By Elizabeth Prata
Why are there so many female teachers and preachers running around saying they have received a word from God or a prophecy from Jesus? Why is scripture suddenly INsufficient? Why do people seek after ‘a fresh word’? Did the Bible go stale? When was its expiration date?
These are the things I ponder as I see what is being taught or tweeted by so-called women teachers.
In truth, people have always wanted to exalt themselves within their spiritual circles by claiming to have heard from Jesus. It’s not a totally new phenomenon, because sin is not totally new. Neither are false teachers who want to cement their credibility with women who are undiscerning, to get their money. (2 Peter 2:3). However, the wider church’s reaction to such claims is what has changed.
In 1637 female preacher Anne Hutchinson had caused a ruckus that nearly split the nascent colony in two. She was holding meetings in her home where she preached, refused correction, taught that sin had no bearing on one’s attainment to heaven, and more. She held her own against the meetings she was called to with her deep knowledge of scripture and her articulate deftness of warding off opposers in her scripture war. However what did her in was her final argument at her trial, where she claimed God had directly told her she was to continue preaching and teaching. THAT was the final straw, and was a hook her adversaries could hang their hats on. Hutchinson’s fate was sealed.
“Anne was proclaimed a heretic. She and her family were banished from the colony and any supporters in positions of authority were removed. All supporters were forced to surrender arms.”History.com
We don’t hear of people much since the mid-1600s, 1700s, and 1800s who claimed direct revelation- at least, none who were taken seriously by mainstream Christians. Hutchinson was exiled. Joseph Smith (Mormonism) Mary Baker Eddy (Scientology), Ellen G. White (Seventh Day Adventist) all claimed direct revelation and founded false sects of Christianity upon these alleged revelations from on high.
It wasn’t until 1906 when a “weird babel of tongues” as the LA Times put it, broke out at a local mission on Azusa Street.
This new approach to Christianity, with the Holy Spirit allegedly speaking through people (and its twin soon arrived, prophecies) was not embraced widely- at first:
Christians from many traditions were critical, saying the movement was hyper-emotional, misused Scripture and lost focus on Christ by overemphasizing the Holy Spirit. Within a short time ministers were warning their congregations to stay away from the Azusa Street MissionWashington Post
However, discontent with God’s word in the 20th century had arrived. More and more people claimed to have heard directly from God or Jesus or were prompted by the Holy Spirit…and the more that such alleged events were accepted, the more that other women and men clamored for similar experiences. Babbling in tongues and people claiming direct revelation were still marginalized throughout the early part of the 20th century. Everyone seemed to understand that the canon was closed.
Even when Henry Blackaby and Claude King published their book Experiencing God in 1976, it didn’t get a lot of traction at first. Inside the book, they taught that you can and should be hearing directly from God. The 2021 version states:
When the 1976 book was revised and expanded and re-issued in 1990, THEN it took off. People were entranced with the idea that they could and should be hearing straight from God.
Blackaby was a conservative Southern Baptist, a denomination of adherents known back then as ‘People of the Book’, because people in the Southern Baptist Convention were strict about following the inerrant word of God. So they thought, if HE is saying this…and if Lifeway is promoting it…then it must have legs.
“There is nothing more important in life than understanding when God is speaking to you. If you are disoriented to God’s voice, your life is dangerously vulnerable. The Bible indicates conclusively that God does speak to people and that he does guide them in his will. The problem of not hearing from God never lies with God. He does communicate his will. It is not a matter of us searching in vain for God’s hidden will. He readily reveals it to those who show themselves obedient to do it. If you do not hear God’s voice, could it be your heart is not ready to respond to what he says?” ~Henry Blackaby
Wow. A lot of scare tactics there. ‘important’ ‘dangerous’, ‘vulnerable’, ‘problem’…
Removing the trustworthy word of God from its position from heaven outside our sinful minds and instilling a notion of God’s word emitting from a position of subjectivity and internal impressions and whispers only leads to confusion. Worse, was Blackaby blaming the believer when he or she doesn’t “hear”.
Beth Moore was also in the SBC and was considered conservative at the time she founded Living Proof ministries in 1994. She picked up on the Blackaby concepts and began to repeat them, that of hearing from God is an everyday occurrence, claiming she has direct revelations from on high, and teaching from these extra-biblical revelations.
Of course at the time there were others doing the same, claiming to hear directly from God, but those people were fringe and not taken seriously. But when Blackaby and Moore started with it, it took root.
The idea that Christians can and should hear audible words from God or rely on subjective impressions or respond to whispers, is a dangerous teaching that by nowadays has become deeply rooted in evangelicalism.
Joanna Gaines of Magnolia industry and HGTV Fixer Upper TV show, Jennie Allen, founder of wildly popular IF:Gathering, Sarah Young of the books Jesus Calling, Lysa TerKeurst of Proverbs 31 ministry, Priscilla Shirer and others not only believe you should be hearing ‘a fresh word from God,’ but for years, these women have been actively using their ministries to teach women how.
The other day I wrote “A History of Quiet Time” that attempted to show when or where the idea of hearing God’s whispers during our Bible Study time originated. Of course, it goes all the way back to the Garden when the serpent whispered to Eve, but in modern times we can say that one place that the notion took traction was in 1898 when FB Meyer’s book The Secret of Guidance taught that we wrongly go about initiating things for ourselves “instead of ascertaining what God was doing, and where He required our presence.” If that sounds exactly like the 1990 Blackaby’s tenet, “Find out where God is at work and join Him there” well, Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun…
The Azusa Street babble, the various books through the decades promoting direct revelation from God, and the reissue of Experiencing God, combined with various women who consistently and persuasively teach and promote direct revelation has caused the unbiblical concept to become normalized. To be in the club now you have to say you’ve heard a fresh word from God and here it is…
This is sad. This causes confusion, jealousy, pietism, and ill-will.
Please rely only on the word of God. It is trustworthy, while whispers and impressions are not! The Word is Jesus and He gave us His word. It is pure, rich, truthful and dependable. Our subjective impressions are not.
False prophets and lying wonders: Similar ideas have found sweeping acceptance even among non-charismatic Christians. Southern Baptists have eagerly devoured Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King, which suggests that the main way the Holy Spirit leads believers is by speaking to them directly. According to Blackaby, when God gives an individual a message that pertains to the church, it should be shared with the whole body. As a result, extrabiblical “words from the Lord” are now commonplace even in some Southern Baptist circles.