Dueling Book Reviews

Review #1 by Michael Herrington

When I interviewed for my current position, one of the committee members asked, “How do you discern God’s will?” My answer went something like, “Pray, seek counsel and make the decision that will help you grow in Christ.”

I believe those words, but sometimes I want something more concrete. So Samra’s book, God Told Me, intrigued me. While my wife and I feel that God has led us into some pretty incredible and at the same time crazy decisions, I wouldn’t have said, “God told me.”

Samra believes, however, that God tells His people what they should do about all kinds of things from cars to careers. God does this through numerous means: the Bible, sermons, prayer and fasting, inner promptings, casting lots, dreams, putting out fleeces, wisdom from others, and circumstances.

The street, however, runs both ways: In order to hear, the Christian must walk in purity, be willing to do whatever God says, be willing to wait and believe that God speaks.

Yet a vague, subjective feeling pervades the majority of the book. For example, early on we learn that God speaks through circumstances and others’ counsel, but later we learn that sometimes people can be wrong and circumstances may not be leading us where we thought.

Samra insists that we should seek God’s direction and wait to hear. Toward the end, though, Samra implies a subjective process: “If you have searched out the Lord and listened for His guidance as best you can, choose the path you think He is leading you down. . . . ”

I’m left asking if I can really know.

Certainty, however, is not DeYoung’s main concern in Just Do Something. DeYoung distinguishes between God’s will of decree (God’s sovereignty), God’s will of desire (God’s commands) and God’s will of direction (God’s “plan for our life”).

The first can’t be avoided; the second is spelled out in Scripture and meant to be followed; but the third is at times a mystery. DeYoung says that “[God] does not burden us with the task of divining His will of direction for our lives ahead of time.”

Thus, for DeYoung, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness leaves one free to not fret over the details. “He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience and invites us to take risks for Him.”

If that committee member came back and asked if I had any new insights, I would say that my advice had not changed, and I would hand them DeYoung’s book, not Samra’s, for a deeper look.

Michael Herrington pastors Christ Community Church (EFCA) in Andrews, N.C. He and his wife, Dana, have three daughters, and as they seek to follow God where He leads, they hope to instill the truth that God is interested in revealing His grace and goodness in the midst of life’s decisions.

Review #2 by Andy Pull

In Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung encourages the reader to quit looking for some magical sign that will make decisions easy, and instead recognize that God’s greatest concern is for holiness. As long as one is trying to honor God, there is no bad choice.

Sadly, his advice—to look for something appealing with only a modicum of discernment and just do it—is a rather self-centered strategy. The “do what feels right” mantra that pervades modern society is dangerous precisely because our hearts are desperately wicked and our motives often hard for us to self-discern.

Jim Samra’s God Told Me gives advice that’s almost the polar opposite, telling Christians to consistently seek direction from God before taking action—even when circumstances appear to demand an immediate choice. It’s a sort of Christian rendition of “don’t let the good be the enemy of the best.”

While both books could be helpful in differing situations (DeYoung to the paralyzed worrier, Samra to the self-reliant), it is clear that both authors cannot be correct throughout. After all, both appeal to Acts 15:28 as support for their diametrically opposed arguments.

In terms of content, Samra makes more conscientious and consistent use of Scripture, while a lot of what DeYoung writes is negatively framed—targeted against a mindset rather than in favor of his own methodology for God-honoring decision making.

Without a doubt, much of what DeYoung writes could be helpful to a timid soul afraid of walking into disaster with the slightest misstep from God’s will. Nevertheless, his methodology can in many ways be distilled down to “do what seems right and be a good person.”

A discerning believer would glean wisdom from digesting both volumes, but the reader limited in time or patience should pick up God Told Me.

God told Andy Pull and his wife, Lisa, to turn down the “perfect” church near home and move to North Platte, Neb., where Andy currently serves as associate pastor at Bethel Church (EFCA). His father once emailed him a picture of a sheep to serve as a fleece concerning a major decision. 

Review #3 by Cor Chmieleski

Ironically, I received the following message, from a recent college graduate, as I was reading through Just Do Something and God Told Me:

I am continually praying for God’s direction in the next phase of my life. . . . Sometimes I wish He’d leave me a voicemail, just one sentence, ‘Quit your job and go to grad school.’ Or ‘Take the job at Ameriprise.’ So simple! I’d do it in a heartbeat.

What’s the best response to my friend?

Kevin DeYoung, author of Just Do Something, would respond that God values more the type of person my friend will be, regardless of whether he chooses grad school or Ameriprise.

What’s more, DeYoung goes to considerable lengths to dissuade believers from seeking God’s “will of direction.” Rather, my friend ought to pursue God’s “will of decree and desire” as evidenced in the Scriptures, wise counsel and prayer.

Conversely, Jim Samra, author of God Told Me, would respond that God cares very much about the everyday decisions of life such as where to live, whom to marry, with whom to share the gospel and—ta dah!—which job to take.

Through scriptural examples and personal stories, Samra aims for readers to believe that God still speaks, if only we might listen. And if we listen in the manner Samra suggests, then we, too, might say with assurance, “God told me.”

Both approaches produce concerns. DeYoung communicates—both in his content and pejorative manner—that we should not expect God to guide in minute, specific, personal ways. Some readers will struggle with such a seemingly agnostic approach to God communicating direction to His people.

Samra contends that God does always answer. Therefore, God’s nonresponse could be due to a person’s sin, lack of faith, improper motives, etc. Any reader who believes that, at some point in his her past, God hasn’t answered, will feel the sting from Samra’s contention: The fault is your own.

Given such polarized perspectives, I often found myself somewhere in between. Many readers may feel the same. Each will need to answer for themselves:

  • Do you believe that God’s typical guidance is through means already established (DeYoung) or through means yet to be conferred (Samra)?
  • In the Book of Acts, do you sense, as Samra describes, that God’s guidance came as a result of “deliberate, intentional and explicit” actions on the part of the disciples? Or do you agree with DeYoung, that such supernatural guidance was God-initiated rather than something birthed through human initiation?
  • Do you believe that God intends to reveal His will of direction (Samra), or should we strictly pursue His will of decree and desire (DeYoung)?
  • Should we seek God’s guidance, with full assurance, believing that every single time He will answer (Samra) or that He already has (DeYoung)?

As you consider these questions, could you let me know your answers? My friend still needs a response.

Cor Chmieleski is senior associate pastor at Hope Community Church (EFCA) in Minneapolis, Minn. The topic of “God’s will” is consistently discussed within Hope Community, where the average age is 24.

*The books’ actual titles are: God Told Me: Who to marry, where to work, which car to buy . . . and I’m pretty sure I’m not crazy and also Just Do Something: A liberating approach to finding God’s will or How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.

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