The pastor at the church I was visiting was adamant. “God only speaks through the Bible.” He went on to explain that while God spoke through dreams, prophets, angels, and a “still, small voice” in the Old Testament, now that we have the completed Bible, Scripture is the only way God still communicates with us.
A while later, I was reading through a new blog I had just discovered. For the most part, I loved what the writer had to say. But then I came across this troubling passage:
Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit in the Bible, God does not promise that he will speak in any other way. In other words, we can all expect and believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. But he does not promise to speak in the ways he has spoken before, or in new ways.
Shortly after that, I was at the Ligonier Ministries website, home of “the teaching fellowship of R. C. Sproul,” and came across these words:
The Reformers, including individuals such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, proclaimed that there is but one place to find special revelation—the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. They asserted the doctrine of sola Scriptura: the only source of special revelation for the church today is the Bible … We must be content with what we have—the Apostolic and prophetic words of Scripture. To look beyond these for a word from God is to look in vain.
For some reason, after decades as an happily oblivious Christian, I’m suddenly confronted by this viewpoint everywhere I turn, including some very respected sources. Is God trying to get my attention? Or could these noted theologians be missing something important?
As usual, I ended up doing a lot of research. I learned that this idea is included in dispensationalism—the belief that God has divided history into different ages, or dispensations, and that He deals with mankind differently in each one. Thus, Dispensationalists believe that before Jesus arrived on the scene, God spoke through dreams, visions, prophets, etc.—but now He doesn’t. (Dispensationalists have definite opinions on other topics, as well.)
In my research, I found plenty of articles available explaining why people believe that God now only speaks through the Bible. Most of these articles quote Hebrews 1:1-2—“In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son.” (Notice that it does not say, “In these final days, though, he spoke to us through the Bible.”)
I found plenty more articles explaining that God still speaks in an assortment of ways. Many of those quote Jesus in John 16:12-13—“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come.”
And what about Luke 12:11-12? Jesus tells his disciples, “When they bring you before the synagogues, rulers, and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what you should say. The Holy Spirit will tell you at that very moment what you must say.” (See also Matthew 10:19 and Mark 13:11.)
There are other verses, and together they make a compelling case, but there are more reasons I believe God speaks in various ways even today.
For one, the Bible compares our relationship with Jesus to marriage (see Ephesians 5:32). Now, imagine being married—but the only way you can communicate with your beloved spouse is through a predetermined collection of letters (texts, emails, etc.). Here you are at a romantic restaurant, candlelight, flowers, the works—and to talk to one another, you have to pull out your phones and resend pieces of texts you wrote a long time ago. Can you say “frustrating”?
And what about all the reports of God speaking to Muslims through dreams and visions. He appears to them as a man dressed in white, urging them to follow Jesus. It’s unlikely that they have a Bible to read, but that doesn’t stop the Holy Spirit.
“In the last days,” says God, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28) That doesn’t sound like God is now limiting the way He communicates!
Finally, while God does speak through His Word, He also speaks in other ways. I know He does, because I’ve heard Him. No, it wasn’t an audible voice (although I know people who have experienced God’s voice spoken out loud). But there was no doubt in my mind that God was speaking. As Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). (See my previous post “God Told Me…” for how I recognize God’s voice.)
I’m firmly convinced that, while God certainly speaks through Scripture, He isn’t limited to His written Word. He also speaks in ways such as dreams, visions, nature, circumstances, other believers, and directly to my mind by the Holy Spirit.
The more important question is, are we listening?