Saturday, September 10, 2005

From Truth to Experience...

I just purchased a 2 CD set from Stand to Reason titled, From Truth to Experience: Why the Church Is Losing Its Vitality in the 21st Century. In it, Greg Koukl explains that he is,
deeply concerned about the church'’s ability to fulfill Jude'’s admonition to "“contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints"” because of a trend in the church that'’s getting worse.
He believes that the church (especially in America) is becoming increasingly ineffective, primarily because
...there is an unhealthy hunger for ...an experience of personal revelation that has replaced our hunger for truth.
And that,
We desperately want God to communicate with us directly. [and] ...We are taught more and more from pulpits all around the country that this is what every Christian can expect to have happen.
He further states that such an unhealthy hunger is evidenced by three traditions in modern evangelicalism,
1. we go to our Bibles not to study the text for its truth, but to look for private, personal, individualized messages from God to us. 2. we think that God has put His will in code and we must decipher in order to find "“God'’s will."” 3. we think that a vital part of a real relationship with God is learning how to receive private, personal, special revelations from God.
The problem, as Koukl sees it, is that we've placed too much importance on the aspect of experiencing God. In our culture, feelings seem to be so much more relevant, and valid, than mere academic knowledge. That which entertains, or titillates the most, is deemed that which is most important. Is it no wonder, then, that many of our evangelical churches emphasize the fact that one can experience God when one enters into a personal relationship with Jesus? Is it any wonder that such an experience is considered to be the cornerstone for our Christian faith and the means through which our maturity occurs? Instead of hearing and learning about God, we end up hearing catch phrases such as, lives are being transformed, or, people are experiencing God's Spirit. Instead of hearing and learning about God, we are told that we, as a congregation, must be about connecting at deeper and deeper levels. The idea, so it goes, is that if people could just experience God, then they'd not only connect at deeper and deeper levels, but they'd also yearn to learn more about God. But is that what really happens? Do we see those people that have experienced God (supposedly) striving to learn more about Him? Or do we simply see them striving to get more of the experience? Yet, Koukl's concerns run much deeper than that of experiential, illiterate Christians. You see, when we elevate experience over revealed truth (i.e., the personal revelation of experience over the general revelation of Scripture), then we run into the problem of relativism. For example, if one person reads a verse and receives a personal, individualized message, then that verse has a different meaning for that person than it does for either you or I. When a static passage of text can mean one thing to you, another thing to me, and yet another thing to someone else, then that text is being viewed in a relativistic manner. And that is no way to view the revealed truth of God. Update: Joe Carter links us to Signs: I'm Weary of Weird Christians, by The Internet Monk. An excerpt,
I am tired of hearing people I work with say that God is talking to them like He talked to Moses at the burning bush or like He talked to Abraham. I'm weary of people saying God speaks directly to them about mundane matters of reasonable human choice, so that their choices of toothpaste and wallpaper are actually God's choices, and therefore I need to just shut up and keep all my opinions to myself until I can appreciate spiritual things. I'm tired of people acting as if the normal Christian life is hearing a voice in your head telling you things other people can't possible know, thus allowing you a decided advantage.
Read the whole thing.

5 comments:

Michael Hutton said...

G'day,

I have just been thinking the same kind of things about experiential Christianity.

Maybe God is trying to tell me something??

Just joking -

My concern is that a reliance on experience in the Christian life leaves poeple shipwrecked when things don't turn out how they'd like.

Hope it's OK to share your comments with a few friends,

God Bless
Michael

ReSoT4eM said...

I think Koukl over-intellectualizes (is that a word?)the reasons for the Western church's decline. From biblical and historical texts, it seems that people of God become indifferent during times of relative prosperity.

The Church seems to be advancing the kingdom in other countries where life is hard and persecution is common. That doesn't mean however that they are "effective" from a political or cultural standpoint. But they are extremely effective at preaching the gospel.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, your comments on Christian experience being the the problem strike me as superficial at best and erroneous at worst.

The problem is not experience per se but the type and source of experience. If you read the best of the Reformers, Puritans and their sucessors, you will find that those of previous centuries, who lived the most Godly of lives, and knew the most theologically about God, also knew Him personally and experientially, in prayer, in leadings, in guidings and various other ways, none of which conflicts with the Written Word, but in fact is born out and stressed by it, eg; "the Spirit Himself witnesseth with our Spirits that we are children of God", "the love of God shed abroad in the heart"; "the earnest of our inheritance"; "our words came not with human wisdom, but with demonstration of the Holy Spirit and of power"; "we will come to you and manifest ourselves to you". If none of these verses seem important to you, then I respectfully suggest that you have yet to know and understand the best of what the Lord has promised.

In my view, the problem is the shallow supperficial money oriented approach to "christianity" on the one hand and the dry formal intellectualism on the other, which has chacterized American Churchianity for so long that it has resulted in an hunger and thirst for God, to know Him, not just about Him.

But unfortunately, modern men such as Blackaby and the various Pentacostal and Charismatic offerings miss the mark by far. My suggestion would be to read such men as Bunyan, Mcheyne, Payson, Goodwin. You will find both a depth and a knowledge, objective and subjective, that is fully aligned with the clear teaching of the Word of God.

Kindest Regards,

In Him,

Acts2027

Anonymous said...

I would agree with the comments. I would also like to mention that experiential christianity without established truth gets you nowhere. Illiteracy in the bible and of orthodoxy is the problem with the church today. This lends itself to be problem to those who have no firm grounding of truth in Christianity. It is only compounded by experiential Christianity not caused by it.

Experiential christianity (esp. pentecostals) have anti-intellectual/anti-truth strains that seek not their answers in the Bible but in experience. This is a modern phenomena. This is the wrong phenomena. I am weirded out by those who cannot establish such a grounding. I am also weirded out by those who try to do such without firm a understanding and defendable position.

True experiential Christianity does not look for new truths but looks to turn over the old ones and apply them. It seeks to establish current conviction not create new ones. This must be the line between the subjective and objective.

This is also consistent with the teaching of the Word since stances are not formed by (or on) the revelations. Paul specifically condemns stances that are contrary to this.

pearlie said...

Hi, thanks for sharing this. This has been in my mind for a very long time and it is really getting to me lately. Reading your post helped me put my thoughts into place and I thank you for that. I have somewhat reproduced what you have put here in my blog (credit given) and I hope you are ok about it.

God bless!