Experience Comes Second

On the Damascus road, when Christ spoke to Paul, revealing himself to him, Paul’s experience did not form a basis for theological conclusions. Paul made his conclusion from the fact that Christ externally and objectively spoke to him. Surely, he encountered revelation subjectively – that is, he experienced it – but the very nature of his experience as a subject demonstrates that a prior, external object (God’s revelation) existed. And he then based his conclusions about the revealed risen Christ on the fact of the Hebrew Scriptures, the objective standard of theological conclusions. He saw in these the objective testimony to the Messiah, thereby verifying his experience by the prior objective standard of previous revelation. Therefore the objective fact of revelation, both on the Damascus road and in the Old Testament Scriptures, stood over Paul’s experience, forming the basis for his theological conclusions.

(This is in response to Roger Olson’s chapter in Reformed and Always Reforming on transformation being prior to information).

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About Danny Slavich

I am a Christian husband, father, pastor, and poet. I lead Pembroke Road Baptist Church a multi-cultural, multi-generational church in urban South Florida.
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5 Responses to Experience Comes Second

  1. Ben says:

    I would think that the opposite would be true — that is, Christ spoke to me directly, and now I believe that He is the messiah?

  2. Lee says:

    I’m not sure, but I might be in agreement with Ben on this one 🙂 Isn’t what you wrote assuming that Jesus should have been “vetted” in the manner implicit in Paul’s warning against false teachers in 2 Cor 11:4? I.e., examine Christ’s words carefully and compare them to scripture to make sure that He wasn’t a false teacher – rather than simply knowing Him immediately because of the testimony of His actions/words and their unique effect on the heart of those who heard him, viz. the disciples dropping what they were doing at a simple call from the Master, or “My sheep hear My voice…” (John 10:27).

    Or does this only apply to Paul as compared to the other Apostles?

  3. Danny Slavich says:

    I’m not saying that experience is not a factor, but mainly that experience is subordinate to revelation. Maybe I could summarize it this way: Paul’s believed in Christ on the Damascus road because Christ revealed himself to Paul. Revelation from God/Christ to Paul was the basis for Paul’s thinking. Paul probably already had a good working understanding of the theological truth of who the Messiah was — he just did not believe that that Messiah was Jesus. Revelation informed him otherwise. The risen Jesus revealed himself to Paul. Paul then knew Jesus to be the Messiah.

    Of course there is an experiential/subjective element to all of this. Jesus’ words bring life to his own. His sheep truly do hear his voice. But they hear just that — his voice. His word(s). These are themselves revelation. The preaching of the Gospel/the words of Jesus call effectually to his own, and they recognize him and come to him. Still the revealed-ness stand as prior to the experience for the forming of “theology” (any talk about God).

  4. Danny Slavich says:

    Or perhaps I could put it a pithy way:

    God must talk before we can listen.

  5. Lee says:

    Ok, I can follow you in your last two comments – I’m just not sure I can map them to your original post 😉

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