(I started writing this article 3 years ago, but abandoned it for fear of being misunderstood. I’m older now and I’m OK with being misunderstood.)
Perhaps your initial response is to recoil at the rather unusual title of this article. That would be a natural and understandable reaction. Those two words put together have several strikes against them right out of the box.
‘Religion’ is considered a four letter word in religious circles today. It’s a guaranteed ‘amen’ when a preacher says “I’m not into religion, I’m into relationship!” Well, amen. You’ve said it, I’ve said it, all God’s children say it nowadays. I try not to anymore. If by ‘religion’ one means man’s terminally hopeless and universal attempts to discover, define and appease God by our own efforts and on our own terms, then of course, religion is futile. Bonhoeffer spoke of the need of ‘religionless Christianity’ and used the Tower of Babel fiasco as an illustration of our religious efforts.
‘Experimental’ conjures up images of chemistry lab, mixing elements that were probably not created to be in the same ceramic bowl at the same volatile moment. So ‘Experimental Religion’ sounds like a wreck fixin’ (about) to happen.
But let’s slow down and think through this before we throw out a perfectly delightful term from historic and classic Christianity. As some of you know, I like to imbibe from the old wells of the faith dug centuries past which have stood the test of time, the Reformers (16th Century,) the Puritans (17th,) the Revivalists (18th,) and Spurgeon and his contemporaries (19th.) I read books that speak of the revival of religion when everyone understood that to mean the Christian faith and that alone. And ‘experimental’ simply means, or meant experiential. Therefore, translated, ‘experimental religion’ is a vital, living, dynamic faith in Jesus. It is spiritual intimacy with Christ, to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. Experimental Religion is exactly what you are looking for, the Spirit-initiated cravings of your innermost being.
Now we all understand that the particular term we choose is not the crucial thing. But we all long for a walk with Christ which is more than cerebral. Dead orthodoxy (believing all the right stuff without the power thereof) does not compel us, the love of Christ does. The fruit of the Spirit is experiential, having to do with human affections, that is, emotions.
We don’t need to sacrifice head or heart. We can’t afford to. It’s possible to be theologically correct (“My Calvinism’s better than your Calvinism…or Arminianism or Dispensationalism, etc.) and at the same time be spiritual IPECAC (vomit inducing agent.) Others may tend toward a different extreme, being spiritual livewires and theological goofballs. Does the idea of balance here appeal to you? If so, that’s where the old paths can give us some help. For example:
Help me to humble myself for past evils, to be resolved to walk with more care, for if I do not walk holily before Thee, how can I be sure of my salvation? (Puritan prayer)
In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds in His hands and side. From the wounds come the blood that cleanses you from sin and hides your nakedness under the shirt of the white, shining robe of His righteousness. (Jonathan Edwards)
Oh brethren, be great believers. Little faith will bring your souls to Heaven, but great faith will bring Heaven to your souls. (Charles Spurgeon)
I am ashamed that I have done and suffered so little for Him that hath done and suffered so much for ill and Hell-deserving me. (John Newton)
Return, O Holy Dove, return, sweet messenger of rest. I hate the sin that made Thee mourn, and drove Thee from my breast. (William Cowper)
That’s Experimental Religion.
I spent all of January in South Texas witnessing to Spanish speaking folks, most of February in Guatemala. Terri and I are in Port Arthur, Texas right now and until further notice reaching out to Hispanics from Central and South America and Mexico who live in this area. This is in between trips out of the country. I was in Mexico in March.
Love in Christ,