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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Experience and Faith

I have been engaged in further reading with regard to the question of the role of experience in connection with Christian faith. My preliminary research bought me to my first "speed hump" in that I realised that I needed to understand what is meant by experience and also to unpack and be aware of the experiences that I was bringing into these reflections.

I have already compiled a reasonable list of web pages and articles but before moving on I will take time to gather some thoughts on the basic concept of experience. In an article from "Word and World" (1/3, 1981) titled "Faith is a Matter of Experience" E. Bettenhausen says "the word 'experience' is slippery...a group of Christians cannot agree on how to talk about God because of their differing experiences of God."

In this essay Bettenhausen discusses how much the circumstances and events of an individual's life shape their "experience" and also their understanding of what constitutes a valid understanding of experience. For example, a white educated male may conceive of their as being a universally valid frame of reference for Christian experience but he is quite likely not to have considered life from the point of view of a poor African woman or an oppressed South American farmer. Each of the other two people will also have their own conception of Jesus and God and theology and worship and other pertinent matters for the thinking, responsive Christian.

One point that does need to be emphasised is one that was raised in the previous blog about the fact that experience is often considered as being a purely rational response. Bettenhausen quotes Levy-Bruhl who suggests "the general notion experience that has...developed is above all 'cognitive'." Bettenhausen then expands this to consider the idea that if experience is "primarily a function of intelligence" then those people who oppose the status quo on the basis of "experience are considered irrational (or un-rational).

This theme developed as I considered aspects of pentecostal theology and worship. An interesting thread emerges which begs the question can a theological discussion be engaged in on the level of intellect alone and is a recourse to "experience" irrational or is it a valid basis on which to base some of the foundation for a theological/biblical discussion?

Since leaving Bible College (Seminary) I have stopped to consider the environment, overwhelmingly male, reformed faculty and the value placed on the intellect above all else. I appreciate much of what I learnt but I sense within me a need to pursue a rebellion that was bubbling under the surface in response to the "reduction of God".

What I mean by the "reduction of God" is that a strong emphasis on the intellect and reason ends in the situation that God becomes only as big as we can "think" Him and thus is the size of our head. I want to hold on to the notion that God is far, far above and beyond my conceptions of Him. I want to engage in His mission and immerse myself into a life journey with God but never think that I have God boxed and labelled and ready for cold storage until I need to refer to Him as backup for some clever, theological chess move. This is certainly to be continued...

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