Warning against anchoring on experiential faith

If Jesus solely promoted experiential faith and pushed for the type of anti-intellectualism the liberals have been cramming on for several decades now, Christianity would have disappeared by the Diocletianic persecution of early 4th century. Nothing Jesus taught, nor Paul, vectors to a conviction where spiritual experience becomes as important as the anchor of faith. Yes, all of the disciples, except Paul, had spent a lot of time walking, eating, and living with Jesus. And if experience is truly the anchor of faith, no one should have denied Jesus. Even in the OT, David’s delight was in the law of the Lord, not his subjective joy. Even the joy — an experience — itself is treated as a byproduct, but never as an end. If marriages were merely based only on emotional experiences, all marriages should result in divorces. Volition, a determined and directed effort, is what drives a human life. (Let me take a quick pause here to say that I’m usually more inclined to a holistic approach to human personhoold, and don’t subscribe to a strict Platonic tripartite theory, but since what sparked this seemed to be based on that theory, I have no choice but to stand near that level ground. If I can get around to it, I may write more about the holistic view of human personality, which I think is more biblical.)

Both Jesus and Paul emphasize the importance of faith and actions, rather than experience in the way we commonly understand it today. The prioritization of personal, subjective experience over belief, commitment, and proper behavior, seems to be found in the book of Acts when Paul asks Ephesians if they had received the Holy Spirit. However, in the context, the Holy Spirit isn’t treated like a medium of subjective experience like how it is often described today, but rather as a mere Person of Trinity. The subjectiveness comes at the point of baptism. Therefore, the passage should be understood as primarily an encounter with a Person of the Trinity, and byproduct of that encounter is a subjective experience. The experience is secondary, not primary. A bit of wider context here for the interpretative lense — which is the one I find an issue with — that may have been used. The commonly shared, historical experience of Korean (collective) church, albeit a short history, is one that is deeply grounded in spiritual experiences. But such emphasis in experience is not uncommon in Korean version of Buddhism, animism (aka shamanism), and even in Bible-based heretical groups. The emphasis on the subjective experiential aspect of faith seems to be deeply ingrained in Korean psyche, and in this context, it is not surprising that God would use such temperament to bring revival to the Korean church. Many Koreans who had lived through that era, including myself, were part of that collective experience and they make up a large portion of the Korean church today. We were blessed, or lucky, to have been a part of that spiritual wind. However, an encounter with the Spirit should not only result in a hyped experience, but it should be followed by the transformation of the total person, including the mind. This is exactly what we see after the Pentecost, and also what we saw with our own lives during that part of Korean history. Therefore, over-emphasis solely on the experiential aspect as THE anchor of faith is misleading. If the word experience is actually meant as an encounter, or at least imply an encounter, or the beginning of a relationship with God, such use of the word in that context should be fine. But again, without such explanation, the hearer is liable to hear it in a simpler meaning without a learned context. The experience is to be under the service of knowing God to the fullest. In simpler terms, when one encounters God, whether through the direct workings of the Spirit, or through the study of the Word, or through the sermon from the Word, our emotions (if healthy) should react appropriately as a response. Luther, Augustine, Wesley, C.S. Lewis, and so many effective Christians all had an emotional experience, but that was because they were diligent students of the Word, and came to encounter God Himself in the Word of God. Our churches today are depriving people of that with wrong messages.

This is why the anti-intellectualism is one of the biggest sources of the decay of the Church, because without a proper version of biblical literacy, instead of having people’s lives transformed and grow towards a mature faith, it’s easy to have people gather only to have a dopaminergic experience without any resulting growth. This is exactly what we’re seeing with the churches in Korea. Instead of mature Christians who are effective catalysts in the society, we see Christians cloistered inside the safety of church walls, self-satisfied with their tribal experiences and relationships. Vineyard movement, and countless experience-oriented heretical movements, all have people remain in a trance-like state where they feel like they are experiencing the Spirit of God, and feel like they have done something worthwhile, when their own lifestyle remains unchanged and completely unaffected. It’s a passive form of social hysteria. I’m not suggesting that the worship is unimportant, but there is a need for stern warning to be spoken against a version of Christianity that promotes only experiential aspect over intentional obedience to the Word of God.

Knowing that the speaker was educated at an elite, extremely liberal institution, he was exposed to the higher textual criticism which claims to be the most intellectual form of study you could do when it comes to a biblical scholarship, and he probably takes a pride in that. Unbeknownst to him, he seems to be blind to the fact that there is a form of hermeneutics that takes a humble approach to the Bible, where you literally try to stand under the Scripture to understand, not stand above the Scripture to impose your own or even the world’s horizon on the Word of God. But, again, it’s not his fault that he grew up in such and such location, and went to such and such school, resulting in such and such intellectual horizon which is marked by a form of sadistic self-hatred.

Experience, by its very nature, is a part of past. Churches do not need to induce some type of subjective emotional experiences to be revived. In this post-modern world, we need biblically literate churches that know the difference between God’s will and Satan’s schemes, and be able to defend their faith, and carry not only action but their words to the public squares. When there’s a talk of eugenics, homosexual (2SLBGTQIABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQ+) activism, malignant form of social justice, artificial intelligence, CRISPR gene editing, human cloning, Christians are mute, because churches have been working overtime to make the Bible irrelevant to the world outside of the church walls. BIBLE IS MEANT TO BE INTEGRATIVE TO OUR LIVES RIGHT NOW, not compartmentalized for some type of religious experience. Post-modernism brings fragmentation, and look where the society is now. True Christian faith brings coherence, based on the Word of God. As soon as you make the Bible irrelevant to the history of the universe, to the history of Earth, to the history of humanity, and to the history of nations, and to the history of individual, you no longer have a Christianity. It starts from the largest scope that the Bible touches on from the very beginning, and how could you make it relevant when the teacher of the Bible himself doesn’t have the faith to believe the word as it is presented. Coherence doesn’t come cheap. When did Jesus ever say that the world will embrace you for your faith? Don’t try to fit in so hard. Some try so hard to a point where the Word of God is mangled to be powerless, safe so that it requires practically no faith — it’s enough if you can come to church with it. The world is probably right to ridicule it, not because the Word of God is not credible, but people who teach it have mangled to a point where it is no longer the Word of God and they don’t believe it themselves. As soon as you compromise on one thing, you introduce noise that disrupts the whole framework, and it’s bifurcated from there. This is why we have too many apathetic, and impotent Christians who don’t even understand the basics of their own faith, and that’s sadly reflected in their lives. Leaders should not be quick to appease, and quick to pacify, rather face the lies inside (including one’s private ones) and outside manly. During a war, we don’t need more gardeners; we need more warriors who can also tend to gardens. I’m so weary of pastors still clinging to their personal experience back in Korea. Good for them, but let’s grow up for the Church. Let’s please understand the world as it is now, know the word of God inside and out, and think hard to look towards the future.

We had enough status quo. There’s no understanding. There is no knowledge of the Word of God. And instead of encouraging people to think on their feet (once grounded in the Word of God), the last thing we should be doing is to tell people not to use their minds that God has given them to use to the maximum. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, with all of our minds, and with all of our strengths. Don’t ever leave any part of that out, and say only one thing is needed. Most of partial truths are worse than lies, and this happens to be right at the vicinity.