70: Eminence or Evidence | Expectations Around Experiencing God

In this episode John enquires into the result of Gregg’s 6 month stay in Switzerland, at Swiss L’Abri.  Gregg recaps his time by noting that his writing has been very productive, and especially his most recent topic: “everyday” experiences versus exceptional experiences (particularly, ‘experiencing’ God). Gregg is concerned not only to lay out the content of such experiences–his own included–but also to offer sufficient theoretical, theological, philosophical background for the discussion to appear credible.

In brief, Gregg’s view on the matter is that we should expect such exceptional experiences—experiences of God acting currently, in people’s lives—to be personal but not necessarily individual. In other words, we should expect God to “show up” and act in people’s lives but not necessarily our own lives, which raises both the importance of testimony and of understanding who God is and what God’s priorities are (so as properly to set one’s expectations, relative to God’s action, within Christianity).

John demurs on this point: John wants to have these experiences himself, just as many Christians in John’s life, whom John trusts and respects, seem to have had. Yet Gregg questions these experiences of others, wondering whether John has been convinced by the facts of the situations or if John is persuaded due to how respectable the people involved are, noting that he (Gregg) wants to be convinced by the evidence of facts rather than by the eminence of persons.

Thus Gregg’s view is that one of the chief goals of a human being is to be a truth-seeker who, in coming to consciousness of him/herself and her/ his world, does not want to hold illusory “pie in the sky” beliefs. As such Gregg believes that, particularly when it comes to experiencing God, credibility needs to have pride of place.

So from Gregg’s perspective it is important to be cautious and potentially suspicious when hearing accounts of God doing “this or that” in people’s lives, in communities, etc., and dig deeper into such accounts before believing them (i.e., not necessarily taking such accounts at face value). Yet caution and suspicion are not the “final word.” Rather, Christians are to understand not only that God has acted in past and will act in the future but should have the expectation that God is acting now, in the present.

Specifically, when considering such alleged action on God’s part it is important to think about a) how it might take place, b) what it’s end / purpose might be, c) how it interfaces with the picture of God that I interpret in the biblical text. Thus for Gregg it is important to be thoughtful about how any such experience of God shapes my view of who God is (and impacts how I interpret the Bible).

In other words, Gregg is interested to maintain a healthy relationship between knowing about God (through understanding biblical truth claims) and relating with / to God (through exceptional experiences, whether my own or those of others). By doing so we avoid either believing that the only things that we know about God are what we read in the Bible or allowing one’s experience of God to dictate one’s understanding of who God is (i.e., “my experience of God is like this, and therefore this part of the Bible is wrong / can only be interpreted in this way”).

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