Be Wary of Needing an Experience

Remember the disciple named Thomas? He wasn’t with the others when Jesus appeared after the resurrection and when the disciples told him Jesus had risen from the grave, Thomas doubted. And now for all history people have (and will) refer to him as “doubting Thomas” even though he later believed. Thomas believed, but only after Jesus appeared to him and offered his nail pierced hands and his wounded side as proof.

Jesus told Thomas in John 20:29 “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Hebrews 11:1 also praises faith, defining it as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We Christians are supposed to have faith, not sight.

I am troubled by the chasing of “experiences” with God that seems to mark so much of modern-day Christianity. Whether it be seeking an emotional high while singing at a church service or needing God to speak to you through some means other than the Bible.

Claims of visions and words from God abound. Many obviously contradict scripture or the nature of God and must be labeled false. Yet, there are even books in which people write words they claim to have gotten from Jesus, and they are published as if Jesus was actually speaking them! How has Protestantism come so far? How has it drifted from the knowledge that the Bible alone is to be our authority and that it is truly sufficient for the lives of every believer?

I’m reading a book right now in the hopes of understanding how this happened. T. M. Luhrmann, an anthropologist, recently published “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.” Excerpts appeared in many publications, including the Wall Street Journal (where I first heard of it). I’m 72 pages into the book so far and the modern church history she details is fascinating. But I am extremely concerned about this trend of people claiming God spoke to them directly in their minds.

One person told Luhrmann that “God’s voice must be mingled with the flow of his own stream of consciousness.” Where is the Biblical support for this? Based on my view of Scripture (esp. 2 Tim. 3:16-17) and my confidence that the canon of scripture is closed I think such personal revelations generally fall into two categories: self-deception or external deception from evil spirits. But even if the Bible supported the idea of personal revelation, they would still have to be tested by Scripture. 

I will have much more to say on this subject going forward, but for now I will close with this warning and reminder from 2 Timothy.

2 Timothy Chapter 3

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will belovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. 10  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and howfrom childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.


The Problems with Personal Words from God – Bob DeWaay CIC

Mark Driscoll: “Look I had this vision, Let me tell you about it.” – Sola Sisters

20 thoughts on “Be Wary of Needing an Experience

  1. Great post, I couldn’t agree more…my question is how do you lovingly confront such ideaology that run so contrary to scripture with people on the indidual level? .

    • It is so hard. Once people have had an experience it is extremely difficult to convince them it wasn’t of God. I think the first – and sometimes the hardest thing for me to do we have to be willing to say that we don’t believe in extrabiblical revelation and why. I wish I had a better answer, but I’m afraid I’m still taking this one step (and misstep) at a time.

      • Hey Julia, I followed here from Dead Pastors Society. I’m in accord here too – Nice post.

        I understand decrying “personal revelations from God” as related to the Canon of Scripture. I believe we agree that nothing, at this point, should be added nor taken away from scripture.

        I do believe the Holy Spirit may indeed lead a person (seemingly as stream of consciousness even) in prayer for any reason, should God deem it necessary to support the church.

        How do you feel about the Holy Spirit’s intervention in ministering to us as individuals?

      • I couldn’t reply to your post below(?) 😦

        I’m just interested on your reflection of the difference between hearing from God for the edification of the body (ie. prayer, discernment, gifts of the spirit, etc) vs. what you discuss above, which seems to be related to taking a word from God (or not from God at all) and intending it to be applied to either the entire body of believers or as some kind of addition to the Bible.

  2. How has Protestantism come so far? How has it drifted from the knowledge that the Bible alone is to be our authority and that it is truly sufficient for the lives of every believer?

    Being the heretic that I am, I have a theory about that, too: One of my biggest gripes with sola scriptura (I’ve thought about this one more than I’ve written about it; but I should write about it — thanks for the prompt) is not the strict emphasis on Scripture, which is defensible. It’s that it severs the believer from any kind of teaching authority, and fosters a mindset of independence and individualism. It says to the believer, Scripture alone is all you need for salvation and a relationship with God — therefore you don’t need the Church, or pastors, or anyone, guiding or instructing your interpretations. Some even take this individualism as far as to think they don’t need the Church at all; that they can be a Christian just by sitting at home and reading their Bible. We are indeed individuals in God’s sight, with personal relationships to Him, but we’re also part of a Body, with a corporate relationship. I think it’s this spirit of individualism, thinking that one is free to “fly solo” and doesn’t need any other authority but the Bible and one’s own private interpretation (even if one is obviously misinterpreting it or not really interpreting it at all), that enables people to come up with such untamed personal revelations — and even more, to speak out about these and be heard, since the rest of the culture thinks it’s okay to be individuals, too, and listen to them, without any voice of authority over them. I think this is also what enables and fuels such radical departures of interpretation as “word of faith” and “prosperity” teachings.

    All of this is not so much to criticize sola scriptura itself, as to point out a negative fruit of it in evangelical culture. Even with sola scriptura, people shouldn’t be “solo Christians.”

    Also, by another remarkable coincidence, St. Thomas’s feast day is tomorrow. 😉 Thomas is my middle name and I’ve always felt a lot of affinity with him. It’s incredibly moving to me, though, that despite his habit of doubting, tradition holds that he went further to the ends of the earth than any other Apostle for the Gospel: all the way to India, where there have been Christians since the first century.

  3. Pingback: Is Deception Calling? A review of Jesus Calling by Sarah Young | Steak and a Bible

  4. Great article and comments. I’ve only been a Christian for about 4 years now, but before that I was a practicing satanist for 15 years. I’m amazed at how the minute something supernatural happens, some Christians automatically assume it was from God. I saw a lot of supernatural things happen when I was a satanist. I’m so blessed and grateful that Jesus Christ saved even a wretch like me…and I’m so blessed and grateful that God would give us His revealed Word, the Bible, to freely refer to so we could understand Him and grow in our relationship to the Holy Creator of the Universe and all that is in it! What a wonderful God we serve! The Bible is the final authority, and I’m grateful for that, because our God is not a God of confusion. 🙂 All glory belongs to Jesus Christ, our Savior and King!!! 2 Timothy 3:16-17

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