Doctrine Matters More Than Experience

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. — 2 Peter 1:19

A grip on historical Christian doctrine has been loosened by a kind of Christian empiricism, which causes us to consider our own experiences more credible than the Words in the Bible. Therefore, to say doctrine matters more than experience is to say that the truth revealed in God’s objective Word alone is authoritative regarding all matters of Christian belief and practice. It is also to say our subjective personal experiences simply are not.

Subjective is defined as... “related to the mind as the subject of experience, belonging to a perceived reality.”

Objective is defined as... “related to sensible experience independent of perceptible, clearly observable by all.”

This is not to say that our experiences have no place in Christian theology or that certain experiences are not truly from God. In fact, the person who professes faith yet never feels genuine emotion related to what he or she believes or is never encouraged by the Spirit’s activity in their life, likely, isn’t a Christian. Believers can be confident that we will experience answered prayer and we will certainly have times in our lives when we are particularly marked in memorable ways by God's apparent involvement. No doubt, it is possible to perceive His provisionprotection, and His work of our sanctification. However, the key word is “perceive.” While we are certainly capable to accurately discern these things, we must honestly recognize it is quite possible for us to misinterpret them as well. Therefore, it is important that we properly submit our experiences to what the Bible says for approval and agreement, reconciling our spiritual experiences with the unchanging Word of God, not God’s Word with our subjective experiences. That is to say, no experience may lead us to believe something contrary to what God has already revealed to us in the Bible.

The so-called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” regards theology as a conversation among Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. This may be, yet, among the four sources, one source must have priority over the others and that, of course, is God’s holy Scripture. Thus, his quadrilateral is by no means an equilateral, in terms of authority.

This is because God’s Word is sufficient and it is the highest standard of all wisdom for belief, and it is the highest standard of all truth for practice. The reformers described the ultimate authority of God’s Word with a Latin phrase... “Norma normans non normata,” or... “The norm of norms that can’t be normed.” By this they meant that it is the Bible that decides what is normative and always true, not the Anti-Christian teachings of the Roman Catholic Churchnot culture, and not personal experience. In addition to this latin phrase, they used another more than any other to communicate the sole place of authority Scripture has in the Christian's life... "Sola Scriptura," which in english is"Scripture Alone." Our experiences are never to surpass, or even match, Scripture in authority. The truth is even valid, recognizable spiritual experiences are largely unpredictable and often unrepeated graces of God. But, in Scripture, God has spoken, and is always speaking.


A large portion of evangelicals are wrapped up in what is now known as Pentecostalism or the subsequent movements of the charismatic movement and the third wave (New Apostolic Reformation). In these movements, the role of the Holy Spirit is magnified beyond His sacred role, sign-gifts are practiced beyond their Biblical jurisdiction, and personal experiences are elevated in authority beside and even beyond the written Word. This is over-spiritualized, anecdotal emotionalism. And with little or nothing of a respect for God’s written Word by which to be confirmed, these experiences are widely accepted as credible self-validations.

Neither our belief nor our practice is predicated on any experience, spiritual or otherwise. There is no biblical precedent or instruction given by which post-apostolic believers are to expect or even desire God to move in their personal lives in noticeably extraordinary ways in order to prove Himself or validate our faith. In fact, the discipleThomas was rebuked by Jesus for demanding a sign, and was then encouraged to believe solely based on what he had already seen and heard from Jesus. Likewise, Peter praises such faith that needs no experiential evidence

Even during the uniquely miraculous time of the New Testament Apostles, personal experiences were repeatedly overshadowed by God's glorious written Word given for all...

  • Mary kept her angelic visitations, divine announcements, and overwhelmingly emotional experiences to herself.
  • Jesus, after being dead in the grave for three days and having been raised, revealed who He was to two men on the road to Emmaus by simply and clearly teaching them, what we know as the Old Testament Scriptures. 
  • Peter, after seeing the glorified Son of God, merely mentions it in order to further emphasize just how more sure, reliable, and sufficient God’s Word is.
  • John, who was also also a witness of the transfiguration never considered it worth mentioned it in any of his 5 letters (books) of the Bible. 
  • Paul, after one of the most dramatic salvation experience known to man, reasoned with the people of Thessalonica from the Scriptures and not his fantastic experience! Also, Paul, was extremely reluctant to even mention his experience in heaven.
  • James, the (half) brother of our Lord, introduces himself to his readers as a bond-slave of Jesus, because of the Gospel.

The biblical precedent is clear: Truth is not what happens to you; it is what is revealed in Scripture!


There is also no Biblical precedent or instruction for believers to expect or even desire to hear individually from God by personal revelation, not even during prayer. “Listening prayers” or simply being attentive to hear God’s “still small voice” is a false-teaching based on a lack of faith, a discontentment with Scripture, and a faulty interpretation of Scripture taken out of its original context. This sort of subjective experimentation is a hot-bed for dangerous false-prophesies and discouraging "impressions." While God certainly guides the believer by The Spirit's influence on their heart and mind, He no longer "speaks"except by His Word. Some say that God "speaks", not directly to their ears or minds, but to their heart. Or others, that we don't hear his voice but we can see His "hand" at work in our lives. These attempts to carefully allow for God to remain sovereignly active are right and good as long as we recognize that our interpretation of these experiences may be flawed.  However, it must be true that the more exposure and understanding we have of His objective Word, the more credibility we can give our subjective experiences. At the end of the day, If you want to hear God speak, read His Word. Then pray to be sensitive to the guidance of The Holy Spirit as He renews your mind and gives you more and more a heart of flesh, as opposed to stone.

 If the disciples were every going to listen for God to speak to them, it would probably have been in Acts 1 and 15.

  • In Acts 1, when the 11 remaining disciples were faced with the decision to replace Judas, Peter made a very natural and logical decision to do something that Old Testament prophecy told them to do. They made the decision by narrowing it down to men who met the criteria, then they prayed (as short prayer) and cast the dice, submitting the odds to the Lord to decide by natural means.

  • Or consider that Luke writes three times in Acts 15 that extremely important first Church decisions were made these titans of the Apostolic Church era simply perceived a certain decision was best or that it seemed to them to be in agreement with the Spirit.

Proponents of hearing God speak personal revelation will commonly misinterpret a couple passages in particular. 

  • John 10:27 - Jesus is talking about God's inner-call for salvation and not divine, personal communication.

  • John 14:26 - Jesus is talking to His remaining 11 and not yet referring to the Church as a whole like He clearly does in chapter 17. He spoke of the revelation and remembrance they would need to record and be a witness of a Scripture. 

We must fiercely affirm what we believe about the Bible. Most all Christians would generally agree that the Bible is Inspired of God, and that the Bible is without any error, even that it is authoritative in everything it commands. But the question here is about the sufficiency of it's revelation. This is our generation's postmodern attack on Scripture. We must understand that to truly affirm the sufficiency of Scripture, is not only to affirm that what God reveals is enough; but also that what He omits is unnecessary. Many evangelicals today believe just about every sincere story they hear; very little is questioned, even less is challengedand sadly, almost nothing is rejected. This lack of discernment makes many Christians dangerously susceptible to all kinds of irresponsibly weak, questionable, and heretical resources. Each of these appeal to the desire and expectation of many among the Church to experience extra-Biblical revelation by hearing God speak to them personally and to see Him move in extraordinary ways. Many claim to have had undeniable experiences with God and to have heard from God directly. Perhaps. And then again, it is far more likely they are following their feelings, rationalization, and ideas. In either case, we are not responsible to believe their claim simply because we want to or because we feel it impolite to question their validity. We are, however, responsible to test every thing against the objective Word, which is our final standard of truth

The sufficiency of Scripture means that we don’t need any more special revelation. We don’t need any more inspired, inerrant words. In the Bible God has given us, we have the perfect standard for judging all other knowledge. — John Piper