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It has been stated to me that Christianity is "experiential" meaning it is experienced and not necessarily understood. Do I have that definition correct? Is this true?

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closed as not constructive by Caleb Dec 9 '11 at 8:52

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I'm really curious who downvoted this, and why. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Aug 31 '11 at 18:43
    
I, too, am curious about the rationale behind the downvotes. –  Robert Haraway Aug 31 '11 at 22:19
    
This makes me want to ask a question about the history of Christian mysticism, but I don't know enough about it to even begin to phrase a sensible question. –  TRiG Oct 7 '11 at 21:53
    
Please see our guidelines for questions in What makes a good focused question? and then read Why was my question closed? How can I get it open again? This question is quite simply not answerable because it doesn't give any framework fro what would be considered a right answer and is simply going to garner an assortment of opinions or at best, conflicting dogmas. –  Caleb Dec 9 '11 at 8:52

3 Answers 3

As Blessed Mother Teresa is a good Christian soldier, I would have to say no.

She had faith, she loved and she hoped in her Redeemer, but for almost 50 years she did not 'feel' Christ's presence in her life.

Christianity is a journey, it is an encounter with our Creator and Redeemer, it is not primarily experiential, although there are charismatic movements within Christianity that focus on the experience and the gifts of the Holy Spirit which can be experienced.

As St. Paul says, there are many charisms, but one Lord. Since not every Christian is given the grace of experiencing the Spirit. If Christianity is indeed accessible to all, then it is not experiential.

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This leads me to a follow up question of what does it mean to "feel" a presence? I'll ask that in another question. –  rpeg Aug 31 '11 at 18:01
    
Interesting link to Mother Theresa's story... very interesting indeed. I'll be picking up the referenced book, thanks for the pointer. But: it clearly shows that she didn't think this state of non-experience of God was normal for a Christian! So, it actually acutely disproves your argument. Next, Paul's bit about charisms... yes, many. He didn't (correct me if I'm wrong) that there were none. And... I do believe that the Spirit is given to all of us. And the last sentence is completely without meaning. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Aug 31 '11 at 18:17
    
Oh, sure, Mother Teresa (sorry for the misspelling before) did not "feel" Christ's presence for 50 years. But oh did she feel. And, before those 50 years? She spoke with Jesus, not to him! –  Jürgen A. Erhard Aug 31 '11 at 18:42
    
It doesn't have to be experiential, that's all I'm saying. You don't need to feel Christian to be follow Christ. Ask any college student who is the only one of his friends who attends mass whether they 'feel' Christian all the time. –  Peter Turner Aug 31 '11 at 22:05
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@Peter: ah, common ground: yes, one should not pursue for the feeling, but I posit that you cannot pursue God without the feeling. Or, you cannot know God, know that he does exist, without having felt his touch, at least for a bit. Moments? Days? Years? Not for me to say. But nothing... would be purely intellectual. So... Christianity in the definition of a relationship to the living Christ, has an experiental basis. If that means it's experiental or not... not my call tonight. :D –  Jürgen A. Erhard Sep 8 '11 at 0:29

Yes, I think it is. Though, with an emphasis on "necessarily". Well, beyond the core tenants, anyway.

If you are a Christian but have never experienced God's love, then something is missing. I'm not talking about charismatic or pentecostal "gifts of the Spirit", I'm just talking about... feeling that God loves you.

Miguel de Unamuno: "Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God idea, not God Himself”

Disclaimer: this is my understanding, and probably mine only. I do not speak for any congregation, demonination, or any other -ation.

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"Experiential" is inherent to all beliefs to some degree or other, not specific to Christianity. Religion's certainly not empirical if that's what you mean.

Whether can be understood without being experienced is up to the individual I think.

In my view, in order to fully understand something we need to address its root cause. When the root cause is the mind of God, then it is unknowable and can't be understood. There is no "obviously it's just a given that God exists" axiom unless you approach it from inside the belief system, i.e. experience it.

Even science and philosophy have some a priori axioms that we assume because they are either indeterminate or as yet unproven. So there is some degree of faith required for science to work as well, and when the axioms we accept fit with the rest of our experience then it makes sense. Take quantum mechanics or big bang cosmology as an example:

  • It's understood in the sense that there is a working theory that explains how the system behaves, and it fits our models and experiments.
  • It's not experiential because it's very counterintuitive to our experience at human scale.

For most people these can't be understood through theory or experienced in nature. I think it's an interesting counterpoint.

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