I do not know how many people lean toward the Romantic Christianity espoused by Bruce.
[I use his first name because of our long association and my personal concern for him.]
I suspect many people are sympathetic to his approach, which downplays history and formal church and theological organization in favor of a direct / personal apprehension of Christianity. If many are sympathetic to his doctrine, it must be analyzed.
I think that his approach identifies some real problems but provides a mistaken solution. And since I once had something similar to the religious confusion that he says he once had but has transcended, I continue to interact publicly with his doctrine.
Some, of course, will say I am beating a dead horse. Not so. The horse is very much alive to many people. If it is dead to you, read no further.
I have copied below the entirety of Bruce’s post entitled Me-Here-Now versus History – what kind of Christian are you? My comments are left-justified; his post and Scriptural quotes are indented and highlighted as quotes in the WordPress way.
Christians will find themselves – sometimes again and again – at a point where there is a stark awareness and apprehension of Me-Here-Now – a situation of direct and ‘intuitive’ knowing; rooted in a personal and first-hand experience, and a person to person relationship – typically in relationship to Jesus Christ.
This contrasts with traditional church-based knowing; which is rooted in historical discourse and ‘scholarship’ of various types; and is therefore second-hand (or third-/ fourth-/ fifth-hand…).
Church-knowing is indirect knowledge-about… rather than experience-of. It is something we learn and strive to remember… rather than apprehend with instantaneous clarity and conviction.
According to the Bible, a non-Christian starts becoming a Christian when he reads and believes what the Bible – -especially the Gospels – – says about Jesus. The Gospels are a true and accurate written account of what really happened in specific places at specific times.
According to the Bible, when some people learn more and more about Jesus by reading the true accounts about Him, the Holy Spirit begins to work in them, giving them spiritual life. Others do not so respond, evidently because the Holy Spirit chose not to work in them. This gives the new Christian, inter alia, the ability to have true faith (knowledge, agreement, trust) in Jesus.
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…
This process is both Me-Here-Now, and “church-based.” It is church-based in the sense that the church has preserved the true Writings about Jesus and also because the church, when doing its duty, presents the Words of God to mankind. It is also “scholar-based” in the sense that Christian scholars over the millennia have translated the original writings into languages we can understand, and also preserved and amplified our understanding of the meanings of the words of Scripture. It is also “Scripture-based” because the primary source of our knowledge of Jesus is Scripture. The primary source is not church authorities or traditions, or scholars (who only point to a reality that they do not control.)
Nor are we at the mercy of church officials or even scholars. What they say about Scripture is not validated because of their authority. They must make a case that the words of Scripture have a specific meaning. Like scientists, they have no authority in themselves, but must demonstrate publicly, using accepted modes of reasoning, that an object of study has certain properties.
But the process is also Me-Here-Now because the reader must understand and believe for himself. He must see Jesus through the words of Scripture and come to trust in Jesus.
Because modern Men are self-aware, because we are conscious of our own consciousness; we distinguish these two ‘ways of knowing’ whereas at times in history these would have been regarded as aspects of a unity…
Indeed they were not distinguished, because the individual was then immersed in the group’s thinking; and often had experienced none-other; his beliefs were spontaneously and unconsciously those of the social group, and these beliefs were apparently stable, apparently ‘eternal’.
Man in the past did not distinguish even the possibility of himself having direct and personal knowledge that diverged from knowledge he absorbed insensibly and by training and education from his society.
Therefore in the past – when Men’s consciousness was different; the basis of Christianity rooted in a church was natural, inevitable, and right.
There have always been heretics within the Christian community. Even in the First Century, the Apostle Paul wrote:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. [2 Cor. 11:13—15]
Even from the beginning, the Christian community was defined by adherence to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles who preserved it. These teachings were believed, not because “this is our way,” but because the witnesses said “this is what the Lord taught.” At first, Christian teaching came from men trained by Christ; later the teachings were preserved in written form. After the last eyewitness of Christ died no Christian knew Jesus by direct personal contact. They knew Him through the writings about Him.
But Now we experience self-validating truth for-ourselves, intermittently; in flashes, or ‘epiphanies’; yet brief because we are then in a state of self-awareness that of-itself interrupts that which is being-observed.
As soon as we know we are knowing – that consciousness slips-away into mere knowing that we know…
But anyone who has known by this kind of directly-apprehended, wordless intuition; is aware of its utter distinction from those vast masses of external and historical ‘knowledge’ which constitute ‘a religion’ or ‘a science’ or ‘literature’…
The question then arises; why should we believe secondhand church-knowledge?
Such a ‘why’ question would not have occurred in the past – but now it has; and it demands an answer; that is, assuming we are to give some version of church-knowledge absolute primacy* over all other contesting knowledge-claims…
This has to do with confidence that what you have read or heard is true. If you have no awareness of reasons to doubt what you have read or heard, you just believe it. But if doubt arises, you have difficulty. Skeptics and outright enemies of Christ are more numerous than ever and their doctrine is spread abroad more than ever, so many people are confused. They know Christian teaching, and they partly believe it, or they want to believe it, but they are also aware that it might not be so. They partly believe it, but they are also aware of possessing some measure of a contrary belief. This is the cause of the state which Charlton describes as “knowing you are knowing:” Being aware of your belief because you are also aware of its opposite.
These days almost all Christians are aware of plausible-seeming reasons to doubt. The innocent state of naïve belief without the knowledge of doubt is impossible to retain once it is lost.
Because, in fact, the world is full of liars and false doctrine. Many things that many people believe in naïve, child-like innocence are not so.
Therefore there is no alternative to seeking reasons. If something is true, it will survive being tested.
For a Christian, we see on the one hand an enormous, heavy, complex system of historical claims which constitutions a denomination or church; all of which includes the claim that this is (in some essential fashion) the unchanging truth, and our job is to worship and obey.
[Our] job as a church-Christian is primarily to learn-about this body of historical material – and submit-to it.
Therefore, Me-Here-Now and (what feels like) direct knowing; must be fitted-into – and submit-to – this mass of external stuff.
For a church-Christian; Nothing we might ever possibly experience, think, say or do – past, present or future – can ever affect the directionality of that relationship.
The Church – and therefore History – is absolute and primary; we our-selves are contingent and secondary.
(And the same applies if, for instance, The Church is replaced by Scripture, or Tradition – it’s all History, ultimately; all external – all given-us by a particular body of Men, all based-on historical claims.)
What is “absolute and primary” is What Really Happened, and What Jesus Really Taught. At this point I and my fellow Protestants have an advantage. We do not place plenary authority in any visible organized Church or any specifically articulated Tradition. The church is doing its duty when it places the Word of God (the Bible) before people. It is the knowledge of the person, the work and the teachings of Jesus that saves people from the punishment for their sins. And this knowledge comes from reading / hearing the words of the Bible accurately given and correctly explained.
This is the only way mankind can receive Jesus and be saved. Jesus does not hold office hours. He is known primarily through the Written Record.
But the Bible also teaches that those who have faith in Jesus through knowing and believing Scripture do have a direct personal connection with Him. A connection, through the Holy Spirit, that does not supersede Scripture, but supplements it. For example:
John 14:16, 17:
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.
When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me…
The church has a necessary function. It administers salvation. But it does not have authority like a civil ruler or even as an exceptionally learned scholar. The church is not “absolute and primary.”
So, this is the crux. We have our own most intense, most real, most true and most important convictions – rooted in (what feels like) a direct-knowing of reality…
Or we have (what feels like) a secondary, second-hand, submission to (what purports to be) a vast bulk of mixed historical claims – cross-referencing the validity of authority, scriptures, traditions and practices, beliefs etc.
Human authorities disagree with one another. This engenders confusion. And if these authorities have authority over us yet what they say seems fake then we have the anguish of being called to be hypocrites.
But if the Bible is the Word of God it is the ultimate Authority, and human religious authorities are legitimate only to the extent they understand and agree with Scripture. This the better solution to the problem of authorities who are confusing and fake.
The Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have different solutions to the problem. But they are on the right track: find out who or what has the real authority.
These two possibilities (for many perhaps almost all) people have separated, their combination was a consequence of unconsciousness – and now we are conscious – and they have been split apart by this consciousness.
Thus Romantic Christianity became a possibility, and the decision concerning ultimate authority became a necessity.
We can either acknowledge or deny the crux – but denial is dishonest.
What to do we do; where place our primary loyalty, where look for salvation? By submission and obedience to History (i.e. Our Church)?
Or; do we instead start the process of re-knowing, re-learning, re-making Christianity from the basis of the primacy of intuition, direct-knowing, heart-thinking (whatever we call it)…
The Bible has some things to say about the process of knowing and learning. For example:
1 John 4:1—3:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
1 Thessalonians 5:19—21:
Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.
(Which is (for Christians) intuition of the divine within us (as we are children of God), and our apprehension of the Holy Ghost without?)
Scripture says that we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26, 27), but not that we are divine. Scripture says we are sinners in need of salvation.
The crux is: Do we trust our-selves and personal-knowing primarily; or [do] we trust… whatever we have been told by our favoured historians concerning church-history, and organize everything else around that?
Is Christian faith to be rooted in the Here-and-Now experience – or in curated historical claims?
Romantic of Traditional?
Christianity is to be rooted in the true historic record of what God has done in Christ, as recorded in the Bible. Historians and other teachers do not have primary authority. They have authority only when their teaching accords with the words of Scripture. And since Scripture is not written in “code” (unless the type of writing clearly indicates that it is, e.g. parts of Revelation), the meaning of Scripture is found by using public knowledge of the ancient languages and ancient history and cultures. Just as it is for every writing, ancient or modern.
*Note: ‘Primary’ and Primacy’ are used here to indicates which comes first and is foundational. It is not a matter of either/ or Romantic versus Historical Christianity – but which is primary and foundational; about which judges and discerns the other. Thus a Romantic Christian may be a full church member and believer – but at root he will have intuitively-discerned and evaluated the truth of the church’s claims (at least; those which are of core importance to him), and consciously chosen to accept them. The Historical-Church Christian may experience intuitive direct knowing, but will accept or reject such insights in accordance with his primary obedience to the church – therefore no personal knowledge could ever (as a matter of principle) challenge or overturn the church’s instruction and teaching. What a church-Christian experiences and knows here-and-now, will only be allowed validity when it supports the church’s ‘historically-based’ understanding; and any other insights will be rejected as erroneous or evil.
It depends on what you mean by “intuition.” Although he has not acknowledged it clearly, Bruce uses the word as if intuition means something validated internally, with no direct reference to any knowledge that originates outside of the individual, such as, for example, knowledge obtained through a teacher or a religious creed.
This is a false understanding of intuition. All forms of knowledge, even intuitions, can be mistaken and therefore need confirmation that comes from outside ourselves. I have pointed this out to Bruce and he has not responded to my satisfaction. But I think it invalidates his theory of Christian knowledge.