A good scholarly talk is one by the evangelical Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland. He deals with epistemological issues here.
A discussion of the epistemological issues are also discussed on J.P. Moreland's blog here.
I like what J.P. Moreland has said & written on the subject of discerning God's guidance.
One may ask, "What about the concerns brought up by some folks of the more skeptical persuasion? Are they valid?"
To being with, it is important to highlight epistemic assumptions. A key question is whether we should we have more confidence in the possibility of satanic deception than in the ability to hear the Shepherd's voice with the gift of prophecy? In other words, as Christians, should we have more confidence in God’s ability to bless than in Satan’s ability to deceive in this area?
In particular the following thoughts from J. P. Moreland I find persuasive:
"...the examples of God speaking to people (including ordinary
people—Gen 25:23, Acts 6:5, and 8:6, Acts 19:1-7, esp. v. 6)
throughout both Testaments are meant to teach us how we can expect God
to speak (without, of course, expecting God to continue to give
authoritative scripture to the whole church)...."
"God speaks to people to correct wrong thinking (Phil 3:15; cf. Eph
1:17, I Cor 14:24, 26, 30-31)...The Holy Spirit speaks to us in
applying the Bible’s teaching to our specific situation (I Cor
2:14)...God speaks to us to give us guidance (Isaiah 30:21, John
10:3,4,16,27, Acts 13:2, 16:6, James 1:5). In the John texts, Jesus
says his sheep hear his voice..."
"Jesus is our model in communicating with God (John 5:19). Jesus is
not speaking about His unique prerogative as God or Messiah, because
the context is Jesus doing the works of the Father due to Jesus’
intimate communication with Him (and subsequent empowerment by the
Holy Spirit), and Jesus explicitly says that we will do greater works
than he did (John 14:12)."
"If Jesus needed to be lead by the Father in this, how much more do
we? Moreover, it is now widely acknowledged by NT scholars that Jesus
did what he did as a human being we are to model ourselves after in
dependence on the filling of the Holy Spirit and in communication with
the Father (cf. I Cor 11:1, I Thes 1:6)."
"Finally, Jesus delegated his authority to us and we need the same
tools he needed to carry out that delegation...God sometimes speaks by
placing impressions in our minds (Nehemiah 2:12) and through a still
small voice (I Kings 19:12)..."
"Regarding the claim that when God speaks, it is clear and we don’t
have to learn to hear his voice, (A) it seems that Samuel needed to
learn to distinguish/hear God’s voice (I Sam 3:1-21); (B) there was a
school of prophets in the Old Testament and, among other things, it
would seem natural to think that they were learning to discern/hear
God’s voice; (C) In the NT, prophesy is a gift that, as will other
gifts like teaching or evangelism, grows and develops with time and
experience as one learn to enter more fully into the practice of that
gift. That is why there were tests of prophesy (I Cor 14:29, I Thes
5:19-22), viz., that as people learned to hear God, they sometimes
made mistakes and gave words sincerely though they were mistaken. (D)
We have to learn God’s most authoritative speech, the Bible, through
hermeneutics, exegetical practice and so forth, and many believers are
mistaken about what exactly is God’s biblical speech (in debates in
textual criticism and differences between Catholics and Protestants
about which books belong in the canon)."
"If God has allowed there to be differences about what belongs in Holy
Scripture and we have to work hard to learn to rightly divide it, why
can’t there be differences about whether a personal communication
was/was not from God and effort needed to learn how to understand such
J. P. Moreland is very careful to point out that there is a certain amount of ambiguity interpreting and discerning prophetic phenomena.
Examples of how to flesh out Moreland's view of epistemology on the above noted series of blog posts by Timothy Bayless. He is a student of Moreland and also a graduate student in philosophy.
Following in the footsteps of his mentor J. P. Moreland, Bayless challenges the epistemic assumption that if God communicates today it must be so overtly overwhelming that there is no possibility of “not hearing.” Of course, it is possible for God to communicate in such a manner. However, there is no reason to think that he must always do that. Like Moreland, Bayless also makes this case with great philosophical acumen and theological precision.
In relationship to prophetic impressions that he gets, Moreland speaks of sharing them with a cautious disclaimer. For example, he describes discernment faith (i.e. a species of fides historica) being a type of "degreed" proposition. Moreland looks at a scale from one to ten and asks people, who desire to share prophetic impressions, to evaluate how sure they are of hearing from God. He claims to practice this principle himself in the following manner.
First of all, Moreland expresses a humble statement that sometimes he only has about a 70 to 30 percent ratio of confidence that he is hearing from God.
Secondly, Moreland describes his experience of hearing from God as being composed of a series of thoughts that come to him from outside of himself. As he puts it, they "pass through and than they are gone." His lecture reminds me of how the Stanford-based anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann describes how some Christians describe the spiritual sensation of God talking back.
Thirdly, Moreland cites the cases in which there is over a 50/50 percent ratio of certainty. When that happens, he writes about his personal practice in which he claims to simply step out in faith to make choices with the limited information that he believes is prophetically discerned "in part." However, if there are important and weighty decisions that might be influenced by this possible prophetic impression, he will run it by others. And, of course, his test is done in the context of having Scriptural ethical standards.
I believe that what Moreland does in redefining prophecy is to simply remove the obstacles for common sense to be truly common sense. For example, among other things, Moreland writes about how he believes God speaks through providential circumstances. He defines a providential circumstance as a highly or very unlikely event with a special significance for a journey in life. In this way, Moreland views providential circumstances as being important in the confirmation and corroboration process of the gift of prophecy - i.e. hearing from God.
So, does the New Testament gift of prophecy function in such a manner that there is no human element of discernment involved on the part of the one who is sharing prophetic words, insights, etc.?
That above question depends if one believes there is a distinction between the special level on inspiration involved in the composition of canonical Scripture and the common level of inspiration with prophetic gifts. Typical Reformation theology would allow for the possibility that God can speaking outside, but not apart from His written external Word, to His people in times of prayer.