Many Christians are at a loss when faced with decisions. “Does God have a specific will regarding this choice?” “What happens if I miss His will?” “Does God care about little things like what color my toothbrush is? If not, how detailed is God’s will for my life?” Christians struggle with questions similar to these every day.
The Traditional View
The traditional mindset concerning God’s will is essentially that God has a specific “blueprint” for every Christian’s life. According to this view, it is possible for a Christian to discern that blueprint and “remain in the center of God’s will,” or mistakenly “miss” God’s will and lose the opportunity to have complete fulfillment or “peace” from God. The process of discerning God’s will, however, is quite subjective and confusing. It often involves “putting out fleeces,” and anxious soul-searching for “peace” about a decision. Further, “God is leading me to . . . “ can become a pious-sounding excuse to do whatever I want to do.
The Friesen / DeYoung View
In 1984 Garry Friesen critiqued this traditional view of the will of God is his book Decision Making and the Will of God, an exhaustive treatment on the subject of the will of God. He offers in its place the idea that God has only a moral will, and the Scriptures are sufficient to lead any Christian for any decision. He asserts that “where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose.”
Fast-forward 20 years. In 2009 Kevin DeYoung wrote Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will. He writes to the rising generation which is facing a different and yet similar struggle to understand God’s will. Many Christians in their twenties and thirties today want to please God, yet they avoid making decisions. They “tinker” around with life, rarely settling into a mature, focused direction. They are overloaded with choices in every area of life, and they want perfect fulfillment, so they never can make up their minds to pursue anything.
In response to this situation, DeYoung exhorts his readers to change their focus. He says, “The question God cares about most is not, “Where should I live?” but “Do I love the Lord with all my heart?” Similarly to Friesen, DeYoung emphasizes the moral will of God, however, he also acknowledges early in his book that God is completely sovereign, to the point of “micromanaging” our lives (p. 20). He explains that “Yes, God has a specific plan for our lives,” but at the same time, he gives us responsibility for our own decisions. He does so through guiding us in decision-making.
Referring to the book Guidance and the Voice of God, by Philip Jensen and Tony Payne, DeYoung lists five principles of God’s guidance. Ultimately, however, the weight of decision-making is placed on the Christian; God’s guidance is entirely unconscious or invisible.
Although DeYoung gives some necessary corrections and helpful nuancing to Friesen’s thesis, they are quite similar in their approach to the will of God. They are helpful in discerning major problems with many Christians’ thinking about God’s will, but they tend to overcorrect and place too much emphasis on personal choice, so that they almost promote freedom from seeking God’s will. DeYoung acknowledges that God has a specific will and guides us in our decisions, but in practice he denies that we should seek to discern that guidance in the sense of seeking the Lord’s leading. Instead, we should make our own decision and trust the Lord to guide us behind the scenes.
Friesen and DeYoung are helpful in correcting error regarding God’s will, but they appear to de-emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s providential leading. Instead, they focus on God’s moral will (the map) leaving the rest up to you. I believe that this view inevitably places too much emphasis on “leaning on my own understanding.” This can lead to a “textbook” approach to the Christian life, ignoring the importance of a Christian’s personal relationship with an immanent God.
Recommendation: Read Decision Making and the Will of God and Just Do Something with discernment while making sure to seek the Lord for guidance, not “leaning on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).