Saturday, July 13, 2013

Experience and the Bible

When engaging on the issue of the miraculous with those who are against the view that God works miracles (e.g. healing the sick) today in much the same way as those recorded in the Gospels and Acts, I have come across the accusation that we are basing our understanding of the Bible on experience.  One brother, who is a cessationist, contended the rightness of his view by saying, "I have a high level of confidence in my biblical study because my biblical conclusions are neither based on my experience or my theology. They’re based on the nouns and verbs of scripture."  Let alone omitting experience in the investigation of the Scriptures, I wonder which, if any, Biblical scholars would agree with the method of exegesis that omits personal experience wholesale from a study of Scripture.
I agree that experience alone should not be the basis of formulating "biblical conclusions", but is it sensible to reject it outright as a means of understanding Scripture and its application in our lives?  I don't think so.
Moses would have a hard time proving the "biblical conclusion" that it was the God of his fathers who commanded Egypt to let his people go precisely because he had no Bible.  Pharaoh said, "Who is God that I should let the Hebrew people go?"  How do you think Moses would respond?
"Well, Pharaoh, it says here in the Bible that God commands, 'Pharaoh, let the people go'.  Notice the nouns are 'Pharaoh', 'people' and the verb 'let go' is in the present immediate tense suggesting something that must be done now without hesitation; and the phrase, 'let my people go', has reference not to 'God' but to 'Pharaoh'; therefore, it is God commanding Pharaoh - and you are him - to let his people go...now!"
Not really.
As far as I know, Moses had no Scriptures to base his theology upon.  So, how did Moses reply?  It is recorded that Moses simply said, "The God of the Hebrews has manifested Himself to us" (Tanakh, Ex 5:3).  Moses based his "theology" of God, what little of it He did have, on experience (Ex 3:2-12).
How about the apostle Paul?  He had the Scriptures, the Word of God to formulate doctrine and practice.  Did he come to his "biblical conclusions" about God, especially in relation to the Messiah based on Scripture, solely on the "nouns and verbs of scripture"?  Did the Apostle Paul's intense and extensive learning lead him to the "biblical conclusion" that Jesus is the Messiah?  What did this great man of God say when he was being persecuted for his beliefs?
"I have studied Isaiah 53 for many years.  I have read day and night the prophets and in all my reading - studying the words, the nouns, the verbs, the adjectives and adverbs, as well as all the tenses – and, as a result, I have come to the conclusion that Jesus is Messiah.  No, I do not base this theological view on experience but only on what the nouns and verbs of the Hebrew Scriptures mean."
I don't think so.
But what did Paul say?  Although having the Hebrew Scriptures to fall back on, he said, in short, "Christ came to me!  He manifested Himself to me!  I experienced His power for he made me blind and then healed me!"  (See Acts 22:1-16).  It can be suggested that Paul's defense was likened to the words of John, the beloved disciple, who wrote, "That...which we have heard...seen...handled…and bear witness, and show it unto you” (1 John 1:1-3).
As with Moses, Paul's defense was...experience.  For sure, Paul may have resorted to the Hebrew Scriptures in confirmation that he had truly experienced the manifestation of the Hebrew God, nevertheless, when his beliefs were questioned, he replied by sharing what he experienced: "I received [the Gospel]...by the revelation of Jesus Christ."  Paul contends in defense of his apostleship and authority: "when it pleased God...to reveal His Son in me" (Gal 1:12,15-16).  Actually, it was precisely because Paul experienced God that he went to study the Scriptures, wrote his epistles, and had confidence in the divine appointment of his apostleship.
It was not his "great learning" that led him to believe in Christ, although, admittedly, it made it easier for him to test and confirm his experience as having been a genuine revelation of Yhwh, but it was the manifestation - the miraculous experience - of Christ to him that convinced him that Jesus is the Messiah.
I have come to Christ, not due to an intense study of the Bible (though many others have come to Christ in that way), but because He spoke to me in an audible voice, saying, "You're going to be arrested".  I instinctively knew it was God and asked, "What did you say?"  He repeated, "You're going to be arrested."  And, two minutes later I was arrested and spent the weekend in jail.  That experience led me to a park a week later where I saw people singing and, again, instinctively knew they were singing to God.  When someone came up to me and asked if I wanted to be saved, a window of understanding - of instinctive knowledge - opened up to me and I knew that it was in this man Jesus Christ that I must lay up all my hope and trust.  I experienced the Presence of the Spirit revealing Christ to me.
Am I advocating experience above the Scriptures?  No.  Scripture confirms and interprets what has been experienced, if it is a genuine manifestation of God or not.  Nevertheless, I am saying that to totally reject experience in one's exegesis of Scripture is not only denying an important and practical aspect of the human connection with the divine, it may also be denying the Spirit's activity and work among men as promised in the Scriptures.
Yes, let us run to the Scriptures to find, test, and explain what we have perceived to be an experience of Christ "in you, the hope of glory."  Let us rejoice and embrace the miraculous presence of God when it is manifested in our lives or the lives of others in the performance of signs and wonders.
Also, let us study the Bible; let us seek to understand, to make sense of what we read in the Bible and what we experience in life.  To do so is not to place experience above Scripture, although that may be a real danger (as it is also a real danger to place one's ability to rationalize - which is evidently a form of experience - above the Spirit teaching us the things of God through Scripture), but to bring the whole person into communion and service to God through Christ.
As he who was blind said, "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know for certain, whoever he is, whereas before I was blind, now I experience sight."



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See also: Experience and the Bible: AfterThoughts

If you are interested in knowing more about God's miraculous intervention today in the lives of his people, visit http://askdrbrown.org/, also his blog (http://askdrbrown.org/blog/) or check his FB page at https://www.facebook.com/?sk=h_chr#!/AskDrBrown?fref=ts.

10 comments:

  1. Amazing analysis. This is the essential point I make in a new book: *What's Wrong with Protestant Theology: Tradition vs Biblical Emphasis* (Tulsa: Word & Spirit Press, 2013). Here I argue, that against the "traditions of men", e.g., the scribes (Jn 5:37-40), the Bible insists on the "experience" of hearing God's voice. This issue was the essence of the great temptation stories: Gen 3; Ex 20; Mt4||Lk4. One "shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." The goal of the Bible: the New Covenant is all about this issue. It's all in the book!

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    1. Dr. Ruthven, I am truly humbled by your positive response. And, you got my weak spot: books. I just now ordered yours. Reading your comment, I find that it may be one thing to read about what God says, and another thing to hear it in the Spirit (and not necessarily by an audible voice). Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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  2. Good post, Nelson. It is actually your friend who, contrary to his claim, bases his doctrine on experience (or lack thereof). Scripture clearly teaches that in the end times, which we are in now, the Spirit of prophecy would be unleashed (Joel 2:28-32). The NT assumes the power of God and miracles as commonplace, and nowhere is there a clear statement that it will cease before the Parousia. But your friend does not experience these miracles, so which way does his theology go? The way of his experience, and he makes the nouns and verbs agree with it. he might make a good charismatic some day.

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    1. Hi Steve! Good to hear from you. I was just telling my wife this morning that obtaining knowledge from studying the Scriptures necessarily involves having an experience; knowledge is experience, maybe an intellectual experience, nevertheless, it is an experience. To rule out experience as a means of understanding Scripture and knowing God, as I see it, makes no sense. Thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.

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  3. I posted this on Dr. Brown's page also: This is a mixed bag. If you allow experience to determine truth, what's to stop one from believing the Mormon, "burning in the bosom," or any occultic or New Age experience as conveying truth? I believe experience can confirm biblical truth, but it doesn't determine it. When experience or feelings conflict with scripture, which one wins and which one loses? I believe people are miraculously healed today. However, I don't see where people are always healed, or if they are not healed that it is their fault that they don't have enough faith, made a bad confession, had hidden sin...And if you claim that many people were healed through your ministry, you should provide documentation. You should have one instance of where you can show medical records to prove a person had a medically diagnosed illness or disease and can prove that this disease no longer exists. It does not count for someone to say that they had this or that and now don't have this or that now. I know of a real healing of this type. I also know of a situation in my hometown where a local ministry published that a woman had been healed of cancer, claiming that she had been treated at a local hospital by a certain doctor. The hospital in question issued a statement that they had never treated this woman, the only doctor by that name had retired many years ago and was in a different specialty. If a person is dying, offer them comfort and allow them to use the time they have left to impart whatever they wish to their loved ones, rather than having unhelpful aggressive treatment and believing that they need to just have faith and a positive attitude to be healed.http://endtimechaverim.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/god-told-me-or-god-didnt-tell-me/ http://endtimechaverim.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/on-despising-prophecy/

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    1. Princess, I replied to you on Dr. Brown's FB page. Let me also add hear that we cannot let unfortunate events such as you have shared here determine what we believe. As we cannot let experience of itself determine what is truth, neither can we allow the experience alone to determine just what it is we do believe.

      Our faith in God rests not on whether or not people are healed or others are truthful about being healed, but on God who has revealed himself as our healer. That is the difference between using experience as a tool that helps us understand Scripture and as a foundation upon which we formulate our beliefs and acquire faith. As a tool, it is necessary and unavoidable; but to use it as a foundation for faith to stand on, it is sand.

      Don't ignore the problems we encounter when our theology and experience seem to be in tension; but, at the same time, know that God, as revealed in the Bible, is good. That God is healer is not contradicted because one is not healed.

      I hope this helps.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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  4. I wish God would speak to me like he did with Paul. I want to be saved but I just don't believe the Bible. I don't think I can be forgiven.

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    1. Your desire for God to speak to you as he did with Paul is understandably desireable. But God can also speaks to you through Paul. And Paul said: "If you admit and tell others that Jesus Christ is your Lord, and believe in your heart that it is true God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. With a heart believing a man becomes right with God having all his sins forgiven and telling others about what he believes shows he is saved" (Romans 10:9-10, my paraphrase)

      It is not a matter that you cannot be forgiven because Paul says in another place that not only is God is the Savior for every person, but that "he longingly desires for all to be saved and understand this truth" (1 Timothy 2:4-6).

      Therefore, the only barrier to your being saved is...you...your admitted refusal to believe what God, through Paul and the other writers of the Bible, says about Jesus' love for you shown on the Cross.

      Yes, God spoke to Paul, but the first thing God said was, "Why do you resist and fight me? I am Jesus. Why are you not believing who I am?" (Acts 9:1-7).

      Since you desire God to speak to you like he spoke to Paul, let God speak to you with the same question: "Why do you resist and fight me? I am Jesus. Why are you not believing who I am?"

      If you prefer to discuss this further on a more personal level, I'd be more than happy to do so via email. Just let me know...

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  5. As numerous case studies and scientific studies have confirmed, eyewitness testimony is usually deeply flawed and unreliable. This being the case, why do you rely on personal experience so heavily when it comes to the issue of "spiritual insight." If a man claimed that a some unknown god had told him to ritually sacrifice another human being, we would call him a schizophrenic or a malicious liar. But today when people claim that God told them anything, as long as it seems to agree with the Bible, we pat them on the back or buy their books. Where do critical thinking skills fit in?

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    1. My apologies in delaying to answer.

      Since you cite no resources, I do not know what "scientific studies" you are referencing. In any case, if that were true, our system of law is also "deeply flawed and unreliable" as it, for the most part, depends on eyewtiness accounts to validate the facts of a case. While I can agree that eyewitness testimony is not always accurate and, therefore, there is a certain degree of unreliability, it cannot be said to be true in every case of eyewitness testimony.

      As far as the little I've read, there is more to evaluating the reliability of eyewitness testimony, and that may be why eyewitnedd testimony alone is not determinative, however influential, in deciding a case.

      As far as the Bible is concerned, scholarly studies have shown it to be historically reliable, at the least, if not altogether in every aspect wholly accurate.

      That said, I am not at all capable of providing you with a "scientific" reply as to the Bible's reliability. However, what I have learned about the truth of Scripture is confirmed by what I have experienced, although it alone was not the determining factor in convincing me of it's truthfulness. However, I cannot deny that experience did have a large impact in that decision (as suggested in my blog).

      It seems to me that there are two methods of "critical" thinking. There is the critical thinking that seeks for what is true and consistent with reality; and there is the critical thinking that seeks to disprove what it finds disapproving. That is, there are those who think critically of the Bible for the purpose of disproving it because they do not like it or agree with it; it is rejected outright.

      Jesus words can refer those whose "critical thinking" is merely for the sake of disproving what they find disapproving: "...he Light from heaven came into the world, but [men] loved the darkness more than the Light, for their deeds were evil. They hated the heavenly Light because they wanted to sin in the darkness. They stayed away from the Light for fear their sins would be exposed and" refusing to wnat to change and be changed, "they would be punished."

      You are either going to read the Bible and study it to seek truth because you desire to live for truth regardless of the cost; or, you are going to read the Bible for the purpose of validating your rejection of it because you love the way you are living despite the Bible's claims upon your conscience.

      It is not "scientific study" that determines what your "critical thinking" will find, but your moral condition, the desire of your heart.

      As Jesus said, "If any of you really determines to do God's will, then you will certainly know whether my teaching is from God or merely my own."

      Where do your "critical thinking skills fit in."

      As I stated earlier, if you would rather, you may continue this discussion privately via Email.

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