Scriptural or Experiential: Can the Categories Never Coexist?

“She’s (he’s) gone over to the experiential side.”


I’ve been accustomed to that terminology since my first Bible doctrine class at 27 years old. The language might be dated for many of you but you get the gist. My teacher (in the presence of the Lord now) whom I loved and whose passion lit a fire in my own bones often used the delineation. Something was either “Scriptural” or “experiential” and ne’er the two could meet. It made perfect sense to me.


For a little while.


I’ve never lost my esteem for my teacher. I could get tears in my eyes just thinking about him. He taught under a powerful unction of the Holy Spirit and with a love for the Bible that I had never seen. I suppose some 90 percent of what he taught me I still believe with all my heart. No one made a deeper investment in my love for the Word of God.


But I’ll share with you the teaching in that first Bible doctrine class that I couldn’t accept for long. I couldn’t accept that a believer must fall cleanly into one category or the other: the Scriptural or the experiential. Of course, that’s why I had critics counting me among the experiential crowd 15 years ago but I’ll be forthright with you. The criticism, no matter how mean-spirited it got, was worth enduring because I was not about to let somebody convince me that Scripture and experience were always mutually exclusive. I wanted them both. I wanted to thrill to the Word of God with everything in me AND I wanted to experience the presence of Christ as palpably as He’d permit me.


I would not deny for a moment that there are people in the wide stretch of Christendom who rely strictly on experience and rarely if ever open their Bibles. I also have no doubt that many study their Bibles but never have what they’d qualify as an “experiential” encounter with the Holy Spirit. But there is another category and it is chock full of people who have devoted their entire lives to the study of Scripture and could also testify to rich experiential encounters with Christ. They are not the either-or’s. They have known both.


They are people who would not dream of giving their experience the same weight as the Scriptures. They know full well that it doesn’t mean everything. But must it mean nothing??


Does the Word of God itself not validate experiencing the presence of God?


Every time the living words of Scripture seem to leap off the page into the reality of our present challenge, are we not experiencing God?


Every time our pastors or teachers bring a word that causes the blood to flow hot through our veins –  in the terminology of 1 Thessalonians 1:5 “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” – are we not experiencing God?


Every time we are overwhelmed with fresh conviction and we experience true repentance, are we not experiencing God?


In those moments when we’re brokenhearted and bewildered and we suddenly feel embraced by His love and assured of our chosenness, are we not experiencing God?


In our worship when we feel moved inside with the sense that His thick presence around us in that place is a greater reality than anything we can see or touch, are we not experiencing God?


When, after striving and seeking and praying, we suddenly know with astounding clarity what God wants us to do in a situation or relationship, are we not experiencing God?


When we have encounters with people that only God could have ordained and had appointed conversations that become pivotal to our callings, are we not experiencing God?


Was the Holy Spirit Himself not given to us so that we could continue to experience the presence of Jesus on this earth??


And do we not keep our Bibles wide open and study them all our lives and every day so that we can even recognize what could be a valid Holy Spirit experience?


No story I’ve ever told publicly has gotten me in more trouble than the one that occurred in an airport many years ago when I felt a profuse stirring of the Holy Spirit to go over to an old man in a wheelchair and brush his tangled, matted hair. Nothing has thrown me into the “experiential” category with my critics more than that story. But here’s the ironic part: I had my Bible wide open in my lap actively memorizing John 1 at the exact moment the Holy Spirit moved on me to stand up and walk over to that man. In fact, I was nearly annoyed by the inconvenience of having to get up and go serve somebody while I was busy with my memory work. They weren’t two separate things. They were happening simultaneously.


Despite the discouragement that being stereotyped can bring, if I thought I’d “experienced” God for the last time, I’d be ready to pack up this whole earthly existence and go home. I live to experience God – in my Bible study, my worship, my restoration, my personal revival, in the laughter of my family that has endured against all odds, in the burst of color in an autumn sunset, in a praise song blaring from the speakers in my car, in church service after church service, in the love I still feel for one man after 36 years, and in a walk all by myself in the country.


I write these words to you today who have devoted your lives to the study of God’s inspired Word and make it your daily bread. You don’t have to choose between the Scriptural and the “experiential.” You can have a devout study life and esteem the Bible more than any other tangible possession on this earth and you can also validly experience the presence and palpable activity of the Holy Spirit. You don’t need human permission to do so. You have the Bible’s permission.


Don’t let anybody take that right from you.


239 Responses to “Scriptural or Experiential: Can the Categories Never Coexist?”

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  1. 201
    Jenni Banicki says:

    In Beth’s study, Children of the Day, we learn that God calls us to be children of the light (1Thess. 5:5), which is an interesting concept when you stop to consider the properties of light.

    Much like the scriptural vs. experiential argument, for hundreds of years scientists tried to classify light as either a particle or a wave. An either or proposition. No less than Isaac Newton weighed in with theory and experiments of his own.

    But quantum physics founded the concept of duality that most of us learned in school – light is both a particle and a wave.

    In the scriptural vs. experiential argument, what if both are true, while not excluding the other? And what if this intriguing and still mysterious property of light is just the smallest indicator that our God can neither be classified nor contained?

  2. 202
    Kelly MIlls says:

    Amen,Beth! The Bible is for information through application for transformation. Without experiencing the Living Word our faith and His Word is dead. He calls us to transform our minds by His Word in Romans 12:1-2. His Word and the experience must meet or it is dead. We must be doers not just hearers of the Word as it tells us in James. Sorry getting on a soapbox!

  3. 203
    Heather Buchanan says:

    I felt this morning God wanted me to leave an encouraging word for Beth, and well since I don’t know her personally this is the only place I could find to leave it;)
    I have been listening to you for years, but I have to say that lately you are NEW! You are so filled with passion, zeal, and a NEW empowerment. Thank you for constantly seeking God and for leading us well. Thank you for taking us into new places and not just walking around in the sameness. I hope this encourages your soul and renews you today.

    Be blessed!!

  4. 204
    Mary says:

    HALLELUYAH! He is IN ALL, ABOVE ALL, and working ALL THINGS after the counsel of His own will. That’s experiential. What are these “things” He works together for good, if not experiences He weaves in our lives to draw us nearer Him?

    Why do we love dichotomy and difference for the sake of argument?

  5. 205
    Amber Rogers says:

    Dearest Beth, YES! A thousand times yes!!!!! I have never been hurt more than by the rigid rejection of other believers. But be not hard on them! Surely, they live in fear. So many fundamental churches teach that all emotionally led responses are fake and wicked. People feel it, and assume they must stiffly ignore it or be thought loose, undisciplined. Very sad. I hope to instill in my nine children that through constant interaction with the Word, we will surely experience Christ in tangible, meaningful ways. What else is our hope?

  6. 206
    Jen says:

    Beth, this is so true. I know that my journey with God has at times relied heavily on my experience and it is through that that I have been able to get into the Word. As a young adult, the Bible just did not make sense or seem relevant to me, and so Jesus hung on to me by “doing jumping jacks” in my life so that I knew-that-I-knew-that-I-knew that He, God and the Holy Spirit existed and were with me. Through that I was prompted to read my Bible and I believe wholeheartedly discern it’s teachings more clearly by allowing the experience of the Holy Spirit in my life. God knows me and knew that I needed a “V8″ clunk to the head now and again to get on the path to hear his voice. I know that my experiences similar to yours with the elderly man at the airport (and I love that beautiful story and the honesty with which you tell it) are Spirit driven because heaven knows it wasn’t me by my own pure accord. God asked and I said…”Aww, man, do have to?…Couldn’t I just pray and keep walking?…” It sometimes is a “Yes here I am Lord,” but many times I answer with “Uhhh..okay..”. I regret the number of times I pretended not to hear. I am convinced that both the Word and God’s still small voice in my daily living are the basis for my faith and the beauty that I can see…Criticism aside, praise God for giving you the courage and direction to speak up on this subject. Thank you!

  7. 207
    Lanita Pickard says:

    Oh how this has blessed me today. I have “stuffed”
    Experience too long. No more! I stay in the Word
    but I long to experience Him everyday!!
    Through your Bible studies I have found my tombstone
    epitaph. “SHE ATE THE BOOK”!!
    Thank you for all you do for the kingdom.

  8. 208
    Tammy Harmsen says:

    I am so encouraged to read your post. I know it’s BOTH. I have experienced BOTH. People can’t argue with a person’s testimony on what they have experience with God. I love God’s word and it truly comes to life when I experence Him personally and through others. The Bible says in John 14:12 “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father”. Let’s do this with Holy Spirit’s help!! Thank you, Beth.

  9. 209
    Happy Heart says:

    Who would have ever dreamed that you took criticism for sharing such a beautiful powerful story that has meant so much to so many people. Oh, my where would we be without our experiences with the LORD.

    Keep shining!

  10. 210
  11. 211
    Donna Hopkins says:

    I am a Christain and my faith has kept me going during the past five years. My mother died unexpectantly on Dec. 7 th 2010 and I was left alone to care for my father who was going into Vascular Dementia. It has been so hard to watch them both suffer especially my dad. Ever time I talked with him about God during these last four years he never wavered in talking about his faith or his love for God. Although he slowly continued to deteriorate he never forgot me and as much as he missed my mom I believe that he held on for me. He lost his battle in January of this year and I miss him terribly but I know he has a new body and is happy in Heaven with my mom and my sister. Please keep me in your prayers because this is my first holiday alone and it is hard. I am a singer and the last thing my mom said to me before she passed was “Sing for me”. Faith has brought my voice back and in December I am making my debut in Carnegie Hall. I know that God had a part in this door opening for me and I hope my family will be up there listening to me and be proud. I almost gave up on life myself because I wanted to go to Heaven with my family but with help and love I am still singing and living a good life.

    • 211.1
      Nancy Stahler says:

      Bless You and im so sorry for your losses! Congrats on your singing and may you bless many people. I’m praying for you!!

  12. 212
    Kristi says:

    Oh, my. How that touched my heart! I can clearly recall the day I was doing my homework… can’t remember the study or the question, but I do remember when the lights went on in my head and in my heart about LOVING God with emotions! All my life, I heard it said that following God has nothing to do with your feelings. Feelings had nothing to do with it whatsoever! I didn’t understand, but I took it as my own. But it never sat well with me. Suddenly, with whatever you wrote, and how the Holy Spirit spoke, I understood that loving God IS an emotion! Yes! Yes!! Yes!!! God is so much more than I will ever understand, but I will continue seeking Him all the days He allows and I will tell others about how Freedom in Christ is a REAL THING! It FEELS real!!! But you have to have your feet planted firmly in the Word! Keep seeking Him, sisters!! He promises that He will be found by you if you seek Him with all your heart!!
    Thank you, Beth!

  13. 213
    Suzanne says:

    Thank you,thank you,thank you for that post, Beth.

  14. 214
    Kandace Rather says:

    Yes, both. Unashamedly. Jesus shows us both realities.

  15. 215
    Linda from SC says:

    And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is good and acceptable and perfect will of God. KJV Romans 12:2

  16. 216
    Rachel Huff says:

    Rachel Huff, Mechanicsville, VA. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NIV

  17. 217
    Ursula says:

    Isaiah 43:19 NKJV

    Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert.

  18. 218
    Michelle says:

    Proverbs 3:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

    5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

  19. 219
    Willena Brown says:

    ” How can a man keep his heart pure? By guarding it according to your word”.

    Psalm 119:9

  20. 220
    Wanda says:

    Hi, I am interested in purchasing the “Breath” DVD Set and was wondering if there are workbooks that can be purchased to go along with it. I see the DVD Set but not any books. I would like to do this series with my church small group.

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