And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts
— 2 Peter 1:19

A firm grip on biblical doctrine has repeatedly been threatened by a kind of Christian empiricism, which causes us to consider our own experiences as being more credible than the Words in the Bible. Therefore, to say doctrine matters more than experience is to say that the truth revealed in God’s objective Word alone is authoritative regarding all matters of the Christian life, and that our subjective personal experiences simply are not authoritative.


Subjective is defined as... “related to the mind as the subject of experience, belonging to a perceived reality.”

Objective is defined as... “related to sensible experience independent of perceptible, clearly observable by all.”

This is not to say that our experiences have no place in the Christian's life or theology or that certain experiences are not truly from God. In fact, the person who professes faith yet never feels genuine emotion related to what he or she believes, never senses encouragement due to the Spirit’s activity in their life, likely, isn’t a Christian. Believers can be confident that we will observe answered prayer and will certainly have times in our lives when we are particularly marked in memorable ways by God's apparent involvement. No doubt, it is possible to perceive His provision, protection, and His work of our sanctification. While we may accurately observe or sense these things, we must honestly recognize that it is also possible that we misinterpret them as just well. Therefore, it is important that we properly submit our experiences to what the Bible says for approval and agreement, reconciling our spiritual experiences with the unchanging Word of God, not God’s Word with our subjective experiences.

That is to say, no experience may lead us to believe something contrary to or additional to what God has already revealed to us in the Bible.


The so-called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” regards Christian theology as a “conversation” between four things: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. This may be. However, among the four sources, one source must have priority over the others and that, of course, is God’s holy Scripture. Thus, this quadrilateral is by no means an equilateral, in terms of authority.

This is because God’s Word is sufficient and it is the highest standard of all wisdom for belief, and it is the highest standard of all truth for practice. The reformers described the ultimate authority of God’s Word with the Latin phrase... “Norma normans non normata,” which is translated is “The norm of norms that can’t be normed.” By this they meant that it is the Bible that decides what is normative and always true, and not the Anti-Christian teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, not culture, and not subjective personal experience. In addition to this latin phrase, they used another phrase more than any other to communicate the sole place of authority Scripture has. It was "Sola Scriptura," which is translated, "Scripture Alone." Our experiences are never to surpass, or even match, Scripture in authority. The truth is that even legitimate spiritual experiences, much like the miracle of salvation, are largely (if not completely) unpredictable. But, Scripture is sure and it is settled. In Scripture, God has spoken, and yet is always speaking to us.


OVER-SPIRITUALIZED EMOTIONALISM

Many evangelicals have been exposed to what is now known as Pentecostalism and the subsequent movements of the Charismatic movement and The Third Wave (New Apostolic Reformation). In these movements, the role of the Holy Spirit is magnified beyond His sacred role, sign-gifts are practiced beyond their Biblical jurisdiction, and over-spiritualized personal experiences are elevated in authority beyond the written Word. And with little respect for God’s written Word by which to confirm or test them, these experiences are widely accepted as credible validations for countless false teachings and misleading doctrines.

Neither our belief nor our practice is predicated on any experience, be it emotional or spiritual. There is no biblical precedent or instruction given by which post-apostolic believers are to expect or even desire God to move in noticeable and extraordinary ways, in order to prove Himself or validate our faith. In fact, the disciple Thomas was rebuked by Jesus for demanding a sign, and was then encouraged to believe solely based on what he had already seen and heard from Jesus. Likewise, Peter praises such faith that needs no experiential validation

Even during the uniquely miraculous time of the Apostles, personal experiences were repeatedly overshadowed by God's glorious written Word given to all, once and for all, in Christ...

  • Mary kept her angelic visitations, divine announcements, and overwhelmingly emotional experiences to herself.
  • Jesus, after being dead in the grave for three days and having been raised, revealed who He was to two men on the road to Emmaus by simply explaining to them the (Old Testament) Scriptures. 

  • Peter, after seeing the glorified Son of God, merely mentions it in order to further emphasize just how more sure, more reliable, and more sufficient God’s written Word is compared to visions.

  • John, who was also also a witness of the transfiguration, never considered it worth mentioned it in any of his 5 letters (books) of the Bible. 

  • Paul, after one of the most dramatic salvation experience known to man, reasoned with the people of Thessalonica from the Scriptures and not his fantastical experience! Also, Paul, was extremely reluctant to even mention his experience in God's presence.

  • James, the "brother of our Lord", introduces himself to his readers as a bond-slave of Jesus, because of the Gospel when he could have easily emphasized all the unique, personal times with Jesus.

The biblical precedent is clear: Truth is not what happens to you; it is what God has revealed in Scripture!


EXTRA-BIBLICAL PERSONAL REVELATION

There is also no Biblical precedent or instruction for believers to expect or even desire to hear individually from God by personal divine revelation, not even during prayer. “Listening prayers” or simply being attentive to hear God’s “still small voice” is a false-teaching based on a lack of faith, a discontentment with Scripture, and/or a faulty interpretation of Scripture taken out of its original context. This sort of subjective experimentation is a hot-bed for dangerous false-prophesies and disillusioning "impressions." 

While God certainly guides the believer by The Spirit's influence on their heart and mind, He no longer "speaks", except by His Word. Some say that God "speaks", not directly to their ears or minds, but to their heart. Or others, that we don't hear his voice but we can see His "hand" at work in our lives. These may be honorable attempts to carefully communicate that God is sovereignly active. This is right and good as long as we recognize that our interpretation of these experiences may well be flawed. This leaves us to consider a couple of important questions... How important is it to try and interpret our personal experience? And how are we to know how valid those experiences are? The answers will include both a sensitivity to the Spirit's leading and simultaneous submission to the sufficiency of Scripture. In either case, we know that the more understanding we have of His objective Word, the more credibility we can give our subjective experiences

 If the disciples were every going to listen for God to speak to them, it would probably have been in Acts 1 and 15.

  • In Acts 1, when the 11 remaining disciples were faced with the decision to replace Judas, Peter made a very natural and logical decision to do something that Old Testament prophecy told them to do. They made the decision by narrowing it down to men who met the criteria, then they prayed (as short prayer) and cast the dice, submitting the odds to the Lord to decide by natural means.

  • Or consider that Luke writes three times in Acts 15 that extremely important first Church decisions were made these titans of the Apostolic Church era simply perceived a certain decision was best or that it seemed to them to be in agreement with the Spirit.

Proponents of hearing God speak personal revelation will commonly misinterpret a couple passages in particular. 

  • John 10:27 - Jesus is talking about God's "effectual call" or inner-call for salvation and not divine, detailed, private communication. (see Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 2:1-5, 1 Thessalonians 2:11-14, 1 Peter 2:9; 5:10)

  • John 14:26 - Jesus is talking to His remaining 11 and not yet referring to the Church as a whole like He clearly does in chapter 17. He spoke of the revelation and remembrance they would need to record and be a witness of a Scripture, not to each Christian individual promising divine, detailed, private communication. 

At the end of the day, If you want to hear God speak, read His Word. Then pray to be sensitive to the guidance and the sanctifying work of The Holy Spirit as He renews your mind and gives you more and more a heart of flesh, as opposed to stone.


We must fiercely affirm what we believe about the Bible. Most all Christians would agree that the Bible is Inspired of God, and that the Bible is without any error, even perhaps that it is authoritative in everything it commands. But the question here is about the sufficiency of it's revelation. This is our generation's postmodern attack on Scripture. We must understand that to truly affirm the sufficiency of Scripture, is not only to affirm that what God reveals is enough; but also that what He omits is unnecessary

Many evangelicals today believe just about every sincere story they hear; very little is questioned, even less is challenged, and sadly, almost nothing is rejected. This lack of discernment makes many Christians susceptible to all kinds of irresponsibly weak, questionable, and heretical teaching. Many of which appeal to the desire and expectation of people in the Church to experience extra-Biblical revelation by hearing God speak to them personally and to see God move in extraordinarily miraculous ways. Many claim to have had "undeniable experiences" with God and to have "heard from God directly." Perhaps. The truth is that they are mostly likely following (if not fabricating) their our feelings, sensations, and ideas. In either case, we are not responsible to believe their claim simply because we feel it to be impolite to question their validity. We are, however, responsible to test everything against the objective Word, which is our final standard of sufficient truth

 



 
The sufficiency of Scripture means that we don’t need any more special revelation. We don’t need any more inspired, inerrant words. In the Bible God has given us, we have the perfect standard for judging all other knowledge.
— John Piper