Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is experience a valid (or even necessary) means of verifying the content of Scripture?

Is it reasonable to place scripture under our own empirical standards? What is the proper relationship between human experience and God’s word? Does one trump the other? What role does personal experience have in our own Christian growth and maturity?

Consider the following passages of scripture:

John 14:6-11
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. [1] From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
Phillip openly asked Jesus that he would reveal the glory of God the Father. Such an experience would not have been impossible, for Moses had a limited experience of God’s glory (Exodus 33:18) and Isaiah saw the glory of God within the sanctuary of the temple (Isaiah 6). Yet Jesus goes further to assert that those who see Him see God; he makes an open claim towards deity. Hence, when Phillip asks Jesus to reveal the Father, no doubt Jesus is exasperated. “Isn’t it enough for you, Phillip, that after three years of being with me, of sitting under my teaching as well as preaching it to others, you still ask for more?”
   To Phillip, mere words were not enough. He wanted something that would entertain his senses and imagination. Yet instead Jesus admonishes him, bringing into question whether or not he really understood what Jesus was trying to impart.
John 20:24-31
24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, [1] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”   30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you maybelieve that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
   It is one week after Easter. Among the apostles, there are testimonies of having seen the resurrected Christ. Yet Thomas’ response is essentially “seeing is believing.” It’s not enough that he merely hear the others’ testimonies. It’s not enough that Jesus himself said that he would die only to rise again. He wants something hands-on that he can prod, poke and probe. Now Jesus does give him the satisfaction of his skepticism that causes him to drop on his knees in worship. Yet Jesus rebukes him. Why? Because Thomas found it easier to walk by sight rather than faith. As a result, he couldn’t bring himself to take Jesus’ own words as being trustworthy.
   It is interesting that John would also include a footnote to the incident in v30-31. John admits that he intentionally omitted a great deal of detail with regards to Jesus’ life and ministry, specifically signs and miracles. Why was this? Would it not have  brought a greater sense of wonder to who Jesus is? The fact that John left it out gives the simple answer of “No.” Such details were simply unnecessary for the Holy Spirit to inspire into writing. When Jesus said 
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”he is taking us, those who two thousand years later have only heard about Jesus via the Bible without seeing him face to face, and putting us on the same level with those that did.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10
I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, [1] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.   
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 
10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Although Paul speaks in the third person in v3-6, v7 qualifies that Paul was actually referring to himself. The revelations he speaks of were not so much the inspiration of scripture, but rather face to face encounters with phenomena that were simply beyond the realm of normal human understanding, let alone his own e.g., journeys to heaven, at least four personal encounters with Jesus in addition to thinks that Paul was forbidden to speak of. We can only guess what Paul saw, but whatever it was it was definitely beyond what was the norm. No doubt such experiences would give Paul every reason to excitedly testify, but instead he is first told by God to stay silent about it, plus he has “a thorn in the flesh” (what this specifically is is unclear; some assume it to be a physical handicap a’la Jacob, a psychological disorder; though given that Paul attributes the “Thorn” to being of Satan, we can assume that the Thorn may have had a spiritual origin) that was so painful to endure that he begged at least three times that it be removed, to which God replied “My Grace is Sufficient.”

   Paul’s Christian walk was far from “a form of godliness lacking in power” (2 Timothy 3:5), but even so, 2 Corinthians 12 begs a very important question: if it is indeed the norm for Christians led by the Spirit to have deep and extraordinary encounters with the divine that reveal more and more of God progressively as one moves from “glory to Glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18), why then, was Paul held back? Paul was certainly self-conscious of the fact that his walk with God was far from being perfected (cf. Romans 7:21-25, 1 Corinthians 9:27, Philippians 3:12-15). Surely such encounters would leave him overwhelmed with conviction as to who God really is. Yet this was not so. On what grounds is there for God to label Paul’s thorn as being a means of grace that would mould Paul’s character?
   It is only reasonable to say that such experiences were not to be the focal point of Paul’s Christian walk nor the message that would be at the center of his apostolic ministry. Instead the focus was to be on that which could be known even if one did not experience it.

Luke 16:19-31
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. [1] The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.   
24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’
27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers [2]—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
What was the rich man’s sin that resulted in damnation? The rich man wears purple and fine linen. Purple is the biblical color for royalty (Esther 8:15). Fine linen represents righteousness (Revelation 19:8). The tabernacle, where God’s glory was said to present, had ten curtains of purple linen (Exodus 26:1). Who is this man who wears a uniform representing royalty and divine righteousness? If we take this verse as an account of what killed poor Lazarus i.e., Lazarus as a poor man with a skin disease (leprosy?) that eventually kills him as a result of a lack care on the part of someone with the spiritual authority to tend to him, we can easily say that this righteous royal was one of the Pharisees. Yet Jesus went on to describe the afterlife of these two men. The rich man was damned for his apathy while Lazarus was brought into heaven to stand at Abraham’s side.
   Again, who is this rich man supposedly of righteousness and royalty? And what exactly does he represent? If in this tale he is not just a Pharisee, who is he and what does he have to do with us? The key lies in 1 Peter 2:9 where we get a description of how God sees his church:“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Jesus was in fact, speaking about what would be his own royal priesthood: his church. Whereas the Good Samaritan was able to treat an innocent, helpless man despite being a foreigner and a stranger, here we have the same scenario only that the one God himself has anointed to actually do the same job merely walks past and couldn’t care less.

   Knowing his eternal predicament (v24-26), the rich man asks that Lazarus be resurrected as a testimony – that is, a miraculous sign – that will convince his household and relatives to repent so that they may reside with Abraham in heaven. To which Abraham replies “They have Moses and the Prophets”. Who or what is Moses and the Prophets? Moses delivered the Law, which explains in specific details the standard of God’s holiness in such a way that it brings conviction of sin (cf. Rom 3:19-20, 7:7-25) and reveals the need for a savior, since “before faith came, we were held captive under the Law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the Law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” The prophetic writings reveal the heart and character of God as well as how he will accomplish his goal of redemption. This is what Abraham is saying: miracles and signs and wonders alone will not lead people to the savior. Why? Because if the dead were to be immediately brought back to life and they were to call everyone to respond, the underlying motive will be one of self-centered fear. They’re only interested in their own necks. You don’t need to be born again of the spirit in order to be shocked into responding with wordly sorrow. Miracles in of themselves have neither the power to transform nor the authority to convict. It is only by preaching from “Moses and the Prophets” that the right heart-motives will arise in a non-believer that will result in genuine repentance.


2 Peter 1:16-21
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, [1] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
It is also interesting to note how Peter regarded scripture; he saw the manifest glory of the Son of God with his own eyes, yet even so, he held God's inspired word as being more trustworthy than his own subjective experience. You can have an experience where you see Jesus face to face in all of his glory and splendor that will leave you amazed and dumbstruck, but even so, Peter claims that the Scriptures will always be more certain when it comes to explaining the things of God.
   By saying that "no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation", he immediately shoots down any idea of bias within the scriptures on the part of the author. How much of the scriptures are the result of the author’s own personal views, opinions, experiences or emotions? Not a single jot, says Peter, for every single word – even when someone like David would write the Psalms out of anguish and depression – came forth from the inspiration of God.
   As such, we are to treat the Bible as being objective in nature, hence we are to interpret the Bible on the basis of what the Bible alone says rather than trying to seek our own personal interpretation (e.g., “This is what I feel God is saying to me. What does this passage say to you?”)

   Peter’s explanation of the Bible’s inspiration and it’s resulting superiority over human experience also has dire consequences when explaining the relationship between divine sovereignty and man’s concept of “free will.”
   Do you believe in the inspiration, infallibility of Scripture; that the Bible you hold in your hands represents God's spoken revelation and hence it is without error or contradiction?
   Where did the Bible come from?
   Whose thinking does it reflect? God's or Man's?
   Does it live up to its own claims?
   Has Scripture been protected through the centuries from human tampering?
   If the Bible in it's original manuscripts were written over an estimated period between 1500 years (1400BC? to 100AD?), what has prevented the text from being changed or altered in any way by man's carelessness or ill motives?
   If you adhere to the former, then there is a logical fallacy within your theology. If man's relationship with God is indeed fully conditional on the part of free will, and hence man at any time could fall into sin and thus lose his salvation altogether, why should we trust the inspiration of the Bible when in fact it's authors could have at any time simply lost their standing before God? Would not such a possibility open the door for the probability of the Bible not being fully inspired and inerrant? Moses was a political fugitive. David was an adulterous tyrant. Peter was a double-minded coward. Paul was an overzealous murderer. If one were to look at the Bible on a purely ad hominem basis centered around the flaws of its authors, you would have every reason not to trust it’s claims to authority. But instead never once do we ever see any of the authors of scripture making even the slightest suggestion that the writings of another may be flawed.
   If the Arminian view of free will is correct, how can we say that the inspiration of scripture was genuinely safeguarded from human error unless God himself intervened in the thought processes of men?
   On the other hand, if the above were not the case and scripture was written by people who had attained sinless perfection without God needing to directly intervene in their thinking, 2 Peter 1:20-21 would have to be wrong, thus making the Bible contradictory and containing error.
   In conclusion, the best scriptural proof against arminian theology is simply the revelation, inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy of scripture in of itself as it is a perfect representation between the relationship between God and Man. There is simply no logical reason for the arminian to believe in the doctrine of inerrancy.

John 1:1-9
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, [1] and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, [2] and his own people [3] did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace andtruth.

   The greek word for “Word” that John uses in John 1 is of course logos, however John’s use as well as the actual meaning of the word is more than just mere verbatim. Within the context of greek thinking, Logos is the “first cause”, it is the originating point from which all existence – logic, reality, knowledge, existence. All manner of creation comes from the logos.
   John’s use of logos has purposes:
1. He explains the creation account in a manner that the gentile reader versed in the greek worldview will understand
2. He presents the God of the Christians as being vastly superior to the God of the greeks and Romans in the sense that while the latter were merely supernatural beings vastly superior to humans, the Christian God is the actual creator of the cosmos.
3. Creates a clear basis for the gospel being logical in nature and presupposition i.e., “In the beginning was logic, and the logic was with God, for the logic is God. And the logic became flesh.”

   With this is mind, one must acknowledge Logos/Logic/Revelation to be an essential attribute of God. Logos/Logic/Revelation could not have come before God, as that would mean God would be subject to a Law higher than himself. At the same, Logos/Logic/Revelation could not have existed after God as a created entity, because if such were the case, it would be impossible for God and man to communicate in such a way that anything that God spoke would only be confined to the analogous (e.g., if the Logos-less God were to say “I love You”, he would have to create the revelation rather than having it spring forth from his own mouth). Any concept of God that is not qualified by an axiom that presupposes an absolute, objective revelation can only be expected to conclude in agnosticism – an essential belief in the possibility of a God, yet an open lack of believe in specific personal attributes and character.
   It is also wrong to suggest that certain “truths” are stronger than others (e.g., the seeming contrast between God’s justice vs God’s mercy).Logos/Logic/Revelation, being an attribute of God, must therefore be singular, not plural, therefore there can only be one “truth.” IfLogos/Logic/Revelation was either progressive or transitional, this would mean that the nature and character of God is subject to change. If such is the case, “God” ceases to be God.
   Using the Logos/Logic/Revelation of God as the foundation for the worldview he is to present in his account of the gospel, John throws down the gauntlet at any other means by which man may wish to seek and comprehend knowledge.
is the theory that we learn by experience. At first this seems quite a reasonable means of acquiring knowledge on the basis that we can treat experience as a tangible entity with which we can experiment on. However, it does have several flaws.
   First of all, experience is subjective. Let us start with the red of a rose and the blue of a violet. First, a description of sensation will show that it does not give knowledge so readily as common sense imagines. Not everybody sees roses as red and violets as blue. There are some people who we say are color blind, and there are degrees of color blindness. It is difficult to tell what is color blindness and what are color illusions. The real color is very hard to settle upon. The condition of the eye, a disease, temporary sickness, a headache or extreme sensitivity to light can change our color sensations. Ergo, you cannot derive objective knowledge from sensory perceptions on their own.
   Secondly, empiricism cannot produce norms of any kind. It cannot produce moral and religious norms because at the very best, empiricism can only give a report of what is. Experiences cannot teach you what ought to be because you cannot get an ought out of an is. For example, if I were to point at the sky and ask “What color is the sky?”
   “What is ‘blue’?” Can you, using experience on it’s own as the basis, explain what ‘blue’ is?
   Of course not.  
   Given the obvious inadequacies of experience alone, why would one want to use it as a standard of evaluation for the Bible, especially given that Scripture makes claims that go far beyond the limits of sensory perception?
   There are no doubt those who will try to say “You can study the Bible all you want, but until you experience God personally, you will never really know him.” To the contrary however, it is by the Bible that God is defined and as we have seen the Bible itself claims the direct opposite:Scripture Alone trumps experience.