Book Review – Step by Step: Divine Guidance for Ordinary Christians by James C. Petty

Good Pastoral Wisdom For Biblical Decision Making

If you are looking for a non-charismatic, non-traditional, presentation of the wisdom view articulated in a more condensed format than Gary Friesen’s book – “Decision Making and the Will of God” – this book is an excellent choice. Even if you disagree with some of Petty’s conclusions, his understanding of God’s sovereignty and providential working in the Bible, history, and our individual lives is very insightful and exegetically sound.

Some of the helpful statements Petty makes on divine guidance are as follows:

“I believe that guidance comes when you learn to apply the Word of God to your life in the wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit.”

“Knowing God’s will is the fruit of a transformed mind.”

“God, I believe, does far more than reveal his general purposes and then leave us to link ourselves to them or pragmatically calculate the most edifying outcomes”

“Guidance is given by God when he gives us insight into issues and choices so that we make the decisions with divinely inspired wisdom. Guidance comes, in short, by God making us wise.”

“He chooses to guide mediately because of the illuminating power of that Spirit.”

“The Bible, properly understood and applied by the Holy Spirit, is completely sufficient for the guidance of the believer.”

“Guidance is knowledge of the will of God, which comes by wisdom and understanding.”

One of the most helpful sections in the book is in part four where he delineates seven ways to apply biblical wisdom in the process of decision-making. There is a very solid emphasis on obeying the delineated moral will of God, and when you do that – it’s much easier to narrow our choices and decide. He gives some very practical illustrations of how to handle real life decisions that we all have to make. Petty is very pastoral, and comes across as a wise counselor himself in this book. I highly recommend that you make this one of your top reads as you seek to be wiser in the process of seeking God’s guidance and direction in your life – especially in the “hard” decisions you need to make.

How Then Should We Choose? Three Views on God’s Will and Decision Making edited by Douglas S. Huffman

Balanced and Helpful Discussion of God-Centered Decision-Making

One of the most practical things we can learn as Christians is to know how God’s revelation in the Scriptures, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and our walk with Christ help us to make decisions that are well-pleasing to God. This thought provoking multi-view book contains three distinct and sometimes overlapping views on how to know and do God’s will. This book is “about Christians making decisions in the light of God’s guidance, that is, in accordance with God’s will…and encouraging Christians toward greater freedom in their decision-making responsibilities to the glory of God who is with us.”

The strategy of this book is that each writer presents his view using biblical, historical, personal, and various practical articulations of it. At the end of each presentation the writer shows the practical ramifications of their view by articulating how they would advise people in seeking out God’s will and make the best decisions possible with reference to three case studies:

Case 1: A Career/College Decision

Case 2: A Relationship Decision

Case 3: A Stewardship Decision

The three views presented are as follows:

View #1 – The Specific-Will View – This view is presented by Henry (earned a ThM and BD from Golden Gate Baptist Seminary & has received four honorary doctorates) and his son Richard Blackaby (PhD in church history from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary).

The essence of this view as articulated by the Blackaby’s is this: “We have presented what some call the traditional view of God’s will. Simply put, it holds that God does have a specific will for your life and He will guide you to find it.”

View #2 – The Wisdom View – This view is offered by Garry Friesen (ThD from Dallas Theological Seminary and currently teaching at Multnomah University in Portland, OR).

The way of wisdom (in decision making) is summarized in four principles:

(1)  Where God commands, we must obey.

(2)  Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose.

(3)  Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose.

(4)  When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good.

View #3 – The Relationship View – This view is articulated by Gordon T. Smith, president of ReSource Leadership International (PhD from Loyola School of Theology).

Gordon T. Smith Summarizes his view in these seven “Working Principles:”

(1) There must be clarity about one’s ultimate allegiance.

(2) It is essential that we attend to what is happening to us emotionally, as the history of the spiritual practice of discernment reminds us.

(3) God leads one step at a time.

(4) We need to sequence our decision making, attending to what needs to be decided first.

(5) We need to be clear about our circumstances.

(6) We need time and space to choose well.

(7) We need accountability – “We need other voices and perspectives, in part because we recognize our capacity for self-deception and rationalization.”

In concluding these seven principles Smith writes, “In all of this, nothing is so pivotal to our capacity to discern well, and then to choose well, as the character and quality of our relationship with Christ.”

I was hoping I would wholeheartedly buy into one of the views presented in this book when I began wrestling with it. After a careful reading I lean toward a blend of the Wisdom and Relational views. I think that Dr. Friesen did the most thorough job of articulating his view – especially with careful exegetical support from the Scriptures, and many practical illustrations of how the “Wisdom View” actually works in decision making. Smith’s “Relational View” was strong in its application of history and in developing a Biblical Theology of Christ and our intimacy with Him in the relational process. I thought the Blackaby’s did a better job in explaining their position and critiquing the other positions in their responses to the Wisdom and Relational Views. However, I was not convinced in any way shape or form that we can know God’s “Specific” will for us – especially in the case studies given.

Douglas S. Huffman (the editor) writes the final two chapters of the book. He does an amazing job of summarizing and articulating the views – their strengths and weaknesses, how they compliment one another, and what can learn from each of them. He also gives a very helpful chart of over 100 books on decision making from the past century and has a geometric way of showing how they are all similar or different to the three views presented in this book. He also makes a very strong case for striving for balance in the positions, and showing how different factors come into play depending on various variables (personality, maturity, emotions, etc.) and circumstances for each individual.

A Christian can’t help but benefiting immensely from reading this book. I highly recommend this book primarily because it is very helpful in at least five specific ways:

1)    Helping you understand the process of decision-making – as opposed to making rash or whimsical decisions. I especially enjoyed the exegetical discussions from the Scriptures and the way each writer demonstrated how the principles from their unique views were used in the very practical case studies.

2)    Seeing the value of each of the writer’s views. I learned something new from each of them – in order to help me better make decisions that are pleasing to God. I was particularly helped in seeing how the emotions, how the Holy Spirit, and our relationship with Jesus are involved in the process of decision-making.

3)    They all did a good job articulating and critiquing one another’s views. It helped me to see that personalities, experiences, education, emotions, spiritual maturity, God’s plans for us, our unique relationship with Him and other elements all play major factors in decision-making – so there is no “one-size-fits-all” process of decision-making that works for all believers across the board. However, various principles and suggestions by each of the writers were very helpful.

4)    It challenged me to continue to read more especially in some of the views that I had not been exposed to before. I witnessed that oftentimes agreement and blending in the various views can help you be more balanced and less rigid in the decision-making process.

5)    I could see how sometimes I’ve made some bad decisions that could have been avoided had I previously read this book (e.g. In the “Relational View” chapter Dr. Smith talked about not making important decisions when you are highly emotional, discouraged or angry). I had a lot of my good decisions confirmed by some of the wisdom shared in this book. I was encouraged that for the most part, I’ve made a lot more good decisions than bad decisions and could see that I have used elements of each author in the process.