My students have a different journal question/topic every day when they enter the classroom. Yesterday the question was, "What is your biggest doubt or struggle with Christianity, God, and/or the Bible?" When it came time for discussion, one of the students said the following:
"I sometimes doubt my faith because I hear people talk about all of the amazing experiences they have with God speaking to them, or how they feel the Holy Spirit during worship, and stuff like that. I just don't feel like I have that, and it makes me wonder sometimes if there is something wrong with me or if, I dunno, maybe they are faking it."
Another student chimed in, "I know right. When people say stuff like, 'I was praying and I heard God say something' I am just like, 'I pray, but I don't hear anything. What am I doing wrong?'"
A third student said, "I wonder sometimes, you know, if it is really God that people are feeling or if it is just them getting into the music. I mean, I get goosebumps sometimes too, but I don't think that means it is God or something."
Still another added, "And when people like pastors and stuff say that we 'just need to pray harder and ask God to show us his will for our lives', I just get confused. I don't know. It just seems like I can't tell what is God and what isn't."
This is just a small sampling of how it went. Several other students expressed similar concerns. It practically dominated the discussion in every class. I was deeply grieved. Not because I was shocked or surprised by what they were saying, but because it was entirely predictable. I have felt the same way on many occasions.
I don't know how many times I have heard people downplay the need for doctrine and apologetics by saying things like, "What people really need is not a theology or evidence, but an experience. No one can take an experience away from you, and no argument can override what you have actually experienced." Now, please don't misunderstand what I am about to say, I believe that the Holy Spirit indwells every regenerate follower of Jesus. I believe that there is a first-hand, personal, experiential component to knowing and walking with God. So don't hear me say what I am not saying. I am not trying to de-supernaturalize or de-personalize Christianity (though some will no doubt accuse me of doing precisely that). At the same time, I think there has been a movement within evangelical Christianity, especially over the past 30 years, to focus so heavily on the personal, relational element that it has almost become a new branch of Christianity--one where subjective experience trumps both revelation and evidence. You might ask, "Ok, so what's wrong with that?" Simply put: conclusions drawn from subjective, personal experiences are notoriously unreliable…
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