Truth Trumps Experience: Thoughts on the Authority of God’s Word

A few months ago, our staff ran across this blog post written by a marketing manager for a Christian bookstore. Although he specifically mentions Randy’s book Heaven, the issue his post brings up certainly isn’t limited to Randy’s books or even just the subject of eternity. Blogger Derek Ouellette writes:

A customer was browsing our store recently and as she was passing by an end cap displaying Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven she said, “Ooh, another story of someone who went to Heaven?” as she took it off the shelf and began to read the back. “No,” I said. “It’s a book about Heaven, but Alcorn has not gone there himself.” “Eww,” she said as she promptly repositioned the book on the shelf“Why would anybody want to read a book about Heaven written by someone who hasn’t even been there?”

No joke. She actually did just say that.

Although her question was meant to be rhetorical, I decided to answer it anyways. “Well, because in those other books people will tell you that they went to Heaven, but in Alcorn’s book you will find out what the Bible actually says on the subject.”

“Oh,” she snarled. “There’s that.” Conversation ended.

Ya, there’s that. You know. This little thing we Protestants like to call sola scriptura. My concern—and desire—is not to pick on this one customer, but to observe a growing trend among conservative evangelicals. When books like 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is For Real rise to the top of bestseller charts in North America, and sustain their presence there, while those very same buyers avoid books like Wright’s Surprised by Hope or Alcorn’s Heaven, there’s a problem. A serious problem.

So, should we study Heaven (or any other subject) subjectively or objectively? The Princeton definition of objectivity is “judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices”, whereas subjectivity is “judgment based on individual personal impressions and feelings and opinions rather than external facts.”

A personal account of a vision of Heaven is, by nature, subjective. This is not to say that all things subjective are false, and all things objective are true; we know nothing without personal (subjective) experiences. However, our experiences must be filtered through the sieve of truth. Truth trumps experience.

Oswald Chambers wrote that “no individual experience is of the remotest value unless it is up to the standard of the Word of God. The Bible not only tests experience, it tests truth. The Bible tests all experience, all truth, all authority by our Lord Himself and our relationship to Him personally.”

If our senses can be deceived (and we all know they can be) then our experiences must be weighed against the sole source of objective truth: the Bible. This means trusting the Word of God more than ourselves, and more than any other book.  “Your word is truth,” John 17:17 says. 

Why spend time reading what might be true, when we can study that which is true?

Excerpt from blog used by permission from Derek Ouellette. 

Julia (Stager) Mayo holds a Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She was previously part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and still does occasional research work for Randy Alcorn.

Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.