On arguing with experience, grieving the Holy Spirit, and being 5/8ths right.

My pastor is fond of saying “You can't argue with experience.” But some people do. I've been hearing about it a lot lately in Christian circles.

The cessationist pastor who accuses charismatics of being heretics who “grieve the Holy Spirit.”

The pentecostal who thinks people who don't speak in tongues aren't saved.

The academic types who subtly mock a person's near-death experiences with God, because it doesn't fit into their theological boxes.

The laypeople who scorn academic types unwilling to stop at the “plain reading of the text”–or what seems plain to them, at least.

And that's not even touching on the other things Christians disagree about. Politics. Science. Social action. Worship. There are so many facets to all these conversations, and compelling arguments can be made for many different perspectives. I am reminded of a prism. The closer you are to any given side, the more flat and two-sided the issue will seem–there's your side and the opposite side, yea or nay. But if we are unwilling to step back and look at the issue as a whole, to thoughtfully and compassionately consider other people's arguments and experiences, we miss the nuance and severly limit our own perspective.

I'm not arguing for relativism. There is right and wrong, yes and no. But I am arguing that most of the issues that divide us are so much more robust, so much more three-dimensional, than we give them credit for. Maybe an honest and thorough examination would show that we were 5/8ths right, but missing two crucial pieces of information, and mistaken about one other. Is that possible? And wouldn't we rather know if that was the case?

It's normal for people to get uncomfortable when their assumptions about the way the world works are challenged, which is why most of us hang out with people who look, think, act, and believe like us. It's also normal for people to get defensive and go into attack mode when their assumptions are challenged, and to automatically discount people who disagree with them instead of listening to their experiences and perspectives.

This is very unfortunate.

What if diversity in the body of Christ is not the enemy, but part of God's plan? What if the eyes and ears are supposed to work together to figure out what is being communicated, instead of the ears denying what the eyes saw, and the eyes refusing to communicate through any means but sign language?

Here's is my perspective and experience:

My walk with God has been deepened and enriched by the charismatic movement.

Cessationists have been an integral part of bringing the gospel to all corners of the earth, and have led many of my friends to Christ as well. Saved? They practically invented the term.

If Jesus appears to a kid who is only connected to life by a thread, I'm not going to argue with him and try to correct his theology. Good golly. We know in part, and we prophesy in part, and what–do we expect Jesus to give a sick kid a lecture on eschatology? “Jesus loves me, this I know” is good theology, as far as I'm concerned. The best.

That doesn't mean there's virtue in stalling out at the theological depth of a seven-year-old. God's given me a brain, and I want to bring all the powers of the intellect He gave me to bear on understanding what He is trying to communicate through His Word and through the world around us. If that means I'm going to ask a lot of uncomfortable questions, and bring up a lot of uncomfortable subjects, I'm sorry. They make me uncomfortable too sometimes, but my desire to know God better compels me to keep asking.

So, what do you think? Why are we so threatened by other people's perspectives and experiences, and how can we get better at listening with integrity?

5 Responses to On arguing with experience, grieving the Holy Spirit, and being 5/8ths right.

  1. Bonnie Leon October 17, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    Jenny, well said. Thank you for sharing your Holy Spirit wisdom. We all need to be listening to Him.

    Grace and peace to you from God.

  2. Tyler October 17, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    I think the biggest problem is that making what feels like a convincing argument feels better to most than listening to and appreciating the truths coming from external sources. “Convincing” needs to take a back seat to “sharing”. All we can do is share what has brought us joy and extend an invitation to others to “come and see.” By the way, Jenny, thank you for your faith and your willingness to share non-combatively.

  3. Tim October 18, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    I like Paul’s advice on how Christians should respond to one another when they disagree: “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (Philippians 3:15.)

    I bet Paul was on the receiving end of that “God will make clear to you” when he was training under Barnabbas, et al. Probably less so as he matured in the faith, of course. I hope it’s the same for me, but I still have a lot to learn. You’ve helped me today, in fact Jen, so the learning continues!


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