Friesen and Petty on God's Will


Posted by Matt Postiff December 31, 2018 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology 

I am reading James C. Petty's book Step by Step, a book about divine guidance. Years ago, I read a similar book by Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson entitled Decision Making and the Will of God. How do the teachings espoused by these two authors compare?

The big picture that both authors describe involves three views of God's will, which I will boil down to two. The first is the traditional and charismatic view, which says that there is the sovereign will of God, which is not revealed. Then there is the moral will of God, which is revealed in Scripture in God's commands, wisdom, prohibitions, etc. And thirdly, there is the specific or individual will of God, which relates to God's plan for each individual. It is not revealed in the Bible, but can be accessed by some other means, whether circumstances, impressions, direct communication from heaven, etc.

The second is the wisdom view of God's will. This view agrees with the first two types of God's will above, but does not agree with the third "individual will of God." In the third view, there is no such thing as an 'individual will' of God that is distinct from the moral and sovereign wills of God.

It is my understanding that Petty and Friesen are in basic agreement with one another, because both teach the wisdom view of God's will. Both books are very valuable in guiding someone through what can be a deeply concerning issue for those who are in the midst of making major life decisions.

Let's see if my understanding agrees with direct quotations from the two books I mentioned above. Petty writes:

Garry Friesen has done an excellent study on whether there is such a thing as a personal will of God. He has also provided a definition of this popular notion (Friesen, 1980, 35): 'God's Individual will is that ideal, detailed life-plan which God has uniquely designed for each believer.' This plan is not contained in Scripture either explicitly or implicitly.

Friesen rightly points out that this view underlies the 'Bull's eye' theory of the will of God. He uses the picture of a target to show how the moral will relates to the individual will of God. God's moral will is seen as a circular target. Our decisions are like arrows we shot at the target, seeking to hit God's will. Inside hte circle are all the lawful choices. Outside the target are all options that are always sinful. If you miss the target, your decision is sin against God and contradicts the moral law.

The individual will of God is seen as the bull's eye on the target. That is the 'will' we seek to discover (hit) for guidance. If we miss the bull's eye but hit within the target area, we are not in sin--but we are missing God's best for us....We are then said to be outside the individual will of God, but still within his moral will (Petty, p. 97).
Friesen has made an enormous contribution in exposing the unbiblical concept of the 'individual will of God' (Petty, p. 105).

From this, we can see that Petty agrees with Friesen's critique of the individual will of God view. Petty definitely takes the wisdom view:

The concept of an individual will separate from God's moral will is thus not scriptural. Despite its popularity, this concept should be rejected. What is often called the 'individual will of God' should be seen simply as the application of God's commands and character to the specifics of our lives. It is not a separate and distinct (nonmoral) sense of God's will.

To sum up, God has a secret, sovereign plan for each of us that orders each detail of our lives. God also has a revealed, moral will for us that is summarized in the Great Commandment and has implications, preferences, and directions for extensive areas in each life. The wisdom we seek in divine guidance is God's moral will applied to the believer's life. Guidance is discerning God's moral and spiritual preferences as they apply to our life situations. It is not a detailed plan to be discovered or communicated by God in extra-scriptural communications (Petty, p. 101).

And now to Friesen:

The expression will of God is used in the Bible in two ways. God's sovereign will is His secret plan that determines everything that happens in the universe. God's moral will consists of the revealed commands in the Bible that teach how people out to believe and live.

To these biblical usages (moral and sovereign wills), the traditional view has added a third. It is commonly taught that for each person, God has an individual will—an ideal, detailed life-plan for each person. In this traditional view, the key to decision making is to discover God's individual will, and then do it...

By contrast, the emphasis of Scripture is on God's moral will. In fact, the Bible reveals nothing of an 'individual will' governing each decision.(Friesen, p. 115).

Both Friesen and Petty believe that Scripture describes the will of God under two headings—the sovereign will and the moral will. Both criticize the traditional/charismatic view of the individual "bull's eye" view of God's will. Both say that Scripture does not teach this individual will.

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