Sunday, February 11, 2007

on intellect and experience

i've been thinking a lot lately about the tension between intellect and experience in regards to christian spirituality. on the way hand, i think god wants us to think about our faith, about spiritual issues, about the bible, about how we act/think/react/believe/etc... on the other hand, i think god also wants for us to "know" him [yes - in the biblical way], to feel his presence, to be aware of what he's doing in side us and how that makes us feel, to have us respond demonstrably in worship, to hunger for an overwhelming sense of his pleasure, and so on...

so here's some of my early thoughts on the matter

i think that what god wants most from/in us is transformation
what we want most from god is more of him, more of him in us, more of an experience with him

now, transformation comes about through a number of different ways
as theologian walter bruggemann said
transformation rarely occurs - or occurs to much of a degress - through intellectual assent to a proposition
they change by contacting and connecting with god

so, i think what we need to realize is that our efforts at being "intellectual" or "rationale" are in-and-of-themselves very unlikely to produce any kind of real change

real change requires experience

in order to change we must experience the god-of-the-universe within our own spiritual selves

however, the problem with "experience" as we understand it in our modern/charismatic nomenclature is that the experiences most common and easy to identify don't seem to produce much real transformation either [i.e. we see pentecostals getting lost in worship, but we see those same people living lives of embarrassing inconsistency - btw, i consider myself a lost sheep of pentecostalism, so these comments aren't meant to be cutting or hateful, just self-reflective].

so, i believe we need to continue exploring "third options" that bring together intellectual credibility with intense emotional encounter/experience.

we need to be biblically honest
we need to think critically about ourselves and our world
we need to engage the mind in both logical and speculative pursuits of philosophy and reason
we also need to revalue emotion
we need to be able to feel it, or it's not really true [at least, not in the way that scripture seems to identify the truth of christ greatly impacting the hard hearts of humanity]

i grew up charishing experience
then i became disillusioned with the biblical negligence i saw in wider pentecostalism
so i increasingly pursued knowledge and understanding
to the detriment of my heart
and i'm afraid that it's all but impossible for me to "experience" god in the ways i used to
and i miss that
i want that back

but i don't really want it the way it was
for i'm not now who i was then

so - again - i'm looking for an alternative to mindless experience and/or passionless intellect

and i'm probably not the only one


  1. It's funny you would post on this as it's a bit of a hot topic of discussion right now between me and a friend of mine. We live in a society that is spiritually hungry right now, but find the church to be a place lacking spiritual significane. The church says God no longer speaks, the New Age guru says God might not be speaking, but he knows some spirits that are. They then "cross over", and have relevant experiences that "fills the gap" of spiritual emptiness that they long for. More on the topic here:

  2. hey dave, very good subject. i wrestle with this often. my relationship with Jesus was based upon faith alone until i was in my teens. as i am re-discovering Jesus in my 30's (o.k. late 30's), i have taken a scholar's approach in my learnings and it does feel different. all relationships evolve over time but the meaningful ones grow deeper and stronger. i can tell you that the things you have taught me (your intellectual findings) have brought me a greater understanding of who Jesus is and how he fits into my life today. God hears your heart and he knows that this pains you, but he also has a master plan for you that may not be entirely clear to you right now. look at the fruit of your church, all of the people that your "spiritual intellect" affects in a positive way...that's very special. i bouce between "experience" and "intellect" spiritually almost everyday and i'm happy that i have both. it wasn't that long ago that i had neither of those two. maybe what you're looking for isn't a "place" but rather a "balance". talk to you soon, rick r.