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‘God Can’t Spell and Has Bad Grammar’?

Can Christian writers correctly say, “God laid this on my heart. It’s such an amazing story. God told me to write this!”?
| Mar 31, 2011 | No comments |

Not everyone gets a burning bush experience. But should Christians act like they need one?

Whispers, murmurs, and a few pauses from wiser ones waiting for the surprise ending, had spread amongst dozens of class attendees — to wit, Ladies of the Church™ (a very powerful special interest lobby).

I was there also, enjoying my second attendance of an American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference (2007). And John Olson, co-author of Oxygen, had just said something heretical.

Yes, he said, “God can’t spell and has bad grammar.”

Randall Ingermanson and John Olson, co-authors of “Oxygen” and “The Fifth Man.” (This photo, of terrible quality and taken with an even worse camera, is actually from ACFW 2006.) They’re also the founders of DitDat.com, a new authors’ resource.

Then of course he went on to explain the context. As best I recall (it was a crazy weekend) he said that as a writer (also of Oxygen’s sequel The Fifth Man and thriller novels Shade and Powers), he’s met many people who show him their manuscripts. They’re in varying genres, though with conferences dominated by the LotC™ you can guess which genres predominate. Will you look at this? they ask him. And many will also exult: God laid this on my heart. It’s such an amazing story. God told me to write this!

Well in that case, Olson confessed to thinking … you guessed it …

God can’t spell and has bad grammar.

And yet many writers seeking publication and wider writing Ministry seem unwilling to consider that their very spiritual-seeming sense of divine guidance could use some “earthly” grounding. That could include honing one’s craft, being humble and patient, and seeking to glorify Jesus Christ, not merely touching Him as if He’s “base” when tagged with criticism.

Is it God’s secret will for someone write and even be published?

The answer to that, I’ll suggest, is by definition secret. Theologians often point to the fact that throughout Scripture God shows He has “two wills”: a secret or hidden will, and a revealed will or will of command. Here’s how one theologian shows the difference:

Surely, a distinction between aspects of God’s will is evident in many passages of Scripture. According to Moses, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). Those things that God has revealed are given to us for the purpose of obeying God’s will: “that we may do all the words of this law.” There were many other aspects of his plan, however, that he had not revealed to them: many details about future events, specific details of hardship or of blessing in their lives, and so forth. With regard to these matters, they were simply to trust him.

— from Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem (edited by Jeff Purswell), Zondervan, 1999, page 96

Christians who aren’t certain about a difference, or who think His will simply works in one way, may fall all over themselves trying to figure out God’s secret will before doing anything.

God was kind enough to give Gideon advance assurance of His will via the fleece (Judges 6: 36-40). But did He say others should repeat such tests?

Perhaps more dangerous, we could ignore God’s revealed will while trying to find His secret will for assurance. As Jared Moore cautions, that’s tantamount to practicing divination. Thus, even Christians who are concerned (maybe understandably!) about the occult, real and perceived, may be doing more witchcraft-like secret-knowledge seeking than they know. After all, does God ever promise in Scripture that His Spirit will give a sense of peace, or some kind of a sign of miracle or even coincidence, before we make a big decision — such as a career field, marriage pursuit, or reading or writing a particular book?

Despite some secondary disputes over spiritual gifts and miracles, most Christians agree that the canon of Scripture in two testaments, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is closed. God could tell someone something new, but is that thinking consistent with His already revealed Word?

And if we don’t hear Him directly or have “a peace,” should that prevent us taking a risk?

Recent posts — among them Sally Apokedak’s Divine Calling, Mike Duran’s Where Do Writers Fit in the Church? and Fred Warren’s Call Writing right here on Speculative Faith — discuss from varying angles the question of whether Christians are indeed called to write novels. Is that within God’s will? If so, how can we know — or can we know at all?

My encouragement is this:

  1. If any deed comes from faith in Christ (whatever doesn’t is sin — Romans 14:23);
  2. And if this task or calling does not violate God’s revealed will in Scripture;
  3. Then there’s no way to know if a thing lies within God’s secret will until we’ve already done it. We may fail, and still God is working; or succeed — also by God working!

And if while writing, preaching, or doing anything else I violate God’s revealed will — well, that was according to God’s secret will, because it happened; however, what I did was still outside His will of command, which if I love Him I should want to follow (John 14: 15, 21). Ignoring my own pride, arrogance and greed, while refusing attempts to help me grow — those are sins, no matter how much I claim It’s Ministry or God Told Me.

Hey, that sounds familiar:

If you think you’ve been called to write, but, like Mr. Bear up there, you see writing as the fast track to fame and fortune, don’t care about learning how to write well, and are impervious to the feedback and advice of people trying to help you, I think it’s safe to say you might not be in the center of God’s will.

— from Call Writing, Fred Warren on SpeculativeFaith.com, March 29

So how have you thought about God’s will(s) before? How might exploring some theology on the topic not just help us feel happy because we know more stuff, but help in our lives?

For readers and writers: how might learning to trust God to keep His secret will to Himself, even as we obey His revealed will and even take some risks, help us in our life callings? Have you ever assumed that if you didn’t get some sign or inner peace like you’ve heard about, you’re not within God’s will?

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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It seems to me to be a lack of understanding about how God works. God does prompt me to do things in life, he expects obedience and convicts of sin when I don’t obey. Being faithful to God’s command is just what we are supposed to do as his children. It’s not a special calling- it’s general to all who believe and love Him- we are expected to seek His will and be faithful with what is revealed to us.

It seems some people get a prompt from God, perhaps an encouragement to hone and develop a particular gift such as writing, and they run too far with it. Like your talk of Secret Will and Revealed Will – people make assumptions about Secret Will loosely based on Revealed Will. For instance: God prompted me to write a novel. Does that mean that these ideas for the novel are God’s ideas? Does that mean that when I write it down that God is writing through me? Is the story already written and I just need to get it down on paper for God? I really don’t think so.

Couldn’t it just be the Father encouraging His child to to use a talent? A talent that he gave and entrusted to this person to invest time in developing, to learn to master it, to learn how to best use it to the glory of the one who blessed them with it? Just because the King pushes his Princes and Princesses to work in the Kingdom (and sometimes with specific tasks such as preaching, teaching, writing, etc…) Doesn’t mean He does it For You, it doesn’t mean God writes sermons, prepares lessons, or writes speculative fiction novels. God blesses and gifts his children and inspires us- naturally inspires us just by Being God- and sparks creativity as effortlessly as he spoke the universe into existence.

He desires not for us to be automatons carrying out His perfect will devoid of a will of our own. God will do God’s Will- He desires for us to bend our will to His. To wrap our will around his intentions for us. He doesn’t bless us for doing whatever we want to do, no matter how “good” we believe our intentions are, if it’s not what God wants for us. It’s when we want what He wants, that He can work in us.

God asked me to write a specific novel out of several ideas I’ve had rolling around in my head over the course of a decade. I’m pretty sure the ideas are my own ideas, but the fantasy story has transformed with this request into my own faith story. God wants me to tell my story- to Testify about what He has done in my life- but apparently it would be really cool if I did so using another planet and strange creatures. Using fantasy to convey things in a way that people might not get the significance of if I just told my autobiography. Maybe I’m harder to relate to than this fictional character I’ve been writing about. Maybe others don’t perceive my world or life events the way I do, but through fiction I can present things as I’ve perceived them with the contrasts and impacts that I’ve experienced.

I’m sure God will continue to guide the process- but I’ll be doing the work. That’s my part- to trust God and be faithful in what’s been revealed. Not to try to figure out “Why?” I don’t assume God want’s to make me a best selling author. I don’t even assume that this particular story will ever be published. Maybe it’s just for me to do in obedience to what has been asked of me- simply for my personal growth in faith- maybe it’s just for my friends to read- I really don’t know why… and I’ve never heard of God giving out “get-rich-quick” schemes. Sorry if I’ve degenerated to rambling- but I hope my perceptions don’t merely echo this post- but add a different ring to it that will resonate more of the truth out into the sea of believers who might hear.

Nikole Hahn

He’s caused a couple of ministries to diminish and ultimately fail when I tried to use them to replace the time spent on writing. In my opinion, He gives us gifts, spiritual gifts, that we are to use for His glory. I’m not sure what my future holds for writing, but I’ll keep trying, learning His Word, praying, and blogging until something happens. Whatever happens will be His will, but probably won’t be what I expect.

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Stephen, I could be wrong, but it seems to me you might be discounting the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

I’m not sure the idea of God having a “secret will” is something Scripture teaches. Of course He’s in no way obligated to reveal all. He doesn’t. But I do think He answers prayer. If we ask for guidance, why would we think He withholds it?

Does guidance mean “calling”? I don’t think so. I think guidance means guidance. How does He do this? Sometimes by giving us a sense of peace, sometimes by the circumstances of our lives — open or closed doors, council from friends, Scripture brought to mind, or Scripture faithfully preached. It can come in many forms.

Undoubtedly, as you suggested, writers “going, not knowing,” like Abraham did, builds faith. But Abraham had a clear calling from God. He didn’t just one day decide to head out believing God would lead him.

The thing is, before God called him to go, Abraham could have stayed if he wanted to or he could have gone if he wanted. Once God called, he was going to be either obedient or disobedient, depending on whether he went or stayed. That’s the difference between being called or not, I think, because I believe God may call believers in just such a way today. He doesn’t call everyone, just like He didn’t call everyone in Abraham’s day.

Should only the called write? No. As near as I can tell, God didn’t call Lot to go with Abraham, but he did. Was that sinful? Some might argue it was because of what happened to him later. I don’t think we can jump to that conclusion because there were other decisions he made along the way that seem more clearly aligned to the position he found himself in.

My point is, if people love writing, they can write. I don’t think they need to wait to be called. In fact, I wonder if God doesn’t call us to do what we wouldn’t do by natural inclination. I love writing. Really love it. But I don’t know if I would have ever considered pursuing it apart from a belief that God called me to it.

Now God giving writers the word to write or writers saying they won’t change a word of their manuscript because God gave them their story — those issues are another matter entirely.


Rebecca LuElla Miller

my main point is that a Christian can’t know for sure what God’s hidden will in the present is before making a decision.

I understand your point, I believe, Stephen. I’m just saying I don’t agree. I don’t think you can say I don’t know what God’s will for me is. You can say that about you, but you can’t know that God has indeed called me to write, though I can know that. It’s not revealed in Scripture, but it’s as clear to me as if it had been and as important for me to obey as any of the commands given to the Church at large.

I don’t believe because we’re in “the Church age” that God has stopped dealing with individuals individually.

How many people did He guide specifically whose stories never made it into inspired Scripture? We don’t know because they never made it into inspired Scripture. 😉 But I can’t help but think that He wasn’t limited to working with a handful of people. Look at Apollos, Gaius, Barnabas, Silas, Epaphroditus, and so many others we know by little more than their names. Why shouldn’t we believe that God gave them, through His Holy Spirit, direct instruction, as He did Paul?

Why, then, shouldn’t we believe He can do the same today, if He so chooses?


Sally Apokedak

Fascinating discussion.

how might learning to trust God to keep His secret will to Himself, even as we obey His revealed will and even take some risks, help us in our life callings? Have you ever assumed that if you didn’t get some sign or inner peace like you’ve heard about, you’re not within God’s will?

I think these are both very important questions.

I agree that we waste time when we sit around waiting for secret revelation of his will for us, instead of doing what he’s already made clear to us. I used to put out fleeces when I was a new Christian. All the time. I wanted God to be my best friend and to tell me, down to the minutest detail, what I should do every minute of the day. I’ll spare you the long story about how God taught me to knock that off. I’d never thought of it before, but I think Jared was right. I was practicing divination. I liked his post.

And yet, I do believe God has spoken to me many times outside of scripture. He has spoken to me through nature, through the voice of my pastor, through my husband, through friends, through my children, and through movies and books. He has used all of these things to convict me. He has also brought scripture verses to mind many, many times when I was wondering if I should do this thing or that thing, or when I needed an answer to why God was working this way or that way in my life.

I think there is scriptural support for men to say, “God led me.” The Spirit led Christ into the wilderness. He also changed Paul’s course. I think we can say, “God compelled me to do this thing.” Paul said he was compelled to preach.

The problem we get into is when we want to wait for some sign before we make some decision that needs to be made, I think.

Ken Rolph
Ken Rolph

I noted in passing the quote about bishops writing novels. I once knew a bishop who did this. It was a long sermon with generic characters (not even cardboard). He didn’t know he was different because he never read novels himself.

When I was publishing I was continually pestered by people who said that “God gave me this”. I always wanted to say that I gave away my old rubbish too. The worst were those who said God had given them something and had told them He wanted me to publish it. I was always able to say that God had said nothing about it to me.

There’s something about religion that rots the brain.

Lydia T

I’ve never blogged before this is my first time I’m new at this, but I thought I would give it a try just voicing a little. Sometimes when God gives someone something to transcribe or do he does not tell everybody or other people, he might just tell that person alone; God can be very mysterious sometimes, and he can’t be put under a microscope to be figured out, so saying that he gave you something can be hard, because you will meet some people that don’t apprehend; some will say he didn’t tell me that. To me how you will know when writings or a prophetic word is from God “it will lead people to salvation through Christ alone and it will not stray from his teachings in the Holy Bible it will guide with love” and of course the prophetic word “will” come to pass; that’s just my own opinion of how you will know that God is manifesting himself through people who have claimed he’s given them a word.

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Such a long comment, Stephen. I’m going to respond to the first half before I forget what I want to say as I read the second half. 😉

First, I think there’s a difference between being called to something and being a prophet. I think God can call any of us to do something He wants. He only calls prophets to be prophets — and that’s not every Christian.

I agree with your understanding of what a prophet does. I also have recently come to believe that I’ve sat under the teaching from the pulpit of a prophet. He would NEVER have called himself that because he believes the ecstatic gifts have ceased. But I think God doesn’t really care what we name people’s positions (or gifts). If He wants a preacher to speak His word into the lives of people in a prophetic way, it doesn’t matter if we say, My pastor spoke a word of prophecy or My pastor preached as if he knew exactly what I personally needed to hear.

Second, I don’t think being called and expecting to be called are the same. I’m in complete agreement with what Sally said. To illustrate from my own situation again, I fully expected to be a teacher until the day I retired. I never anticipated nor looked for a call to write. I wasn’t sitting around waiting to be called to something. My hand was already at the plow, doing what was right in front of me to do. So too with Moses. He was doing his shepherd thing when God called him. So was Gideon. So was Paul, even though his hand was raised against God’s Anointed.

As far as asking God for direction, I find the comments from that article to be … sad. How we limit God. As if He’s not interested in what we’re doing! Why shouldn’t He care who we marry, what job we take, or what school we attend? And if we ask Him for direction, why should He turn His back and tell us to go it alone?

Yes, I think some people cheapen God by thinking He’s all about serving us. But the other extreme is just as egregious, I think. James says we don’t have because we don’t ask. In context he’s talking about the things we quarrel about. He goes on to say we don’t have what we ask for because we ask with wrong motives. It’s a very powerful passage, I think, about how we limit God. Both extremes are right there (see chapter 4).

I had a pastor teach me when I was deciding whether to stay in a short term mission assignment or come home that God works through a number of means, one being our inclinations. He said to examine my heart and see if there was sin, to see if there was a Scriptural command that applied to what I was deciding, and when those things were answered, to then do what I wanted to do. If I’ve asked God for direction, I believe He gives it, meaning that His Spirit is quite capable of inclining my heart in the way He wants me to go. It’s made decisions a lot easier.

Back to the rest of your comment. 😀


Rebecca LuElla Miller

Stephen, you quoted this:

Here is where I would find out how serious they were about their notions. If God directs me to do something, and I do not do that, then I have sinned, and I deserve Hell for it.

This is … odd. For one thing, no one has been born untainted by Adam’s sin, except Adam. And all he did was take a bite of fruit. I mean was that so very much more serious than going to the wrong showing of Fireproof? Really, this is a silly point. Disobedience is disobedience. And the blood of Christ covered it. However, there are consequences that we might encounter for not listening to God’s voice — blessings we’ll lose out on. And if we don’t ask for His guidance, mistakes we might make that we wouldn’t have made. Yes, God can and does work in spite of and through our mistakes, but how great that He is also desirous of sparing us from the mess of our own making.

I’ll give you another personal example — not something at all typical. A few years ago I was working as a stringer for a newspaper group in the area, covering high school sports. I was assigned to a big football game and as time ran down, I packed up my things, left the press box, and headed toward the exit so I could get out quickly. After all, I was under deadline.

Time ran out, I took off. Half way to the parking lot, in my head, as loud as if it had been audible was Check for your notes. Silly, I thought. I put them in my bag. I’m in a hurry … deadline and all. Check for your notes. What if … So I stopped, opened my bag, and … no clipboard with all my game stats and notes.

God’s Holy Spirit or my subconscious reacting to having left the clipboard on the table in the press box?

I would be uncertain how to answer that except for the prayer I was asking about that job. Why, in light of my prayer, would I believe my subconscious had saved the assignment rather than God?

Would I have been disobedient to not check for the notes? I don’t know. I think of it as quenching the Holy Spirit. If I had driven all the way to the newspaper office before discovering I didn’t have the notes, I could never have retrieved them in time. I would not have met my obligation to my editor, failed to give the community the report about the game, and disappointed a lot of people. I look at that as the consequence.

Perhaps there would have been a break in my fellowship with God, too. It’s one of those things that can’t really be analyzed because you can’t look at it from both angles — just from the angle of what did happen.

Where does all this leave us? I’d say, I agree with your point that we shouldn’t wait around for a calling. I’d disagree about us not knowing that we are called. I’d also say that being called is not the same thing as being directed. And I’d add, I don’t think we pray enough or expect God to be involved in our lives the way He’s willing to be.

Your writing story well might be God revealing His plan for you, Stephen. It would be cool if it was.

God’s never promised me publication — only the call to write what’s turned into The Lore of Efrathah. It may never see the light of day. That’s OK. Not my responsibility. I will pursue publication, but I only know I was called to write that story.



[…] readers may still be in defense mode. (Something similar happened when I tried to question the “God told me to be a novelist” line.) Of them I’d only ask: if you’re a Christian, how did you first believe? Was it solely from an […]