Is Personal Religious Experience a Useful Argument?

I have a confession to make.

I am an apologist who favors the use of objective evidence when arguing for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity (you didn’t know that, did you? Haha). As such, I usually avoid using personal stories in my faith conversations. It’s not that I don’t think such accounts could ever be meaningful to others, only that I realize other people must simply take me at my word whenever I relay my subjective experiences to them. I admit that I’ve even rolled my eyes in exasperation when hearing the statement, “Just tell them what Jesus has done in your life.” Again, it’s not that I think this practice is necessarily futile—far from it. But all too often, I hear this statement made as a cop-out by someone who doesn’t want to do the hard work of learning evidential apologetics or doesn’t understand its enormous value in evangelism.

In any case, I think I’ve made a mistake in not talking more about God’s work in my personal life. I’ve been underestimating the apologetic value of my own ongoing journey as a daughter and disciple of the living Christ.

What brought me to this realization was my observation that many non-believers argue against the Christian faith as if they have ALL the relevant evidence–that it’s all directly accessible to them. Many proceed to vigorously evangelize believers, thinking that they can “talk some sense” into them. The problem with this mentality is, the Christian believer has an entire category of knowledge of God that the non-believer does not. Some would call this category “religious experience.” As I’ve pondered this fact, it occurred to me that I could make the following argument:

If, as Christianity claims, God exists and desires a personal relationship with mankind, it is reasonable to believe that his followers would have experiences of him that non-believers do not have. That would, in fact, be a key difference between having and not having such a relationship. Therefore, anyone arguing against the truth of Christianity must deny that the believer has knowledge born of personal experience. They must label the believer claiming such knowledge as either psychologically delusional or outright dishonest.

Note that I’m not talking about the various phenomena common to the more charismatic church denominations (speaking in tongues, etc.). Rather, I mean the extraordinary divine orchestration of my life, including the moments when God has shown up in dramatic ways and the more subtle (but wholly, beautifully unique) signature he continually weaves into my timeline. Scripture also speaks of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, the special awareness of God that we enjoy whenever we submit our lives to Him. All of these are powerful evidences to me, yet the non-believer is necessarily blind to them. What we can do, though, is speak our stories into that darkness.

I’m going to talk about my personal experiences with God much more often. Perhaps I’ll be accused by some non-believers of being delusional or dishonest (those accusations would be nothing new, actually). But just as I am convinced that God uses the objective evidence for Christianity to reach even hardened skeptics, I recognize that giving him glory by testifying to his amazing work in my own life may also be a tool he uses to draw men and women to himself.

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