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Friday, June 23, 2006

Preaching - Doctrine or Experience?

In the past it seems to have been the case that theology has divided sharply between doctrine and experience.  Doctrine is the theory of “truth.”  They are statements like “God is good,” or “Jesus was God,” or “Once save, always saved.”  They are the so-called timeless truths of the faith.

Experience, on the other hand, is the actual life we live as believers.  Our experiences vary wildly depending upon who we are and what circumstances we encounter.

The result of this great divide between doctrine and experience seems to have been preaching that goes one way or the other.  I say this because I have heard an infinite number of sermons in my lifetime – more than I care to recall.  And it has always amazed me at how those who claim to be preaching doctrine can be so incredibly out of touch with the real Christian life.  Conversely, it baffles me how inconsequential preaching can be if it finds its basis in experience and only afterwards cares to reference biblical revelation.

This is certainly not the time or place to explore all the options here, and some might say my above distinction is generic and overly-simplistic – fair enough!  But I do think that if I am at least partially on target here then a great deal can be said for beginning to view the Bible as a doctrine of experiences.  Often the dogmatic doctrine-types will scour the Bible looking for the timeless truths – these they call “doctrines.”  On the other side a preacher may scan the Bible in search of a story line that fits his experience and sermon topic.  

But maybe we should blur the lines a bit and begin to view Scripture as a doctrine of experiences.  In this sense the Written Word of Scripture is primarily concerned with leading us to the Living Word of Christ.  And, in fact, in much theologizing today there is a return to the focus on the narrative and on God’s redemptive actions in history to draw people to himself.