Praying for Guidance: How to Discover God's Will
Author: Ron Kincaid
Publisher: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996. Pp. 178 BV/215/.K485/1996
View: Synthesis of Traditional and Wisdom Views
The is the best of books (pastoral wisdom) and not-so-good of books (terminological confusion). It is a hybrid and a weaker book because of its hybridity.
The hybrid problem is not the two topics he covers. He really had two books, but not enough material for either. His topics are guidance and prayer. He succeeds in welding the two with guidance the smaller topic (one-third) and prayer the dominant theme (two-thirds). His genuine pastoral piety and wisdom has the good result of making the reader more profoundly aware of the role of prayer in decision making. Since Decision Making has often been criticized for insufficient emphasis on prayer, this book is a partial antidote to create a godly balance.
The hybrid problem is actually his use of the term "God's will." He believes in the sovereign will of God. He believes in the moral will of God. "God's grand design is his revealed will for all humanity as laid out for us in the Scriptures ... To be conformed to the likeness of his Son (p 22)."
He clearly refutes the traditional understanding of God's will and then continues to use the term as it is used by the traditional view. For instance, his subtitle uses God's will as only the traditional view does - "How to Discover God's Will." What does he mean? His book proves that God's grand design is clearly revealed (Scripture) and his sovereign will is not findable. Both the author and editor have missed this confusion which is rare in an InterVarsity book.
Kincaid begins by refuting the traditional understanding of God's will. He borrows the arguments of Decision Making and adds his own. "I am indebted to ... Decision Making and the Will of God ... For four of the five points in this critique on the traditional approach to discovering the will of God (p. 177)."
He refutes the idea of an "individual" will of God, but still holds onto it in some sense. "God's individual will is a reference to God's detailed life-plan uniquely designed for each person, such as God's calling Jeremiah to be a prophet (Jer. 1:5), his setting apart John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Lord (Lk 1:13-17) or his setting aside Paul to preach to the Gentiles (Gal 1:15-16) (p. 15)."
This may explain why he both defends freedom in decision making in one statement and then discusses "finding God's will" in the next breath. He ends this discussion with a clear Wisdom view conclusion.
Is there a better approach to decision-making? Yes, there is. Scripture instructs us that instead of struggling to find the one and only right choice and God's blueprint for our lives, we should simply seek to make wise choices. Within god's grad design we are free to make choices (p. 19).
The same ambivalence is found in chapter 2 "Praying to Become Wise in Decision-Making." God moral will is to be obeyed, but "You decide whether to be a carpenter or an engineer, a musician or a computer programmer (p 24)." God tells us, "I've already told you enough. Love my Son, be conformed to my Son and share my love. Now you decide whether to be a pastor, a professional athlete or a plumber. That's your decision (p 24)."
In the next breath he argues for God's individualized plans for each believer using the evidence of Abraham, John the Baptist, Simon, Andrew, James, John and the apostle Paul. "But he will never present these desires that he has for you in a way that takes away your freedom (p. 25)." Kincaid is describing the process by rejecting and holding the traditional view at the same time. Thus, later he will talk about finding God's will for a decision in just the way the traditional view would, though he clearly does not have the same theology in mind.
Decision Making has harmonized Paul's revelation to be an apostle with the wisdom view, but Kincaid seems to just state both and hold them in tension. It is best to simply say God can break in with direct revelation to give specific tasks for a believer like Paul. He can take some of the "freedom" and replace it with direct moral revelation on a specific task.
When push comes to shove, however, Kincaid always falls on the side of the Wisdom view. "When no specific guidance from God seems to be forthcoming, assume that he has already given you enough wisdom to make a good decision (p. 31)." "I've already given you all the guidance you need. I've given you my grand design. Now you decide what you should do (p. 32)." He gives examples of doing what is wise or most expedient (Acts 17:7-15; 1 Thess 3:1-2; Phi. 2:25-26; 1 Cor 16:3-4; Acts 6:2-4; Acts 15:22,23,28; Acts 19:2; 21:4-5)) using most of the same texts as were used in Decision Making. Prayer is still needed. "We do not pray for god to show us the one and only path but to guide us to make prudent choices (p. 34)."
Kincaid differs from Decision Making in another specific way. It is much more open to viewing the impressions as the voice of God helping us to know what to decide.
God speaks through a still, small voice. Often during personal Bible study and prayer, I ask, 'God is there something you want to say to me?' Then I listen. Sometimes I take a piece of paper and put at the top 'Dear Ron' and at the bottom 'Love, God.' Then I write what I think he wants me to hear (43).
"Sometimes I hear from the Holy Spirit in the form of an inward impression or strong conviction (44)." He speaks like the traditional view which approaches prayer as half listening to these inner leadings (44). Are these impressions direct revelation or God's intuitive wisdom for us. Kincaid tries for a hybrid in this respect.
Another important way the Spirit leads us is through our feelings. Learn to pay attention to your gut-level feelings and convictions. I believe in sanctified feelings. If we re filled with the Holy Spirit, he impresses upon us what would be a wise choice ... If my mind tells me one thing and my heart tells me something else, I follow my heart (51).
He later calls these impressions "revelation" which the group must judge. "If the revelation is from God, the discernment process will prove it true (152)." Kincaid needs to make a distinction between impressions and supernatural revelation. His terminology will confuse more than help.
This review does not capture the practical nature of the book. It is filled with true stories and illustrations. At times the stories almost seem to be presented as the proof of his points. They reveal his own godly heart, his humility in family life and his mature discernment in leading a church.
This book could best be described as an inconsistent wisdom view. It is a hybrid of the wisdom view with the traditional view leaving confusion at points. Its strength is its practical teaching on prayer and its foundation of the wisdom view rather than the traditional approach.