Knowledge and Emotional Experience (Boice)

In the opening pages of Foundations of the Christian Faith, James Montgomery Boice talked about knowledge in general and also about knowing God. He explained that in our context, there are two main views of knowledge: knowledge by reason alone and knowledge by experience. Concerning the latter, here’s what Boice wrote back in 1986:

In recent years the failures of the rationalistic system have impressed themselves on a new generation with the result that many in the Western world have abandoned reason in order to seek reality through emotional experience. In the ancient world, in reaction to the impersonality of Greek philosophy, this was done through intense participation in the rites of the mystery religions. These promised an emotional union with some god, induced by lighting, music, incense or perhaps by drugs. In our time the same approach has surfaced through the drug cult, rediscovery of the Eastern religions, Transcendental Meditation, the human potential movement and other supposedly “mind-expanding” practices.

This modern approach also has several problems. First, the experience does not last. It is transient. Each attempt to achieve reality through emotional experience promises some sort of “high.” But the “high” is inevitably followed by a “low,” with the additional problem that increasingly intense stimuli seem to be necessary to repeat the experience. Eventually this ends either in self-destruction or acute disillusionment. A second problem is that the approach to reality through emotion does not satisfy the mind. Promoters of these experiences, particularly drug experiences, speak of a more intense perception of reality that results from them. But their experience has no rational content. The part of the human being that wants to think about such things and understand them is unsatisfied.

The result of this situation is a crisis in the area of knowledge today, as in ancient times. Many thinking people quite honestly do not know where to turn. The rationalistic approach is impersonal and amoral. The emotionalistic approach is without content, transient and also often immoral. “Is this the end?” many are asking. “Are there no other possibilities? Is there not a third way?”

Boice then explained from a Christian perspective what knowledge is – including knowledge of God:

At this point Christianity comes forward with the claim that there is a third way and that this way is strong at precisely those points where the other approaches are lacking. The basis of this third approach is that there is a God who has created all things and who himself gives his creation meaning. Further, we can know him. This is an exciting and satisfying possibility. It is exciting because it involves the possibility of contact between the individual and God, however insignificant the individual may appear in his or her own eyes or in the eyes of others. It is satisfying because it is knowledge not of an idea or thing but of a supremely personal Being, and because it issues in a profound change of conduct.

This is what the Bible means when it says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). And, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9:10)….

James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, pp. 21-22.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015