Tuesday, June 3, 2014

June 3, 2014 - Along the way ...

Last week I saw a friend on Facebook post a question that has intrigued me.  She asked, "What is existentialism?  And how do you think existentialism has impacted modern Christianity?"

First, I believe existentialism is the idea that truth is discovered or becomes known through experience.   For example what we see, hear, and feel (our life experiences) shapes what we believe to be true.  

Second, I believe existentialism has impacted modern Christianity in many ways; some positive and some negative.

One positive way that I believe existentialism has impacted modern Christianity is that God is becoming more than just a theory.   There are two ways by which we come to know God - through His word and His Spirit.  The Spirit reveals God as we experience God at work in us and around us.  The danger of a purely doctrinal (word-based) understanding of God, or understanding God and truth merely through propositions or statements, is that God becomes stale, predictable, and less than He is as the living God.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life ..."  Jesus is more than a proposition.   He is a really living being we can come to know through real life experience.  

A negative way that I believe existentialism has impacted modern Christianity is that God has become known only through our personal experiences.   If God is only known through the experience of the Spirit, then our knowledge of God will always be limited to our personal experience.  The fact that God has given us His word as a means to know Him can become discredited unless what the word says can be verified by my personal experience.  This makes God arbitrary and inconsistent, so that no one knows if the God we experience is really the true God.  

I believe there is much more to be said in this regard.   These are just a few of my thoughts, and I invite you to share yours as we journey together along the way ...


  1. Hi Pastor Joe,

    The topic of existentialism is a broad and confusing topic to research...I have done some reading and listened to a couple of speakers and intend to do more. But here are some thoughts.

    Secular existentialism seems to say our existence is validated by our personal experiences. We have to look into ourselves and determine what is worth while and make our decisions in life based on our past experiences. It is very individualistic. Many of the sources I looked into did not acknowledge God or an afterlife. And many of the sources referred to hopelessness and despair.

    While Christians have a difference basis of beliefs and absolutes I can see areas where existentialism has had its affects on the church today. Our relationship with Christ has to be personal and real. Yet to base our faith primarily on what we experience and not on what we 'know' to be true puts us on a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs with little stability because experience and emotions are so closely connected. This leaves us constantly needing another 'experience' to validate our faith.

    Another concern is the emphasis on individualism and the impact that has on corporate kingdom living. We see many churches where attendance is down and the second service is discontinued, giving is down, individual taste in worship styles has caused riffs in congregations, to name a few things; all causing a lack of unity of the corporate body of the church.

    I want to do more reading on the subject and identify some biblical principles that can be applied. Looking forward to more comments and discussion.

    For God's Glory,


  2. Sonya, I agree that individualism, which may in fact be a result of existentialist tendencies, is a problem in today's world and in the church. However, I am not sure that existentialism itself necessarily has to lead toward individualism. Experience can also be shared experience that brings us together and unites us with a common purpose. I believe experiencing God as He is (the Living God) to be a powerful endorsement of true faith in God's promise met in Jesus. The things we here about in scripture are confirmed by our shared experience of the joy, peace, and comfort of knowing God.

    Nevertheless, I appreciate your concerns and I agree that we must resist the tendency toward individualism in our faith and our everyday life. We need one another, as God has made us for community, even as He has made us for Himself.