Intimacy with God

The Cartesian-Kantian split between thought and experience [1] affects theology and faith practice in profound ways. It allows us to be pedantic, debating an idea without practicing its truth, all the while seeing ourselves as people of faith. In Scripture, however, thought and experience are bound together in a holistic way. There is no concept of belief apart from behavior. Fidelity does have a doctrinal component, and it has relational content characterized by covenantal love, itself grounded conceptually by truth. But the Biblical notion of doctrine is not abstract. It translates to behavior. Paul speaks of “the things which become sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). What follows is not typical theological discourse, but a manual on sober and mature Christian “behavior as becomes holiness” (2:2).

Wesley refused to preach Christian doctrine without discipline. He did not believe that a true Christianity could exist without both. If the choice was between bigger numbers or deeper people, Wesley opted for growing people. In 1748, Wesley visited the Bristol Methodist society and expelled 170 of the 900 members, almost 20%. Their sins? – smuggling, cursing, drunkenness, wife beating and quarreling.[2] Every Methodist was expected to evidence signs of personal internal change out of their encounter with God, and have a ministry, an expression of mission. One-in-ten had a formal leadership position. Membership was temporary, and required quarterly accountability for renewal.[3] No one was to become stagnant. Christianity was not static, but dynamic.

Even the behavior of demons that “tremble” in the face of truth is measurable. Evidential and observable behavior is the rule, when exposed to the holy and exalted God, not the exception. What was at the time of creation, intuitive and instinctive to man, indeed, primal, must now be reasoned with, exorcised from the depth of our beings. According to Kierkegaard, “We have forgotten how to exist, to be.” For Kant, reality began with the deified self, “I think, therefore, I am!” Sadly, Kant only offers the prison of darkened reason. “A god begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no true likeness of the true God.” At such a moment we fulfill the passage, “You thought I was altogether such a one as yourself.”

The believer begins at a different place – with the existence and revelation of God in time and space. He alone is the “I Am!” The exploration of the Divine, beginning with us, as the “I am” and proceeding by means of rational capacity assumes a peer-like standing with God. Fraught with such pride, it is no wonder the Sovereign hides under our noses. We explore dogma, and ignore the duty to love enemies. We fret over textual questions, stew about theological tensions, and ignore the simple and obvious. Heads are not enough to understand Him or his ways. Obedience is the key to revelation.

“This is the Kantian split: God cannot be an object of knowledge; the noumena cannot be known in the phenomena. This is an abstract, philosophical way of denying Christ’s incarnation and incarnational reality. It denies that the divine Son was born of matter – of woman. And it denies that another – even Christ with the Father and the Spirit – lives in Christians.” [4] It therefore denies the possibility of intimacy with God. It reduces faith to reason alone. C. S. Lewis believed God “is the most concrete reality we can ever know.” Tozer urged “a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds.” [5]

In Pentecostal circles, we have another dilemma. Though we also tend to separate belief from behavior as above, we also tend to connect experience as evidence of vital faith. Too many Pentecostals assume, for example, that speaking tongues is a confirmation of an advanced state of salvation and proof of security in Christ. Actually, the gift of tongues is a means of grace, intended to edify us and others through us when it is paired with an interpretation. The anointing that accompanies any manifestation of the Spirit is also an act of grace, not a declaration of standing. They are the charismata –matters of charis or grace. It is not “signs and wonders” that validate our faith or endorse us as godly, it is character – not fire, but fruit. Jesus warned that many would say, “Lord have we not prophesied in your name and in your name cast out devils and in your name done many wonderful works?” His response will be, “I never ‘knew’ you!” They have mastered the “techniques” of ministry. For them faith and ministry are vocations. They have fallen into the performance trap. They have a relationship with the bride (the Church), which they preferred over the bridegroom (Jesus). The “call” (mission) became all-compelling, and clouded out the nurture of their “created” purpose (the relational, the very essence of faith).

Brushes with the Spirit, even profound experiences, miracles of ministry, that leave us unchanged are another way of “splitting” off transformational impact and aborting the true ministry of the Spirit. Sadly, Pentecostalism is riddled with dazzling power displays that evidence little character. Whether one handles the Bible professionally as a pastor or professor, or acts in the name of Jesus as a spiritual showman, by deflecting spiritual energy, the end is the same – Word or Spirit encounters that leave one unchanged are evidence of being apostate. “By their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:20).

This is an excerpt from the Praying Church Handbook, Volume II, ‘Intimacy with God.’ The entire four volume set can be ordered at alivepublications.org.

 

[1] Payne, 133.

[2] Steve Addison, Movements That Change the World (Downers Grove: IL; Intervarsity Press, 2011), 58.

[3] Steve Addison, Movements That Change the World (Downers Grove: IL; Intervarsity Press, 2011), 59.

[4] Payne, 135.

[5] Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 111.