One of the most attention-grabbing things to see is when a person tells a story about an amazing event in their life. People, when telling about a life-or-death situation they were in, or a huge transition they went through, often are more animated and therefore more interesting to listen to. And it doesn’t have to be about themselves – a person telling a story about someone else can be just as animated if the story is dramatic. A good example is the book I just finished reading, and that I reviewed here on the blog, called Captured By Grace, by David Jeremiah. In it, Dr. Jeremiah tells about the conversion of John Newton, a former slave trader turned abolitionist, and author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace. That book captured my attention with it’s stories of the adventures Newton went through as a sea-faring slave trader. He had several close calls with death, and those experiences were very influential in his conversion and life as a Christ follower. Something about testimonies like that grabs us and gets our attention. We have a soft spot for the experiences we and others go through.
In a way, that is a good thing. It shows that we are tuned in to the human condition, and that we empathize with others when they go through tough times. On the other hand, relying on experience alone is dangerous, because all kinds of people have all kinds of experiences. Voddie Baucham uses the example of an alcoholic going through a 12-step program to get sober. One of the 12 steps is to find a higher power. What if he chooses to make the lamppost outside his house his higher power? If he then is able to get sober, then his experience is validated. The lamppost truly is something special! But of course, we know that the lamppost had nothing to do with it. This is why it’s dangerous to use experience as validation of the truth.
The apostle Peter wrote about the truth of the Bible in 2 Peter 1:16-21:
16We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.19And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
He started by pointing out that the events he spoke of occurred in the presence of many eyewitnesses. He wasn’t just making up stories. He then points to the supernatural events involved – these eyewitnesses are all able to give testimony to the events which took place, which prove that more than just mortal man was involved. This was a God thing! He then pointed out that the events that took place fulfilled many prophecies – there were prophecies that Christ would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem, that He would suffer and die, and that he would rise from the dead before his body was able to see decay. All of this came true, and is a powerful testimony to the truth in the Bible. It wasn’t until after all of these arguments that Peter then says “you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” This is believed to be some kind of first century figure of speech, and it points to the fact that the events spoken of (and therefore the Bible that records them) should have an impact on people’s lives.
When asked why we believe the Bible is true, as opposed to some other holy book or supposed higher power, we would do well to stay away from using experience as our first argument. Many Muslims can claim the Quran as having the same impact on their lives. And the drunk can claim the same experience with the lamppost outside his house. When they do, it completely invalidates our argument that the Bible is a life changing book. It leads people to believe that faith is relative – what works for one person works for them, and what works for another person works for that person. There is no absolute truth in that scenario. If we want people to understand the truth of the Bible, we must do like Peter did and start with the factual evidence that the Bible is true. Then, when we’ve established the fact that the Bible is true, we can use our experience as a testimony to draw people to it’s life-changing power. Or as Baucham put it, we can stand up and say “oh yeah, I tried it, and it worked for me.”