Must We Listen in a New Way Because God Whispers?

Book Review: Whisper by Mark Batterson

By Melanie Ryzuk with Cheryl Schatz

"Whisper: How To Hear the Voice of God" is a new book by Mark Batterson. In it, the author claims to give the reader the tools that a person needs to unlock the 7 love languages that God speaks to people through. He states that each of the 7 love languages of God is unique and entirely divine, and that we need to learn how to hear the whispers of God. I decided to read Whisper and research my findings because we have seen it promoted lately. As it was published very recently, there were no reviews on reputable apologetics websites yet, so I looked into it myself. What I found was troubling.

Do We Need A New Way to Hear?

“If you want God to do something new, you can’t keep doing the same old thing. You have to dare to be different, and that includes listening in a new way.” (Whisper pg 50). Really? Can one make God speak to him/her by “listening in a new way”?

This begs the question, is the biblical way of praying and building relationship with God insufficient in some way? Have we been missing it all along, and now Mark Batterson has finally seen the light? My sarcasm aside, by making the above statement, it would seem that Batterson is promoting “new revelation”. The canon of the Bible is closed, and we are strongly warned in Revelation 22:18-19 against adding or taking away from it.

Misuse of Scripture

Right from the beginning of the book, the author starts guiding readers into a faulty interpretation of Scripture. (Whisper pg 14). Psalm 46:10 NIV: “He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”” Despite how modern day mystics use this verse, it does not mean that we should sit in a comfortable position, quiet our mind, and repeat a word or phrase over and over in order to receive an inner feeling of the presence of God.

In context, Psalm 46:1-9 tells us that God is our refuge and strength in times of trouble, and we should not be afraid. Verse 10 in the NASB says “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Cease striving means to stop doing what you are doing; let go. Look at God and trust Him. Quit holding on to things that keep you from exalting God and giving Him His proper place in your life. It is not a command to sit in silence, turn off our mind, and repeat a phrase until we receive something that makes us feel good.

Scripture Alone Isn’t Enough

Batterson discounts Sola Scriptura in this book. (Whisper pg 39 and 59). Sola Scriptura, or “Scripture alone”, is a Christian theological doctrine which holds that the Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. Sola Scriptura is against unbiblical, extra-biblical, and anti-biblical doctrines. The only way to know for sure what God expects of us is to stay true to what we know He has revealed – the Bible. We can know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that Scripture is true, authoritative, and reliable.

Batterson calls the Bible “a means to an end”, with the goal of the Bible as “learning to recognize and respond to your heavenly Father’s voice so you can grow in intimacy with Him.” The Bible doesn’t say this. Learning to recognize God’s voice is not a goal set by the Scriptures. Instead, the goal of the Bible is to teach, correct, reprove, train in righteousness SO THAT the person of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16, 17. The Bible is His primary voice and all else needs to be tested by what He has already said. 

Hebrews identifies the Son and the Word written about Him as the way God speaks to us in these last days (Hebrews 1:2-13). Yet Batterson berates those who want to rely on the written words of Scripture saying these people are living “by the letter of the law”. He says that God speaks in sign language and implies that anyone who does not accept God’s different kinds of “languages” does not have the Spirit of God. He writes, “We’ll start with Scripture, the first and final Word. Then we’ll explore six secondary languages: desires, doors, dreams, people, promptings, and pain.” In Whisper, dreams are read like the Scriptures as Batterson writes, “We don’t just read Scripture. We read desires and doors and dreams.”

Bibliolatry?

The term bibliolatry comes from combining the Greek words for Bible and worship. Literally, worship of the Bible. While there may be some obscure cult out there that literally worships the pages and ink of the Bible, that is not what bibliolatry is referring to. Typically, the accusation of bibliolatry is used as an attack on those who hold to “sola scriptura”, or the inerrancy, infallibility, and supremacy of Scripture. It is a term often used by people in the contemplative prayer movement as an attack on the Bible.

In Whisper, the author equates holding a very high view of the Bible to committing bibliolatry. According to Batterson, bibliolatry is a form of idolatry. (Whisper pg 67). However, to ignore what God has revealed about Himself in His Word and instead elevate the subjective “revelations” of nature, reason, and experience is actually idolatry.

Batterson writes, “Yes, the Bible is our sword. It’s our best offense, our best defense. But when we misinterpret the truth, we’re abusing the Bible. Remember how Jesus responded? By rightly dividing the Word: “Man does not live on bread alone.” (Whisper pg 67). Batterson’s end notes identifies this as a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, but he leaves out a key part of this verse and puts a period where there should be a comma, “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” (NASB) Rather than equating promptings, desires and doors with God’s word, the passage fully quoted is not advocating new revelation, but what God has already said. 

Batterson has given a stark example himself of how one can abuse the Bible using a partial quote and claim this is rightly dividing the Word.

Discernment

Batterson describes discernment as “prophetic perception that sees past problems and envisions possibilities.” “Experiential”. Contrast that with the following:

Discernment is the ability to obtain sharp perceptions or to judge well. Discernment involves going past the mere perception of something and making judgments about its properties or qualities. Considered a virtue, a discerning person is considered to possess wisdom and good judgment.

“Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” (Charles Spurgeon). Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically. 

The Bible uses several Greek words for discernment and these words are linked to judging. In Hebrews 4:12, the ESV and the New King James Version brings out the flavour of the Greek.

Hebrews 4:12 (ESV) For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Notice the screen shot below from the BDAG lexicon, that Hebrews 4:12 means to be able to discern and judge. 

Matthew 16:3 uses another Greek word that has the same sense of evaluating and judging correctly.

Matthew 16:3 “And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times

Matthew 16:3 BDAG judge corrected.


Where is there any biblical definition that matches the inspired discern/judge of the Greek with Batterson’s definition of “sees past problems and envisions possibilities”? It isn’t there! Let’s look at one more Greek word that is translated as discern and which Batterson refers to in 1 Corinthians 2:14.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV) The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.


The verse that Batterson quotes, shows that “discern” means to evaluate - to form a critical opinion of something (either positive or negative) by examination or scrutiny.

The term “discern" means a critical evaluation which recognizes the value or worth of the thing that is being examined. It is not about possibilities but about realities.  This is where Batterson does a bait and switch. He quotes 1 Corinthians 2:14 where he shows the word discern from God’s word (Whisper pg 58-59), but right after that he states that the word for discern is “from the Greek word epignosis, which means “knowledge gained by firsthand contact” It’s experiential.”

Why would Batterson have to change the Greek word in 1 Corinthians 2:14? It is not epignosis. It is anakrinō (see screen shot above). It is quite telling that Batterson does not quote the actual meaning of discern in 1 Corinthians 2:14, because that would refute what he is trying to teach. He exchanges the Greek for another word that is not in the verse. He also lists no verse where epignosis means discern as being experiential and envisioning possibilities. Not one single verse!

How Can I Know The Will of God?

About discerning or knowing the will of God, Batterson makes the following statement. “In fact, one of the best ways to gauge the will of God is to discern whether or not the peace of Christ is ruling in your heart.” (Whisper pg 40). However, discernment is not about feelings. 

Philippians 1:9-10 says “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ”.

To know God’s will implies a knowledge that comes from obedience, and from being close to God. The goal of knowing theological truth is love for God and freedom from sin. The believer discerns what is good and evil through love for God and knowledge of the truth. That is “depth of insight”.

Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

 The words “test” and “approve” are not the same as “feel”. God created us each with a brain, and He wants us to use it to learn to know God’s will for us.

Batterson’s use of Colossians 3:15 is problematic, as the context of the “peace of Christ” is within the unity of the body of Christ. Paul explains in the two verses prior, that we are to bear with one another and forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven us so that we can have the perfect bond of unity. The peace of Christ calls us into one body. The verse has absolutely nothing to do with decision-making, but peace-making in the body of Christ.

Lectio Divina

There is a whole section in one chapter devoted to introducing the reader to Lectio Divina. (Whisper pg 74-75). This is a term that means “divine reading”. This practice originated in the sixth century and was practiced in Catholic monasteries. Contemplative Outreach describes the practice as “a person listens to or reads the text of the Bible with the ‘ear of the heart,’ as if he or she is in conversation with God... (it) is a participatory, active practice that uses thoughts, images and insights to enter into a conversation with God.”

Lectio Divina focuses on your personal feelings about the text, and visualizing yourself in the story of the text. How you “feel” about the text is more important than what the text actually means. It is NOT Bible study, but is a mystical practice that uses a person’s five senses to allow them to experience the text in a new way. 

Is Prophecy Always Comforting and Gentle?

Batterson states that “a prophetic word is strengthening, encouraging, and comforting...And it should be delivered with a gentle spirit.” (Whisper pg 139). If we look in Jeremiah 23:16-22, though, that is not true. The prophecy given by the prophets in this passage was positive (and comforting), “No harm will come to you”, but it was not from God. Jeremiah’s message was actually a strong word to turn the people from their evil ways. Jeremiah’s word was not gentle, but it was true.

1 Corinthians 14:3 “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” NKJV

According to dictionary.com, to exhort is to urge, advise, or caution earnestly; admonish urgently. To give urgent advice, recommendations, or warnings.
There are times when prophecy will convict someone in his heart, and motivate him to change. 1 Corinthians 14:24-26 is an example of this.

Promises: Can We Claim Them For Ourselves?

The author asserts that all of the promises in the Bible are transferrable to all believers. (Whisper pg 68). However, God delivered many promises in Scripture to specific people or groups, and so we cannot “claim” them all. There is no instruction given in the Bible to redirect God’s promises to ourselves and apart from His intentions. The concept of “claiming” promises that were originally given to other people is an invention of false teachers, and it sadly has become a part of modern Christian culture.

Scripture teaches us to be aware that some pledges are limited to a certain situation. For example, God told Abraham he would have a son. The promise in Genesis 17:16 is not a promise we can claim for ourselves, as it was meant specifically for Abraham. Many promises are intended for all believers, such as God’s assurance that He will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5). Other promises are conditional; dependent on obedience. For example, Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” 

God In A Box

“Don’t use the Bible to box God in” and “quit putting God in your box” are statements made in Whisper in a couple of different places. (Whisper pg 39 and 50).

The net result of this argument is an “anything goes” approach to divine activity. As long as a person feels good about what is happening, the source is assumed to be God, and no one can state differently. Is the Bible the absolute truth? If so, then doesn’t it give us parameters for the activities of the Holy Spirit? He established these boundaries Himself in His Word. He has put them in the Bible precisely so that we can determine what is and is not from Him.

God made it very clear in the Bible that we are to hold tightly to correct doctrine. While we can never fully “figure Him out” because of our finite minds, He never changes. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He gave us the Word because He wants to be known.

On page 39, Batterson writes, “I know there are those who believe that God speaks only through Scripture. It’s a well-meaning mistake that’s often perpetrated by those who hold a high view of Scripture, as I do…When I survey Scripture, I see God showing up in strange places, at strange times, in strange ways.” Does that include having to silence your thoughts in order to hear God? God set the biblical example by making Himself known without the need for a person to sit in quietness to “hear” Him. God spoke clearly and He did not whisper. No biblical example shows such a practice for man to “hear” God and no person had trouble hearing God when God chose to speak.

God Tricks Us?

The author at one point writes “God plays the same trick on us” (Whisper pg 10), referring to whispering in order to make someone come closer to hear what is being said. In 1 Kings 19:11-13, by speaking in a gentle whisper, God was not tricking Elijah but revealing His nature. Regardless of context, though, it is inappropriate to even suggest that God plays tricks on people! His very nature, as described in the Bible, does not support this idea.

When Elijah encountered God in 1 Kings 19:9-18, Elijah heard God speak to him before and after the strong wind, the earthquake, the fire, and the sound of gentle blowing happened. The harsh wind, earthquake and fire did not represent God’s nature. The gentle breeze represented His gentle character. The text doesn’t say that God whispered to Elijah or that Elijah had to silence his own thoughts to hear God. If so, how did Elijah hear God before the gentle breeze came? (1 Kings 19:11) Elijah heard a voice, not a whisper (1 Kings 19:13).

Batterson has created a clever sounding narrative to claim that God whispers, but his claims are stretched. God formed Adam from the dust and then God breathed life into the fully formed man, but Batterson says God whispered into the dust and named it Adam. He claims Adam was once a whisper. He also claims that all of creation was once a whisper (Whisper pg 9). Is this God’s truth?

Spiritual Fathering

A popular teaching today in Evangelical circles is of “spiritual fathers”. (Whisper pg 70). Individuals who are supposed to act as mentors, guides, and accountability partners between a Christian and Jesus Christ. Often success, fame, blessings, and attaining “the anointing” are tied to this mentor. This teaching is also tied to the “breaking the curse” teaching, where believers who don’t have a “spiritual father” believe they will “suffer” the consequences of curses and lack of success or prosperity.

The New Testament does not support this teaching. In fact, Matthew 23:8-10 specifically teaches against it.

Matthew 23:8–10 (NKJV)
8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.

The New Testament uses “Father” in reference to God, and He is the only one who has authorized blessings for us believers through Jesus Christ, by Grace and not works. (Ephesians 1:2-4) No “spiritual father” on earth can grant you any blessing.

The teaching on “spiritual fathers” is about putting a higher level of trust in a human being, but this is harmful to your spiritual faith as you will soon discover that humans are fallible. Your true mentor should be Jesus Christ, and what He said and taught. No man is to be our mediator, as Christ is our mediator between us and God. (1 Timothy 2:5).

Batterson Contradicts Himself

The author seems confused about what the Bible says about itself. In one place he states, “I certainly want to be known more for what I’m for than what I’m against. And truth shouldn’t be used as a weapon.” (Whisper pg 64). A few pages later, he contradicts himself by saying, “Yes, the Bible is our sword.” (Whisper pg 67). Yes, the Bible is a sword! Swords are weapons. They divide, and truth sometimes hurts. Though we are to speak the truth in love, it is still a weapon as evidenced in the armor of God, Ephesians 6:10-18.

Be Careful Who You Associate With

As Christians, we should be very careful who we promote and quote. Why would a Christian author want to attach his book to false teachers, or people who are out-right against a Christian world view? It does not make sense, but there are far too many people quoted and mentioned in this book for it to be a simple oversight. From NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) leaders, to a homosexual Catholic theologian, to a known pedophile!

Whisper on RightNow Media

Right Now Media has also produced a 4-part video series to go along with the book. The whole of all four sessions features Mark Batterson (the author) front and center, amidst much fog, obscured lights, and mystical music. He takes a lot of what he says from his books, but he does not completely stick to the script of the book. He adds that "the voice of God is the key to discovering your destiny, how God-sized dreams are conceived in us, and the genesis of every break-through, every blessing, every miracle...If you want to hear the heart of God, silence is key." Later in the series, he states that "Silence is the difference between; sight and insight, happiness and joy, fear and faith." Once again, he also over-emphasizes desires as being the driving force that, if followed, guide us in knowing God's will. He says, "God will birth new desires within you, and those desires become compass needles that guide us towards God's good, pleasing and perfect will". Can you hear the Disney party line? Follow your heart, listen to your feelings...and you'll live happily ever after! What does the Bible say about following our heart? Jeremiah 17:9 says "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" That sounds like maybe we shouldn't trust and follow our desires, accepting them as "compass needles" without testing.


Conclusion

Would I recommend this book to Christians who value absolute truth? Absolutely not. While it does have some good content, we should NOT try to “eat the meat and spit out the bones”. This phrase is not a biblical metaphor at all. When talking about separating truth and error, the Bible talks about it metaphorically as yeast in bread (Galatians 5:9, and Matthew 16:6 and 11). Have you ever tried to eat bread and spit out the yeast?

For more information on Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer click here.

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