Follow Us

Experience inevitably impacts what you believe

I have friends who have stopped believing in God. I don't pray that they'll change their theology. I pray that they'll have an experience with God. We humans form our beliefs around our experiences. We can't help it – examine your beliefs and see if your experience didn't s…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I have friends who have stopped believing in God. I don't pray that they'll change their theology. I pray that they'll have an experience with God.

We humans form our beliefs around our experiences. We can't help it – examine your beliefs and see if your experience didn't shape them. People will tell you that you should only allow the Bible to shape your beliefs – that experience shouldn't be a factor. And I respond, "If it were only that easy."

The problem is, the Bible is a static set of words on a page. To understand them and form beliefs around them, you can't escape the need to interpret the Bible. And when you interpret the Bible, you do so in part based on your experience.

Thus we get a group of people who interpret the Bible to say that certain spiritual gifts have ceased (often because their lack of experience with them), while others look at the Bible and say that they haven't.

We get one group of people who say that baptizing infants is good, and another that says it's only for adults. Christians disagree about instruments in the church, about eschatology, about order of worship, about liturgy, and on and on. And all of them claim to be "Bible-believing Christians."

It's been that way since the very beginning. Paul's letters were written in part to correct the divergent beliefs of early Christians. And Christians have been fighting over their interpretation of what the Bible really says ever since.

Because experience impacts our beliefs, we get thousands of denominations and Christians in them more interested in being right than in loving others. The more interested in being right they are, the less loving they appear to be.

Meanwhile, nonChristians don't believe in Jesus because all they've seen of us Christians is judgmental and divisive behavior.

Take a step back and look at the big picture. Christianity in America is on the decline. Mainline churches are declining in attendance and young people are staying away from church entirely. And some leaders say, "It's because our theology is bad."

Consider the possibility that we don't need better theology – that we need better experience. Theology without experience produces hypocrites. Conversely, as experience with God lines up with belief in God, you get character.

More often than not, we don't believe ourselves into better experience, we experience our way into a new way of believing.

Better experience with God will help us hunger after his presence more. And as we seek him more, the Bible tells us*, we will find him.

* Jer. 29:13

Comments (9)


  • My daughter pointed out tonight as she was being ministered to by my pastor’s wife and another dear lady I go to church with ((A first ever for her after so much hurt with churches)) that the churches she’s experienced have been mainly into marketing themselves, growth (numbers #), activities, programs than the people as individuals aren’t the focal point of care.. She’s one of many who was lost through neglect and felt invisible. Why would a young person want to stay in a church that shows little or no interest after much investment she made and severe trials hit and she missed church and was forgotten. As my pastor’s wife says, “People don’t call because they are afraid and the cost of getting involved.” So sad and so true yet this is the church that houses followers of Jesus Christ? I for one have a background of those kinds of churches as well plus some cults as well. There is a remnant of sincere meek committed followers out there but they are hard to find. Once I was led by the Holy Spirit to my little church I experienced profound accountability , love, and hope as I never before within the body of Christ. It’s hard to make it all on your own.

  • Thanks Seth for this reminder. An argumentative “church” is one which will end up “eating its own spiritual young” and forgetting the love ethic of Jesus.

    I’m a recovering Evangelical and the Catholic Church is proving the stability and context I’ve longed for.

    Love to you, Karen and your tribe from the foothills of The Great Smokey Mountains.

  • I was discipled that EXPERIENCE was of the devil. Therefore, I RAN HARD from anything resembling more than cerebral Jesus. BUT, he kept pursuing me, and one day I remember falling to the floor with my face to the ground, “oh Holy Spirit, I give you all my seminary notes… please become my teacher…”

    What followed is in a sense, unspeakable, as Jesus met me LIKE NEVER BEFORE, and my walk with him and understanding of the kingdom has been oh so wonderful!

    Let me encourage all who read this whose “red flags” pop up when you read or hear the word “EXPERIENCE”. There is hope and life like never before when you experience Jesus.

    Oh how I love discipling those whose hearts cry out, “for surely there must be more…”

  • The decline of Christianity is not only in America. We are experiencing the same here in Africa,in Uganda,though it is not such deep as it is in America. What you say is so profound that if it put into consideration by us as Christians the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ could flow and reach many more. And should spare time and reach the whole world. So, let us continue pray for one another so that many will not fall into the trap theologian hypocrisy.

  • Showing God’s love is the key. When we forget that, set it aside to ‘be right’ all is quickly lost. Nobody is reached. Hope fades.

    Love ’em first, correct them after, if needed.

  • I agree. One thing that I believe is many christians are what I call “subject matter” christians…that is, the content of their faith is based merely on knowledge of a subject that happens to be about God. This knowledge base is primarily gained through an institution that educated them. However, beyond this intellectualized educational experience not very many christians seem to have had a significant encounter/experience with the person who is God. Therefore, they can’t defend the reality of His presence in their life when they are challenged from any angle about His existence. I believe, central to this problem, is a poor understanding of who Holy Spirit is, and that, I conclude, is due to bad theology.

    For many christians Holy Spirit is not much different than the jedi Force – He exists in the background and He occasionally shows up when He, oh so, mysteriously decides to. But in my reading of Scripture, Holy Spirit is, undeniably, the Person central to human experience of God and Jesus. Without His consistent manifestations, it is unlikely there is any personal, experiential validation of the existence of the Father and Jesus (excepting the somewhat impersonal, but benign, witness of the creation itself). Bad theology leads to qualitatively poor belief/faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen” & “faith without works is dead.” From these two Scriptures, if you have poor faith…what follows? I would say, bad expectations and inadequate understanding/interpretation/discernment of experience.

    I don’t say the above to refute your idea…instead I see it as a developmental process and the two, experience and theology, inform each other and refine our understanding of the personal relationship we have with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I think it rather ridiculous to say you have a personal relationship with someone if you have no experience of that person.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Radical Living:

Receive updates on the latest posts as Seth Barnes covers many topics like spiritual formation, what if means to be a christian, how to pray, and more. Radical Living blog is all about a call to excellence in ministry, church, and leadership -as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

© Adventures In Missions. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | RSS Feed | Sitemap