Posted by: William | April 14, 2008

Doctrine, or Experience

Ponder this thought from John Owen with me for a moment:

“When the light of revelation is not accompanied by spiritual experience and power in our souls, then it with end either in outward formality or atheism. But when feelings outrun the light of revelation, then they sink into the bog of superstition, doting on images and pictures.”


What Owen remarks on here are people’s tendencies to base their faith largely on both spiritual experience and feelings, or on given revelation or an intellectual understanding of scripture. Owen’s intention in remarking this is to point out the danger in either option. Spiritual man is made to embrace, love, learn and understand as much as he can from the revealed revelation of God in the bible, but it does not end there. He is also intended to experience all that that revelation would express.

We see both of his observations to be true without looking too far. In stuffy old churches it’s not hard to find folks only going through the motions. Beyond programs and traditions, there often is very little of a true walk with Christ. Although many of the great and excellent doctrines of the bible can exist among them, many do not experience all that should flow out from them.

On the other hand of course, we find folks basing so much of their faith on whimsical “movements of the Spirit”, on worship experiences, on spiritual highs, on “authentic” experiences, yet all the while having very little real understanding of Christian doctrines. Many of them are zealous, but without knowledge. Many in face trivialize doctrine to be a sub-spiritual element in the Christian faith, things that jest get in the way. I believe this is especially true of my generation.

In Owen’s conclusions of the two errors, I think we see them also to be true. How many vehement atheists and agnostics found their way there through a hard-nosed, stuffy, religious Christianity that did not live like it believed the doctrines it knew so much about? Furthermore, how many traditionalist pews are filled with folks who have cleaned carefully the outside of the cup, but without care, left the inside of the cup unwashed? In the same way, how many young, zealous Christians go about, church to church, seeking a true experience, whether it be in fellowship or worship, and yet do not find what they are looking for? Many I expect. Because without knowledge, without doctrine, they cannot know truly what we are looking for. They cannot truly know if they are following a move of the Holy Spirit (for that would be doctrinal), or if they are following some counterfeit spirit.

The assessment is correct. We must experience Christ, his power and his love. But this is not whimsical and fool hearted, it is doctrinally given by God in his already completed revelation of scripture. To divorce them is to dishonor Christ and his Word.



  1. yeah man. Experimental Christianity is truly a blessing to grasp! Though our day does seem to be plagued by experience does it not? It makes sense though; that is definitely a result of the culture we live, a postmodern experientially oriented paradigm of feelings that lead and choices that dangerously follow. We would be wise to heed the call of Owens and his Puritan brethren that our choices come from scripture and that our feelings align with our choices based on scripture that is learned through a new nature given by Him. I would have titled this blog what you titled your next one, A Beautiful Marriage: Experimental(Experiential) Biblical Doctrine!

  2. This post reminded me of the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” I see doctrine/light of revelation as mind; spiritual experiences as heart, and power in our souls/the indwelling of the spirit as soul.

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