Thursday, November 14, 2013

Faith Must Have Real-World Consequences Or It Is Worthless

Store, in Bangkok

If our church was a plane, then its two wings might be called "academic" and "experiential." Study hard, so as to rightly handle the word of God. Expect God to act. Academics without experience is dry, mere theory; experience without academics is heretical.

Were I to weigh the two, I think experience trumps academics, at least in order of ontological priority. Experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Augustine's famous "Credo, ut intelligam" ("I believe in order to understand") means, to me: "I experienced something that I think is God; now I study so as to better understand this experience."

This kind of theological approach to the Jesus-life explains the current explosion of African Pentecostal Christianity. Michael Brown observes this in his article "Is African Charismatic Christianity a Counterfeit?" Brown quotes Daniel Kolenda, Reinhard Bonnke's successor: “The Western brand of stale, cold, theoretic and purely cerebral Christianity that Africans have been offered by many of the [Western] evangelical denominations is laughable to them. For Africans, their faith must have real-world consequences or it is worthless.”

But of course, right? Jesus didn't just travel around giving lectures on religious theories. Jesus did teach on God's Kingdom (the rule, or reign of God), and then demonstrated that our God reigns by healing people and delivering people from demons and even raising the dead. At the end of the day this is the kind of stuff I really need. Books may tell me about this and explain this to me, but what I need is the living God to rule in my life in the midst of life's circumstances. 

Theory minus experience is like taking a swimming class and only reading a book called "Theory of Swimming." How weird to "study" swimming from a distance and never get into the pool. Michael Brown writes: "Since Africans see the spiritual realm and natural realm as one, and since they don’t need to be convinced about the reality of demonic spirits, if Jesus is really the Savior, then He also saves from sickness and demonic powers."

Have there been Pentecostal abuses? Of course. Not all that is weird is of God. Have their been evangelical abuses? Of course. Some of us were trained in "Robert's Rules of Order," and the application of British Parliamentary Procedure to the conducting of church meetings. How tragic. How stale. And how confining, since the Holy Spirit's name is not "Robert."

There is an intrinsic unprogrammability and unpredictability in Spirit-led following that no theory can predict, and which no theory can fully understand.

When the Spirit moves in our church context there are always real-world consequences. Were that never so we'd be left with post-Enlightenment reductionistic theological theories like cessationism, where Jesus reigns over the the earth by giving lectures. That's a plane missing one wing, and explains why the African church is flying and the American church is descending.