhere-out-there, David-specific plan for my Tuesday mornings instead of applying that same effort to trusting in God’s sovereign will (his totally and complete control over both the known and unknown universes) and fully embracing His moral will (His specific dictates for what is proper life conduct)?

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