I’ve been talking to a great friend of mine lately (You know who you are, and you’re a great friend indeed.) and we’ve been discussing some the material on “Experiencing God.” He’s got a friend who is highly into it. I know some readers won’t like what I say here, but I do disagree with hearing the voice of God as normative for Christian living.
The trouble comes when people do start using their experiences as the basis of truth. In other words, “You don’t believe in that? Well I’ve experienced it!” This doesn’t just apply to in-house debates though. When we are dealing with the Mormons for instance, they will point to experience as well. When the Mormons come to your door and present you their gospel, they will ask you to read Chapter 10 of the Book of Moroni and these verses:
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
I was listening to an MP3 on Mormonism yesterday and heard a lot of good arguments. Now my problem has always been that this is too subjective. An experience does not interpret itself. You need something outside of the experience to determine any truth content. What do I mean?
Let us suppose that I had a friend who was really down and enjoyed my company. I didn’t know about his condition but he’s sitting outside his house and he looks and he is sure he sees me walking down the street to see him. Unfortunately, he is in such a depressed state looking for a friend that his mind is playing tricks on him and he is hallucinating.
Instead, I am actually at a Bible Study group. I have numerous people there who can verify my existence and will say they saw me. How are we to know who is right in the end? It is simple. I cannot be in two places at once. Both the group and the person have the experience of seeing me, but only one is seeing me. How do we determine which is true? We look at other evidence.
Now what about the Mormon claim? First off, look at how you are to ask. You are to ask with a sincere heart and real intent. You are to ask wanting it to be true. However, does such apply to the gospels? Do we not know of accounts of people setting out to disprove the Bible and then come back believing it?
Also, if the experience is the determining factor, then what about those who pray and do not have the experience? Could we not just as easily pray and ask “Lord, show me if these things are NOT true.” Instead, we are to go in with the answer we want and only that answer is valid and thus, only that experience is valid.
Thus, the Mormon claim has the problem. Why should only experiences that agree with the Mormon experience be true? We must accept this from the start. People can have experiences that go against our beliefs but that does not mean that our beliefs are false. As Greg Koukl says on this, “You can’t exegete an experience.”
However, if experience is your guide, I believe you are in more danger of being led astray by the Mormons than other people are and too often, it is the guide in Christian circles. Now experience is not invalid in itself. You can learn a lot from your experiences. (And from those of others.) The experiences alone though do not determine truth.
This gets us to hearing the voice of God. I do not believe this is normative. Note what I am not saying though. I am not saying that God cannot speak to us at all. He most certainly can. I’m just saying when I look through the Bible, I don’t see this taught as common Christian practice or a way to truly live the life.
You have an experience. Okay. Can you back your experience in Scripture? That is my question. I believe too often that we use our experience to interpret Scripture instead of using Scripture to interpret our experiences. We read the Bible and think “Wow. Paul must have felt what I am feeling now.” Maybe he did, but it could be you’re reading your experience into the text when Paul is thinking of something totally different.
So what do we do? We go back to Scripture. That is our authority and it should be the final authority of the church. I would contend that wisdom is our model for living today. It is not hearing the voice of God. If you want to argue with me, don’t give me an experience. Give me Scripture.
Remember people, Scripture is the final authority for us. When experience leads the way, we open the door to being easily misled. Even New Agers and Mormons claim to have experiences. You need something stronger.