Dreams are “images that do not remain unchanged in the imaginative faculty of the nous,” the heart of the soul. Dreams “present a confused picture with constantly altering scenes and forms . . . [they are seen by] materialistic and sensually-minded people;”
Revelations are theorias of the mysteries of God, “granted to the purified and illumined soul in a way that transcends normal sense perception . . . [they are granted to those] who are activated by the Holy Spirit, and whose soul is united to God through theology” (theoria). Revelations are associated with inner purity;
Visions are constant and unchanging. They also “remain imprinted on the nous unforgettably for many years . . . [visions are present in] those well advanced on the spiritual path, who have cleansed the soul’s organs of perception.”
Discernment, one would think, is an extremely positive quality. In a world with incalculable numbers of voices calling us to travel many different directions, discernment is invaluable.
However, when used by those involved in spiritual formation, discernment is defined as the discipline that enables one to know when a person has supposedly heard the voice of God.
Spiritual formation leaders do not question that God speaks to us today apart from Scripture, but they do believe that since God is speaking there has to be a means whereby we can discern the voice of God from our own thoughts.
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, “Discernment opens us up to listen to and recognize the voice and patterns of God’s direction in our lives.”
Ruth Barton further explains,Discernment is a quality of attentiveness to God that is so intimate that over time we develop an intuitive sense of God’s heart and purpose in any given moment. We become familiar with God’s voice—the tone, quality and content—just as we become familiar with the voice of a human being we know well.
Christian psychologist Larry Crabb believes he has learned the art of listening to God and proposes to let us in on what he has discovered in his book The Papa Prayer, “Sometime, though never audibly, I hear the Father speak more clearly than I hear the voice of a human friend.”
And influential pastor John Ortberg adds, “It is one thing to speak to God. It is another thing to listen. When we listen to God, we receive guidance from the Holy Spirit.”
As we contemplate the subject of discernment it is important that we determine whether or not God does speak to Christians today outside of the Scriptures themselves. This is hardly an issue pertinent only to the Spiritual Formation Movement. As a matter of fact modern day revelations (or lack thereof) from God are one of the most hotly debated topics within evangelicalism today.
Despite the fact that the majority of conservative evangelical Christians since the Reformation have held to a cessationist (that present day revelations from God no longer take place) position with regard to Divine revelation, true cessationists are rapidly disappearing. In the articles and books I have written nothing has evoked as much criticism and anger as my position that God is speaking to His people today exclusively through Scripture. Due to the influence of a multitude of popular authors, theologians and conference speakers, cessation-ism is barely treading water, even within the most biblically solid churches and organizations.