Rediscovering Authentic Christian Experience

Posted on 01 April 2008

Evangel 12:2 (Summer 1994)

Rediscovering Authentic Christian Experience

Evangel 12:2 (Summer 1994)

One of the tragedies of modern evangelicalism is that while there is much talk of spirituality there are few who seem genuinely spiritual and while there is much talk of experience, little seems to be genuinely Christian!

  There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the fundamental one is a failure of nerve in evangelicalism; a failure to be radically biblical. The inevitable consequence of this is that experience becomes determined by and modelled on secular models. This is sometimes accompanied by a biblical veneer, seldom deeper than a coat of varnish, which can deceive the unwary. Often it is superficially attractive but it is pastorally disastrous for it creates expectations which are unrealizable and when these do not follow this arouses huge disappointments and, frequently, broken, disillusioned lives.
 
  The influences of modern secular idealogies on evangelicalism are legion; and perhaps ‘legion’ is the correct word, since their source does seem to be the prince of this world! A number can be named. Existentialism which defines truth as ‘what is authentic in my experience’ has, for example, created an environment in which (in ‘worship’) we spend a considerable amount of time singing about how we feel. Hedonism, with its emphasis on self-pleasure, has caused us to assume that Christianity is to be measured according to whether we feel good. Triumphalism has created an environment in which we do not describe reality as it is but in exaggerated language which leads us to expect victory upon victory. Preoccupation with self-esteem and self-fulfilment has caused us to expect Christianity to bring us to ‘wholeness’. Exhibitionism has led us to define the authentic in terms of activity. Animism has led us to an unhealthy preoccupation with the demonic the list could be extended almost endlessly.
 
  Of course, there is a real danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Authentic Christianity is more than mere head knowledge, true discipleship ought to bring its delights, in Christ we are led from victory unto victory, God’s purpose for us is that we find satisfaction in him and his service and the demonic realm is a real one.
 
  However, the expectations of Christian discipleship which such prevailing views create are, nevertheless, fundamentally unbiblical. Thus, without resorting to the morbidity or the ‘worm theology’ that has sometimes (and equally pathologically!) infected past generations of the church, we need to rediscover or re-emphasize the biblical teachings. We need to reaffirm a Bible-centred, God-centred, Faith-centred, Christ-imaging model of discipleship.
 
True discipleship finds its centre in God not ourselves, in his will not our own satisfaction. Such discipleship recognizes that faith is not sight and that, consequently, sickness, sorrow, doubts, fears and darkness are the frequent accompaniments of the life of a disciple. Authentic faith knows of the experience of battle with the world, the flesh and the devil, it knows about human weakness, vulnerability and failure and of mortification. It can speak with the assurance of experience of being made strong in weakness and of the daily ministry of the indwelling Spirit who makes all things new. True discipleship knows that the servant is no greater than the master and, reflecting upon the example of Jesus, knows that through obedience he was made perfect, through suffering he was brought to glory and that he knew the exhaustion of the way, the pain of being alone and the sense of desertion by his Father.

In fact the ultimate tragedy is this. The attractive path of much popular evangelicalism ends up being a broken cistern. It is the biblical model of discipleship that alone describes life as it is really experienced and offers the possibility of a real and deeply satisfying encounter with God; for faith knows that this God, the true God, is present in every experience of life.

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