The Holy Spirit and Empiricism

#Holy Spirit #article #Epistemology
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Drew Leonard

October 27, 2022

I read a fellow the other day who was arguing for a very specific view of the Holy Spirit, His reality, His presence, His work, etc. In essence, the writer argued that “proof” for all of this (surrounding the Holy Spirit) equaled “experience.” That is – and this is nearly explicit – if one cannot demonstrate by experience, by the use of the five senses, that the Holy Spirit indwells or works today, then we need to understand Him, His indwelling and His work to be “restricted” in some manner. The writer went on to argue for a view of the Holy Spirit that was “experienced” in the first century A.D. and demonstrated through miraculous manifestations; he insisted that those things have now since ceased and thus the Holy Spirit's “business” has become limited to “the word.”

There is a lot here that needs unpacking – and this isn't the place to handle everything – but, I'd like to counter only one point out of it all . . .

Experience doesn't equal reality or evidence. Look, to suggest that one must produce an “empirical” demonstration to prove something is absolutely false. (Why, to claim such a “rule” – that “substantial evidence must be empirical or experiential” – is a philosophical claim itself; what “proof” warrants the “fact” or “legitimacy” of such a rule?!) I'm suggesting that “proof” comes in ways much broader than “empiricism” . . .

In the case of the Holy Spirit, we have a “revealed truth.” I'm curious to hear this writer explain how he “knows” that his “body” will one day be resurrected. Let's see him prove that with “experience” or “empiricism.” I suppose that the usual route would be to go to 1 Corinthians 15 or 1 Thessalonians 4 or some other comparable text, but now, he's destroyed his own argument. He's not turning to “empiricism” to prove such a reality; now, he's turning to “revelation.”

Whoever decided that God was “restricted” to “empiricism”?! Who came up with that “rule”? And, how did they prove that “rule” to be a “rule”? Was it by “empirical” means (and, so, circular reasoning)? Or, did they prove the rule because of logical deduction (so, good philosophy, thus refuting the very claim that “empiricism” or “experience” is the sole way of providing evidence).

I'm suggesting a few things . . .

First, I'm suggesting that we re-examine our terminology on the Holy Spirit. A very “empirical” understanding of the Holy Spirit is very flawed. Whoever decided that “indwell” equals “spatial”? Whoever decided that God was “locked into” a system of “rules” that He, Himself, created? Why can't “indwell” be something “less empirical”? Why can't “indwell” be more “relational” than “spatial”? Yes, that's a line of thought that I think that we should pursue . . .

Second, we need to abandon our “deistic” approach to God. Like it or not, we're coming up with all sorts of “rules” that would restrict God. But, whoever decided that these “rules” are rules?! We don't get them from the scripture. Like it or not, we've excluded God's work altogether . . . And, when we talk about God and His activity, today, we say, “He works through the word.” (Bless me, the word doesn't answer prayer! If that were “the” [only] way that God works, then prayer has no place today and providence has no place today. The “word” isn't changing; it doesn't morph to my circumstances. God does, however. God's work must be broader than “the word” – or, we need to be consistent and stop praying and expecting providential results. [We need to have a discussion about “perspective” and the philosophy of God – particularly about His omniscience, as related to man's fallible knowledge – at this point.])

Third, we need to abandon our bad thinking. Can you imagine making an argument like, “The only way to prove something is by scientific method” only to have one raise the question, “Did you prove that by the scientific method?” This is bald atheism! It's faced this problem for years . . . and now, brethren are arguing such a view! “The only way to prove something is by 'empiricism',” we're told by the ultra-conservative crew that overreacts to much devotional, sappy, unsubstantiated discussion about the Holy Spirit. My . . . I'd like to hear a fellow “prove” that the Holy Spirit “dwells” today through the word – whatever that's supposed to mean! Look, that's a task! Imagine proving by “empiricism” that the Holy Spirit “dwells” at all today, in any form! Imagine proving by “empiricism” that the Holy Spirit even exists! Have we given up on God's revelation altogether?! When are we going to decide to let God be God and rule over our system (dimension) however He does?! If we've gone to His word for “evidences,” we know the evidence is rooted firmly in substance . . . but there's as much empirical proof floating around for the existence of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the bodily resurrection as there is for several other theological realities.

God help us stop thinking so “empirically,” after the style of the atheistic naturalist; God help us get back to thinking “theologically,” which isn't at odds with “empiricism” but a legitimate counterpart. Help us stop making “empiricism” our “god” and “naturalism” our worldview, though we dress it up as “Christianity.” God help us . . .

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