We have seen many ways that influenced our evangelical predecessors toward favoring what was rationally and empirically knowable over what we could experience subjectively. Now, these emphases naturally implied a certain approach to Scripture. Being written, it is empirically knowable. As such, it is the surest means to display truth permanently and precisely.
Being God’s word, it is truth, and we could use our “right reason” to discern clearly and easily its veracity. Studying of the Bible therefore could be “scientific” in that it employs objective, empirical observation and reason. Moreover, we could repeat our observations of the text to confirm findings, just as in science.
These factors stress the use of our minds. Since we have seen how the various factors I have been surveying tend to distance God from us, they also tend to erode a confidence in our abilities, and even felt-need, to be united with God’s mind. However, unlike Scripture, which warns us that the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately wicked, wanting to usurp God’s place, notice that these factors don’t really suggest we also need to be deeply united with God’s heart to discern truth. Nor do our minds need to be in unity with our hearts to know truth.
Ideally, it seems the goal in these views was to eliminate anything subjective, and instead rely totally on what’s objectively true and knowable. Thus, when various attempts occurred that stressed religious experience, evangelicals widely viewed these with distrust. Besides problems with Mormons’ claims to add onto Scripture, consider how they relied upon Joseph Smith’s “vision” and fundamental appeal to religious experience to know the Book of Mormon was of God. Also, it promised a return to the fullness of the pure gospel, from Christ and the apostles. Craig Hazen notes that “Mormons were open to miracles such as healing, exorcism, and latter-day revelation. This openness yet again set the LDS primitivism over and above … [others] which generally taught that divine messages and miraculous works had passed with the end of the apostolic age.”
Second, liberal Protestantism, which basically is naturalistic, treated Scripture as peoples’ experiences of God and their religious sentiments, and not as a record of objective truths. They accepted the “fact-value split,” treating religion as feeling or opinion.
Then, in the early 20th century, Pentecostals claimed God was speaking further words (but not adding to Scripture) and performing miracles. However, with these appeals to religious experiences, evangelical leaders saw them as being anti-intellectual and thus against reason.
Notice that, due to their shaping influences, evangelicals in these times already had a strong disposition to discount or dismiss religious experiences, even without needing to appeal to cessationism (i.e., the view that the miraculous gifts ceased with death of apostles and closure of the canon). However, evangelicals rightly value the truth of Scripture. Moreover, we need to defend it against critics, cults, etc. Christianity also applies to more than just the religious and ethical aspects of life.
Nevertheless, we also have seen already that the Lord wants to have an intimate, personal relationship with us, one rich in experience. Consider Eph 3:18-19 (AMPC):
18 That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it]; 19 [That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!
God wants us to live in deeply unity with Him in all His fullness, from our hearts, minds, and spirits. Yet, due to these shaping influences and our sinfulness, so often we don’t live that way. I’ll explore that more in the next blog.