My present study of evangelical fideism led me yesterday to revisit the gift book that rocked our pre-9/11 world, the “little prayer with the giant prize” (17), The Prayer of Jabez.
I first noticed 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 in 1989 when Howard Hendricks used it as an example of the importance of observation in my hermeneutics class at Dallas Seminary. He said that if we skip over the genealogies we’re bound to miss some good stuff buried in the middle that will preach or, if put in book form, will sell a bazillion copies (Isn’t it strange that the most celebrated professor at a non-charismatic school has the gift of prophecy? Wouldn’t this make Jack Deere the Sage Rosenfels or Tavaris Jackson of DTS? You have to know the past of DTS and the present of the Minnesota Vikings to get this last point, so skip it if you don’t).
Biblical Hermeneutics was a terrific class which “Prof” team taught with a young fellow named Mark Bailey, who at the time seemed important to me because he had married Steve Green’s sister, but has since earned his own well-deserved reputation as the president of DTS. All to say I appreciate and highly respect the source of Bruce Wilkinson’s booklet, but I have some questions about his execution.
As far as I can tell, here is Wilkinson’s argument:
1. We should ask God for more.
I basically agree with this, though I think Wilkinson possesses an American preoccupation with size (e.g., p. 57—would having less than 100 kids at VBS be a failure?) and a too low view of providence. He is not content with having God work through normal channels, but argues that men and women of faith should be experiencing miracles on a daily basis, (p. 16, 24, 33), which he helpfully defines down as “an intervention by God to make something happen that wouldn’t normally happen” (p. 43). By this definition it’s considered a “miracle” when a stranger opens up to him about her marriage and switches seats on a plane so she can continue their conversation (p. 78-83).
2. We should trust God for more.
Here is where I think Wilkinson gets into trouble. It’s one thing to ask God to bless me, it’s another to claim what I am asking for. If I have a promise from God, then I can and should claim that promise and believe that I will receive it. But short of that, how do I know—to use his examples—that God will clear the way for me to witness to the governor of California or save the island of Trinidad? (p. 32-36). I’m not saying it’s wrong to attempt either of these, but is it right to claim them as God’s will for my life? In other words, can I make a claim on God where there is no promise, and can I claim a promise that is not revealed in Scripture?
3. We should act on what we are trusting God for.
Now Wilkinson’s advice becomes more troubling. He says that if we are asking God for something specific, like “give me the island of Trinidad,” then we should step out in faith and attempt this God-sized goal, trusting him to provide the supernatural resources that we need. If we are not regularly doing this, then we are settling for mediocrity rather than the exciting life of supernatural results that God wants to give us (p. 34, 47, 53, 56, 77).
I agree that we should stretch ourselves and rely on God’s supernatural power—particularly when it comes to loving God and neighbor—but I’m not convinced that faith means claiming promises which God hasn’t made and trusting him to bail us out when we then get into trouble. For a real life example of this, note how Liberty University, a school built by Jerry Falwell and an enormous line of credit, was made solvent only when a benefactor gave tens of millions of dollars to plug the hole left by Jerry’s faith.
Faith is both less and more remarkable than Wilkinson says. It’s less, because it’s about the daily grind of obedience rather than claiming islands for God, and it’s more, for the same reason. Anyone can hop on a plane and hold Bible clubs in Trinidad, but to love my neighbor as myself—that requires an act of God.
So here’s my question: if faith is my reliance upon the promise of God, then can I call it faith when I rely upon what was not promised? If not faith, then what should we call such attempts?