One Man’s Confusion
Not too long ago, I was counseling a middle-aged doubter over the phone. Let’s say his name is Jack. Jack expressed to me his confusion of faith based upon a loss of connection that he felt with God and the Holy Spirit that formally was a normative part of his life. “One day, it just stopped,” he told me. He was in tears as his faith had never taken any unique paths to his heart. He did not know how to get back. He didn’t even know whether his faith was true anymore. It was simply because he felt God’s presence for years and then, one day, it vanished. And for him, this was tantamount to God going awol.
I will return to Jack’s story shortly.
Longing for an Experience Other than My Own
In the past, I often voiced a deep desire to be more charismatic in my spiritual walk. As I have said many times, this longing is not so much to speak in tongues or be God’s mouthpiece (although, those would be wonderful). It is rooted in a deep desire to experience God more intimately and dramatically. I have never experienced God’s voice or had any mystical encounters in any way worth writing about. Despite my natural rational leanings, there’s a sense of intrigue and even jealousy toward those who naturally connect with God through intense emotions and experiences.
The Five Sources of Faith
The witness of God’s revelation can be found in five distinct dimensions. For those of you who have been through my “Introduction to Theology” class, this will be very familiar. These five constitute the “stage of truth” They are the elements of our epistemology (how we know things). I have basically taken the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and separated emotions and experience. Here are all five with a brief explanation of each:
1. Scripture: The Foundation of Divine Revelation
The Bible is considered the primary or ultimate source of revelation from God. It forms the foundational bedrock in the search for spiritual truth. This is often referred to as “special revelation.” Broadly speaking, special revelation encompasses all direct communications from God. This can include direct speech, prophetic utterance, and even extraordinary events, like a talking donkey! The Bible serves as the established, timeless guide. It offers articulated insights and principles that shape the understanding of faith and life. Whether or not God still speaks through special revelation is greatly debated. However, all Christians recognize Scripture is the norma normans sed non normata, translating to “the norm that norms but is not normed.” It governs all other sources and is not governed.
2. Reason: The Role of Rational Thought
Reason refers to rational or analytical thought processes inherent in humans. This universal aspect of human cognition includes the ability to engage in logical reasoning, mathematical calculations, and structured argumentation. It’s through reason that individuals can analyze, interpret, and understand the complexities of faith, scripture, and the world. Reason acts as a bridge between the divine and the human, helping to make sense of spiritual truths in a logical and comprehensible manner. Most of the time, General Revelation—God’s other word, creation—is included in reason, but it is different enough to separate, if one wishes.
3. Tradition: The Continuity of Faith Practice
Tradition encompasses the collective wisdom and practices passed down through generations within the faith community. It may include liturgical practices, theological interpretations (regula fide), and communal rituals that have been sustained over time. Tradition serves as a link between the past and the present, offering a sense of continuity and stability brought through the collective Body of Christ. It acts as a living archive, preserving the lessons and experiences of those who have walked the path of faith before.
4. Experience: The Personal Encounter with the Divine
Experience is a highly subjective source of understanding, comprising personal encounters and events that individuals interpret as divine interactions. This includes answered prayers, personal “God moments,” and other experiences that provide a personal touchpoint with God’s perceived movements. These experiences are unique to each individual and contribute to a deeply personal understanding of faith, enriching one’s spiritual journey with direct, often transformative encounters. Experience is that which happens to you.
5. Emotion: The Inner Response to the Divine
Emotion, as a source of understanding in faith, involves the feelings and internal responses triggered by spiritual encounters or insights. This includes feelings of conviction, joy, peace, and the sense of God’s presence. Emotions can be powerful motivators and validators of spiritual experiences, offering a deeply personal and often inexplicable connection to the divine. While subjective and varied, emotions play a crucial role in shaping one’s personal relationship with God and understanding of faith. Emotion is that which happens in you.
Embracing Diversity Within the Church
While I personally resonate more with rational and Bible-centric approaches, I see the immense value in embracing all five dimensions. This approach encourages us to appreciate the various ways others experience and express their faith, fostering a more inclusive and understanding church community.
The Church: A Body of Faith Expressions
The church is not a singular entity but a living Body of diverse spiritual expressions. Each believer’s unique approach to faith contributes to the overall makeup of our communal spiritual life. Recognizing and valuing this diversity is crucial for a holistic and enriching church experience. Without it, the image of God in the Body of Christ is greatly quenched.
Mutual Support and Learning
In this understanding, we learn the importance of supporting and learning from each other. We all lean on each other. While I may seek the emotional and experiential aspects of faith through others, they in turn can find insights in the more atriculated and traditional aspects to which I naturally gravitate. This mutual exchange enriches our collective understanding and practice of faith.
Building Unity Through Appreciating Differences
Jack is in a battle for his faith. The first thing I told him was that God may be attempting to “rewire” his path to belief. While it was wonderful and beneficial in so many ways before, it may have been one-dimensional. God sometimes dramatically changes that in the lives of individual Christians. However, this serves as just one illustration of our quest to understand the fullness of faith. God will sometimes force a new dimension into our faithwalk.
Marriage and the Church
Another illustration is that of wed-lock. The Bible itself compares the Body of Christ–the Church–to a marriage. We are all a diverse Body married to Christ (Eph. 5:25-33). It’s vital to acknowledge that just as a man and woman unite in marriage, appreciating and embracing their differences, so too must the diverse churches within Christ’s Body. This unity doesn’t mean dissolving our unique characteristics but rather celebrating and learning from them. Unfortunately, most of the time churches are isolated and territorial silos for their own unique brand of Christianity. More than that, they will often ridicule other churches and pastors for characteristically following a different path in their pursuit of God.
Just as a marriage thrives on the intentional effort to understand and value the differences between partners, churches with varying approaches to faith – whether charismatic, traditional, rational, experiential, or emotive – should strive for a similar understanding and appreciation.
Internationalizing Unity and Diversity
The unity we seek in the body of Christ isn’t about creating a homogeneous entity; instead, it’s about recognizing the unique gifts and perspectives each brings to the table.
Maybe I am too idealistic. It is possible that we can’t do this. Perhaps the more mystical-minded (as I have said I want to be), congregate together, traditionalists harbor their tradition, and the rationalists focus only on verse-by-verse and/or logical approaches to their faith. If this is the case—if we truly can’t create truly diverse local congregations—leaders and pastors of different church traditions have a pivotal role in fostering this unity. By meeting together, collaborating in unified events, and openly acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of their respective approaches, they can set a powerful example. This effort can help bridge gaps and create a more inclusive and mutually supportive Christian community.
Jack has never been exposed to such an integrated approach, therefore, he feels like he is losing his faith. God is adding a new dimension to his spiritual life the hard way. His spiritual life is being stretched and prodded.
By embracing each dimension of faith and learning from one another, we not only strengthen our spiritual journeys but also create a more vibrant, multi-dimensional, Christian faith. The Bible is the norm normans, but it just provides the one foundational dimension. It governs the rest. But we still need the rest. This unity through diversity is not just our goal but our calling as we seek to live out the fullness of faith in a complex and ever-changing world. The church needs to intentionally bring about this five-dimensional faith for each and every church. We need a “Quintessence Faith Movement.” If we don’t God will make it happen.