Decisions, Decisions

How (and How Not) to Make Them

Author: Dave Swavely
Publisher: Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003
View: Wisdom View

When Decision Making and the Will of God was first published, our plan was to wait one year and then publish a much shorter version. The first edition, however, sold too well and the shorter version was abandoned. Decisions, Decisions may be the shorter version! It is easy to read, much shorter and has the same thesis as Decision Making.

Swavely has carefully read Decision Making and quotes from it at several junctures. He comes to the same conclusions, uses much of the same biblical evidence, but puts the concepts in his own words and perspective. He differs from our presentation in that he is a confirmed cessationist, that is, he believes that the miraculous gifts have ceased. I am more open to the possibility of miracles and the miraculous gifts today, but this does not directly change the thesis. Both views on the miraculous gifts can hold the Wisdom View.

The first portion of the book refutes wrong views. It includes a good summary of the evidence against the traditional view and its concept of a third will of God (the so called “individual” will) that is an ideal plan for each believer. This section also gives a good summary of the evidence for the cessation of the miraculous gifts (17-42). He has a very helpful explanation of the two valid uses of God’s will (44-51) and uses the same terminology: God’s moral will and God’s sovereign will.

His explanation of the role of feelings and impressions is well written (61-78). He agrees that impressions are part of the raw material of a decision, but they are not signs from God nor do they have authority as the voice of God. He takes on several popular noncharismatic pastors in the defense. He rightly concludes that such pastors are denying revelation from God, but treating impressions like revelation.

Swavely comes to the same solid conclusions about circumstances, counsel, desires and prayer (79-96). They each have their role in the decision making process, but they are not signs from God. He rightly argues that prayer is speaking to God not listening to God by introspection into our impressions during prayer (92-93).

He is especially good at explaining how wisdom is applied to the decision making process. His explanation shows how the process is spiritual and guided by faith.

Swavely has a good summary of the decision making process. The prerequisites are: Walking in the Spirit, Recognizing God’s sovereignty and Praying for Wisdom and Providence (99-119). The believer starts with Scripture (What does the Bible say about my decision? 121-125).” After Scripture has been applied, the believer then comes to the “Line of Freedom”. I was especially pleased that under the concept of freedom he quoted our complete parable, “The First Supper” (145-147).

In the area of freedom, the believer seeks God’s Wisdom (What is the wisest choice? 125-131) and uses personal Desire (What do I want to do? 131-137). This emphasis on desires comes into play when two things are equally moral and wise. The chart of this process is simple and very helpful (98, 141). It communicates the same thesis as Decision Making, but in a form that may be more helpful to some readers. He is very practical and clear on describing what the Scripture means by wisdom. He also illustration of Paul’s decision making with the Romans (Rom. 1 & 15, 157-170).

In the footnotes he makes several comments about Decision Making. He considers the discussion of the Bible passages using “God’s will” to be excellent for showing that the idea of an individual is not in the biblical author’s mind (p. 182).

He discusses a potential weakness of Decision Making (footnote 2, 188). He says that even those who appreciate Decision Making “think that Friesen’s strong emphasis on wisdom can sometimes inadvertently minimize the importance of Scripture”. The book may cause some to jump too quickly past Scripture concerning a particular issue. “In light of this danger, it may have been better for Friesen to call his approach the ‘Biblical Wisdom View’ instead of just the ‘Wisdom View.'”

To this concern I say, “Amen, Amen”. I have spent my life reading, memorizing and teaching Scripture as sufficient for all that we need. My main reason for not using “biblical” in the title was to be fair to the traditional view. It also is an honest attempt to be biblical. To be consistent it would have to be called, the “Biblical Traditional View”. So, I think I’ll leave the titles the same, but hope Swavely’s warning is heeded and no one lessens the primary role of Scripture in my view.

Another concern is raised by some about my view of sovereignty (footnote 4, p. 188). “[Friesen’s book] gives the impression that God’s sovereignty does not extend to the smallest details.” Swavely correctly calls this a “misunderstanding”, but adds “perhaps he could have been more careful to avoid that impression in some of his wording (for example, he often contrasts the ‘sovereign will’ with the idea of an ‘individual will,’ making it seem as if the sovereign will may not be individual, but merely general.).”

Swavely is right that I believe God’s sovereignty is detailed and exhaustive (see chp. 12 in both editions). We added a footnote in the revised edition to speak to this confusion. We had to use the term “individual” will since that is the term used by the traditional view. They do not use it for God’s sovereignty and we had to make that contrast clear. But obviously, God’s sovereign will is individual. It cannot be detailed and exhaustive unless it does apply to every individual person and individual thing.

Swavely’s book is the shorter book we were going to write. So I recommend it as an easier primer on the “biblical” Wisdom View. In addition, this website also contains two of our presentations that are much shorter. One is the “Introduction” of the new edition and the other is a 30 minute read called “Principles of Decision Making.”