Why I Am a Christian, Part 1: Because of Experience

In this series of posts I intend to make a case for the truthfulness of Christianity, framing the subject in terms of various reasons why I myself am a Christian.  The first reason I should list as to why I am a Christian today is because of my life experiences. 

I was raised in a Christian family and had a conversion experience at around the age of nine or ten.  It was a few years later before I really began to see the implications of that experience working themselves out in my life.  I began to taste for myself the goodness and transforming power of Jesus Christ in a way I had never known before.  Several people stand out in my mind as those who played an important role during these formative years: my pastor Joe Srygley, my youth minister Curt Pool, Curt’s sidekick Rodney Bunch, a traveling youth evangelist named Todd Foster who visited the area several times, my friends Blake Edwards, Robert Butler, and others.  In spite of their faults (and mine), I saw something real in the lives of these people, a genuine love for the Lord, for the church, and for others.  

When I got to college it was much the same, only many of the names had changed: Allan Thompson (campus minister), Craig Nash (resident director), Bob Utley (professor), Steve Bowen (pastor), and several others.  And on through seminary the story has been much the same.  The bottom line is that I am a Christian today largely because Christ is someone I know by experience.  I have encountered him through the Scriptures, through prayer, through the ordinances of worship, through the corporate gathering of his people, through service to the poor and outcast.  He has left his fingerprints on every part of my life.

Some people say you can’t argue with experience.  I disagree.  I think you can argue with it.  If Freud were here, he would probably have an alternative explanation for my powerful experience of knowing Christ.  He would have some kind of naturalistic psychological explanation.  And there’s nothing in principle that says that he couldn’t make that argument.  If the shoe were on the other foot, and I were asked to interpret the spiritual experience of a Mormon or a Hindu, I would not likely speak of his experience in the same way that he does.  We always experience things with a pre-existing interpretive framework that enables us to make sense of that experience in the context of an overall worldview.  And I think it is completely legitimate for one person to use his or her interpretive framework to question or critique that of another while not denying that something meaningful has, in fact, been experienced.  So all of that is to say that I recognize that personal experience plays an important role in my Christian faith.  But while it may be a necessary condition for a compelling apologetic for the Christian faith, it is not a sufficient one.  In other words, given the kinds of truth claims that Christianity makes for itself, then we would surely question its credibility if it did not produce any life-changing experiences in the lives of its adherents.  Thus, a lack of evidence across the board in this arena could falsify the Christian faith.  But the presence of evidence for Christian experience does not validate the Christian faith, anymore than does the undeniable reality of Buddhist experience validate Buddhism.  Experience does, however, provide confirming evidence for the Christian faith.  And in the gracious providence of God, I have been blessed to live the life that I have lived, one that has led me into the arms of Christ and kept me there to this day.

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