Reading oneself and the Bible: follow-up 2

This post is the second part of my reply to “Listener’s” recent comment.

Previously I replied to Listener’s view that followers of God will know God’s voice and be able to identify things that come from God. Further, that “we can be sure of God’s goodness and His character for these things are revealed in Scripture.” To this point I raised the importance of employing scepticism and suspicion, both defining them and then explaining the importance of suspicion.

In this post I want to go further, by putting scepticism and suspicion to work on Listener’s next point.  Her next comment was: “When a person receives something beautiful from the Lord, the enemy will move in quickly to cause them to doubt its authenticity (because his whole goal is to kill, steal and destroy) and if he can do this through the voice of other Christians, it is far more effective in shutting down moves of the Spirit than someone who does not claim faith. That is why it is crucially important for each and every one of us to be very, very careful with the hearts of our brothers and sisters.”

I understand the logic and plausibility of this view, and it has some correspondence with the parable of the sower that is attributed to Jesus in the Gospels (Mt 13, Mk 4, Lk 8). Yet here, too, scepticism and suspicion must be at play.

Recall: scepticism addresses the opacity of facts while suspicion addresses the duplicity of persons.1

So on the level of the facts, scepticism asks: Who says that something is either “beautiful” or is “from the Lord”? On what basis can these claims be substantiated (or, what is the truth value of such truth claims)? On the level of persons, suspicion asks: What else might be going on here? What does the claimant stand to gain by making this claim (or lose if they don’t)? Such questions become more prominent the more the link between the facts and the claims seems weak or incoherent.

Now part of the difficulty in treading this ground is that Christians have never, to my knowledge, systematized claims about experiencing God in the same way that they have systematized, in their theology, claims to information about God.

In other words, knowing God through relationship and knowing about God through the Bible have received very different treatment over the history of Christianity. Yet, ironically, so many Christians want to claim—and seem to base their Christianity upon—the importance of specific, personal experiences with / from God (in the form of answered prayer, providential acts of divine intervention, etc.).

To be clear, I am not advocating theology instead of experience. Actually, I want to redress the overwhelming disparity between the two: to situate them in their proper relationship, which is theology with experience. I believe that at least three basic steps are required to right the relationship between the Bible and experience, between factual knowledge about God and personal / relational knowledge of God.

First, in addition to providing information about human beings and limited information about the natural world, the Bible points to God and explains who God is, how God acts, and what God seeks. As such, experiencing God is theological where it is the natural outcome of a God who acted, and continues to act, so as to seek ongoing relationship with humanity.

Second, experience is not simply the interpreted events or situations of a single person but, in Christianity, experience is essentially corporate. This is because testimony, as the credible accounts of others, is essential in order for people to come to relationship with God or to strengthen existing relationship with God.

So Christianity depends on others sharing their experiences of God yet, because this experiential content also informs us about God’s character and manner of relating (literally, it further informs us who God is relative to human beings), it is essential that Christians are not deceived in what they accept or deceptive in what they share. To this end, the Bible contains numerous warnings about false teachers, false prophets, and wrong teaching. And make no mistake: when we claim special interaction with God (and especially, when we conclude specific things about God on the basis of this interaction) we are indeed taking the role of teacher and potentially, prophet.

Third, given the necessarily theological character of experience and essential nature of testimony, Christians need to cultivate personal ‘exegesis’ on the same level as textual exegesis: Christians need to become equally skilled at ‘reading themselves’ as they do at reading the Bible. This is not to put the two on the same level but to affirm that both are complimentary, as requisites toward attaining the same goal.

Next post I aim to wrap up this examination by considering Listener’s final point: what to do with Christians who seem to respond to our experiential claims with envy or disdain, and to consider our reasons for sharing our “exceptional” experiences.

2 thoughts on “Reading oneself and the Bible: follow-up 2

  1. Pingback: Reading oneself and the Bible: follow-up 3 - Another Christian OptionAnother Christian Option

  2. I listened to Podcast 77. Thank you so much for addressing these issues because I think they are critically important to developing a right relationship and understanding of who God is and how He interacts with us. I agree with what I understood the fundamental theme of this podcast to be, which is the need for healthy discernment in our spiritual journey, which should include both the freedom to both embrace and (rightly) be suspicious/skeptical of claims people make about God. I also think that if a person makes a faith claim regarding the person of and/or interaction with God, they should be able to handle critique of that with maturity, grace and wisdom. I welcome critiques of things I claim, as long as they are intelligent, based in sound reason and come from someone who has invested enough in God to recognize God in the world around them. (On a side note…this doesn’t always come from traditional Christians. Sometimes it comes from the fringes…from the ones who others have written off as “not spiritual enough.” I do not just listen people with a “religious” label. I will listen to anyone who makes sense to me). I am not so welcoming of people who are just spouting off based upon some kind of indoctrination that they subscribe to, which they have never invested much deep thought into but keep repeating because it makes them sound like “spiritual giants.” I have another name for them. I call them fools.

    I have to use examples from my own life to demonstrate why I’ve arrived where I have because…well, I have lived no other life than my own, so that is why I relate so many personal experiences. I’m not just trying to make this “all about me” for that sake alone.

    The problem I often encounter has to do with one of the points you made. You said:
    “Now to some people the notion that we interpret the Bible (instead of simply “reading what’s there”) may seem surprising. More so, to some it means that human beings are “in charge” of determining who God is, which can cause distress. For if God’s love (or perhaps worse, truth!) is a matter of my interpretation or that of others, then how can we be certain that we’re not misrepresenting God or characterizing God in any number of potentially conflicting —and even harmful—ways?”

    When people have confronted me regarding my journey, experiences, personal beliefs, etc., I have tried to take them to what the Scripture actually says. They will make some claim how I am wrong, mentally ill, full of Satan, (I’ve heard them all) and I bring up the Scripture as a defense, they will often have nothing to say. They will not engage what the Scripture actually says. They will only repeat back whatever theological construct they have erected based upon teachings, interpretations, experiences that they have believed in the past. I find it nearly impossible to have an intelligent conversation with people like that. I have, at times, pushed in and asked for reasons behind their accusations in light of what the Scripture actually says and they will revert to something like….”you are angry because of what I am saying so you do not have the fruits of the Spirit.” Oh really? That’s the best you can do? I’ve silenced people because they have no way of refuting me with the actual Scripture. They have to resort to more insults and accusations in order to maintain their position.

    One of the benefits of years of intense study of the Scriptures is that I know them pretty well, although I would not classify myself as an “official scholar.” My study has been personal but I have invested an enormous amount of time in searching the Word. I have utilized countless commentaries, read many fine authors and scholarly works, listened to an enormous amount of podcasts, sermons, etc. of people with a wide variety of perspectives, had a lot of personal conversations with people, been in small groups, been involved in different churches, etc. (need I go on?) When people take me on, they are taking on a woman of knowledge. I am not trying to brag in ANY WAY. I am making the point that I invested a lot of my life into learning so I can have intelligent conversations about these things.

    I have not been a perfect woman, not by a long shot. I’ve stumbled around, trying to figure out how to live a life of love…just like everyone else. But I can say that I have followed after God as fervently as I possibly could for a long time now, believing the Scriptures when it say “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb 11:6) I also believe the Scripture that says “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (John 16:13)

    Have I ever been wrong about things? Absolutely! Of course! Specifically, I have received something from the Spirit and my natural mind will try to figure out what it means or make conclusions that I come to find out later were way off. It isn’t that I hadn’t received something from God, it’s that I took that piece and misinterpreted it. When that happens, I step back and surrender to the guidance of the Spirit and let myself be redirected. I’ve had to become very, very flexible with my understanding of things. The minute I take a stand on something and say…”well, I’ve got it all figured out!”…is the moment I stop learning and growing. The Spirit is mysterious and has taken me down roads I thought I would never travel. Stifling that mysterious work is the kiss of death. And yet, I feel this is what many people have done by taking such a rigid stance on some of the ways they interpret things (whether it be their own experiences, the Scriptures, the world around them, etc). Flexibility, humility and patience are crucial in the journey into all Truth…which the Spirit promises…and I believe will be delivered eventually.

    I know I must sound like an angry woman. I definitely feel that at times and I do not hide it. But there’s another very soft side of me, a fragile side. I’m very loving and I feel the wounds people have dealt me very deeply. I’ve shed an enormous amount of tears in the last few years because of the attacks against me. I have this strange combination of rock-like strength (that I’ve had to develop for my own survival) hiding a very soft under belly. I hope that someday I can put aside that hardness and find a place of rest.

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