Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Return of the Experiential, Power-Saturated Church

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(With Joe LaRoy in Bangkok)

Why was the crowd going crazy when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, on a donkey, during Passover? Because...

The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, was there giving eyewitness accounts. It was because they had spread the word of this latest God-sign that the crowd swelled to a welcoming parade. (John 12) 

 As soon as Jesus got to the bottom of the Mount of Olives, the crowds of his followers shouted with a loud outburst of ecstatic joy over all the mighty wonders of power they had witnessed. (Luke 19:37)

The crowd wasn't freaking out because Jesus offered coffee and donuts. It wasn't because he was ridiculously welcoming, affirming, and friendly. It wasn't because of the awesome stage lighting. It was because they had just seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead! And more!

These eyewitnesses had experienced the power of God, coursing through Jesus. They could not keep these experiences of divine power to themselves. The presence of God was returning to Jerusalem!

This is the whole point of the biblical text; viz., to usher us into the presence of God, in experience (not theory). This is what the Bible means by "knowing God." Coffee and donuts cannot effect this.

This helps us understand Scripture. Craig Keener, in Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecostreasons that those who know God by experience (meaning the kind of experiences found in the Bible) will more accurately understand and interpret the Scriptures. This is "reading Scripture in light of Pentecost."

"Scripture itself models an experiential appropriation of its message." (1)

"All of us as Christians should read [Scripture] from the vantage of Pentecost and the experience of the Spirit." (3)

"All Christians should read Scripture as people living in the biblical experience - not in terms of ancient culture, but as people living by the same Spirit who guided God's people in Scripture."

"While careful study of Scripture helps encounter the unbridled subjectivism of popular charismatic excesses, study that does not lead to living out biblical experience in the era of the Spirit misses the point of the biblical texts." (5)

"Many churches that in principle allow that the gifts are for today are, with respect to public worship, practical cessationists on any biblical gifts that do not fit their traditional order of service. This is true of many Pentecostal and charismatic churches..." (9)

"Life is full of subjective experiences, and those who genuinely heed Scripture cannot neglect spiritual experience. The Bible itself is full of dynamic experiences with God, and the broader church regularly needs to be reminded of these." (11) 

"Ideally, the entire church must be experiential if it wishes to be biblical." (11)

"An approach sterilized from any direct faith in the supernatural differs significantly from how the biblical writers intended their works to be read." (11)

Martin Luther said that "experience is necessary for the understanding of the Word," which must "be believed and felt."

On that first Palm Sunday, there was a whole lot of experiencing going on. 

My prayer is, "God, show up in power, in our churches!"


See my chapter "The Case for Experience" in Leading the Presence-Driven Church