From a theological standpoint, does Christianity prescribe either of the following:
- that one needs to have a religious experience first, and as a consequence one may attain belief in the truth of Christianity, or
- that one needs to attain belief in the truth of Christianity first, and as a consequence one may have a religious experience?
The dilemma can also be more succinctly posed as "experience to believe" vs. "believe to experience". Supporting the "experience to believe" view I have in mind conversion stories like that of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9. But then there are statements in the Bible like "faith that moves mountains" that seem to suggest that belief (faith) must precede experience (the other way around).
Are people expected to convert first (i.e. believe) and then have religious experiences, or are people expected to have religious experiences first and then believe, or are there no expectations either way?
Perceiving in advance that this question might be a bit controversial, I would like a high-level summary of major theological/denominational views on this dilemma.
As a definition of religious experience, here is the introduction from Wikipedia:
A religious experience (sometimes known as a spiritual experience, sacred experience, or mystical experience) is a subjective experience which is interpreted within a religious framework. The concept originated in the 19th century, as a defense against the growing rationalism of Western society. William James popularised the concept. In some religions this may result in unverified personal gnosis.
Many religious and mystical traditions see religious experiences (particularly the knowledge which comes with them) as revelations caused by divine agency rather than ordinary natural processes. They are considered real encounters with God or gods, or real contact with higher-order realities of which humans are not ordinarily aware.
Skeptics may hold that religious experience is an evolved feature of the human brain amenable to normal scientific study. The commonalities and differences between religious experiences across different cultures have enabled scholars to categorize them for academic study.