How do I know God intimately and deeply? What is the truest way to experience Him? Yes… I used the word ‘experience’.
When I changed churches, I quickly learned that there was a phrase for the kind of church experience I had growing up… It was ‘experience-based’. It is a very strange thing to hear the only way you’ve ever known to be given a neatly packaged label. Experience-based faith was a phrase used in contrast to ‘reason-based faith’ that was far more ‘stable’ and ‘grounded’. Anxious that I had been anchored in the wrong place, I set about trying to establish my faith again.
The outcome was ironic. Firstly, what began with seeking to follow Jesus morphed into wanting to be on the same page theologically with those around me… wanting to please man. In doing so I threw the baby out with the bath water. I became sceptical of my emotions, my feelings, experiences and also of how the Holy Spirit works. Secondly, in attempting to ground myself more firmly as a ‘word-based’ Christian I actually stopped daily trusting in God’s Word.
How did this happen? I made the greatest of mistakes. I cared more about “mastering my theology than being mastered by Jesus” (Josh Harris).
Here is why I have come to think the reason and experience divide is unhelpful.
Firstly, because it fails to recognise that our reason and intellect is also fallen. We are in desperate need for the word of God to change the way we think. God transforms us by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). This means our minds need to be transformed! In our culture we elevate reason as the highest authority. But as Christians, are we in danger of forgetting that our ‘reason’ needs to be redeemed by the gospel of Jesus? Praise God that he created us as thinking and critical beings. Praise God that he uses our minds. But to trust in His word, takes a transforming work that only His Spirit can achieve.
Reason-based faith is not a faith the bible speaks about. Instead, the goal of the Christian is to have faith-based reason. Rather than just a matter of wording, this places God’s Word as the highest authority, over and above our ability to reason. It approaches the Bible with humility knowing that we can only understand by a faith that God gives us, not by our own efforts.
Lord, give us eyes to see and minds to understand and believe.
The second reason why the reason-experience divide is unhelpful is that it creates a false choice between the two. I can have reason or experience. This is a divide the bible never makes.
I love this Tim Keller quote:
“We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth or doctrine and a life filled with spiritual power or experience. They go together. We aren’t called to leave behind our theology to ‘look for something more’…for experience. Rather we are meant to ask the Holy Spirit to help us experience our theology”.
I think this is what Paul meant when he prayed for the Ephesians to know a love that surpasses knowledge (5:19). I think this is what it means to have the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16).
To trust in God’s word, to have a faith based on the word, is not just to defend the faith intellectually or historically. Which thankfully the bible is capable of!!! But it is not ONLY that. What a sad way to reduce the speech of the living God!!
Yes it is all those things, but it is so much more. To trust in God’s word is to experience its truth. It is to have it quicken our heart beat. To trust in His word is to believe it is the greatest of treasures and delights.
To be a word-based Christian is to let God’s word pierce, expose, enlighten, empower. To be driven by His word is to have our experiences, emotions and feelings, informed by the truest of treasures that far surpass anything originating from our intellect…or from our feelings.
God forgive us for mishandling Your word… not in terms of exegesis… not in terms of ‘preaching prosperity’. No. Something more subtle and damaging.
For seeing it as ‘theology-out-there’. For seeing it as a ‘form of godliness but denying its power’.
Lord may we experience You not just in fragments of our person but wholly. Your Word washing our hearts, minds, emotions, walk, speech…everything.
Help us to experience our theology.
God Your Spirit dwells IN us!! Illuminating your word…guiding us into its truth. Pointing us to Jesus.
Transforming our minds. Giving us a new heart. It’s not ‘theology-out-there’.
Because of Christ, we are indwelt by You.
Nothing is more intimate than experiencing You through Jesus, in Your word, by Your Holy Spirit.