We have all had wonderful experiences that have left deep impressions upon us. And religious experiences leave some of the more powerful feelings. They make us feel alive, strong, encouraged, and near to God. Although they are spiritual experiences, they are real and they mean a great deal to us. We believe in them, sometimes live by them, and often hold fast to them. They subtly settle into our lives as doctrine. And because the feelings we get are so strong, we begin to yearn for the experiences again. As a result, the urge to satisfy our religious feelings can overcome the need to be true in worship.
What makes these religious feelings particularly dangerous is that the relativism of our day feeds us with its belief, that if we feel strongly about them, then they must be truth. Yet even then our feeling are not a problem until they are brought into conflict with God’s divine revelation in His Word. Strictly speaking, the problem is not with our feelings, but with how we define them. We define our religious feeling by our theology. By theology I simply mean what we think, believe, and say about God. And if our theology is not good, then our feelings, or better yet, our definition of them, come into conflict with God’s word, as they often do.
What do we do when our religious experiences clash with the Word of God? Few are willing to abandon their experiences; It feels too much like losing our faith in God. Many opt to live with the tension, chalking it up to the mystery of living with an infinite God. Others simply find the answer in the culture’s relativism, holding a truth for themselves while acknowledging a truth for others. But I believe there is a better answer to our question. The answer may be to simply redefine our experiences in light of the Word. In this way we don’t have to ignore our feelings or disavow our experiences, we just bring them in line with the Word of God. We define them better.
This answer does presume that our theology must improve, for it was by it that we previously defined our experiences incorrectly. Changing our theology is never easy, but there is a safe and reliable way. Just remember, the bible is the truth that the people of God have agreed upon and used throughout the church’s history. Let it, and it alone, shape and if necessary, reshape what you think, believe and say about God and about your religious feelings.
Some great thoughts here! How does a person who has been rewriting his theology according to his experience start to reverse the process? How does he become aware that he is even doing so?
Good questions. I think he must begin with a trust in the scripture as a revelation of God and not a resource to build a personal faith. Scripture is good for correction and reproof of bad theology. I also think one needs a good pastor and teacher and the wherewithal to stay and hear when the definition of their experiences are challenged.
I can attest to the question posed by Kevin and the answer submitted by Trevor….for me it was redefining my thoughts about God in light of His Word, but before I could get there I had to confess where I was and then submit to good pastoral teaching. In our culture we are constantly fighting against current of ourselves….I think we have to dismiss the idea of Me Theology.