Thursday, September 21, 2006

American P.I.E. IV

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part V

This is part four of the American P.I.E. series. Part one provided an introduction to the series and an overview of the material to be covered. Part two focused on pietism in general. Part three focused on the rationalistic form of pietism. This part will focus on the experiential form of pietism. It will not be as developed as the rest of the series because I’m just not at home with experiential pietism. With the other parts of this series, I think I can study what I’m describing “from the inside.” But with experientialism, I must look at it from the outside (and I haven’t really been looking at it for a long period of time).

Individualism runs throughout. The overwhelming focus is placed on the individual’s experiences and emotions.

Held most strongly by: holiness movement and Pentecostal churches, Charismatic churches, some General Baptists, some non-denominational churches, some “generic evangelicals”

The great concerns of experientialism are: a cold, impersonal doctrinalism and moral laxity in the realm of personal behavior (two varieties of what experientialists see as formalism). Experientialism is largely a reaction against these foes.

Core Assumptions:

1. epistemological subjectivism: God is known primarily through the experiences of the individual (e.g., “feel/see the Spirit move” in one’s life and circumstances)

2. nature of experience: Experience is an emotional phenomenon, not a mental phenomenon (i.e., meeting God and having a relationship with him via Bible study is rare or nonexistent) and only secondarily is it a social phenomenon. Above all, it constitutes an immediate relationship with God. Functionally, it can often be a separate form of revelation in addition to the Bible. It may occasionally be an explicit revelatory experience (e.g., “a word from the Lord”) but it is usually more indirect and “fuzzy” and resembles an emotional state of some kind.

3. authority of experience: It is often infallible or at least unassailable in practice though it is not usually so in theory. A healthy skepticism of such experience rarely seems to exist.

4. routine and ritual: These are identical to “dead formalism.”

Some Effects:

1. doctrinal development: The theological understanding of experiential pietists is often quite underdeveloped. They don’t usually progress very far beyond the basics of Christian doctrine.

2. adding to the law (ethical subjectivism): It is often the case that underdeveloped doctrine and a relatively weak emphasis on the authority of the Bible combine with a strong emphasis on personal behavior to produce many “house rules.” These rules (e.g., don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance) usually have little or no biblical support but they often become important moral requirements which distinguish the holy from the carnal.

3. schism: Perfectionism and the search for authentic experience leads to many denominations and much church hopping.

4. privatization: Holiness is often understood in a way that would make Christendom impossible.

5. low view of the Church: Experience trumps the “formalism” and “cold doctrine” of a Church that has any real necessity or authority.

6. ecclesiastical order: The high authority of experience with respect to the Bible and the Church produces many para-Church ministries headed by those without formal calls, much biblical education, or much pastoral experience. They see their calls as immediate (i.e., directly from God), and often enough, their ministries take on a ‘cult of personality’ feel.

7. worship music: The importance of music is usually stressed. Worship music often consists of simple, “contemporary” songs and choruses sung repetitively. Any hymns generally date from the 19th century onward. The overwhelming focus of the songs is the individual’s personal relationship with God.



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