The Existential Cliff

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.

Postmodern Existentialism

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.

Verbal Games

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.

Itinerant Rubbish

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!

See The Existential Cliff

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


22 responses

  1. Thanks Jim. I think part of the problem is that some of us “discover” Christ as an inner, living reality, and as the fulness of the Godhead dwelling IN us through Him, after years (sometimes decades) of traditional, denominational Christianity and the (oftentimes) accompanied fruitless legalistic efforts to connect to God morally or intellectually (or both). When this happens our minds are blown and our morals and intellects gladly submit to the preeminence of Christ, ultimately enabling us to live the loving, godly lives we have only dreamt off and to grasp the mystery of God’s eternal purpose at a level where our minds could never take us. However, this very “deeper life message” can mean something wholly different to someone who has never been frustrated and broken by his/her own failings to live up to God’s holy command. (Ironically, Luther’s grasp of grace came about as a result of his monastic experiences and his legendary failings to live up to the demands of a just God whom he could simply not seem to satisfy. And so we have the Pope to thank for the Reformation!) Without poverty of spirit there is no hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and so the most glorious of truths can become cheap where it is offered to those who have not paid the price.


    • I relate to what you are saying. My passion, however, is to see balance and thus maturity and health come to the Body of Christ – and to stop being prey to those who try to make it all about “being” and relating, and those try to make it all about “doing” and obeying.

      Most have seen the trap of legalism. But they have swung the pendulum so far in the other direction they they have failed to see the other trap of existentialism.


  2. It is sad that a branch of the organic movement has zeroed in on itinerant workers as the magic pill that will bring all the glory of the kingdom. You could categorize hundreds of features of new testament ministry other than this one and blow any of them up as being the magic pill too. You could have all these things, but without love, it is useless.

    A balance between the Scriptural proposition of listening to the Head, and checking everything against His written revealed Word, is balanced. Veering to what we “think” the head says subjectively, or veering toward trying to please God with law are extremes to avoid. Too often saying Christ is all is a smokescreen for a man behind the curtain with ulterior motives.


  3. Keep it up, Jim! I’m starting to understand what you are talking about. Is it a particular disease that attacks organic churches (can I assume they are mostly house churches?) while most traditional/evangelical churches err toward law?
    Having read a few of your earlier posts and comments along with the responses, I would say you must be hitting a nerve. Or, to take the line of the lawyer to the judge in the first Miracle on 34th Street, “You’re gonna be an-awfully popular fellow!”
    [by the way, on the topic of Scripture authority and study, you may be pleased to hear that the free Kindle download period brought over 500 ‘sales’ of Revisiting Scripture: Assumptions. Still waiting for any reviews though…makes me wonder if its only reception is to be a deafening silence]]


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  5. Thus, for any man, saved or lost, to suppose that his thoughts ought to be regarded as certain and/or as authoritative as those of God—let alone the notion that all human truth-claims deserve such respect, simply because the sage of the Old Testament sometimes related his articulation of truth to observations he had made in the natural order—is to deny what the Bible says so often and so clearly about the real fallenness and finiteness of man and about the infinite wisdom and matchless authority of God.


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  10. Had you been born a little earlier in the century you would have made a good McCarthyismer.

    A cliff?! Not even a slippery slope?!

    I have so many disagreements with this one I’m almost overwhelmed and don’t know where to start …almost.

    First… “They” don’t say any of that. YOU say that they say…and, I repeat… you just don’t get it.

    Itinerant rubbish for sure!… yours…rubbish that is… in your usual sound the alarm protect the peasants crusader style you have “gone after” the relatively few author/conference speaker types in the Organic House lime light who have found a money making (er, I mean, tent making) niche but you greatly over exaggerate the danger to us ignert peasants. You know that old joke, it’s true about Organic House types too… ask two of them a question and you’ll get at least three differing opinions.

    And Chris isn’t one of those guys anyway… he’s just a guy who’s been around HC a long time and he has a blog. He kicked me off his discussion list for being a trouble maker many years ago when we first “met”. Not that I’m carrying a grudge or anything… I’m completely over it… Really. I don’t even know why I bring it up. Oh, yes, my point …that we Organic House types tend to disagree… and fight, like brothers and sisters in real life, not the polite Sunday go to meeting siblings who all agree with the very REASONable doctrine as spelled out in their church charter.

    I can’t help but speculate…you write as though you think you have a necessary crusade, maybe even think it’s “God’s work” but… maybe you’ve found a niche for yourself in the blogsphere? You missed the HC listserv battles back in the old days… when you were fighting other crusades. Guess that’s why so many Organic House elders refuse to engage on the internet. They been ’round that mulberry bush before. And those in the lime light?… I guess they think it’s fruitless … better to be the lone speaker … choose which comments to acknowledge, questions to answer… none of that messy back and forth stuff… or maybe it hurts blog traffic and/or book sales.


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  18. I think the main points of your blog are worthy to bring to the table with Postmodern Believers. I do think that Believers who are not postmodern are also guilty of misinterpreting what Scripture says, reading “their” views into the Bible, thus “adding to Scripture”…a frustration, I trust, that Postmodern Believers have with conventional churchgoers.

    I took your article to be serious in nature until I came across the box on the bottom to serve as a comparison between New Testament Christianity vs. Existential Christian Cults. Were you trying to be a comedian? Really, if you want to engage with those who disagree with you, then you would either fundamentally edit that box or take it down. It is simplistic, demeaning, arrogant…condescending. No credit is given at all to the “other side”, no merit, no respect. And are we supposed to believe that all Postmodern Christians are airheads that engage in Valley Girl speak?


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