Since Enlightenment we seem to have entered an age where “reality” is often confined to empirical explanations. Yet the Bible speaks of a spiritual reality that is not open to empirical investigation.

Are there any generally accepted (within Christianity) writings on this subject? If defining "reality" is a branch of philosophical thought, who are the writers of such thought and are there any summaries of their perspectives?

  • 2
    I'd say the Enlightenment rather than the Salem trials was the turning point. Also "mainline" has a specific meaning in this context. Do you mean to use that, or do you just want to exclude the fringe groups but include evangelicals, Catholics, et al.? Perhaps you meant "mainstream?"
    – metal
    Jan 2, 2014 at 16:38
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    Asking how an entire set of denominations determine reality is a pretty broad topic. I'm thinking it would make a couple of solids doctoral thesis topics and maybe a couple of books.
    – wax eagle
    Jan 2, 2014 at 16:52
  • @Rick, I think a "mere Christianity" answer could be put forth that would address non-charasmatic Protestants, Catholics, Anglicans, et al. Would you consider limiting your question to such a subgroup?
    – metal
    Jan 2, 2014 at 18:46
  • @metal, see edits!
    – Rick
    Jan 2, 2014 at 19:45
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    The problem isn't the denominational specificity in this case (although that's still incredibly broad), the problem is actually the subject matter. Defining reality is basically a whole branch of philosophical thought.
    – wax eagle
    Jan 2, 2014 at 20:09

5 Answers 5


The strictly empirical worldview seems reductionistic to thoughtful Christians (not to mention many atheists etc.) because, in their view, it fails to adequately account for phenomena such as love, beauty, reason, morality, the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics," and the like. Moreover, empiricism as a worldview seems to fail on its own terms because it is open to explanations for observable phenomena such as a multiverse and potentially undetectable forms of matter that are themselves not open to empirical investigation.

If we thus take spiritual to be non-material or non-empirical, then superstition is merely that subset of non-material things that you think are not real. But that's being a bit coy, because Christians believe there exists, not just non-material "stuff," but also non-material personal agents -- indeed the personal agent -- who interact with the material world in various ways.

Why do we believe such things? Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues that one reason we do is because of a built-in sensus divinitatis (SD), a natural faculty common to all humans that leads us to the divine. If God made us, it seems reasonable that he would instill in us a faculty to draw us to himself. Like the other faculties (sight, hearing, reason, imagination, the affections, etc.), however, the SD operates at varying levels of quality among different persons. An errant SD may lead one to become what Calvin calls a "factory of idols," seeking the spiritual in ways where it cannot be truly found -- superstition, if you will.

Moreover, it stands to reason that if God did make the world, there would be some clues in it that would point in his direction. Christians believe they can and have recognized such clues in the order, design, and telos of the world and of mankind itself. But make no mistake -- there is no neutral ground here. All facts must be interpreted, and evidence or data itself cannot act as a neutral arbiter between the interpretations (as non-Christian Stanley Fish says, "evidence is never independent and is only evidence within the precincts of a particular theory"). Thus, there is no airtight proof or evidence for God or spiritual reality that will convince all reasonable people, but a cumulative case of clues can be mounted for those with eyes to see it, as it were. (See Tim Keller, The Reason for God, chapters 8 and 9.)

Christians do not believe they have the power to "define" or delimit what is real, as your question seems to imply. We seek only to acknowledge what is real in the world where we find ourselves. As finite beings, we may not be equipped to fully explore all that exists. Hence there may be some realities we cannot explore effectively with the tools at our disposal, but we could still learn about these realities indirectly from someone who knows them directly. Hence we find ourselves seeking divine revelation to know something about non-empirical realities, and virtually all Christians believe that the person, work, and teaching of Jesus and the Bible hold such revelation to one degree or another and reveal God and his character and nature.

The three previous paragraphs, intrepid readers may note, align with John Frame's triperspectival approach laid out in his Doctrine of Knowledge of God and represent the existential, situational, and normative perspectives, respectively. Each of these is mutually interdependent, informing and being informed by the others.

Two other writers worthy of note here are particle physicist-turned-priest John Polkinhorne, who has compared and contrasted how science and theology pursue truth in their respective domains, and chemist-turned-philosopher of science Michael Polanyi, who described "tacit knowledge" (that we know more than we can tell or prove).

As a footnote: Beyond more philosophical musings like the above, which can sometimes be too abstract, I might recommend C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy for an imaginative telling of a Christian view of reality. In it, the material world, for instance, has a maximum speed of the speed of light, whereas the spiritual world's minimum is the speed of light, and the spiritual beings interact with the material world only loosely, passing through conventional matter as we do through a fog.

  • The empirical world view does not fail to account for that things. It just admit not being 100% through, but we have a basic understanding of all that things and their origins.
    – Spidey
    Jan 7, 2014 at 17:08
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    @Spidey, I have adjusted the wording slightly to make clearer what I was trying to say: to non-empiricists (Christian, atheist, and otherwise), empiricism seems inadequate as a worldview.
    – metal
    Jan 7, 2014 at 17:43
  • Very well done! You say: "Christians do not believe they have the power to "define" or delimit what is real" and while I agree it seems that "personal opinions" today may attempt to do this very thing as we are to be tolerant of all opinions.
    – Rick
    Jan 7, 2014 at 17:59
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    How does this not have more upvotes? Excellent answer.
    – fгedsbend
    Jan 17, 2014 at 0:31

The answer to your question, depends on whether or not you count the Orthodox Church among those whom you recognize as Christian.

In the Orthodox Church they practice what is known as hesychasm which is supposedly a transcendental experience in which the hesychasts Transcend from the conscious ego to the Spirit ego.

An ancient mystical tradition was lost to the Western world nearly a thousand years ago. Now, at the dawn of the new millennium, this profound yet practical path of transcendence is being rediscovered. Its name is hesychasm, from a Greek root meaning "to be still."

Hesychasm's roots extend back almost two thousand years to the beginnings of the Christian church. Today much of what we know about this spiritual path has been gleaned from the writings of mystics who populated the Middle Eastern deserts in the fourth century. These early ascetics are known as the Desert Fathers.

In the eleventh century, the Christian church split into the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Catholicism rejected hesychasm, which encouraged individual experiences of the divine. As a result, hesychasm disappeared from Western culture but survived because the Orthodox church embraced and preserved this tradition of quiet meditation.

The reason that this practice was lost to the western world after the 1055 schism between the Orthodox church in the middle East and the Catholic church in Rome is because the writings of the Desert Fathers has not been translated into Modern English. There have been no other schisms in the Orthodox Church and all Protestant Denominations are rooted in the Roman Catholic schisms.

You can find more information about this practice at (http://www.theosophical.org/publications/1432)


“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” ― Denis Waitley

spirituality = joy
so by the rule of oppisites:
superstition = fear

The Reality is that 1 second you can be sad and the next second you can be happy. The NIV says that we have a choice in that:

Psalm 2 Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.

One can seek God via spirituality reality and be happy OR
One can seek tradition via jargon superstition to live in fear.

That is the Xtian reality.


CS Lewis wrote in Miracles about the Sub-natural, the Natural and the Super-natural. You can read a short summary here, but it's always best to read the source material itself. Empricism deals with observations of Nature. It cannot say anything about Sub-nature or Super-nature.


Is spirituality different than superstition? Yes ones spirit can plainly be seen. One is either in a good mood or in a bad mood and is regulated by natural science (Grieving process) [0]. Superstition contradicts natural science [1].

Since Enlightenment we seem to have entered an age where “reality” is often confined to empirical explanations. Yes, In programming this would be the outer shell of your 3D Model.

Yet the Bible speaks of a spiritual reality that is not open to empirical investigation. Yes, In programming this would be equivalent to a hidden global variable.

Are there any generally accepted (within Christianity) writings on this subject? Yes. The book of Matthew.

If defining "reality" is a branch of philosophical thought, who are the writers of such thought The author of Matthew, is unknown, but believed to have been written by an anonymous author [a]. Newton's laws of motion by Newton [b].

Are there any summaries of their perspectives? The summary is the perspective.

Old Testament Law reexplained as Newton's Third Law
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Here Newton summarizes many of God's Laws (Eye for an Eye etc.). Here we can see this law of Physics described by Jesus.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matt 7:1-3)

Who is this Judge? Don't grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9)

Therefore if You and I do not judge each other. Then neither of us are Judged, and if neither are Judges (both are doers of the Law). Yet if you judge me now the opposite equal reaction is for me to judge you, because you stand as a judge your judgement is do. Yet if I, being the one standing at the door do not return Judgement on you. The Opposite Equal Reaction still is owed your way. For that is the Law. And Judgement is passed my way, for that is the Law as well.

Now know for sure that if one judges, the return remains. Here is the part to fear. That return is not based on time. If I judge another and that other does not judge me. The returning judgement can come at anytime, and at any force. The return holds itself within the kingdom of God (Here is the revealing of our non-empirical constant). So we really do decide what awaits us, by what we do and what has been done.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. -Revelation 20:12-13

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grief
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superstition
[a] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Matthew
[b] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton%27s_laws_of_motion

  • (X+1)(Y+0) <Opposite> (X-1)(Y-0) [Matt 7:25, Luke 12:39, Luke 6:31]
    – Decrypted
    Jan 12, 2014 at 4:49
  • The hidden global variable has also been liked to as water. "but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” -John 4:14
    – Decrypted
    Jan 12, 2014 at 4:56
  • 1
    "Are there any generally accepted (within Christianity) writings on this subject? Yes. The book of Matthew." "Are there any summaries of their perspectives? The summary is the perspective." These are almost meaningless answers.
    – metal
    Jan 17, 2014 at 17:54
  • A man wanted to buy a house, but refused to step toward the house unless a weed was pulled out of the yard. The real estate agent pleaded with the customer, please just ignore it and look at this beautiful house. The man refused, the house meant nothing as long as the weed was their. The real estate agent look at the yard and saw many weeds, and thought "I wonder if he will expect all the weeds to be pulled." Yet he followed instruction and the weed was pulled. And things happened as the agent expected. Many will fail to see the house, they will be to busy focusing on weeds. So left the agent.
    – Decrypted
    Jan 18, 2014 at 0:21

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