Tuesday, November 02, 2010
By experience I simply mean actually knowing God in a relationship, so that faith is lived and not merely theoretical. That has very little to too with emotions (although there is nothing wrong with emotion!), and everything to do with living our faith, with actually loving God, ourselves, and others. I imagine everyone is with me so far, but what about the Bible? Isn't that a matter of objective detached study?
That is certainly how you learn to study it in seminary. But nevertheless I insist: No! this is not what understanding the Bible should be based on. I've discussed this in some detail in my article on relational theology so I don't want to rehash that here. In a nutshell I would say (following Stanley Grenz here) that Scripture is primary because it informs experience, shapes reason, and is the source from which tradition develops, as well its constant spur to reformation. At the same time however, Scripture ultimately serves a servant function of leading us into relationship with Christ so we can live out Christ-like relationships. So the goal is experience, namely the experience of meeting God and having that transform all our other experiences.
The unforgivable sin, Jesus says, is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says this in the context of the Pharisees rejecting the work of the Spirit happening among them through the healing ministry of Jesus because it conflicted with their understanding of the law. Here experience of what God was doing in Jesus trumps their tradition, and their reading of Scripture, and their reasoning. There is nothing worse, no greater crime, Jesus says, than missing out one what the Spirit is doing right in front of you. It is, Jesus says, the biggest sin possible. Those are some pretty strong words.
With that in mind think about Paul's conversion: His experience on the Damascus road causes him to re-read Scripture anew in light of that encounter with Christ. Paul's experience of Christ caused him to completely re-think (reason) his whole tradition as a Pharisee, and how he had read Scripture. Experience precedes exegesis.
Likewise, the council of Jerusalem in the book of Acts bases their decision to include gentiles in the gospel (which was a huge decision!) based primarily on the experience of what the Spirit was doing among them as testified to by Paul and Peter. Acknowledging this, James then connects their experience to what was foretold in the Scriptures. Experience again precedes and shapes biblical interpretation.
From that I want to argue that in order to really get the Bible, you need to get grace, and the only way to really get it is to experience it. The woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears understood much more deeply than any of the religious scholars sitting at that table and looking down their noses at her did. We need to know grace like that, so its unconditional love brings us to our knees in gratitude, and makes us want to love that way too. Paul before he knew grace read the Bible and got it all wrong. After he met God in Christ on the Damascus road and was struck blind, it was a disciple who was willing to love his enemy who healed him. Think about how it would effect you to be healed by the people who you had tried to kill. That's grace. After that he suddenly got the Bible. We need to get some of that. So my prayer for you is that you would find grace in your life, that you would know what it means to be unconditionally loved, no matter how broken or messed up you are, and that being loved like that would change how you see everything.