Book Review: Led By the Spirit, by Jim Elliff
Jim Elliff’s book is an extremely well-written and well-argued study of how the Holy Spirit guides the believer. Elliff speaks to the neo-mystical ideas that are taking hold among many evangelical Christians. Belief that God often gives subjective, almost verbal impressions to His people about particular circumstances in their lives is quite common among Christians today. It is taught in the popular study Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and also in the numerous books by Jennifer Kennedy Dean. Elliff doesn’t discount these ideas entirely; it would be difficult to do so, since the Bible so clearly presents God as doing just that. What he does, though, is raise some cautions about relying too much on direct communication from God. “Direct communication by God for personal guidance is not commanded by Scripture nor is there any implication that it is part and parcel of what is the normal Christian life—on the other hand, such guidance is not ruled out,” he says, (p.25). Perhaps most pointedly, he points out that there is no way to determine whether an impression of this kind is really from God or not. Many horrible and ridiculous things have been done on the authority that “I have a word from God.” Christians, Elliff rightly points out, should be exceedingly careful about ordering their lives on subjective impressions. Instead of saying, “God told me,” Elliff writes that a Christian should humbly say, “I believe that God is speaking to me in a special inner way about all of this, but I must test this out carefully by other means to know for sure.” Elliff also makes the helpful point that one cannot use the Scriptures to find a “word” from God. One cannot read the Scriptures and say, “This is what this verse means to me.” The Scriptures have a definite meaning that is unchanging and unchanged since thousands of years ago when it was first written. To claim a verse as a special word from God for oneself, disregarding its meaning in its original context, is to open up a whole new realm of revelation that God never intended for His Word.
This is a wonderfully helpful book for any church whose people have been taught to believe that subjective, particular, personal revelation from God is normative in the Christian life. It is not simply a polemic against that kind of teaching, either. It is also a short, though accurate, study on what the Holy Spirit does in fact do in the life of the believer. He regenerates, leads into knowledge, and sanctifies the life and mind of the believer. Elliff’s book will help to teach Christians that those works are what they should really look for and treasure in their own lives.