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There are many factors that make evangelism difficult. There is the internal spiritual alienation from God that renders the unbeliever unimpressed by God and therefore unresponsive to him in worship (Col. 1:21; 2 Cor. 4:4-6). Then there is the fog of worldliness that reinforces the heart’s unsubmissiveness to God and his Word (1 Jn. 2:16-17). We see this with the ongoing marketing of personal autonomy, self-discovery, and satisfaction in created things.

But there is another contributor to the fog that is very unhelpful. I am talking about the authority of personal experience. Today our personal experience and personal interpretation of that experience is the unquestionable authority that all must submit to.

Earlier this week I was talking to a number of unbelievers about Jesus. In the midst of the conversation one told me that he can see the future. He said that he has, on a few occasions, been able to see what was going to happen. He pointed to his buddy for confirmation and, as you’d expect, got the requisite head nod. I know that in this conversation I cannot slash the tires of his experience. If I even pull out the knife of reason or testing he will shut me down. Personal experience and our interpretation of it is the authority. We might call it Sola Experiencia. 

After this talk with my new friends I thought about what we as Christians could be doing better to communicate the authority of the Bible. Within an hour I was reading about the new movie to be released this weekend about the runaway bestseller, Heaven is for Real. In this book, as I’m sure you are aware, a 6-year-old boy reportedly went to heaven and then came back to tell us all about it. Our supernaturalist society gobbled up the book. The family is a professing Christian family from small-town Nebraska. I am sure they are nice and truly believe all of what they wrote and say. However, what they are doing is unwittingly contributing to the fog that reinforces the heart’s unsubmissiveness to God and his word.

To make matters worse, and prove my point further, shortly after seeing this I noticed that a large evangelical church in Omaha (Christ Community Church) is hosting the boy to tell his story. Of course there are costs associated (tickets are $5 and $10 in advance, $20 for skip-the-line VIP seating, $15 at the door.)

I am sure you can see the problem here. We have a culture awash in a neo-gnosticism that gobbles up personal experience like samples at Costco. We cannot resist them. Then we have people everywhere telling their own stories and then interpreting them with authority. And of course we have a church that goes right along with it to reinforce sola experiencia to the thousands who attend each Sunday morning.

There was a time when experience saluted Scripture. In Second Peter 1:16-18 the apostle Peter recounts the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. “We were with him,” Peter says. This is the stuff bestsellers are made of! However, Peter doesn’t stop there. In a culture where the buds of gnosticism were already growing and the sola experiencia was taking shape he says this:

“So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:19-21)

Peter had the greatest story. He could have trumped anyone. Instead of pushing sola experiencia he pushes Sola Scriptura. Pay attention to the Bible he says. It is not subject to our bound by personal experience and autonomy–it is the direct result of God speaking it! According to Peter, experience salutes Scripture, not the other way around. I love what my friend Burk Parsons tweeted along these lines:

Heaven is for real, not because someone claims to have been there, but because the one who came from heaven said it was.

Evangelism is hard work for a number of reasons but we are making it even harder when we carry around our own personal fog machines to obscure people’s view of the Bible. After all, remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of….experience? No. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). People need to hear the Bible or they will not become Christians. Far from being helpful for people this type of thing only hinders evangelism while impeding sanctification.

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16 thoughts on “Sola Experienca is For Real.”

  1. Melissa says:

    Pastor Erik,

    Thank you so much for this post and your faithful teaching and preaching. John and I are very thankful for you.

    1. Erik Raymond says:

      We are very thankful you are at Emmaus.

  2. Don says:

    Thanks for this timely warning and exhortation.

    1. Erik Raymond says:

      Thanks for the comment Don.

  3. Brian O says:

    Good post, Erik. Thanks for pointing us to an important text of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:19-21). I also think you rightly call these current popular trends neo-Gnosticism. I have been doing research for a paper, which I am going to call “Christianity Today.” I’ve been reading & listening to best-selling & most popular “Christian” teaching from the past decade or so. It’s as if we are reliving the 2nd century all over again. Nothing new under the sun.

    1. Erik Raymond says:

      Brian, sounds like a loaded title. I like it. Let me read it when ur done.

  4. John Galbraeth says:

    I have made many mistakes trusting in experiences and feelings in my short time as a Christian. I used to attend a Foursquare church where they were very sensual in their worship and you never knew from week to week if one of these experiences were going to highjack the service to the point people would be laying on the floor, babbling incoherently or whatever hyper spiritual nonsense they felt in their heart that day. I was a new Christian and I was converted powerfully in and I had a grand experience in my conversion. Because I had such an experience I went looking for a Church that would embrace that not understanding the need for the truth found in the scriptures. It did not take long for the Lord to show me how broken and unbiblical that pentecostal Church was… it took a lot longer for me to get out of there because of the relationships I had developed and because I was a youth leader.

    I’d like to go into detail but I have to go to work. But I would like to confirm the dangers of being experience driven, or even using experience as the vehicle in which we evangelize. It’s fine and good for me to share my impressive testimony, but it cannot compare to the truth in the scriptures. I would have saved myself a lot of pain and chastisement from the Lord if I would have put experience in its place and allowed the Word to structure my actions and frame how I viewed these experiences.

    But I would not throw experience out entirely. A man who has both truth and has experienced it working in his life has within his heart a brick firmly mortared in place. Also I believe we should desire to experience God in all things, but one should take care if they are not just looking for fleshly comfort pursuing after a sensual experience. We should desire sweetness and fervency in prayer and emotion in our preachers voice as one who has both heard and seen from God (not in a charismatic sense of course). oops gonna be late.

    1. andrea411 says:

      Although there are many criticisms of the charismatic experience, historically these experiences have been with the church throughout history. Where ever waves of revival so are these ‘problems’ for those who would prefer all things be done quietly and in order. Pentecost was not quiet and orderly. I know about the excesses, been charismatic for 30 years but it is preferable to ‘cold and dead’ which is what most of American and European mainline churches are… cold and dead. I watch people file in and out of most churches and never know if they were changed or asleep. In the charismatic churches some people are bound to let loose in the flesh at times (some churches are actually quite conservative) and some people who are let loosed will be demonstrative. Better to have a live faith with problems then never to have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in worship. It won’t make you a Christian but it may reaffirm your faith. The fact is most churches have schedules the Holy Spirit out of their services, its easier and no one gets offended…

  5. Ross says:

    Thank you, Erik. You clarified for me the discontent I have with this book and others like it. In my humble opinion, you hit the nail on the head!

  6. claire says:

    A small correction might be needed: I think the boy was 4 years old, not 6.

  7. Jeanne says:

    What a timely post …..especially with the movie being released here in South Africa!! I run a Christian Resource Library and it breaks my heart when the book is returned with comments such as ‘what hope and peace I felt/received when reading this book’ Really!! May I have your permission to print this post and hand it out to those who are interested in my take on the book……:)

  8. andrea411 says:

    Paul Of Tarsus… sola experienca

    1. Erik Raymond says:

      His experience was with the Word of God. C’mon.

  9. The message of the movie coming from a 4 year old boy is that heaven is for real. How on earth Christians have a problem with that is beyond me. I believe the reason we have such a fear of all things supernatural is the way we experience church. The church of the Bible is a church that is “testing all things,” (1 Thess. 5:21), “judging what is shared” (1 Cor. 14:29), “testing the spirits” (1 John 4:1) and conducting itself like the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) that He called it to be. When He declared that He would build His church He also said that the participants would be “binding and loosing ” the things of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19). In a discerning environment of participatory fellowship, truth can be established through the word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Because we have church meetings that are top-down with one person dominating the conversation, we are not involved in the testing process. Thus, we are afraid of things supernatural, not ever becoming involved in discerning what is truth. This is not true in most of the world–only in cerebral America.

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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