Be wary of modern day pied pipers of existential theology, who say things like “Christ is All” but deny all of Christ in order to promote their own limited view of Christ.
It seems to me that the worst aspects of postmodernism now plague significant segments of the Church.
Postmodernism is a philosophy which denies that what is true, real and right – if it exists at all – is absolute and transcendent. See The Great Divide: Biblical Absolutes and Relativism.
It also seems to me that postmodernism is mainly expressed in the Church through existentialism.
Existentialism is an ideology which says our own perceptions ultimately determine what is true, real and right.
Using these worldly philosophies, Christian existentialists (like those who follow existential theologian Karl Barth) conclude that one’s personal perception and subjective experience of Christ are more authoritative – and higher revelation – than everything else, including scripture.
Knowing their views would be unpalatable if clearly stated, they instead retreat to pithy slogans like “Christ is All” – but their “all” is very limited.
Often, their “all” does not include all that Christ has externally given to help us know and grow in Him – like His external commands and propositional truths in scripture, accountability to functional local fellowships, diverse gifts as we submit one to another, binding moral precepts, etc.
Autonomy and Authority
It all boils down to the lynchpin of postmodernism, which is personal autonomy. Christians who have fallen prey to existential postmodernism, therefore, are dismissive of any ultimate claim of external authority “beyond”, according them, our own perceptions and so-called “deeper life” experience of Jesus.
On one level, Jesus is superior to Scripture, just as a King is superior to His edicts. But that’s not the issue. The issue is one of knowledge and authority.
I may claim to personally know the King based on my experience of being in His presence, and that personal perception of the King may motivate me to want to serve him. That is a good thing!
However, all Kings issue written decrees, announcements, edicts, laws and proclamations to their people about their true intents, goals and commands on how their Kingdom is structured and functions.
My interpretation of the King’s intent and will for all aspects of his Kingdom, based on my own limited experience and personal perception of him – no matter how accurate and wonderful – will never supersede the certainty and authority of his written instructions for the well-being of all.
The existentialists among us, though, are crafty folks. When backed into the corner, they give lip service to external standards, but are very careful to chose words which avoid being nailed down.
For example, they say they have a “high respect” for scripture; talk about how it is “trustworthy”, “inspired” and provides “guidelines”; and even say it has “authority” – but they will not say it has plenary (i.e., “full”) authority over all perceptions to the contrary.
It’s as though someone is hauled before the judge for living in utter disregard of the King’s rules and edicts. The defendant explains that he read everything the King had issued. The King’s writings, he says, are very instructive, trustworthy and even authoritative – not of themselves, but as a basis for gaining a wonderful, personal revelation of the King himself.
In defense, he then exclaims that he’s only subject to and accountable to his wonderful, personal perception and revelation about the King as inspired by the King’s written words, rather than being accountable and subject to what the King actually wrote.
When the final judgment is issued, what do you think the verdict will be?
The Deeper Revelation of Deeper Life?
Likewise, for Christian existentialists, scripture’s “authority” is limited to being a “trustworthy” and “inspired” starting point for their subjective perception of Christ (which they sometimes call “deeper life”, Christocentricity, etc.).
They then claim their existential perception of Christ represents the “Person of Christ” – and therefore is superior revelation that is more authoritative than scripture or any other external source of authority given by Christ.
Don’t get me wrong. We are called to know and experience Jesus as the vibrant living Lord. What He tells me personally, I’m going to do!
My relationship with Jesus is about being and doing – but no matter how authentically I experience Him and personally hear His voice, I never get to the point where I am “beyond” the authority of His written Word or all that He has externally provided to truly know and grow in Him and His Kingdom.
Jesus as the living Word made flesh who lives in us is NEVER presented in scripture as somehow negating His external written Word – or anything else that He has ordained and given for our well being.
All scripture points to Christ, but that doesn’t mean our resulting experience and perception of Him take us “beyond” the authority and discipline of scripture, the teachings of scripture about being accountable to one another in local fellowships, the precepts of His Kingdom presented in scripture, or the moral imperatives of His nature revealed in scripture.
I want not just the Person of Christ, but all of Christ – including all that He’s given us to truly know Him and be full citizens of His Kingdom.
It further seems to me that some have become dependent on itinerant authors and ministries who claim to have special knowledge and revelation of an essentially existential Jesus – as they repeatedly say things like “Christ is All” while de-emphasizing all of His external sources of truth, knowledge and authority.
Interestingly, this perversely increases folk’s dependence on them – but all in the name of Christ (as they existentially perceive Him), of course!
For example, such postmodern existentialists de-emphasize the plenary authority of the Bible, scripture as a source of propositional truth, the Great Commission, Biblical standards for judging their external fruit, binding moral precepts as applied to them, Christ’s commands, diverse gifts in each other, and allowing actual functional elders and other leaders to emerge in their churches to keep them accountable.
It also seems to me that some have done much harm in waltzing up to the edge of the cliff on these issues in their books and blogs, while then standing mute and passive as others go over it.
Like the misguided man who protested to the judge that he had some deeper revelation of the King that superseded all else, one day they will answer for setting themselves above the King’s authoritative written rule, the accountability of properly functioning local fellowships, and the comprehensive precepts of His Kingdom.
Until then, be wary and discerning of those who play an enticing tune, but have led many over their existential cliff – with the resulting carnage of failed and anemic fellowships and many ruined lives.
~ Jim Wright