Sunday, March 8, 2015

Does Truth Determine Experience or Experience Determine Truth?


Philosophy is mind bending, but the culture's philosophical underpinnings are critical to morals, ethics, and choices.

I have a friend who debates politics with me on a regular basis. It might not surprise you, but I am very conservative in my politics, he is a H Clinton Liberal. We enjoy chiding one another about the issue of the day, and after 25 years, we can still disagree and be friends.

The other day he looked at me with new understanding, and said: "You are very consistent in your positions. I'm beginning to see that your position on individual issues is always founded on your idea of fundamental truths that are important to you." I was more amazed than he was. DUH! Was it possible that anyone makes decisions about abortion, or war, or Divorce, or welfare, or freedom without foundational principles of truth to guide them?

My brother told me the other day that Josh McDowell asked at a conference recently, "Does experience determine truth or truth determine experience." I had never heard it put this way before, so I headed to Google. The debate isn't very robust on the subject, but McDowell, who is famous for being in touch with the teens and 20 somethings, went on to say that young adults today believe that experience is the underpinning of truth. He compares that to the older folks, who believe that truth is foundational, and that experience must be measured in terms of truth.

It could also be a conservative Christian vs liberal kind of thing, except a lot of Charismatic Christians seem to trust experiences without much in the way of Biblical truth claims. That is the underlying problem that John MacArthur has with the Charismatic movement. I have issues with Pastor MacArthur on his handling of criticism regarding other denominations within Christianity, but I have long wondered whether many in the Charismatic movement are much too caught up in experience. On the other hand, who could argue about the effectiveness of this branch of Christianity. (Did I just make a case for experience over truth.)

I will admit that the Truth of Scripture is the most important source for forming my opinions and informing my decisions. Moreover, my daily experiences, good and bad, are constantly being compared to my understanding of those truth principles. I believe that the Holy Spirit helps me in all of those efforts.

But now I can see that others might work from a completely different approach. They might know three women who have had abortions, or merely seen several on TV, who say they are happy they did it, and that if they hadn't had the abortion, the results would have been negative for their emotional or economic health. This experience is consumed by the listener in a vacuum of truth, and abortion seems like a good idea to them based on the experience.

On another day, this same person might watch a video showing a 14 week-old fetus in utero with a doctor explaining issues regarding brain development, ability to feel pain, and such. The sensory aspects of watching and listening, combined with the feelings and emotions of that video, may cause the person to reach a new truth decision. But that truth decision will be just as flimsy as the earlier sense that abortion is fine, or fine for some people, or for some circumstances.

Where do you come out on this philosophical question?  Why?  

1 comment:

  1. Great question, to which I think I would answer, "yes." Both. If it had not been for my experience of loving Christians, I would not have decided years ago that "Jesus is God" must be the truth. If it had not been for testing that claim historically and logically, I certainly would not have stuck with that faith. God used both when I had no knowledge of truth.

    This is the prevalent mindset of Millennials, and I am striving to understand it, and I'm not doing very well. I think maybe the better question to ask with them is how do we integrate everyone's experience into a truth we can all live with? Expand the concept of their own experience with a wider world of many other experiences that may conflict. What do you do with that? How do we put them all together? I think inevitably that leads back to some foundational truths that come directly from God.