Experimental Calvinism

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Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
I have been intrigued by the recent discovery of what is known as "experimental Calvinism" or "experimental religion." I have read Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism: by William Young, and have listened to the sermon The Experimental Roots of Dutch Calvinistic Preaching by Cornelis (Neil) Pronk.

However, I still am a little confused to a strict definition of "experimental Calvinism" and the implications of both it, and it's opposite worldview. It seems right now, that as far as implications of each, I borrow from both the EC side, and what Young calls the "Neo-Calvinism" side.

For example, Young quotes Abraham Kuyper in favor of EC saying (emphasis mine):

experimental knowledge of God, which comes to us personally from spiritual experience, from communion of saints and secret fellowship with God
Young has the source as Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God (New York: Macmillan Company, 1925), p. 224.

He also quotes Kuyper as advocating a

sacred, blessed mysticism
Ibid., p. 44.

To me, this sounds like a denial of Sola Scriptura, but I want to make sure I am not reading into his quote.

On the other hand, I have a deep desire to be obedient to the law of God, and apply it to my daily life (i.e. keep the Sabbath, etc. etc.) which Young associates with a affirmation of EC, and a denial of "Neo-Calvinism."

So what exactly is "experimental Calvinism" and what are some of the implications of it?

After these questions are answered, is EC a good thing or not (or is some mixture the right answer) and where is support either way in scripture?

[Edited on 1-10-2006 by Jeff_Bartel]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
"On the other hand, I have a deep desire to be obedient to the law of God, and apply it to my daily life (i.e. keep the Sabbath, etc. etc.) which Young associates with a denial of EC."

Does he explain why obedience to the law is a denial of EC? Why are the two inconsistent?
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
Originally posted by Scott
"On the other hand, I have a deep desire to be obedient to the law of God, and apply it to my daily life (i.e. keep the Sabbath, etc. etc.) which Young associates with a denial of EC."

Does he explain why obedience to the law is a denial of EC? Why are the two inconsistent?

Scott,

I should have typed "affirmation of EC" not "denial." I have edited the above post.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
All it means is that we expereince the grace of God. The doctrines of grace are not just intellectual. They are experienced. We experience forgiveness. We experience sanctification. We experience God's love etc. It is not some weird form of revelation. It's simply the doctrines of grace understood practically. This is what Calvin and the Puritans were good at.
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
:ditto: Well put, Patrick.

It's the difference between William Ames' statement, "Theology is doctrine or teaching of living to God," and the same statement without the "living to." That is what is so key in all preaching, teaching and living of God's word, so much so that to speak of a "non-experimental Calvinism" is really not Calvinism, or the Reformed understanding of the Christian life in light of Scripture, at all. I like how Derek Webb put it in a talk on his live album, "The House Show":

If you confess, "Aww, I know man, I'm sinful, you know. Scripture tells me that we've all fallen short, right, and that's me too, man, I'm sinful." But you can't honestly put your finger on one sin you've committed all day...then you're not experiencing real joy. 'Cause if all I can confess is a knowledge of how sin has affected me but not any of my real sins, if I don't really know that I'm sinful, then I don't really know and am not really encouraged by the fact that I've been saved, 'cause saved from what? If I'm not really sinful, then what's the big news? What's the good news? It's just news.

But if you know yourself as exposed by the cross, then I believe that you will begin to experience true joy.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Jeff,

Perhaps the single best work you could read on this subject (and incidentally perhaps the best theology apart from Calvin's Institutes) is The Christian's Reasonable Service by the Dutch theologian, A'Brakel.

One quote:
"God is not only the cause of spiritual life, but also the object of its motions. God Himself is all the delight, pleasure, and joy of the regenerate man. He cannot be without God. He wishes for and must enjoy the light of God's countenance, peace with God, and love and communion with God. By virtue of union with God he wishes to be united to His will, and thus to hate and shun what He hates, and to find delight in and in doing whatever God delights in and is pleasing to Him."

One on the CoW:
"Acquaintance with this covenant is of the greatest importance, for whoever errs here or denies the existence of the covenant of works, will not understand the covenant of grace, and will readily err concerning the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. Such a person will very readily deny that Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect."

Here is an interesting BoT article on the subject of experimentalism and faith
http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?719

If you have not read A'Brakel, make it next on your reading list, above anything else but the Scriptures.
 

Peter

Puritan Board Junior
I heard a taped lecture on Wilhelmus a' Brakel by Joel Beeke and was inspired to buy all 4 vo. yet I haven't read anything of it except the historical intro and a bit on joining the church. Beeke said that in Dutch households fathers would read through Father Brakel in a year and then start from the beginning again. Probably the thing that struck me most in the lecture was Brakel's high view of the ministry, and some rules of Brakel about before and after a sermon. One eg. is that the minister after finishing the sermon and descending the pulpit should not engage in conversation with the congregants about frivolities or how there week went.

For emphasis on experience in theology I'd recommend anything Joel Beeke. Puritan Reformed Spirituality is a good book.
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
First of all, thanks to Patrick and Chris for your posts. I agree mostly with what you have said.

Originally posted by fredtgreco
Jeff,

Perhaps the single best work you could read on this subject (and incidentally perhaps the best theology apart from Calvin's Institutes) is The Christian's Reasonable Service by the Dutch theologian, A'Brakel.

Thanks for the recommendation. I would like to purchase and read His set!

Originally posted by fredtgreco
Here is an interesting BoT article on the subject of experimentalism and faith
http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?719

If you have not read A'Brakel, make it next on your reading list, above anything else but the Scriptures.

Thanks for the link Fred. I have actually read that article before, but I read it again for good measure. If this is experimentalism, then this is probably where I depart (but I would like to study a good defense of it, because I surely don't "know it all") from this doctrine. I actually agree with Robbins' assesment whole-heartedly (no pun intended :lol: ).

As for emotions involved in saving faith, this sounds very pietistic to me, and I have yet to see scriptural support for it. I don't want to turn this thread into a discussion on saving faith again (unless it directly involves experimental calvinism!), but I think that there are examples in scripture that militate against this idea.

I thought experimental Calvinism dealt with sanctification and introspection, does it not? Or can it be applied to justification and saving faith as well?

I have been studying this topic more, and have been tracking my thoughts on it. I hope to post some more on this later, and learn more about "the other side."

Thanks for your post Fred. :handshake:
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
Originally posted by Peter
For emphasis on experience in theology I'd recommend anything Joel Beeke. Puritan Reformed Spirituality is a good book.

I own that book, and have read bits and pieces, but never the whole thing. I'll have to check into it! Thanks. :book2:
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
Originally posted by VirginiaHuguenot
:ditto: to the recommendations to read à Brakel and Beeke.

What is Reformed Experimental Preaching? by Joel Beeke

Andrew,

I found that article as I was searching the internet on this subject earlier today, but when you posted it, I read the whole thing.

Here is what I think:

I whole heartedly agree with this statement:

It [experimental preaching] seeks to explain in terms of biblical truth, how matters ought to go, and how they do go, in the Christian life. It aims to apply divine truth to the whole range of the believer's experience: in his walk with God as well as his relationship with family, the church, and the world around him.

:amen:

but here are the statements I might have problems with...

Experimental preaching stresses the need to know by experience the truths of the Word of God.

I'm not sure what Beeke means by this statement. If he means that works are a result of faith, AMEN! If he means that our actions must follow what we believe (the Bible), AMEN!

head knowledge of scriptural truth is often a substitute for heart experience, or (what is equally unscriptural) heart experience is substituted for head knowledge. Experimental preaching calls for both head knowledge and heart experience; its goal, according to John Murray, is 'intelligent piety'.

I don't believe that there is a Head / Heart Dichotomy in scripture. Pro 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

If Beeke is merely saying that the Christian should be zealous for good works, AMEN!

Faith should and does produce a zealous obedience to God's law.

Thanks again Andrew.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally posted by Jeff_Bartel
head knowledge of scriptural truth is often a substitute for heart experience, or (what is equally unscriptural) heart experience is substituted for head knowledge. Experimental preaching calls for both head knowledge and heart experience; its goal, according to John Murray, is 'intelligent piety'.

I don't believe that there is a Head / Heart Dichotomy in scripture. Pro 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

If Beeke is merely saying that the Christian should be zealous for good works, AMEN!

Faith should and does produce a zealous obedience to God's law.

Thanks again Andrew.

He's not arguing for a dichotomy but the simple fact that the Christian life is not isolated to intellectual abstract truths. The Christian life is expereinced. We experience faith because we do it. We expereince the joy of the Lord. We experience strength in afflictions. We experience love to Christ and His love to us. I think you're just thinking too hard on this. Don't be thrown off by "experimental" as if it's some charasmatic or pietistic theme. It simply means that the doctrines we preach we also live and experience.
 

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Originally posted by Jeff_Bartel
As for emotions involved in saving faith, this sounds very pietistic to me, and I have yet to see scriptural support for it. I don't want to turn this thread into a discussion on saving faith again (unless it directly involves experimental calvinism!), but I think that there are examples in scripture that militate against this idea.

I thought experimental Calvinism dealt with sanctification and introspection, does it not? Or can it be applied to justification and saving faith as well?

I would say both. Although most of the Puritan and other Reformed writings on the experimental aspects of the faith deal with sanctification more often than justification, I would say that is partially because, temporally speaking, sanctification simply occupies more time in our whole lives than does conversion, and perhaps also because justification through faith contains an instantaneous judicial declaration, whereas sanctification is completely extended in time and experience.

In light of that, I would still say there is an experimental aspect to the conversion process. For while it is based on an objective declaration beyond our experience, the means used by God for us to receive that declaration are within our experience, namely faith and repentence. And for true repentence to take place, we must have an experiential sense of, and disgust at, our own corruption, and a sense of sorrow toward God - and that sense of sorrow is also only possible with an already-present sense of awe at God's perfection and greatness. Furthermore, there is a necessary element of brokenness and surrender involved in crying out for mercy and wholly trusting in, and leaning on, God. There is also an inevitable sense of great joy experienced at the realization of God's grace, its nature and what it does for us. I could go on, but I think the point I'm trying to make is clear.

Originally posted by Jeff_Bartel
but here are the statements I might have problems with...

Experimental preaching stresses the need to know by experience the truths of the Word of God.

I'm not sure what Beeke means by this statement.

I think it relates to what Derek Webb said in the quotation I gave above. That is, a good example of "knowing" something by experience is our sin. If we, as committed Calvinists, intellectually believe the doctrine of Total Depravity with great vigor, but don't really know ourselves and our own hearts as sinful throughout our daily experiences, how can we be truly appreciative of the grace and redemption we have been given to the same level we see expressed in, say, the Psalms?

So basically, I don't think for a minute that Dr. Beeke would be hinting at a mystical form of revelation beyond Sola Scriptura in terms of what we are certain of from the Word of God. But I think he is saying (and I wholeheartedly agree with him) that it is integral to the Christian life to truly become aware of those certain truths playing out in our own feelings and experiences - just like the difference between believing in Total Depravity versus being actually familiar with (and loathing) our own actual sins every day.
 

mybigGod

Puritan Board Freshman
I think we can live as faithful worshipers in a sort of man centered mind set. You know i have gone to church for 30 yrs and sat in the pew and listened to many exegetical sermons. It seems to me that how i recieve the truth has an effect on my overall disposition for the good or for the bad. That is, what is personal to me is what matters the most. If i just see the promises as truth preached by a man for a member to recieve on a sabbath and not God supernaturally changing me from one glory to another in the breathed sense then to what extent i believe the impersonability of that message is to the extent that i do not understand its personal nature in my self.
The real experience in the sabbath worship comes to me when i begin to understand the nature of the truths and delight in the nature of the truths rather than in the intellect of the speaker or in my abilities in understanding.
I cant remember when i listened to a sermon as a passive listener. It seems that in any spiritual activity there is a war going on in the mind and there is an active side to listening that should increase in intensity as the sermon is spoken. Sometimes there is a slow rising to an intensity until at right up to the end, and then sometimes there are high and lows throughout the duration of the sermon.
If we learn to tarry long in the word through meditation we will begin to understand these spiritual powers and just how in the lack of them we deprive ourselves of the sweetness of their effects to our disposition. Then we can recieve the word in a personal way on the Sabbath through active listening.
 

VirginiaHuguenot

Puritanboard Librarian
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary says this on their website:

The resident faculty at Greenville Seminary are ordained men who have been pastors and preachers to God's people. They seek "œexperimental Calvinism" "” that marrying of biblical knowledge with zeal for God's truth and personal piety.
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
Originally posted by VirginiaHuguenot
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary says this on their website:

The resident faculty at Greenville Seminary are ordained men who have been pastors and preachers to God's people. They seek "œexperimental Calvinism" "” that marrying of biblical knowledge with zeal for God's truth and personal piety.

If that is what "experimental Calvinism" is, then I can give it a hearty :amen:.
 

TimeRedeemer

Puritan Board Freshman
J. I. Packer's phrase (if it's original to him I don't know) regarding the Puritans experimental Calvinism is they strove to "reduce to practice" their faith.

Think of the practice of the Puritans to keep journals, for instance. One thing they would do is to record observations of themselves made in real time during the course of their day. This is a practical effort to truly see things in oneself guided by the knowledge and light of what they learned in Scripture.

Philosophical level: sin is in me and sin does not glorify God.

Theoretical level: when I am asleep to my own behaviour and thoughts and words and deeds - in real time during the course of my average day - I am under the tyranny of my sinful nature more than if I strive to be awake to it all.

Practical level: this morning I didn't say anything or respond to my little three year old brother who ran to me when he saw me enter the room. I didn't put myself in his little shoes and show the joy of seeing him that he had in seeing me. I'm going to go now and play with him in the grass for a full hour (if he wants to!) and tomorrow morning I'll not be unresponsive to him like I was this morning.

Of course the practical level can get morbid or can be done badly (self-flagellating or "look how holy I am as I accuse myself of a thousand failings"), but it can also be done practically and honestly, with common-sense, and with great profit.

Another example: instead of just reading "love your enemy" make a goal for a day to intentionally be awake to and have good will towards anybody you encounter that is difficult to have good will towards. This gets the practice down to a practical, recorded effort. Reduce to practice.

When you practice the faith at this practical level, along with reading the Bible and studying doctrine, real understanding is developed in a way that it's not when you are only doing the reading and studying part.
 

TimeRedeemer

Puritan Board Freshman
A further step is to come up with a program for this practical level effort based on the teachings of Scripture. So that you have some direction and are getting a comprehensive strategic and tactical approach (if you will).

Starting with the two great commandments of Jesus is a good foundation.

There's alot of new-thinking in the Sermon on the Mount that requires a practical level approach to actually do in real time, real life situations and circumstances and events.

You can make categories like: words, thoughts, feelings, actions, deeds.

Or: superiours, equals, inferiours (in terms of your relations and behaviour regarding people in each of those categories).

You'll find things in Scripture, when you are looking for these things you are commanded to do, that you perhaps never really focused on before, such as Paul in Romans 13:11 saying now it is high time to awaken out of sleep, and connecting that with Jesus command to 'watch', and so forth.

I think when a person takes the step to make efforts at this practical level the Spirit then guides you into further knowledge and understanding of what to do and to focus on.

At least it's an advantage to know the entire program is contained in the Word of God, and we just have to make the effort to see it and put it together and do it.
 

Michael Butterfield

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by fredtgreco
Jeff,

Perhaps the single best work you could read on this subject (and incidentally perhaps the best theology apart from Calvin's Institutes) is The Christian's Reasonable Service by the Dutch theologian, A'Brakel.

One quote:
"God is not only the cause of spiritual life, but also the object of its motions. God Himself is all the delight, pleasure, and joy of the regenerate man. He cannot be without God. He wishes for and must enjoy the light of God's countenance, peace with God, and love and communion with God. By virtue of union with God he wishes to be united to His will, and thus to hate and shun what He hates, and to find delight in and in doing whatever God delights in and is pleasing to Him."

One on the CoW:
"Acquaintance with this covenant is of the greatest importance, for whoever errs here or denies the existence of the covenant of works, will not understand the covenant of grace, and will readily err concerning the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. Such a person will very readily deny that Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect."

Here is an interesting BoT article on the subject of experimentalism and faith
http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?719

If you have not read A'Brakel, make it next on your reading list, above anything else but the Scriptures.

:ditto: In fact, sell your shirt for this set. If you want good a good reformed systematic theology and experimental Calvinism, get this set! If I had to get rid of all my books but one set, this would be one of the top three choices and might be the sole set I took. :banana:
 

Michael Butterfield

Puritan Board Freshman
A Short Sample[/u]

Exhortation to Profit from this Doctrine of the Decrees of God
By Wilhelmus à Brakel

Do you desire to profit from this comforting doctrine?
First, seek to rid yourself of inordinate and close attachment to earthly things, and be diligent in renouncing your own will. The things of this earth are not your portion, and therefore cannot satisfy. Have you not often experienced that instead of resulting in more holiness, they rob you of your peace and spiritual liberty, hindering you from running your course with joy? Have you not often perceived in retrospect that it was God´s wisdom and goodness that He did not give you the desire of your heart, and that at times you were uncomfortable when your desire was granted? Why then are you so set upon receiving your desire? Is it not much better to rest in God´s decree?
Secondly, seek often to stimulate love for the sovereignty of God. Do you wish God to be your servant in order that you might receive your foolish desires? Or is it your joy that He is Lord, that He acts freely, and that as supreme Sovereign He rules everything according to His will, so that no one can stay His hand and say, "œWhat doest Thou?" Would you wish God to be subject to you, and to do your bidding? Do you not rather desire that, without the least deviation, His will be accomplished, both in regard to all things and in regard to yourself, even if you would have to lose all that you possess? You would certainly approve of this if you would but quietly contemplate this.
 

Michael Butterfield

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by puritansailor
Originally posted by Jeff_Bartel
head knowledge of scriptural truth is often a substitute for heart experience, or (what is equally unscriptural) heart experience is substituted for head knowledge. Experimental preaching calls for both head knowledge and heart experience; its goal, according to John Murray, is 'intelligent piety'.

I don't believe that there is a Head / Heart Dichotomy in scripture. Pro 23:7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

If Beeke is merely saying that the Christian should be zealous for good works, AMEN!

Faith should and does produce a zealous obedience to God's law.

Thanks again Andrew.

He's not arguing for a dichotomy but the simple fact that the Christian life is not isolated to intellectual abstract truths. The Christian life is expereinced. We experience faith because we do it. We expereince the joy of the Lord. We experience strength in afflictions. We experience love to Christ and His love to us. I think you're just thinking too hard on this. Don't be thrown off by "experimental" as if it's some charasmatic or pietistic theme. It simply means that the doctrines we preach we also live and experience.

:ditto:

I would add that experimental Calvinism is also a phenomenologically observed Calvinism and one that without doubt has a subjective element. Without the subjective, then we have no experimental Calvinism! It is subjectively receiving of revealed and objective truths of Scripture and is no manner, shape, or form a denial of Sola Scriptura. It is in fact, a substantiating of Sola Scriptura, because it is that and that alone that is received.
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
Thanks Michael.

I desire to obtain Wilhelmus à Brakel's set someday, and read through it. I definately believe that the Word of God should be applied to our daily lives, and should affect our desires in all spheres.
 
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