The Ever-Present Voice of Experience

Dear DiaryContinuing a discussion that began last Monday, I want to talk about Experience and its role in thinking about theological issues. We’ve talked about what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which sees four voices in discussions of religious matters: Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience. John Wesley, for whom the system is named, placed Scripture above all else, but recognized the influence of the other three. We’ve been trying to consider the role that each has and should have in theological reflection.

We saw the importance of Reason to Modernists, so important that it was/is allowed to trump Scripture itself in some discussions. For Post-Modernists, this rarely happens. Their trump card, so to speak, is Experience. They’ll listen to discussions of theology and scholarship, but will only give them merit insofar as such discussions align with their Experience. The Bible is read as being a record of another people’s Experience; its teaching may or may not be applicable to my situation, my Experience.

There are a few points that need to be considered. One is the fact that a Christian’s Experience should be led and shaped by the Holy Spirit. That gives a status of credibility to Experience; it’s not just anecdotal evidence if the Spirit is involved. At the same time, the great problem is being able to recognize when the Spirit is leading, when our cultural context is leading, and when our human nature is leading.

The second point comes down to the limited nature of Experience. I recently wrote a Heartlight article about the fable of the wise men and the elephant. We need to recognize that our Experience is nothing more than that… it is ours. The Internet has enabled us to find thousands of peoples with stories similar to ours, so that convinces us that our Experience is virtually universal. It’s not. Experience alone will never lead us to truth. It must be shaped by Reason and tempered by Tradition. And, above all, it must be controlled by Scripture.

The last point I would make concerns the extreme danger of following the human heart. The Bible gives numerous warnings about this peril. In fact, that is surely the shortcoming of Reason, Tradition, and Experience; they are far too human. Over-reliance on Experience gives veto power to feelings and executive authority to emotions. And we run the risk of falling into that famous description from Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Just read the book of Judges to see how that turned out.

So we turn a distrustful eye to Experience, or, should I say, a discerning eye, looking to hear the voice of the Spirit within the cacophony of sound that is Experience. And we let Scripture interpret Experience, never the other way around.

Links To Go (April 28, 2015)

Just a reminder… these links are provided to provoke thought or to entertain. I don’t necessarily agree with them nor endorse the sites they appear on. Tim

Keeping Your Birthright In An Election Year

In recent years, the Christian community has sadly served as little more than a predictable, devote (and loud) voting bloc with a ferocious, angry bark. At present, the church’s unholy alliances in politics have made us a tool of the Right, an enemy of the Left, and prophetic to neither. For some time now, we have so desperately wanted a seat in the halls of power that we have abandoned the witness and testimony of the Christ.

No, Hanging Out With Your Friends is Not the Church

If you are gathering with a group of friends to talk about life and the Scriptures, don’t stop. But don’t confuse it with church either.

An Anglican Theologian Has Five Questions for Rachel Held Evans

What I like is that Evans is beautifully affirming of the resurrection, she has an almost poetic view of the Eucharist, and is resolutely pro-church. Evans also calls those trying to woo millennials back to church not to bother with tacky worshiptainment, but to seek substance over cheesiness.…However, as an Anglican theologian/clergyman, I do have some pressing questions for Rachel. Who knows, maybe she’ll even answer!.

How the Prosperity Gospel Hurts Racial Reconciliation

This will mean that we must oppose not only the full-deal heresy of the prosperity gospel but also the implicit ways we have absorbed a kind of discount-rate prosperity gospel that can view Christianity as centered around white, middle-class American success. Most of the church is impoverished, by American standards. This is no sign that God is not blessing the church. Those sectors of the church around the world that are now the least “successful” by American standards are the very churches holding most firmly to the gospel, a gospel increasingly distant from American values.

3 Important Church Trends in the Next 10 Years

Trend #1: The Hemorrhaging of Mainline Protestantism
Trend #2: Continued Growth of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement
Trend #3: Networks will Explode in Number and Influence

Ask often, “What does the Bible say?”

What’s the most significant issue in your life right now? What major decision is before you? Be sure to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” Then, as you turn to the Bible, pray the prayer of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

Why Copyblogger Is Killing Its Facebook Page

That’s how Copyblogger has felt about its Facebook page for quite some time.
As of today, the page has 38,000 “fans,” but Copyblogger’s presence on Facebook has not been beneficial for the brand or its audience.

This Dad Used a Drone to Follow His Daughter to School

Per a report from WVLT Local 8 news, Knoxville, Tennessee resident and pretty chill dad Chris Early turned to a creative solution when his 8-year-old daughter Katie asked to walk to school alone. The “techie” whipped out his beloved drone and flew it above her, watching video surveillance of Katie’s journey.

The Voice of Tradition

tradition.001We started talking last week about theological reflection and the four elements of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience. We noted the predominance of Scripture in theological reflection, and we also discussed the limitations of depending on Scripture alone. Then we turned our attention to Reason, noting its popularity with Modernists, but also seeing its weaknesses.

Now I want to talk about Tradition. In Churches of Christ, we’ve had a love/hate relationship with Tradition. Going back to early Restorationists like Barton Stone and the Campbells, we find a real distrust of Tradition. The idea soon emerged in the Restoration Movement that most church history, from the 2nd century on, was a history of apostasy and digression; the goal was to restore the pure, simple faith of the first century. (which tends to idealize the first century church… but that’s another post)

Later generations would deal similarly with Stone and Alexander Campbell. The Movement would seek to uphold their ideals while rejecting many of their ideas and practices. Many today deny any dependence on Stone and Campbell, claiming a heritage that goes straight back to 33 A.D. Yet even these deniers of history protest loudly any divergence from the teachings and practices of Churches of Christ in the 1960s. That’s why I say it’s a love/hate relationship. In theory we reject Tradition; in practice, we tend to be very Tradition-bound.

So what role does Tradition play in theological reflection? I think it should play an important one, though I see it more as a safeguard than a definer of doctrine. What I mean is that we should seek theological answers from the pages of Scripture themselves, but the answers that we find should be compared with those that the Church has found throughout history. I don’t want to be innovative. I’m not seeking the new. I don’t consider my intellect to be superior to all those who came before me. I will disagree with many, but I hope to agree with many as well.

So, in my personal practice, I don’t place Tradition on the same plane with Reason and certainly not on the same plane with Scripture. However, it is a voice that needs to be heard more than it often is in our fellowship.

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”
― Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities

Links To Go (April 24, 1015)

Bread, Wine and the Purpose of It All

So today, may you eat something as average as bread and drink something as mundane as wine. May you be reminded at the God who has injected meaning and life into everything you see and touch. And may we all honor God by loving each other well.

Five Ways Church Members Hold the Church as a Financial Hostage

Hear me clearly. Most church members give to their local churches freely, joyously, and without stipulations. But almost every church has one or more members who attempt to use “their” funds for their own needs and preferences.

The Static Church View and the Growth of a Church

We are a restoration church. We seek to restoration 1st century Christianity to a 21st century suburb area. We practice the same faith that Christians have practiced for thousands of years, but we also practice changing those elements that culturally connect with the people we are seeking to renew in God. If a leader cannot imagine the church for the next ten years, how it will look different, how it will behavior different, and what will be the future, this leader has taken on a static view of the congregation, and has denied the restoration culture within the churches of Christ.

Aspiring to the Great Commission Is Not Enough: Knowing the Gospel Doesn’t Mean We’re Sharing It

So rather than making our primary focus inviting younger adults to church, let’s first seek to tell them about Jesus and the good news of the Gospel that Jesus died on the cross for our sin and in our place. When they grasp that, they’ll get the church part. They’ll understand they can’t love Jesus and despise His wife. They’ll get that. But let’s first bring them Jesus.

How Miscarriage Led to My Crisis of Faith

God provided comfort through the suffering of his Son. I wasn’t alone in my pain. He wasn’t leaving me to my own. He began to reveal to me that he understood and he loved me dearly. I didn’t have anywhere else to go but to him, and he answered my cry in the wilderness. It was comforting for me to realize that it was okay to be in a wilderness. Jesus didn’t go to the cross cheering and clapping his hands. He was sorrowful—sorrowful for this world and for the pain and separation from his Father he knew he’d have to endure. It was okay to weep. Through my tears I had great hope because I knew that I wasn’t praying to a dead Savior. He rose and was indeed interceding on my behalf.

What Have I Left Behind?

One of our conscious thoughts should be that we are an ‘aroma’. Consumers spend billions of dollars a year in the fragrance industry to have a pleasing aroma. Christians, let’s try to be aware that we are to be the ‘fragrance of Christ’. What are you leaving behind that will influence the hearts and minds of people in your path?

5 Ways to Bless Someone This Sunday

How do we move from a Christianity focused on ourselves, to a Christianity where we consider “the interests of others”? It doesn’t happen overnight. We must be purposeful. We must take small steps to change our way of thinking. We must break old habits, and look for ways to bless others. It all begins with us. Don’t wait another week. Here are five ways you can bless someone this Sunday.


God has instructed us, not about the origins of thunder, but about his existence and his character. I can hear the rumbling and recognize whoever created the process and set the rules in order is surely powerful and mighty. However that doesn’t tell me about God’s nature and character. It isn’t enough for us to know we have a powerful God. Power alone won’t draw us to him or create our devotion. In fact, power alone often causes us to draw back or keep our distance.
God has revealed that he loves us, desires us, and sacrifices for us. His revelation tells us about his clear plans, his heart’s desire, and his consistent expectations.

How Ralph The Homeless Man And I Made Someone’s Day

See, the homeless man, while important, blessed another in the process by simply not being where he should have been. And….the homeless man and I gave a boss an opportunity to praise an employee when such wasn’t on his docket. We just created an Employee of the Day award…that homeless Ralph and me.

Man fires 8 gunshots into his Dell PC after Blue Screens of Death push him over edge

“I just had it,” Lucas Hinch, 38, told The Smoking Gun (via Ars Technica). Apparently the PC had thrown up one too many blue screens of death in recent months, so Hinch took it into an alley, loaded up a 9mm Hi-Point pistol that he’d purchased on Craiglist, and let the bullets fly.

Dog driving tractor causes motorway tailbacks

Drivers in Scotland had a ruff journey this work to morning when a dog drove a tractor onto the M74 motorway near Abington in South Lanarkshire.
The bizarre incident was reported by Traffic Scotland who tweeted: “M74 (N) J13-RTC due to dog taking control of tractor… nope, not joking. Farmer and police at scene, vehicle in central res.”
It was reported that the dog had leaned on the controls of the tractor, taking it from a field on to the road.

The reign of Reason

syllogismAs I mentioned on Monday, when looking at the elements of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, Reason, Tradition, Experience), our task is often to decide the order of influence of #s 2 through 4. Scripture is considered to be first, in most circles.

Modernism had no doubts: Reason was #2. Reason was how we understand the Bible. In fact, Scripture can be picked apart and put together again through Reason. Logic. Syllogisms. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 1:18) was a popular verse. [Now, the student of culture in me drives me to point out that there are other forms of logic besides our own. As David observed yesterday, the role of culture in all of this is often overlooked. Generally, when we speak of Reason in terms of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, we are talking about the Western form of logic that we inherited from the Greeks.]

Reason proved to be a double-edged sword. Some traditions, like the one I grew up in, became too bound by logic. We had no use for poetic elements of the Bible. Narratives were taught mainly to children or used to glean 3-point lessons on life. There was little room for discussion of genres and their differences. We wanted BCV (book, chapter, verse) for everything. We cared little for context, little for literary elements. If we could pull out a verse or even just a phrase to support our views, we were happy.

It was felt that absolute spiritual truth could be reached by Reason and by Reason alone. Tradition was suspect. Experience was irrelevant. Reason was unchanging and faithful.

And so, in many circles, Reason came to trump Scripture! That is, reasoning from Scripture could overcome the teaching of Scripture itself, as illogical as that sounds. A proof text here and a proof text there, strung together by logical leaps and bounds… and an entire system of grace could be turned into legal code that the strictest Pharisee of Jesus’ day would have been envious of.

However, when used correctly, Reason can be a useful tool in theological reflection and Bible study. Nobody wants to arrive at conclusions that are irrational and completely illogical. That’s not the goal. But we must see that Reason alone is not sufficient and certainly must never be allowed to displace the Bible itself. In the end, Reason is a human thing, and as such, is open to all the weaknesses of the flesh. Let us reason together… with humility and subjection to the Word of God.