Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Theology and Experience: Which Drives Which?


My life ought to be driven by my faith, and my understanding of truth. Or so my pentecostal/evangelical heritage tells me, but I wonder to what degree my understanding of theology has been driven by my experiences in life.

I have noted elsewhere in this blog that I began to read the Gospels differently after experiencing the backside of corruption in my previous denominational affiliation. Was there a significant theological change following my circumstances? I tend to think that there was not a significant change, but rather a deepened understanding of things previously only partially understood. Yet there are others who would see it as a theological veering off course.

So this causes me to wonder what degree off my own faith is driven by experience despite the fact that I think of myself as far too objective to allow it to be a large percentage.

Are my experiences the back seat driver of my theology, and have I been listening to them? And is this good, or bad, or a little of both?

6 comments:

ded said...

I think there exist mental constructs of theology and the heart experience of God. Sometimes these coincide and sometimes they don't.

What drives us, intellect or heart?
These two and the body. We are a triune being and the sources of motivation and understanding within us are three-fold.

I find God in my heart the most reliable.

What of my deceitful heart? That is the reason I need to understand my spiritual in-dwelling by Christ.

Pastor Phil said...

Although I find God in the heart reliable, I also find that it remains a highly subjective experience to define God in the heart moments as they reveal themselves. Trusting in God in the heart still leaves me with the uncomfortable tension of bemoaning my far too subjective spirituality.

ded said...

I understand your comment and the need which is driving you. I have dwelt there often. For me trying to sort out why I had a very wrongly oriented soul when it came to why my body had a homosexual response to its environment, I had to find Truth or die in hell. Did I think this because my theology said so???...maybe theology was wrong, and I could be accepted by God just as I was. Had I left this question answered intellectually, I would probably have died of AIDS before I was 25 and never known the love of God, my wife, my five beautiful children, nor you, my brother. I had to allow the search to go much more deeply into the issues of the heart.

Attempting to find the most objective, and therefore, accurate intellectual understanding of a moment of thought is a search that cannot, will not be satisfied. The allure of knowing for certain, certainly is compelling, no doubt. However it is an ever elusive search.

It goes something like: I think such. Is this right? Why do I think it? Reasons given. Do I trust me? ...not for certain. Does anyone else think this? Yes, I found others to verify what I think is truth. Are these folks right? How do we think this? Reasons given. Do I trust us? ...not certain. And on it goes.

Humans are never totally objective. We cannot be because of the deceitful heart, the power of the inculcation and in-the-moment influence of culture, and other factors. We are subjective creatures. Finding other subjective humans who verify our subjective belief does not necessarily bring us into the fullness of God.

Better to develop a trust in the living God and through His in-dwelling Spirit have light enter one's own spirit. Then we begin to see with the heart as described by Paul in Ephesians 1:18. The corporate Christian experience will rest in the reality of intellectual theology, which misses the way of love too frequently (your experience in a denomination is evidence of what I am describing), or it will rest on a shared heart seeing and knowing the way of love through Jesus' living Spirit.

I think the question your post raises can be stated differently.
Am I to live by faith, a function of the heart, or my intellect?

Please forgive the length of this comment!

Evan Hansen said...

I believe we overly complicate matters when we divide our reactions and understandings into cognitive and emotional bits and pieces. We can't separate feelings from thoughts because our experience of those feelings is through thoughts. The flip-side is also true.

Where does that leave me practically? Believing my faith in, understanding of, and experience of God is grounded in both the personal and propositional. Like ded said, this is where the Holy Spirit's work comes into play. (This coming from someone who is very un-pentecostal historically)

Ultimately anything we believe comes down to a decision about the opinions we will center our lives on. This is what I call a "Sanctified Opinion" though. Phil, lets have a conversation about the theology of Karl Barth, George Lindbeck and John Webster sometime.

Pastor Phil said...

hey ded,

It really is not so much a need that is driving me as much as a recognition of a tension which is real, and should probably always remain a tension.

Yet I am sure that I will typically fall toward the direction of allowing my intellect to drive more often than my emotions.

ded said...

I understand. However, I find your position interesting as there is so much love driving your ministry and the passions you mention on the blog. I think you are more inclined to love guiding your thinking than you realize. But that's just an observation, and probably colored by how I have learned to think/feel in tandem, if you will. ;^)
I will say this, you inpsire me to love and confirm for me that the emotions and spiritual-insight are vitally connected.