Christianity is Not Primarily About Sensing God’s Presence

J. Gresham Machen, in his classic work Christianity & Liberalism, makes the following argument against the idea that Christianity is primarily about “feeling the presence of God” and contends that human affection itself is bristling with dogma and the knowledge of God is the very basis of true Christianity:

With regard to this objection, it ought to be observed that if religion consists merely in feeling the presence of God, it is devoid of any moral quality whatever. Pure feeling, if there be such a thing, is non-moral. What makes affection for a human friend, for example, such an ennobling thing is the knowledge we possess of the character of our friend. Human affection, apparently so simple, is really just bristling with dogma. It depends upon a host of observations treasured up in the mind with regard to the character of our friends. But if human affection is thus really dependent upon knowledge, why should it be otherwise with that supreme personal relationship which is at the basis of religion? Why should we be indignant about slanders directed against a human friend, while at the same time we are patient about the basest slanders directed against our God? Certainly it does make the greatest possible difference what we think about God; the knowledge of God is the very basis of religion. [Christianity & Liberalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1923), 55.]

For those who immediately react and say, “But isn’t human affection for God and experience of God important?” Yes, of course, and Machen would not object nor would holy Scripture. The key issue is that Christian experience is to be derived from the knowledge of God–not trump the knowledge of God.

If you don’t think this is true talk to your wife or husband and ask her/him if it’s ok just to “sense” and “feel” their presence for the next couple years and not engage in any sort of communication that would help you understand who they are and what they are thinking or feeling or what their plans, hopes, and dreams are. Most likely if you tell your spouse you just want to “feel” them for the next couple years it may initially sound romantic and a bit titillating but it will probably backfire 🙂

One thought on “Christianity is Not Primarily About Sensing God’s Presence

  1. As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said (OK, I paraphrase… ), don’t address the heart directly. Only go to it through the mind.

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