Today I reviewed some of my notes taken during the Consortium retreat I attended in Joplin earlier this month. Leonard Sweet was our speaker. Although he is sometimes identified with the Emergent Church, Sweet is actually more of a futurist. That is, he is cut along the lines of the author of that old standard, Megatrends.
Part of the discussion zeroed in on trends Sweet identifies in today's church. He indicated that all of the emotion surrounding the use of music in the church surprised him. He emphasized that worship services today are all about feeling. He rightly pointed out that historically Protestant Christianity focused on content rather than feeling. In other words, orthdox or fundamental Christianity was more about understanding the Gospel and responding to it than about feeling. Genuine repentance depends on understanding sin, its effects, and the solution so an individual can make a clear and informed decision.
The emphasis on feeling harkens back to Frelinghuysen, a Reformed preacher on the east coast in the 1700s. Frelinghuysen said God could not be known, but he could be felt. Worship and Christian living depended on a feeling of utter dependence on God. He associated no content with that feeling. Those holding to biblical Christianity said God can be known through the Word. The Word reveals Jesus to us in historic testimony that can be understood and applied.
The "conservative" Bible-centered church today has accepted the idea that at its root, Christianity is felt not comprehended. The term emotion or feeling is not used, however. The term utilized is "experience." Blackaby wrote, Experiencing God, a book that encourages the believer to get on board wherever God is moving. In light of Satanic counterfeits, how does one know with certainty that God is moving here or there? It all depends on a "feeling." We are told that people want to "experience God" in worship, but that experience is created with rock bands so loud they damage the ears. The bass booms so loudly that it vibrates your whole body. They call that "experiencing God."
When criticizing this approach, those attempting to create an experience label the critics as old, out of touch, unable to identify with today's culture, or whatever. We are told that to reach today's culture, we must adapt or die. I agree that we must go cross cultural to reach today's culture, but I don't have to become a member of that culture. I must speak their language. Rather, I must learn how communicate the old message in understandable terms. When I go to Burma, I don't have to become a Buddhist or dress like a Buddhist or adopt a Buddhist worldview. I need to learn Burmese, appreciate the cultural differences unrelated to religion, and share the message as simply as possible. I don't need to tell them how to live their lives successfully, parent effectively, or develop dress properly. I teach them the old message of the Gospel of Christ. That's what they need first and foremost. I think the same is true here in the old USA.
Faith is more than a feeling. It is the understanding of the testimony relating to Christ. It is comprehending that Jesus makes a difference. Those truths are as relevant today as they were a thousand or two thousand years ago.
Furthermore, if you want an "experience" with God, you'll get it when you identify with God, grow to know Him, and respond to Him. Experience follows relationship!