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How integral is a personal experiential aspect to Christian belief in addition to natural theology? Can one rely solely on natural theology, or is a personal encounter or experience considered essential in Christian doctrine, and if so, what type(s) of experience(s) specifically? I'm interested in perspectives on the balance between these two elements in shaping and reinforcing one's faith.


EDIT: @curiousdanni brought up a very good point:

If you rely solely on natural theology you can't be a Christian - the Gospel is communicated only through special revelation.

I agree with this observation. Considering this, I think the question can be rephrased in more general terms as follows:

Publicly accessible revelation (that can be grasped intellectually, including nature and Sacred Scripture) vs. Privately accessible revelation (involving spiritual experiences that presumably go beyond the confines of the intellect)?

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    Since the question is not referencing regeneration, justification, remission of sins, repentance or the work of the Holy Spirit then I suggest that the question must needs be scoped to a particular section of the broad spectrum of 'belief within 'Christianity'. Or the question needs to to request an overview of all aspects. The idea that the mind is merely a natural function is untrue. Repentance is a matter of metanoia 'another mind' being formed under the word and through the baptism of repentance.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 23:01
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    If you rely solely on natural theology you can't be a Christian - the Gospel is communicated only through special revelation.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 23:03
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    Are you familiar with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral? All of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience are important, but how they are ranked differs by denomination. There's no agreed upon answer, which makes this, as currently worded, an opinion based question.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 23:25
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    @curiousdannii That's quite insightful. But I wouldn't like to have the question closed for the reason you indicate. I know that in these cases it may help if one asks for an overview of perspectives. Would that be okay with you?
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 23:29
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    @raygrant I believe Nigel said a valid overview, as in an answer to a question requiring an overview of all major denominations, not valid worldview. Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 14:19

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The Pauline Answer to the relationship of Natural Theology to Personal Christian Experience can best be shown by the narration of Paul's trip to Athens in Acts 17:16-34:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in temples built by hands...He himself gives men life and breath and everything else...From one man He made every nation of men...and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live...God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him...In the past God overlooked such ignorance (idolatry), but now He commands all people everywhere to repent...For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice, by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:24-34)

Paul appealed to the Cosmological argument as well as the Teleological, Moral, Biological arguments, etc., though not as detailed as theologians tend to expand upon. The purpose stated for all of this was so that men would seek Him. The relation of Natural Theologies was to get men's attention and lead them to the Special Revelation in Jesus. This special revelation was:

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him (eye-witnesses). God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will. (Hebrews 2:3,4)

Paul elaborated on Natural Theology in Romans 1 as well. So it does have a place in the conversion and life of believers by erasing doubts as to the Existence of God. And it does help describe many of the characteristics of this God.

But the inquiring mind—and the lost soul—needs more info. And God provided this Himself by revelation through the life and teaching of Jesus, pre-announced by the prophets of old (Hebrews 1:1-3). But more than mere information, Jesus also provided a way to Personally experiencing God. Stories like the "Woman at the Well" and the "Prodigal Son" illustrate the personal relationship God desires.

And beyond this, God, through special revelation, introduced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the accompanying Charismatic Gifts, so men could actually be temples of God, filled with His Presence.

In answer to this posted question, it may be said that Natural Theology serves as pulling weeds so Special Revelation (of the Gospel) can plant seeds! There is no contradiction, but only a complementary relationship between the two. To be sure, seekers—and believers—have a variety of epistemological inclinations. Some are more thinkers than others; some are more inclined to experiential personal events. But God has placed in the Church, teachers to inform believers who are not "bookworms", as well as prophets/pastors who keep mysticism in check.

The church is warned "not to forbid prophesying," or any of the other supernatural charismatic gifts (1 Corinthians 14). The church is warned as well "not to be unwise" or unlearned. It doesn't hurt to have a rational and logical foundation for Reasonable Belief that provides assurances and deeper faith in God. And it is also amazing when God shows up supernaturally in one's Christian life. Both are gratifying gifts from a merciful God!

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  • @ GratefulDisciple - Excellent editing. Much appreciated. Peace.
    – ray grant
    Commented Jan 3 at 21:26
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I used to be a fifty fifty believer when I only had scriptural knowledge but no spiritual experience. This changed when I encountered an ordeal that proved everything to be true. It's just like Paul, Paul used to be a keeper of the laws of Moses until he experienced Jesus on his way to Damascus to persecute the church. You need both to be complete. The experience confirms the word of God to be true.

My belief came from interaction with people who practise the secret arts mentioned in the Bible by the people of Egypt during the time of Moses. Moses was able to convert a stick into a snake by the power of God but the people of Egypt, they did that through secret arts. I encountered people who inherited this practise to this date. They use the arts to again access to knowledge normal people wouldn't know. In high school, my classmates whose parents practise these arts gained access to exam content long before others did. They also gained access to your life like a CCTV where they know what you do when your in your house or who you are chatting to on your phone. This ordeal reinforced the belief that it is the devil who is their enabler and the God of Abraham is real

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