Experiencing the Truth
- Saturday, August 16, 2008
What do we say to such charges? First we admit that from time to time we have been cold. And among some Reformed churches and Christians this is still true. Yet we also assert that this is not necessary to a true expression of Reformed theology. Historically Reformed theology has been highly experiential, emotionally stimulating, and passionately preached. True Reformed preaching is not simply a scholastic pursuit. the Reformed preacher, according to Wilhelmus à Brakel, will make “his astute theological acumen subservient to the glory of God and the spiritual welfare of His church.” He makes this point when he instructs ministers:
He [the minister] ought to use all his scholarship to formulate the matters to be presented, in order that he might express them in the clearest and most powerful manner. While using his scholarship, however, he must conceal his scholarship in the pulpit.12
Wilhelmus à Brakel is one of my favorite theologians. Most people today are not familiar with him, but during the Second Reformation of the seventeenth century, à Brakel was among the most respected and most read Dutch Reformed pastors and theologians. He wrote my favorite treatise on systematic theology titled The Christian’s Reasonable Service. I believe it sets forth Reformed theology in its most biblical, historical, and most importantly, experiential form. One à Brakel biographer writes:
The uniqueness of à Brakel’s work lies in the fact that it is more than a systematic theology . . . à Brakel’s intent in writing is inescapable: He intensely wishes that the truth expounded may become an experiential reality in the hearts of those who read. In a masterful way he establishes the crucial relationship between objective truth and the subjective experience of that truth.13
Experiencing the truth—that is what Reformed theology is all about! True Christian experience is not experience for experience’s sake. That type of Christianity is the error too often found in Pentecostalism and neo-Pentecostalism, where the experience with the truth (namely the Spirit of Truth) supposedly only occurs when some excitable, emotional, and even spasmodic outburst has been seen or heard. And yet, often this is nothing more than an experience with experience, which is satisfactory for a moment but ultimately produces no lasting fruit and leaves its adherent in a worse spiritual and intellectual state. Indeed, this was the case with John Fountain.
Unfortunately for Fountain and many with similar testimonies, church has become nothing but a heavy dose of emotional stimulation. What is the answer for Fountain and others like him? What is the hope for a Christianity today that is nothing more than men and women chasing one emotional high after the other?
The answer to this subjective, irrational approach to the Christian faith, interestingly, is not the dry, rational intellectualism that is popularly portrayed in Reformed American thought. Rather, it is the experiential Christianity that is objectively based but subjectively experienced. Biblical Christianity is always establishing the relationship between objective truth and subjective experience. And as a projection of biblical Christianity, true Reformed theology is always seeking to do the same. According to à Brakel, the end of true Reformed theology is an experience with the Spirit of Truth to the end of:
The conversion of the unconverted, the instruction of the ignorant, the restoration of the backsliders, the encouragement of the discouraged, as well as to the growth of faith, hope, and love in all who have become partakers of a measure of grace.14
The best Reformed biblical theology is not found in ivory towers or monastic huddles, but in the everyday experiences of life in a fallen world being redeemed by God. Understanding this, we say, without apology, that Reformed theology is the hope of Christianity. It has been the hope of Christianity since the Reformation, and it continues to be the hope today.
Recently on Books
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content