This past month, I have had the privilege of reading Garry Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God. At this time in my life, I have to make a lot of decisions that could greatly affect my future. This book came to me at a very opportune time through one of my college professors. My professor explained that this book has caused great controversy among the Evangelical Christian community. Some people only read the first part of the book, become angry, and then stop reading altogether.
Before beginning my review of this book, I would like to preface this by saying that I only read the second edition of the book. Apparently, the first edition was more abrupt in its arguments, but in the second edition, Friesen prepares his readers for what he is about to do.
Decision Making and the Will of God discusses how to make wise decisions in order to follow the will of God. This sounds like a traditional book that agrees with the view that most Christians have: that God has an individual will for each human being. Friesen starts his first third of the book explaining the traditional view using the example of a college graduate who wants to marry a girl; she is a great girl, but she wants to work in Africa, and the college graduate is not sure if he wants to move to Africa. The college graduate speaks to a pastor about this issue, and the pastor gives him a lecture on the ways to make decisions according to the traditional view of decision making in the church. The pastor explains the importance of reading the Bible, seeking wise counsel, and looking for open doors in order to find out God’s will for his life. Now, Friesen does not seem to disagree with the means of finding out God’s will, and nor do I. However, there is one disagreement that Friesen makes obvious throughout his book: God may have a moral will (what he expects from those who follow him) and a sovereign will (an unknowable plan that affects all of history and beyond), but God does not have an individual will (an individual plan for each person).
Throughout his book, Friesen is very careful to respect the fact that the majority of Christians hold to the view that God has an individual will for each person. He calls this will “the dot.” According to Part 2 of his book, the dot does more harm than good. Friesen spends a few chapters discussing the problems with searching for the dot. When Christians spend all of their energy trying to find this dot, they become discouraged and, even if they make a wise decision, may end up feeling guilt as if they had made the wrong decision.
Instead of waiting on God’s individual will, Friesen suggests using wisdom. God has given us all that we need to make good decisions, through his word, through his Spirit, through other believers, and through our logic. In the last section of his book, Friesen includes specific ways that we can use wisdom to discern the will of God in various areas of our lives. These areas include entering the ministry, dealing with conflicts among believers, and deciding whom to marry.
His conclusion is like cold water on a steaming pan. He makes sure that he does not offend anyone with his arguments. As a matter of fact, he states his acceptance of those who agree with the traditional view of the will of God. In his final paragraphs, he justifies why he published this book, even though he knew it would offend some people. He gives three reasons: 1) Romans 14 says that we will all have differing opinions, but we must be accepting of each other’s beliefs and use Scripture to determine our own beliefs on certain issues; 2) he does not imply that he has suddenly discovered the truth, but he is convinced that this way of determining the will of God is Biblical; 3) even if Friesen does not convince his readers to agree with him, this book will help to strengthen the traditional view by looking at it from another perspective.
I very much appreciated the layout of the book. Although it is lengthy (which I did not mind), Friesen summarizes the main points at the end of each chapter. He is also very aware of the fact that his book may not get good reviews. He is walking on thin ice by attacking the method that many Evangelical Christians use to discern the will of God. However, Friesen includes a “Frequently Asked Questions” section at the end of some chapters, so that he can better explain himself.
Interestingly enough, I had read this book when my pastor was doing a sermon series on decision making. Knowing that this book probably was going to differ from what my pastor would say, I decided to read them both and then form my own opinion about decision making. After reading the 423-page book and listening to the seven-week series on decision making, I believe that since God is sovereign, he has a plan for each person in his sovereign will. If we read the Bible, pray, seek wise counsel, and use our logic, we can determine what steps to take. However, I think that if we use all of those methods, it is impossible to make a wrong decision. I’m not saying that we will miraculously know the right way; I’m saying that I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way.
When I was deciding where to go to college, I used the traditional view to find out where God wanted me to go to school. I ended up choosing a very nice school based on open doors, talking to other people, and reading the Bible. However, when I went there, I did not like it. I was very uncomfortable, and I did not feel close to God. It was very expensive, and I could not afford it. After a semester, I decided to transfer. For a long time, I wondered if God was angry at me for making the wrong decision in choosing that school. But after reading this book and thinking about it, I don’t think I made the wrong decision. I don’t think there was a wrong decision. I believe that God was telling me to go to college, but he gave me the freedom to choose where to go. Then, when I was not comfortable, he gave me the freedom to choose a different school. In both cases, God blessed me; even if I had stayed at my first school, I know that God would have been fine with my decision. There are some people who sit around and wait for God to light up the sky and tell them what he wants them to do. I do not deny that God does that sometimes. There is Biblical evidence of God giving “signs” to people who are seeking his will. However, I also believe that sometimes God calls us to choose.
One thing I would add to Friesen’s argument is the extra emphasis of faith. As much as I agree that we have the freedom to choose our lives (as long as we pray, read the Bible, etc.), I also believe that there is an element of faith in each decision. We may use our logic to choose a job, but it may be a better decision to pick a job that pays less than to take the job that has an aggravating boss. In that case, we would trust God to provide financially. Even though our logic may say “Go for the job that pays more” or “Go for the job that makes you more comfortable,” God may sometimes prompt us to go places that are not comfortable.
As I’m making decisions, I will not ignore the importance of using wisdom. There will be leaps of faith involved, but I believe that God has given me the logic that I need to make a decision that honors him. I am thankful that Gary Friesen has published this book; now I have a different perspective on decision making.