As we explore some of the ramifications of Strauns’ posts, now with considerable help from Rob, it is of great importance to stress what he writes here:
Genuine experience of God is the origin of all theological understanding (spiritual experience = revelation = scripture historically understood = theology). On the experience level we have to sort the genuine from the false
Now that begs several questions, one of which comes out of the prolonged correspondence between Bosco and myself. I find Bosco frustrating because he tells us he is born again from a personal encounter with Jesus, but apart from assuring him he is ‘saved’ and that the Roman Catholic Church and organised ‘religion’ are bad things, I am not sure what else this means to him. As someone concerned with practical evangelisation, I wouldn’t find stressing I am saved, that the RCC is ‘a cult’ and ‘you should ask Jesus to show himself to you’ at all useful when i talk to folk on a Saturday morning. Bosco thinks this is questioning his experience; it isn’t. How can one? If he says it happened it is real to him; but this sort of personal experience, however ‘genuine’ to the person to whom it has happened, gives the listener/reader nothing to work with.
Rob is right to stress that contextual theology can help, but is not the same (not that Struans claimed it was) as an experience of the Risen Lord. But what, precisely is that ‘experience’ and how does it map onto the experience of others: there’s a very real sense in which a unique experience is useless in evangelisation because it is not something to which others can relate; the question for the evangelist is how to convey what is experienced to those who have not experienced it. I think there is also, in that, the difficult question of what it means to encounter the Risen Lord?
Here, without criticising him, Bosco is again a useful example. He is not the first American I have had tell me that he is ‘born again’ or that ‘religion’ is pointless and that what I need is a ‘personal relationship’ with God. All of these can be the opposite of useful in evangelisation. By definition, when I am out on Saturday morning, I am speaking to those with no experience of Jesus. Now it may be Bosco’s experience that if someone tells a person to ask Jesus into their lives He comes, but I have, alas, not found that Jesus operates on a ‘I call, you come’ basis in the way Bosco has.
In my experience, the experience of Jesus is a process. There is, sometimes, a great revelation, but sometimes this proves an insecure foundation for a stable and life-long faith; but more commonly, there is a moment of Grace which grows in the living, but which is like a tender shoot and needs nurturing – not least from the community of faithful Christians who will not make such a person feel in some way second-rate because they have not had a voice from a burning bush or Jesus make a personal appearance; indeed, I have found here I am often dealing with feelings which need to be explained in the context of what Christ has told to others. Whatever may be the case with a Pope and the limited areas in which he can speak infallibly, I have no such charism, and find anyone who claims any such thing, dangerous.
Here, the process of nurturing helps me as much as it helps the inquirer. Truths that I may have taken for granted suddenly take on new dimensions when a new Christian asks me questions, and my own faith is kept freshly irrigated by the Grace that comes with sharing it. That, before I say anything more, is the context of the Great commission – we are told to go share the Gospel. To do that requires, at least across the fifty years I have been doing it, more than telling a fellow to ask Jesus in – even if it also involves that too.