Book Review: Step by Step by James C. Petty (Part Three)

Part Three: Experiencing Guidance

Chapter eight, “Guidance and the Wisdom of God,” begins by rearticulating that “the central idea of this book is that discernment is the key to knowing God’s will for your life and for specific situations . . . the purpose of this book is to show that the Bible’s answer to our need for guidance boils down to one very rich word: wisdom” (135). To demonstrate the clear biblical basis for this position, Petty reflects on “five key passages in the New Testament that teach us how to actually know God’s will” (136): Colossians 1:9-10, Philippians 1:9-11, Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 5:15-17, and James 1:5-7. Wisdom is defined as “the moral skill to understand and apply the commandments of God to situations and people” (144). This wisdom comes from God and is “more miraculous and supernatural than any prophecy or directly inspired revelation” for in the giving of wisdom “God progressively transforms sinners to think like himself, with God’s priorities, sensitivities, agenda, and love” (149). This way of wisdom is far superior to other methods for trying to discern God’s will, which Petty views not only as faulty, but as harmful. In fact, “the claims of some that God led them by inner impressions, vivid thoughts, inner voices, dreams, unusual circumstances, and ‘fleecing’ have crowded out the overwhelmingly biblical emphasis on our need to acquire godly wisdom and discernment” (152).

Chapter nine (“Experiencing Guidance”) turns a corner in practicality by suggesting “six experiences that qualify as guidance” (155). “First, the Holy Spirit guides by focusing our hearts to love and serve specific people in specific ways” (155). “Second, God guides us by helping us identify priorities” (157). “A third way God guides us through discernment is through moral and spiritual insight” (158). “A fourth way in which God may grant discernment is by helping us know what to say” (161). “Fifth, we experience guidance through being ‘led by the Spirit’” (162). “A sixth but related guidance experience centers on what theologians call ‘the internal witness of the Spirit’” (163). Petty develops these points from Scripture and provides helpful illustrations and application.

The doctrine of God’s providence is picked up again in the tenth chapter, “Providence: The Left Hand of God’s Guidance.” This chapter is helpful, not only in reemphasizing the fact of God’s sovereign control over the affairs of life, but especially in helping believers locate more subjective factors that influence our decision making within the sphere of God’s providence, to be evaluated by God’s revealed will in Scripture. “The wisdom-based approach to guidance – rather than trying to protect our lives from the influence of impressions, hunches, dreams, and circumstances – allows us to enjoy them fully. We use them as providential input, not as revelation or spiritual guidance. The crucial different is that they are not seen as a means of guidance. They are seen for what they really are: the workings of God’s providence” (173-174). In other words, unusual circumstances, personal feelings, impressions, and dreams should neither be blindly followed nor totally disregarded. Rather, “we should evaluate that material as we would any ideas we received from any source – a friend, a news report, or a phone call” (174). And the standard by which we evaluate everything is God’s will revealed in his Word.

If God guides us in the way of wisdom, the next concern is “How to Become Wise” (chapter eleven). The course to wisdom is charted for us in five steps. “To become wise one must: (1) know God and be changed by him, (2) be committed to a progressive consecration to God, (3) diligently and persistently seek wisdom, (4) learn from those who are wise, and (5) participate in the ongoing decision making God requires of us daily” (186). These steps are developed primarily from the book of Proverbs, while at the same time clearly relating wisdom to Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:2).

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