What Is Experiential Theology?
Experiential or experimental theology addresses how a Christian experiences the truth of Christian doctrine in his life. The term experimental comes from the Latin experimentum, meaning “trial.” It is derived from the verb experior, meaning “to try, prove, or put to the test.” That same verb can also mean “to find or know by experience,” thus leading to the word experiential, meaning knowledge gained by experiment. John Calvin used experiential and experimental interchangeably, since both words in theology indicate the need for measuring experienced knowledge against the touchstone of Scripture.
By experiential or experimental theology, we mean Christ-centered theology which stresses that for salvation, sinners must by faith have a personal, experiential (that is, experienced) Spirit-worked knowledge of Christ, and, by extension, of all the great truths of Scripture. Thus we must emphasize, as the Puritans did, that the Holy Spirit causes the objective truths about Christ and His work to be experienced in the heart and life of sinners.
For example, our lost state and condition by nature due to our tragic fall in Adam, our dire need for Jesus Christ who merits and applies salvation by His Spirit, and our responsibility to repent and believe the gospel of God’s freely offered salvation in Jesus Christ all must be known and experienced in our lives. Experiential theology stresses that the Holy Spirit blesses man-abasing, Christ-centered theology that makes room for Christ within the soul; believers will then yearn to live wholly for His glory out of gratitude for His great salvation. John 17:3 says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” The gospel truth of sovereign grace that abases us to the lowest and exalts Christ to the highest in our salvation must be proclaimed and experienced.
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Music: Theology’s SeasoningBy Pakman — 10 months ago
Hymns are Dominantly God-Centered. Most hymns that have lasted the test of time are God-centered hymns. Even songs about personal sanctification often have the intention to draw your eyes to Christ in the midst of your trials. This is the ultimate point isn’t it? A life experiencing hardship tests the saint’s commitment to resolutely keep God at the center, if it be to our personal pain or sorrow. Hymns wonderfully point me back to Christ.
There is nothing like a great summer BBQ with your friends and family. The laughter, the sun, the conversation, and, of course, the food. Many like me tend to gravitate around the grill in anticipation for the coals to turn white hot in order to perfectly cook their patties, hotdogs, and my personal favorite: a ribeye steak. But it’s not just any ribeye steak, it has to be perfectly seasoned. Whether it’s a store bought seasoning or homemade blend, every steak needs a good seasoning.
Seasoning brings out flavor, it should enhance the experience. Not enough robs you of enjoying the full potential of your steak. Too much seasoning, it detracts and whets the appetite for water and the imbalance of flavor ruins the experience.
In the same way seasoning impacts steak so too does music impact theology. I love it when theology is rich, deep, thorough—meaty. Still, there are temptations in doctrinally rich circles to dwindle down into cold orthodoxy, blandness. That’s why I believe music plays an important role in keeping theology palatable for the saint.
To be clear, music doesn’t change the theology in the same way seasoning doesn’t change the makeup of a steak. It will or can enhance it and draw out its beauty, but it doesn’t change it. Steak is steak with or without seasoning. Similarly, theology is theology with or without music. My point is that there’s a reason why Christians are commanded to sing (Eph 5:18). There’s a reason why God gave a hymnbook in His Word (the Psalms). It’s because music does something.
Personally, I’ve had some dark days in my recent history; not because of the pandemic or political/social unrest, but due to God’s sanctifying hand in bringing me through trials. In the past year or so, I’ve felt a wide range of emotions including doubt, fear, grief, sadness, hopeless, and anxiety. In all of this, I strongly believed in the rich doctrine of the preservation of the saint. I knew that God could not let me, would not let me go, and would lead me through the valley—and He has so far and I anticipate He will till the end. He has taught me a lot during this season.
One of the important things He has taught me is how He preserves His saints. I believe one of those ways has been through the rich seasoning of Christian lyrics and music that draw us back to Him and His word.
SE Alabama Presbytery Holds Second Annual “With Much Advantage” Deacons’ ConferenceBy Forrest L. Marion — 7 months ago
Written by Forrest L. Marion |
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Deacons are to be affirmed in this life is instructive: “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 3:13). In contrast, the elder’s affirmation comes later: “. . . when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (I Peter 5:4).
On Saturday, October 22, 2022, Southeast Alabama (SEAL) Presbytery held its second annual deacons’ conference at the First Presbyterian Church in Montgomery. This year’s conference was built on last year’s, which was organized by deacon Samuel McLure and hosted by Eastwood Presbyterian in Montgomery. The theme of both conferences, “With Much Advantage,” is taken from the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO) 9-6 which states, “The deacons may, with much advantage, hold conference from time to time for the discussion of the interests committed to them.” The conference’s opening prayer was offered by Pastor Reed DePace of First Presbyterian.
Last year’s conference featured Pastor Harry Reeder of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama, who recorded an interview conducted by McLure. This year, however – even better – we secured Pastor Reeder in person, a most generous act on his part given his demanding schedule.
In the opening session, Reeder spoke about leadership in the church. Whenever God is about to do something, he said, “He raises up leaders.” But these are not unaccountable leaders. The essence of Presbyterian government is that “every person is accountable to someone.” His words were a good reminder for any church body, including a presbytery that has seen its share of discipline cases, the effects of some of them rippling until today.
In Acts 6, the account of the establishment of the office of deacon reveals that the work of serving “tables” was not, as one might suppose, the idea of waiters serving food to guests at their tables. Rather, serving tables referred to first century financial accountability. Pastor Reeder pointed out that when Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers, that was the place of handling financial accounts. He emphasized that the reason deacons are ordained is because they perform elder duties; duties that have been delegated to them (such as church finances).
Pastor Stephen Estock followed Reeder. The coordinator for the PCA’s Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) – and from 1995-2002 the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Montgomery (in whose former building the conference took place) – Estock reminded the gathering of a maxim of one of the PCA’s founding fathers, ruling elder W. Jack Williamson, who referred to the BCO’s preface and preliminary principles as “the spectacles by which we read the Book of Church Order.” If we find ourselves using some portion of the BCO to violate the preface or preliminary principles, “we are probably in error,” noted Estock.
He went on to focus on the office of deacon – although no small part of his commentary applied to elders as well. If you have been elected by your church to an office, then according to our constitution, which is subordinate to the Scriptures, “God has placed you there.” And that should be of great encouragement. Estock observed that because deacons exercise spiritual authority, that is why the office is open only to men. In exercising this authority, deacons, he said, “. . . are stewarding the gifts and administering them in the life of the congregation.” Noting that he was ordained as a deacon in 1989 and remains conscious of his call to serve, Pastor Estock also observed that BCO 9-7 allows a session to “appoint” (not ordain) godly men and women to assist the deacons. In some churches this is termed a “shepherdess” ministry.
Referring to the account of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet (John 13), Estock said, “This practical service was pointing to a greater spiritual reality,” one to be fulfilled by Christ within hours. Significantly, the Spirit who enabled Jesus to wash His betrayer Judas’s feet is the same Spirit who enables officers today to serve those whom they may be disinclined to serve. “Those you serve must see you as a servant,” he concluded.
Following Estock’s presentation, the attendees enjoyed a delicious luncheon prepared by the ladies of First Presbyterian which also provided an opportunity to catch up or connect with other brothers in the presbytery.
In an afternoon panel discussion moderated by Mr. McLure, there were a number of thoughtful questions and exhortations mentioned, including the following:
“How can I be a friend in a way that happens to line up with my calling as a deacon?”
There is benefit in the ministry of listening, assisted by the acronym WAIT (Why Am I Talking).
As a leader, you ought to always have somebody else with you, learning.
There are times when the Aquila-and-Priscilla model is appropriate, such as when visiting a woman in the hospital after surgery.
The Church’s narrow mission is to make disciples; the Christian’s broader mission is to be salt-and-light.
Cultural transformation is not the Church’s objective; individual transformation (discipleship) is the Church’s objective; cultural transformation is the consequence of aggregate, sinner transformations.
Pastor Reeder wrapped up the program, returning to the theme of leadership in the context of church officership. He noted the term “likewise” in I Timothy 3:8-12’s list of requirements for deacons “throws elders and deacons back into each other’s laps.” Beginning with the officers, “. . . the church needs to become a leadership factory,” Reeder asserted. (Especially in days of cultural dissolution and some of the worst ecclesiastical and political leadership in human history, this exhortation is desperately needed – see also Exodus 18:21’s teaching on leadership.) Reeder added, “The relationship of deacons and elders needs to be cohesive and not competitive. . . . We don’t do leadership teams, we do teams of leaders. . . . Godly leaders are office-bearers, not office-wearers. . . . Godliness is more important than giftedness.”
In his closing comments, the longtime pastor of Briarwood suggested that Paul’s statement that deacons are to be affirmed in this life is instructive: “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 3:13). In contrast, the elder’s affirmation comes later: “. . . when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (I Peter 5:4). Perhaps the deacon’s affirmation (high standing) while in the earthly tent is intended to recognize that his service, oftentimes, entails laborious duty that remains mostly unseen, except, that is, by the True Deacon, Jesus Christ.
Forrest Marion is a ruling elder in Eastwood Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Montgomery, Ala.
It Isn’t Really About SexBy Jim Weidenaar — 2 years ago
Jesus, the Creator himself become one of us, the source and giver of all that is good, giving us intimacy with God and the promise of an indestructible, unending, glorious life in a recreated universe. Everything good in this life is but a dim hint of the eternal joy promised to us in Christ. And sex? Sex is just one of those dim hints of the life to come. What about the standards that define our sexuality? They are not mere restrictions, mere arbitrary deprivations to enforce an other-worldly mindedness. They are meant to cause sexuality to mirror and display our Savior’s faithful, covenantal, lavish, and costly love for us.
Harvest USA is a ministry focused on issues of sexuality and gender. It’s not surprising, then, that people often ask us for advice on how to respond to our current culture. How do I get beyond complaints and diatribes about non-Christian ideas in the world around us? Should I engage in political action? What must I do when my neighbors and colleagues push non-Christian views? How do I raise kids in this environment? How do we keep the Church from capitulating in the area of sexuality?
These are urgent and complicated questions. I believe the beginning of an answer to them is one of perspective: It’s not really about sex.
How we address those outside the Church
Throughout the Bible, concern for sexual morality is directed inward, to God’s people, not outward to the world. It is most often associated with expressing holiness, by which is meant being set apart to belong to the LORD. It is always assumed that the people and cultures of the world will be sexually immoral, and, even when that fact is mentioned, it is usually in the context of calling Christians to self-consciously differentiate themselves in that respect. So, for instance, the lists of sexuality rules in Leviticus are framed by, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes” (Leviticus 18:3). Sexuality was one significant area of application of the principal of having been set apart to belong to God: “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26).
This is exactly the way sexual morality is framed in the New Testament as well, but with the added expectation that even while our beliefs and practices will be radically different from those outside the Church, we will be living and working in close association with them every day. Paul writes, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world…since then you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:9, 10). Peter also says, “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3). Significantly, the Church is not told to go out and scold the world, or even to try to reform their practices. Instead, we are to focus on being distinctly different.
One implication of this is that we need to be soberly realistic about the sexual practices and views of the non-Christian world we live in. I suspect that we have spent too much time and emotional energy processing shock and disappointment at every major step of cultural decline into sexual license, but this should never surprise us. In fact, in the Scriptures, the reaction of surprise is expected from the other direction: “With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you” (1 Peter 4:4). It is the world that should be shocked at what we don’t do! If moral decline in the culture around us seems like our biggest concern, we need to ask ourselves what it is we are really hoping for—a world outside the Church that approximates godliness just enough that we can comfortably and respectably partake in its benefits? That is never promised to us by our Lord; it is a counterfeit gospel.
Am I suggesting that God’s rules for sex don’t apply to unbelievers? Of course not. But God has not given us the job of being his morality enforcers. “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12). And listen to how Peter continues: “…but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). Notice to whom they are to give account—“to him,” to Christ. They are not accountable to us, nor are we their judges.