Biblical Theology or Experiential Theology?
This is going to be a very long post, but the things that must be said cannot be said quickly. So clean your eyeglasses, put some liquid tears in your eyes, get a large insulated mug of coffee, and get ready for the long haul.
Before I begin my discussion of “Experiential Theology” let me affirm that I believe in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit set forth in the Scriptures, especially in Acts and 1 Corinthians. I am thoroughly Pentecostal, but I believe we should avoid going beyond what the Bible says about these things, as this always puts us on shaky ground. Some of those calling themselves Charismatic or Pentecostal these days are just hyper-emotional spiritual thrill seekers. I will even say that some of them are outright charlatans or kooks. The Bible teaches balance and propriety. With that said, let me address the issue at hand.
Too many so-called Christians are now focused on their “experiences” with God as more authoritative than the Scriptures themselves. “Experiential Theology” is rapidly becoming the new norm in the church, and biblical theology is being downplayed or mocked outright. I hear frequent arguments from the Postmodern Emerging Church and Purpose Driven types that you can’t let the Bible determine your theology or your understanding of the world around you. They assert that you cannot read and study the Scriptures to learn truth. Instead, you must “experience” truth for it to be valid or relevant. (“Relevant”: If there is a more overused word in the English language, perhaps other than “gay”, and whose meaning has become more bastardized, I can’t think of it). However, the Apostle Peter refutes this nonsense. Even speaking of the Mount of Transfiguration “experience” he says,
“Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease. For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:15-21).
Peter says the Scriptures are more certain than his experience on that mountain. Emotions, attitudes, health, environment and surroundings, and a host of other things can influence experiences. However, the Scriptures do not change because of those things. The Scriptures are unchanging, and God is unchanging. Yet modern “translations” (which aren’t even legitimate paraphrases) of the Bible like The Voice and The Message have taken liberties with the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts that even the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t dare consider.
Those who insist on keeping the Scripture as our unchanging standard for everything are mocked as intellectual eggheads. It is stressed that you do not love, worship or serve God if you defer to the Scriptures as your infallible guide. However, the Bible says that we are to love the Lord with our whole being, including the mind (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). Call me old fashioned, but the written Word of God trumps the notions of those who place their mind over the Bible, rather than under it.
Even some ministers who have been accepted into mainstream Evangelical and Pentecostal circles have grossly aberrant theology, such as Oneness Pentecostal Tommy Tenney. He supports the idea that the Bible is where God has been, but He is somewhere else now. Ridiculous! In his book The God Chasers, Tenney says,
“The difference between the truth of God and revelation is very simple. Truth is where God’s been. Revelation is where God is. Truth is God’s tracks. It’s His trail, His path, but it leads to what? It leads to Him. Perhaps the masses of people are happy to know where God’s been, but true God chasers are not content just to study God’s trail, His truths; they want to know Him. They want to know where He is and what He’s doing right now.”
TOMMY TENNEY, The God Chasers
So I would ask mister Tenney and others like him just how it is that we can truly know God apart from what He has revealed of Himself as recorded in the Holy Bible? Any knowledge we have of God must agree with what He has already revealed in the Scriptures. Let me be politically incorrect and say that Tenney and those who agree with him are heretics in the strictest and most literal sense.
There is now a whole group of people in the church, led by former Fuller Seminary professor and author C. Peter Wagner, who think they are 21st century apostles, and that we are seeing a new apostolic reformation. What we are really seeing is the wholesale desertion of the church from sound doctrine and the biblical faith once delivered to the saints, and a clinging to ungodly men with ungodly ideas posing as Christian leaders (Jude 3,4).
We are told that doctrine doesn’t matter, and we should just focus on Jesus Christ. But you cannot even mention the name of Jesus Christ without getting into doctrine. For example, which Jesus are you talking about? Is it the Jesus of the Mormon cult who is the half brother of Satan? Is it the Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who Michael the Archangel? Is it the Jesus of Islam who is the son of Mary and simply a prophet, but not God in the flesh? Is it the Jesus of Roman Catholicism who still hangs on the cross, who must be resacrificed continually, and is embodied in a wafer kept in a tabernacle called a Monstrance? Or is it the Jesus Christ of the Bible who is fully God and fully man—the eternal Son of God who at a point in time became a man to set us free from sin? You see, doctrine matters!
We have plenty of Scriptures that speak of the importance of sound doctrine, and we would do well to once again begin to heed them before the deception goes any further.
Proverbs 4:2 For I give you good doctrine: Do not forsake my law. NKJV
Jeremiah 10:8 But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine. NKJV
John 7:16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.
17 “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. NKJV
Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. NKJV
Romans 6:17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. NKJV
Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. NKJV
Galatians 1:6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,
7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed [anathema=condemned, damned].
9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed [anathema=condemned, damned].
10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. NKJV
Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,
15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ —
16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. NKJV
1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia — remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine,
4 nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. NKJV
1 Timothy 1:8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully,
9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine,
11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. NKJV
1 Timothy 4:6 If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.
7 But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. NKJV
1 Timothy 4:13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.
15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.
16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. NKJV
1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. NKJV
1 Timothy 6:1 Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. NKJV
1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness,
4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions,
5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. NKJV
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. NKJV
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. NKJV
Titus 1:7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,
8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,
9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. NKJV
Titus 2:1 But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine:
2 that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience;
3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things —
4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,
5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. NKJV
Titus 2:6 Likewise exhort the young men to be sober-minded,
7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,
8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you. NKJV
2 John 9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.
10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him;
11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. NKJV
Revelation 2:12 ” And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘ These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:
13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
14 “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
15 “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
16 ‘Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
17 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ‘
18 ” And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘ These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:
19 “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.
20 “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
21 “And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.
22 “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.
23 “I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
24 “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.
25 “But hold fast what you have till I come.
26 “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations —
27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’ — as I also have received from My Father;
28 “and I will give him the morning star.
29 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ‘ NKJV
Looks like doctrine, sound teaching, and a proper understanding of what is The Gospel is important after all. I guess we must take the Word of God over the nonsensical notions of men.
It was “Experiential Theology” that destroyed the Quaker and Shaker movements. It has been destroying the extreme Charismatic movement for at least two decades. Now it is eroding the sure foundation of more conservative Pentecostal and Evangelical churches as well. This seems like a good time to repeat the question of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself: “I say to you, that He will execute the justice to them quickly; but the Son of Man having come, shall he find the faith upon the earth?” (Luke 18:8) YLT (Yes the definite article is in the Greek text when Jesus asks, “Shall he find the faith upon the earth?”). We hear a lot of talk about faith these days, but we must ask, “Is it the faith of the Bible?” (Jude 3)
The latest thing to really make a long-lasting sweep through the church under guise of a “devotional” is a book by Sarah Young, titled Jesus Calling, a book that has been on the market since 2004 and keeps gaining steam. Allow me to say that I know nothing personally about Sarah Young, other than she and her husband have been missionaries to Japan, and she seems like a nice lady. However, that doesn’t matter when talking of one’s theology. I can think of several seemingly nice men and women these days who are leading the church astray, going off into mysticism and all manner of extra-biblical and even anti-biblical revelations and teachings.
I used to ask if anyone knew someone who was reading, or had read, Jesus Calling or had a Jesus Calling Bible. Now I ask if someone doesn’t know anyone who is reading, or has read, Jesus Calling or has a Jesus Calling Bible. Rarely do I come across a professing Christian these days who has not either read Jesus Calling or owns more than one Jesus Calling product (Bibles, etc.). In fact, I overheard a young lady at my own church recently gushing about what a blessing Jesus Calling had been to her. I cringed, and it was all I could do to bite my tongue keep from blurting out the dangers of this occult-inspired book. However, realizing that since this young lady doesn’t know me, that would have probably done little good in that particular moment.
Due to the expressed concerns of some Christians, Sarah Young’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, has taken to making serious edits (make that re-writes) to the book. In fact, author Warren B. Smith calls it “whitewashing the red flags about Jesus Calling” and “damage control for a false Christ”. I will give a few examples by Warren Smith of that which I speak, but these edits cannot change the sources from which Sarah Young herself claimed she received the book.
So allow me to share some of these examples from an article titled, Changing “Jesus Calling”—Damage Control for a False Christ, by Warren B. Smith.
In his article, which can be accessed at http://standupforthetruth.com/2014/11/changing-jesus-calling-damage-control-false-christ/, Smith points out the following:
- Jesus Calling was inspired by a book called God Calling, which was written in the 1930’s by two ladies who claimed the book was dictated by Jesus Christ Himself. That book was, and is, a mainstay in New Age circles. That claim by Sarah Young has been removed from the new edition.
- Sarah Young originally wrote that she received messages directly from Jesus Himself. That claim has now been revised.
- Sarah Young’s Jesus contradicts the Jesus of the Bible. In fact, Young claims 250 of these devotionals are messages directly from Jesus Himself. Smith writes, “In two separate messages, Sarah Young was told by her “Jesus” that the last words he spoke after his resurrection and before ascending into heaven were “I am with you always.” But this statement made by the true Jesus Christ on the Mount of Galilee were not His last words before ascending into heaven. His last words were spoken from the Mount of Olives as recorded in Acts 1:7-9, 12. The two “messages” Sarah Young received from her “Jesus” contradict the words of the true Jesus Christ in the Holy Bible. What her “Jesus” said was totally unbiblical”.
“[Smith shows] January 28th Original Statement
I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. These were the last words I spoke before ascending into heaven. I continue to proclaim this promise to all who will listen.18 (bold added)”
“[Then Smith shows] January 28th Replacement Statement
I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. I spoke these words to My disciples after My resurrection. I continue to proclaim this promise to all who will listen.19 (bold added)”
“[Smith shows] October 15th Original Statement
TRY TO STAY CONSCIOUS OF ME as you go step by step through this day. My Presence with you is both a promise and a protection. My final statement just before I went to heaven was: Surely I am with you always. That promise was for all of My followers, without exception.20 (bold added)”
“[Then Smith shows] October 15th Replacement Statement
TRY TO STAY CONSCIOUS OF ME as you go step by step through this day. My Presence with you is both a promise and a protection. After My resurrection, I assured My followers: Surely I am with you always. That promise was for all of My followers, without exception.21 (bold added)”
- Sarah Young’s Jesus claimed that Abraham was guilty of “idolatry” and “son-worship”. Smith writes, “Sarah Young’s ‘Jesus’ said that Abraham was a man of ‘undisciplined emotions’ and was guilty of ‘son-worship’ and ‘idolatry’”.
“[Smith notes] August 23rd “Message” in the Original Edition
ENTRUST YOUR LOVED ONES TO ME; release them into My protective care. They are much safer with Me than in your clinging hands. If you let a loved one become an idol in your heart, you endanger that one—as well as yourself. Remember the extreme measures I used with Abraham and Isaac. I took Isaac to the very point of death to free Abraham from son-worship. Both Abraham and Isaac suffered terribly because of the father’s undisciplined emotions. I detest idolatry, even in the form of parental love.23 (bold added and signifies material that was deleted)”
“[Then Smith notes re-write] August 23rd Replacement Message
ENTRUST YOUR LOVED ONES TO ME; release them into My protective care. They are much safer with Me than in your clinging hands. If you let a loved one become an idol in your heart, you endanger that one—as well as yourself. Joseph and his father, Jacob, suffered terribly because Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons and treated him with special favor. So Joseph’s brothers hated him and plotted against him. Ultimately, I used that situation for good, but both father and son had to endure years of suffering and separation from one another.
I detest idolatry, even in the form of parental love, so beware of making a beloved child your idol.24 (bold added and signifies material that was added)”
- Sarah Young has Jesus complaining about the night of his birth. Smith states, “The ‘Jesus’ of Jesus Calling said he was born ‘under appalling conditions’ in a ‘filthy stable’ and that the night of his birth ‘was a dark night’ for him. To many readers, this did not sound like the voice of their Savior—it sounded like the voice of a stranger (John 10:5) and that Satan—not Jesus—would be the one describing the night of Jesus’ birth as ‘that dark night for Me’”.
Now I would add that the human reality is that the place of Jesus birth, being a stable, could be accurately described as a stink hole. However, we never hear Jesus complain of the conditions into which He was born. In fact, as we read Luke 2:1-20, it sounds like an absolutely glorious and joyful occasion. Furthermore, Mathew’s account tells us, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (1:23) That sounds pretty fantastic to me—God with us! Praise the Lord! Furthermore, the Bible tells us that Jesus came to earth and did all the things He did, including going to the cross, willingly (Matthew 10:45; John 10:17-18; 1 John 3:8).
[Smith shows] December 25th Sentence in the Original Edition
Try to imagine what I gave up when I came into your world as a baby. I set aside My Glory, so that I could identify with mankind. I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions—a filthy stable. That was a dark night for Me, even though angels lit up the sky proclaiming “Glory!” to awe-struck shepherds.25 (bold added to highlight what was deleted)
[Then Smith shows] December 25th Replacement Sentence
Try to imagine what I gave up when I came into your world as a baby. I set aside My Glory, so that I could identify with mankind. I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions—a filthy stable. There was nothing glorious about that setting, though angels lit up the sky proclaiming, “Glory!” to awe-struck shepherds.26 (bold added to highlight what was added)
So if anyone reading this post knows someone involved with the writings of false teachers, especially books like Jesus Calling, please give them a copy of this article, refer them to my blog Fighting the Wolves (https://fightingthewolves.wordpress.com/), or refer them to one of the following links on the dangers of Jesus Calling (http://standupforthetruth.com/2014/11/changing-jesus-calling-damage-control-false-christ/, http://standupforthetruth.com/2013/01/is-jesus-calling-in-your-library/, http://www.donotbesurprised.com/2011/10/jesus-calling-devotional-bible.html, http://steakandabible.com/2012/07/04/is-deception-calling-a-review-of-jesus-calling-by-sarah-young/, http://www.searchthescriptures.org/blog/jesus-calling-an-innovative-way-to-sense-god-or-a-dangerous-practice, http://www.wnd.com/2014/06/is-hit-book-jesus-calling-pushing-new-age/, http://www.cicministry.org/commentary/issue125.htm).
Of serious noteworthiness is a new article published by Tim Challies, published today November 11, 2015, and titled, 10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling, which can be found at http://www.challies.com/articles/10-serious-problems-with-jesus-calling.
It’s time for us to get back to sound doctrine, exposing those evil workers who are teaching falsehoods. But I realize this puts me (or anyone else who dares to speak out) in danger of being called uncooperative, angry, rigid, and maybe even dangerous. Maybe I am, but I also think there are things no child of God, especially a minister, should agree to.
It’s way past time to return to the Bible as our ground of being and basis for Christian life and practice and our rule for theology—the study of God. We must also insist that all experiences people claim to have had with God must agree with, or at least not disagree with, the Bible.