Several months ago I attended a two day seminar on the diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism and drug addictions. I looked forward to it about as much as to extraction of impacted wisdom teeth. Nevertheless, it is supposed to be helpful to expose yourself periodically to opposing points of view. If you are not changed, you at least know your opponent better. One of the speakers was relating her method of teaching those troglodytes who do not believe that alcoholism is a disease, despite decades of propaganda to establish it as a fact. She tells her charges, “For the next six weeks, act as though you believe it is a disease.” You “kind of con them,” she says, into the “proper” belief by having them first act as if they believe it.
Alas! Her advice exposes an ailing epistemology that also afflicts the Church. It assumes that the pathway to a true understanding is experiential. The position that experience is ultimately the best teacher is certainly a possible one, but it is not a necessary one. But, is it right to “con” someone at the level of epistemology? While experience is crucial to our understanding, experience must begin with some presuppositions some axioms, a place from which to begin. A Christian would assert that the Bible is, by faith [i.e., presuppositionally], true. Our experience is thereafter interpreted by the Scripture. It is not the other way around. We do not interpret the Bible in the “light” of our experience. Experience may exemplify Scripture’s truth, but it cannot “prove” or buttress it. If our individual experience proves Scripture then we are implicitly presupposing that our experience is superior to Scripture in validity.
A Christian should be “up front” with the confession of a presupposition that the Scripture is true and is the objective measuring device for experience. Such a confession allows other persons to opt out of further conversation on the basis of non-agreement with the Bible. Some Christians see that option exercised by others so often that they want to conceal their foundation. It doesn’t seem to “work” in evangelism. “You don’t have to hit them [unbelievers] in the face with Scripture,” they say. What, however, is gained by “soul-winning” which cons unbelievers into repeating word formulas without a clear grasp of the elements of salvation? Is this one reason that the Church in American today, despite decades of reports of marvelously successful evangelistic campaigns, has produced but a minor effect on the nation’s course away from God? The ubiquitous lapel pin which reads “Try Jesus suggests an experiential approach to the Gospel. Certainly, the gospel can and needs to be experienced in the individual life Yet making the objective truth of the gospel submit to a subjective test of experience — an experience not interpreted by Scripture — is wrong. A person who does that remains presuppositionally committed to the veracity of his own experience; he is actually encouraged to canonize his experience. A person who is confronted with the gospel truth proclaimed as ultimate truth has to make the decision about axioms at the beginning of any relationship to the Word made flesh. That is where the decision needs to be made, since it is a watershed issue. A Church composed of “believers” who unwittingly canonize their own experiences should not be surprised at members who do not accept parts of the Scripture, or who “interpret” it in bizarre, erroneous ways. Returning briefly to alcoholism, it is the same issue. Chronic drunkenness has been first determined to be a disease. Following upon that determination, all the studies, “evidence” and teaching is organized around the faith position that it is a true disease. To try to discuss the concept itself that alcoholism is a disease is to find oneself quickly ruled off the p laying field. Needless to say, I was quickly relegated to the seminar sidelines for introducing the quaint believe that morality played the significant role. The seminar proceeded on smoothly with diagnostic and treatment methodology, process blithely preempting propriety. If you are not conned, then you are not convenient to the further purposes of the group of believers.