Carl Trueman: The gospel is a message, not a feeling or an experience


I am currently reading Carl Trueman‘s book The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic & Contemporary Evangelicalism and thoroughly enjoying it. Part I, chapter 3 is titled “Theology and the Church: Divorce or Remarriage?”, in which (among other things) he critiques the contemporary church’s emphasis on experience. Below is an excerpt:

“…the gospel is a message with content and not simply a case of one person communicating an experience to a group of others. That is, after all, the essence of old-fashioned liberalism – Christianity is the feeling, not the doctrine, and theology is simply reflection upon religious psychology not upon the revelation of God

This has ramifications for various aspects of church life, not least in the realm of attitude toward learning. How many times have you heard the comment, ‘Old Mrs Jones has walked with the Lord for fifty years and knows more of God than any professor with a PhD.’ On one level, the comment might well be true – walking with the Lord in faith will get you into heaven in a way that mere possession of a PhD certainly will not. Nevertheless, when we grasp that the gospel is first of all a message, a proclamation of what God has done in Jesus Christ, and that experience comes as a response to that message, it is quite clear that a professor with a PhD may well have certain insights into that gospel message which Mrs Jones, for all her practical godliness, does not. Much of the anti-intellectualism which pours from pulpits in churches, from Reformed to charismatic, is the result of precisely this confusion between gospel as message and the believer’s response in experience – a confusion which has just enough appearance of truth to be superficially plausible while resting on a fundamentally skewed understanding of what the gospel actually is. Only when the church comes to acknowledge in both belief and practice that the gospel is a message, not a feeling or an experience, will such fuzzy thinking (and much else) finally be put to rest.”

– Carl Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historic & Contemporary Evangelicalism, p. 71-72

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