Book review: When People Speak for God

by Henry E. Neufeld

★★★★

Before beginning this review, I think it would be helpful to introduce Henry Neufeld and the flavor of his writings. I always wonder when I do this whether the author will be coming after me with a shotgun, because they may not be aware of the aura they give off, and may take exception to my description. But here goes.

Henry is what I would call a practical believer. You’ll find no hint of fanaticism or arrogance in his writings. He’s apparently done his stint with atheism, and found Christian beliefs to be more practical. While Henry is very educated in Biblical Languages and Biblical studies, and while he’s happy to share the Christian beliefs he’s developed, his writing is friendly and easy to read because he makes no attempt to foist his beliefs on his readers. I get the feeling he feels that would be unchristian. He makes a point of explaining that although his books address Christians because that’s his own “faith group,” others may worship God in alternative ways. He humbly quotes Hebrews 10:19  as instruction not to try to get people to think like him, but to encourage them listen to God for themselves.

Henry was raised a Seventh Day Adventist, and though he no longer shares their beliefs, this reliance upon the authority of Ellen White has contributed to his interest in current-day prophecy. Enter this book, When People Speak For God. It begins with a discussion of how we hear God speaking, which I confess has always seemed a bit pointless to me; those who cannot hear God will forever scoff regardless of the explanation, and those who can need no explanation. 

Now, if God speaks directly to us, just like he spoke to the authors of the Bible, then he surely speaks to our acquaintances as well. Suppose someone says to you, “I have been praying about this for weeks, and this morning God spoke to me and told me what he wants us to do.” Awkward silence, right? We squirm, wondering if we should capitulate. After all, who can argue against God? 

What to do? God’s command is to question the true source, and Henry provides us with five scriptural instructions for proper discernment. More than this, Henry believes we have every right to question the Bible’s authority as well. Can we trust the development of the canon (those books considered “inspired” and thus selected for our Bible)? Can we read every word in the Bible as God-breathed? As inerrant? A discussion of inerrancy follows, and how Henry’s recognition of the Bible’s imperfections has not disturbed his reverence for God’s Word. There is no way to prove the Bible’s inerrancy anyway, because there is simply no way to measure its accuracy unless it’s by comparing it against another already accepted standard, and the “errant” sources we do have (scientific and archaeological study) unfortunately do not tend to support the Bible’s inerrancy. 

We are left with the conclusion that recognizing the authority of any written or spoken word is an individual exercise. We must measure the words against our personal experience with God, and the spirit we find therein.

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5 Comments

  1. I find your blog most interesting.

    I guess there are two of us now: It seems we have come to many of the same conclusions.

    Like you, I am not prepared to trash my faith but I have long sought for an intellectually honest approach to Christianity.

    Might I interest you in promoting — or at least viewing and commenting on — my blog? It covers similar territory, that is, change and development in Christianity. Thank you.

    Frank Lockwood Senior

  2. Thanks for your very kind review. I promise I won’t go after you with a shotgun even though I think you made me look nicer than I am!

    I would note that I think I may have underemphasized the role of community in making these decisions. In practice, our understanding is very much impacted by any community of which we are a part, and particularly “authority” becomes problematic unless there is a social grouping. But it does still come down to the individual, who may be saddled with a group at birth, but at some point either stays or goes. As one who left one group (SDAs), stayed more isolated for some years, and then migrated into the United Methodist Church, I tend to view one’s social group as less fixed. Again, though, individual mileage may vary!

  3. Hmmm, you’re right Henry, I did misrepresent the book a little bit by ignoring the role of community! Sorry.

  4. Frank, always happy to oblige! I’ll drop you an email.

  5. Actually I didn’t think you misrepresented the book. That is something I have heard a number of times. I wish I had talked a bit more about community, but considering I set out to write about 80 pages and ended up with about 250 of text, perhaps I just like to talk to much!

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