Experiencing God: The Teaching of Henry Blackaby
By Thomas Williamson
I first became aware of the name of Henry Blackaby in 1995, when he was a featured speaker at the annual BMA meeting in Dallas, Texas.
So the subtitle of the article could very well be "Know your BMA annual speakers.
Henry T. Blackaby is Director of the Office of Prayer and Spiritual Awakening at the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is part of a recent trend in which SBC speakers have predominated at the pre-meeting conferences of our BMA annual meetings.
Blackaby became well known when he participated in revival meetings in February, 1992 in Brownwood, Texas. The meetings featured young people confessing their secret sins, and included Southern Baptist, Independent Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Nazarene churches.
Blackaby is co-author, along with Claude Y. King, of the book "Experiencing God: How to Live the Full Adventure of Knowing and Doing the Will of God," which has sold 1.6 million copies and is used as a study guide in many SBC and BMA churches. He has also produced the "Experiencing God Study Bible" which is available in the New King James and New International Version.
He was a featured speaker at the Promise Keepers Clergy Conference in Atlanta, Georgia in February 1996. It may be worth our while to acquaint ourselves with the teachings of such an influential gentleman.
Some Good Teachings
I have found that Blackaby has been criticized for the following teaching:
- He teaches that the Ten Commandments and the old testament moral law are to be observed today.
- He teaches that we are now in the Kingdom of God, and that God expects us to allow Him to work through us to advance His Kingdom.
- He teaches that people should repent and surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Dispensationalists object to such teachings, saying that they are "not for today."
- He teaches that we should seek revival today and that our goal is that the world should be won to Christ. Dispensationalists deny this, insisting that there can be and should be no revival in this age, that Christianity has no power to improve the present world-system or lead the world to Christ, and that those who seek revival and a Christian society are false teachers.
- He teaches or implies that the Body of Christ is a local church, rather than all Christians in all places and times.
In these and other questions of doctrine, I agree with Henry Blackaby against those who criticize him, and I commend him for the good points of teaching to found in his system of doctrine. However, this does not mean that we can uncritically accept all that he teaches. We must exercise discernment with Blackaby, just as with any other Christian author.
Some Not-so-good Teachings
A sign of possible error in Blackaby's theology can be found on p. 19 of Blackaby's book "Experiencing God" when he states "With God working through me, I can do anything God can do." This statement assigns to man the attribute of omnipotence, which is a mistake. Only God can do anything God can do.
It gets worse, as Blackaby tells us how we can know about God. "In the Scriptures knowledge of God comes through experience. We come to know god as we experience Him in and around our lives." (p.5) "God wants you to come to a greater knowledge of Himself via experience. (p.19)
I must strenuously disagree with this teaching. We know about God through His revealed, inspired, preserved Word of God, the Bible, not through our experience. (Of course, Blackaby gives lip service to the Bible as one of many sources of knowledge about God. This is not good enough. We must realize that the Bible is the allsufficient source of our information about God. Once we accept the subjective experiences of man, then we are open to accept anything, including all the excesses of the charismatic movement, and the ministry of women preachers who have "experienced" a call of God into the ministry.)
Lest anyone think it is unfair to accuse Blackaby's teaching of opening the way into the wilderness of charismatic wildfire, let me quote what Blackaby said at a press conference at the Atlanta Promise Keepers meeting, when he was asked what he thought about the so-called "Laughing Revival." Blackaby answered, "We don't try to evaluate that, and neither do we take a position regarding women serving as pastors." Why indeed should Blackaby or anyone else take a stand against such things, if we know about God primarily by our experiences rather than through His Word.
At this point it should be evident that the very title of Blackaby's book "Experiencing God" is a misnomer, and that part of his theological system is built on the shifting sands of fallible human experience rather than on the solid foundation of God's infallible Word.
Do You Hear God's Voice Like Moses Did?
It gets worse. Blackaby teaches that believers should be able to hear the voice of God speaking to them like Moses, Abraham and Noah did. This certainly implies a continuing miraculous, inspired revelation from God to man, which actually ceased at the end of the first Century when the New Testament was completed. Even in the time of Moses, God did not speak to anyone else like He did to Moses (see Numbers 12:6-8.) God punished Miriam with leprosy for the offense of claiming to hear God's voice like Moses did, Numbers 12:2, 10
Blackaby, going by experience rather than by the Word of God, exhorts today's Christians, saying "If you have trouble hearing God speak (like this), you are in trouble at the very heart of your Christian experience." (p.36) If you accept this teaching and feel properly guilty and unspiritual about your inability to hear God's voice just like Moses did, then you are ready to go on to the solutions that Blackaby proposes. If you are not hearing those audible voices from God, all you have to do is obey your leaders without question!
Blackaby teaches that there is only one possible will for the life of every Christian, and that the Christian must learn God's perfect will for every action or else he will go astray. But how can we learn God's will for everything we do without a continuing revelation from God? Not to worry- just follow your leaders and do not disagree with anything they propose. According to Blackaby, true Christian unity means that all members of a church must be in to talk agreement even on non-moral, nontheological matters (such as whether to proceed with a building program.)
On page 169 Blackaby warns that if a member disagrees with the majority, this "indicates that they might have a fellowship problem with the Lord." He goes on to describe his model church, in which they never took a vote asking 'How many of you are for this and how many of you are against it?' That is the wrong question. Every time you ask that question you have a potential church split." Say goodbye to the Baptist model of congregational rule, and say hello to dictator rule. It is too bad that Blackaby was not around to put a stop to the election of the Apostle Matthias in Acts 1.
Dangerous Teaching Based on Unscriptural Premises
I would just love Blackaby's book, if I was a pastor or religious leader that wanted to make unquestioning zombies out of my followers, so that they would do whatever I wanted them to do without question. I would order copies for every member (our of church founds), get everyone to read and study it, and make everyone feel that their spirituality, and our hopes for revival in the church, depended on their acceptance of Blackaby's teaching.
This is not intended as a judgment an Blackaby's motives for writing this book, or the motives of the pastors who recommend it. I am willing to believe the best about the motives of Blackaby and his followers. Nevertheless, the logical consequences of Blackaby's teaching tend to lead to a system of authoritarian leadership in the churches which, if understood in advance, would be rejected by the vast majority of BMA pastors and BMA church members.
Blackaby has built up a consistent theological system for understanding God's will, but this system is built on a foundation of false, unscriptural premises and therefore should be rejected. It is not true that God is still speaking to us today like He did to Noah, Abraham and Moses. Nor is it true that in each of our life-decisions, there is only one possible decision we can make that is within the will of God. Without continuing revelations from God, there is no way we could obey such a rigid, unscriptural concept of God's will.
For those who want to do an in-depth study of the concept of the will of God, I would not recommend Blackaby's book.
Let us also continue to study our Bibles and seek to know about God, not through mistaken, subjective human "experience," but through His revealed Word.