I. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE "EVIDENCE" OF
A Vacuum of Validity
Have you heard the latest slander? Do you dare
know the shame?
Few admit this scandal, but in the postmodern—or
whatever-we-will-call-it—world, the church has lost the tools of its
trade. Why? Because the world no longer accepts the proofs of our
truth. Nonbelievers no longer suffer the evidence of our doctrines.
Even more scandalous, "Absolute truth is an illusion and one
interpretation is purportedly as good as any other."1
In short, our proof—our evidence—our
interpretation have been discredited.
What could be worse? What calamities could
threaten the church more? What issues could deform its future
further? Somehow, the church must meet this historic challenge with
far more convincing certainties. And—contrary to opinion—we have
those certainties. Even in a postmodern world, valid signs and tests
of truth remain. They simply differ from the ones we have used.
. . . or misused.
Sensing this void of believability, many
apologists turn to the "experience" of faith for their foundation.
But the "experience" of faith is not always the "test" of faith.
Yes, we experience "events" of truth, but we must follow with the
disciplined examination of those events. Yes, meaningful
"encounters" come first, but we must later explain those encounters.
And, yes, we love "signs" of significance, but we must then test
Most of us fail, however, to recognize even the
signs. So that is where we begin:
"We’ve Been There"
Life pursues the significance of life. We play,
work, study, and battle, for example, in order to experience life’s
significance. And this experience counts, for us, as the evidence of
truth. It fulfills what great thinkers mean by truth and what great
believers justify as truth.
In short, all of us consider personal experience
a convincing expression, a dependable index, a valid indication of
something important. Indeed, no doctrinal "truth" can take the place
of experiencing that truth. Otherwise, how would we know it’s true?
Faith doesn’t simply duplicate someone else’s faith. Each of us must
have an "original copy."
So when lived experience discloses the event
character of truth—when something significant indicates the
essential meaning of life—when converging evidence reveals the
deeper implication of reality, we know that we "have been there,
entered in, (and) experienced firsthand in an unforgettable way."2
This is no mere bloodless "truth," though. This
is not a proposition or principle. We don’t stand aside as an
audience of bystanders or spectators. God doesn’t reach us
impersonally from somewhere in outer space. We witness, instead, a
particular message to a particular person at a particular moment.
It is a direct experience at any and every level
of perception. It arrives as we feel most intensely alive. And,
though we see only portions of Truth, we do see.
Pretenders at a Masquerade Party
Unfortunately, what we "see" often misleads us.
Counterfeit "signs" often move deceptively close to the real. Not
everything "positive," for example, ends up being positive. We need
only recall that self-indulgence seldom promises authentic spiritual
"events." And we need only remember that "Satan himself masquerades
as an angel of light."3
Adding to the confusion, not everything
"negative" ends up being negative. "The smell of doom," for example,
may actually hide "the sweet fragrance of truth."4 Truth,
after all, offends us when we’re living a lie. When something
challenges our self-deceptions, we smell the "odor" of an imagined
"enemy." But we were the stench all along.
Continuing this masquerade, many believe if some
experience is crazy enough, senseless enough, "It must be God." So
they feed on anything unreal or surreal, wild or otherworldly. Any
weirdness becomes a sure "sign" of the Holy Spirit. But often, these
deformed realities only signify sick souls and demonic debris.
These "believers" mistake the irrational for the
We could excuse those who pursue only the
trans-rational—those who pursue, for example, the miraculous "gifts
of the spirit" or the "charismata." Unfortunately, many of these
believers crave spiritual gifts for the sake of spiritual "kicks."
And, they often leave their experiences "untested, undiscerned, and
The postmodern world brings further deceit to
these deceptions. Increasingly, believers assume that all truth is
"relative"—that spiritual "signs" depend on whatever feels
comfortable—that a "move of God" is whatever fits their perspective
of the situation.
So trying to recognize Truth is like trying to
recognize your friends and avoid your enemies at a masquerade party.
That’s the reason Jesus warns, "Be careful that no one misleads
"The possibility of error is a necessary element
of any belief."7
To recognize "friends"—to discern authentic signs
of Truth—we must distinguish between Spirit and "flesh"—revelation
and subjectivity—godly experiences and worldly experiences. Of
course, this requires wisdom as well as a will. But if we believe
the "Word became flesh," then we must also believe that any sign can
be evaluated by criteria that transcend that sign.
Of course, a sign does not begin with borrowed
faith, but with God’s action in our lives. It is a first-hand
awareness—unmediated and unfiltered by anything and anyone. It is a
pristine knowing of which our knowing knows nothing. It is a primary
force that births—then interprets—then shatters human reason.
Over and over.
Both the churched and the unchurched speak of
these lived experiences, realized moments, heightened states of
personal feelings. Frequently, they report sympathetic responses to
a "deep knowing," an "inner logic," or a "foreshadowed
understanding." Often, they describe profound intuitions of a
"special awareness," an "intense recognition," a "deep remembering."
Contrary to opinions, these moments are neither
objective nor subjective. Rather than "cognitions," for example,
they are "recognitions." Instead of "outward inventions," they are
"inward gestations." Yet finally, we lack adequate words, so we
attribute all these experiences to the "heart."
In the "heart," we may refer to a "quickening," a
"resonance," or a "supersensitivity" to some disclosure. We may
speak of the "surprise," the "spontaneity," or the "intrusion" of
the "Other." And, we may report the "immediacy," the "intimacy," or
the "visceral" shock of a luminous moment.
However we describe it, the experience packs a
"As in water face answers to and reflects face, so
the heart of man to man."8
The Author of the World
Scripture calls this "the Spirit of Truth" which
"lives with you constantly"—"guide(s) you into all the Truth"—and
"gives men understanding."9 It is a lived experience that
belongs to all. It is a shared meaning that pushes beyond mere
After all, God "planted eternity in men’s hearts
and minds."10 So the true and the beautiful follow
patterns that were woven into all our bodies and brains. Yes, we
differ enormously, but we share life with an enormous range of
shared truths. Yes, we reflect diverse cultures, but we also reveal
the same mosaic of consciousness.
Let’s face it, embodied experiences are
universal, so their corresponding truths are also universal.
Scripture echos, "I will pour out my Spirit upon
all mankind,"11 so we are all "without excuse."12
Of course, we know this outpouring by the witness of historic
communities. We know it by the witness of living communities. And we
know it by the witness of our own lives.
The very historicity of human experience has been
our beacon for centuries.
"The Spirit is the author of the world"13
What, then, is the witness of that experience?
What are the specific instances that suggest "signs of Truth"?
Notice the following phenomena. They are neither inclusive nor
required, but they bring reflection and wonder. They are not the
essential "tests" of Truth, but they evoke the emerging "signs" of
To begin. . . .
All of us have known a "not us"—something we
encounter beyond our subjectivity, beyond our categories and
concepts, beyond the inventions of our minds. It’s no accident that
Hebrew "holiness" meant something beyond the ordinary, something
"set apart." And today, it’s no surprise that "spiritual" beauty
still opens to something beyond beauty itself.
That something is a "not us." It is sheer
Nor is it our power. A great dancer, for example,
knows a power other than muscular power. And the great pianist Artur
Rubinstein knew a distinct thing—"a tangible energy reaching out
into the audience."14
Again, that something is a "not us." It is a
It’s like a fire that inflames itself. In other
words, it is just there! It has its own "isness" or "ownness." Or,
it is like an "everlasting loveliness which neither comes nor goes,
which neither flowers nor fades."15 We may discover it,
but then we frankly admit it existed before being discovered.
And often it jumps ahead of us, like a leaping
spark that ignites the mind before the mind knows it has been
ignited. In other words, it puts things in our path, it "ambushes"
us. It is, in short, the spontaneous intrusion of the unknown:
What a story does is sneak up behind you
and whisper something in your ear. And when you turn around
to see what it is, it kicks you in the butt and runs and
hides behind a bush.16
The Ultimate Sign?
Obviously, we can’t manipulate a sign like the
story above. It remains autonomous even as we attempt to interpret
it, for it refuses any interpretation but its own. In other words,
it is self-authenticating. It has its own way of being. We don’t
interpret it as much as it interprets us. We don’t create it as much
as it creates us.
Paradoxically, signs bring both fascination and
fear, desire and dread, an impelling and a repelling—all at once.
More important, they demand a response. Worldly wisdom seldom asks
you what it means, but signs of Truth force this question.
They demand a dialogue.
It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that signs of
Truth bring the totally new—unique visions never known—shifts in
perspective never guessed—prophetic revelations never figured
out—and redescriptions of the world never proclaimed.
Nor should it surprise us that signs of Truth
suggest another power, an outside force, an external dynamic. This
power proves itself especially in our frailty and vulnerability. And
often, its massive blow leaves us changed. No wonder Paul claimed,
"The kingdom of God consists of and is based on not talk but power."17
Artists frequently report creative forces not
dependent on the artist. Thomas Wolfe admitted, "I cannot really say
the book was written. It was something that took hold of me . . .
everything was swept and borne along as by a great river. And I was
borne along with it." And Pierre Monteux confessed, "If we do our
way properly, music will make its way, not ours."
Yet, this power is more than the music. We
ecstatically participate with something both "nearer and farther"
than the music itself—something far more encompassing.18
A sign, in other words, transcends its own medium. And that
transcendence may be the ultimate signal of Truth.
Being in Touch
If transcendence is the ultimate signal of Truth,
then embodied emotion is the initial sign of Truth. Though refused
by the elite leaders of passing modernity, we increasingly speak of
"bodily wisdom"—the felt meanings of our emotions, feelings and
Feeling, after all, is life itself. Reality is
personal—it is felt. And we regard these experiences as dependable
signs of meaning.
Contrary to opinion, even "respectable
thinking"—"pure" science and "objective" scholarship—involves
experience, specifically the experience of the body. In recent
years, scientists have discovered that the mind is inherently
embodied, that even abstract concepts are based on the emotions of
metaphors. Indeed, all thoughts "arise from and are shaped by the
So experience and reality are the same. "Our
embodiment shapes our reasoning and . . . forms the basis for what
we take to be true . . . (even in) stable scientific knowledge."
Indeed, we consider people ill when they get "out of touch" with
reality.20 Of course, this implies that "being in touch"
requires something that "touches" us.
Without feelings, nothing matters.
It makes sense, then, to say truth is also
embodied. The fact that emotions, feelings and senses play a central
role in all aspects of meaning promises new answers in how we search
for Truth. This new cause becomes especially true when confronted
with qualities that can’t be quantified.
Beauty, as example.
We "feel" the truth in beauty. Our sense of
beauty—and its "felt-truth"—has always been an emotional language.
When Hans Urs von Balthasar said, "Overwhelming beauty points beyond
itself," he meant that our aesthetic feelings become a bridge to
something beyond both beauty and us.21 And when
Dostoevsky said, "Beauty will save the world," he meant that our
sense of beauty will save the world.22
The sense of beauty, then, remains the medium of
our faith. The biblical David desired—more than anything else!—"to
behold and gaze upon the beauty (the sweet attractiveness and the
delightful loveliness) of the Lord."23 And even our
salvation, Jonathan Edwards insisted, requires a sense of beauty.24
So this "sense"—the emotions and feelings of our
body—can’t be separated from our love of God. They are intricately
related. That’s why early church leaders reached their listeners on
a visceral level. Paul’s writings, for example, reveal emotions that
were "pleading, strident, exasperated, affectionate, urgent,
reflective, passionate, and at times impatient."25 In
fact, Paul and other biblical writers can’t be fully understood
without the sympathetic response of our bodies.
And centuries later, the revelation of
God—according to William James—comes more from "immediate feeling,
than after . . . proposition and judgment."26 And the
grasp of the transcendent—according to C. S. Lewis—comes only from
In psychoanalysis, emotions become the
basis for ‘suspicions.’ But in religious language, emotions
become the basis for belief.28
These emotions, however, are not a bogus bliss or
a surrogate spirituality. They are not, for example, the passions of
self-interest, self-centeredness, self-preservation, or
self-pleasure. And, they are not the natural instincts of
Take "love," as example. Signs of Truth are not
the love that "scratches your back if you scratch mine." Nor are
these signs a prideful pretense of the faked virtue flaunted among
church "pillars" who proclaim "my pew, my church, my doctrine. . .
In the same way, signs of Truth are not knee-jerk
responses to the environment. Godly sensitivities, for example, are
not blown this way and that way by any and every situation. Neither
will we find them in the fleeting and fickle moods of random causes
. . .
. . . or in the manipulations of others.
And—contrary to the postmodern bunch—prophetic
emotions are not subjective. They are not limited, in other words,
to sentimental romanticism, fanciful passions, or fantasized poetry.
They are not mere emotions for the sake of emotion.
For those pure "thinkers," though, who claim to
"rise above" such base instincts, let them also know that these
emotions are not the "objective" feelings of philosophy or
psychology. They are not the mere "ideas" of our experiences.
And, finally, let those who worship beauty and
art through "cultured," "decapitated" heads know that this passion
is not a "refined," cosmetic passion—a counterfeit beauty that
parades only itself. Such zealots confuse the oyster for the pearl.
They mistake the medium for the message.
These fraudulent feelings, or "signs," also prove
spiritually fraudulent. They may look good—even altruistic—in
religious settings. But the warm embrace of religion does not change
their turned-in soulishness. And the secure approval of church
hierarchy does not remove their darkness.
How can we know, then? How can we tell godly
emotions from self-serving emotions?
To begin, Scripture asserts, "Spirit gives birth
to spirit."29 We confirm this truth when our emotions
rejoice solely in what the Spirit likes and scorn only what the
Spirit rejects. Beyond our natural bias, we would call these moods,
They differ from "natural emotions."
Spiritual emotions transgress many of the "common
sense" rules of our common senses. For example, spiritual emotions
"see" as well as feel, while natural emotions only feel without
seeing. In other words, spiritual emotion yields light with its
heat, revelation with its warmth, and insight with its inspiration.
It is where meaning is "felt." It is a
With this "embodied" Truth, "not only do we have
"infinite passion," we also have "passion for the infinite."30
Not only do we hear music with our ear, we also sense its meaning
with an "inner" ear. Not only do we see beauty with our eye, we also
sense its meaning with an "inner" eye. Not only do we respond—animal
like—to our surface senses, we also cross to other senses—comparing
a sound to a smell, a sight to a touch. . . .
Notice. These events are evoked or felt
aesthetically—much the way we experience beauty.
So, with spiritual emotion, the senses of the
world transcend the world. Truth is realized through them, but not
in them. The "messenger" is known by our senses, but meaning is
known by the message. In short, spiritual emotion is a vicarious,
"stand-in" emotion—a "not-us" emotion.
In other words, it mediates between "here" and
"not here"—us and "not-us"—our sensual life and spiritual life. It
enables a dialogue, or communion, where Spirit witnesses to spirit.
It reflects the "merger of the finite with the Infinite for a
transient but ecstatic period."31
Spiritual emotions, then, run counter to the
world. Indeed, they are considered even dangerous to the world. But
when we transcend the world, what better signs. . . .
Our visual, tactile, auditory and
olfactory extensions are . . . searching prostheses . . .
endowed with intentions and powers of decision.32
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Lewis Edwin Hahn, Editor, The Philosophy of
Paul Ricoeur (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) p. 278-280.
2. John Eldredge, Wild at Heart: Discovering
the Secret of a Man’s Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,
2001) p. 99, 100.
3. II Corinthians 11:14, AMP.
4. II Corinthians 2:15, 16; AMP
5. Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the
People of God (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers,
1996) p. 188.
6. Matthew 24:4, AMP.
7. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge:
Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1958) p 315.
8. Proverbs 27:19, AMP.
9. John 14:17, 16:13; Job 32:8; AMP.
10. Ecclesiastes 3:11, AMP.
11. Acts 2:17, AMP (my italics).
12. Romans 1:19, 20; AMP.
13. Stanley J. Grenz, John R. Franke, Beyond
Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context
(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) p. 77.
14. Roy Kennedy, "Music Therapy,"
15. Plato, in the Symposium, quoted in
Philip Koch, Solitude: A Philosophical Encounter (Chicago:
Open Court, 1994) p. 129.
16. Brian McLaren, quoted in "Evangelism Among
17. I Corinthians 4:20 AMP.
18. Walt Whitman, "Leaves of Grass,"
19. Fritjof Capra, The Hidden Connections:
Integrating the Biological, Cognitive, and Social Dimensions of Life
into a Science of Sustainability (New York: Doubleday, 2002) p.
64, 65, 72.
20. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy
in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought
(New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999) pp 78, 95, 96, 128.
21. Hans Urs von Balthasar, quoted in Patrick
Sherry, Spirit and Beauty: An Introduction to Theological
Aesthetics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, l992) p. 161.
22. Nancy Forest-Flier, "Beauty Will Save the
23. Psalm 27:4, AMP.
24. Frank Burch Brown, Religious Aesthetics: A
Theological Study of Making and Meaning (Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1989) p. 147.
25. Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations
in Grace and Community (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
2000) p.196, 197.
26. William James, The Varieties of Religious
Experience (New York: Modern Library, 1936) p. 397.
27. C. S. Lewis, quoted in Leanne Payne, Real
Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p 137.
28. Hahn, p. 429.
29. John 3:6, NIV.
30. Paul Tillich,
31. Georgia Harkness, quoted in Leanne Payne,
Real Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 142.
32. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture
(Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 150.