I recently visited a church that was going Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” study on Wednesday evenings. The book by Blackaby has been a very popular mainstay in many evangelical churches for the past few decades. Although I was familiar with Henry Blackaby and his Experiencing God study through its reputation, I had never actually read the book. So I looked forward to learning more about it on this particular Wednesday night.
The pastor leading the study is a very Godly man, and it was a joy to sit under his teachings. His consistent focus on the scriptures and apparent desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ was so refreshing to see. And this pastor’s love for his congregation was made evident in his taking time to speak to each and every person that was in attendance. A true man of God.
After we had opened the study in prayer, a video of Henry Blackaby personally introducing his study was played for all to see. In Blackaby’s introduction, he expressed his deep desire for those participating in the study to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Blackaby’s burden to see men saved was apparent, and his love for the Lord unquestionable.
However, when Blackaby gave his reasoning for why he chose to name his book ‘Experiencing God’, his answer was a bit unsettling. Blackaby said that the reason he did not name his book ‘Knowing God’ and instead chose to call it ‘Experiencing God’ is because God wants us to experience Him.
Blackaby went on to say that to know God merely implies a dry book knowledge of our Lord, and what people really needed was an experience with the Divine. “God doesn’t just want His children to know Him, He wants them to experience Him”, said Blackaby.
While I have no doubt that Blackaby desired to see people come to Christ, his statement of placing an experience with God over knowing God is not only unbiblical, but it actual diminishes the relationship to which God has called His elect to have with Him.
This is not my opinion, but rather what the scriptures plainly teach. Not once in the Bible does the Lord request that His people experience Him. What God does consistently say is that He desires His people to know Him. This plea from the Lord is repeated over and over throughout the scriptures.
The original Greek words for “to know” are “oida” and “ginosko.” Both words imply a much deeper definition than simply book knowledge. When God uses the word “know”, He is implying an intimate relationship with Him. In the garden of Eden, the scriptures say of the relationship between Adam and Eve;
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Genesis 4:1.
When Moses wrote that Adam “KNEW” his wife, he did not mean that Adam had a mere knowledge of her existence. The word “know” meant that they had an intimate relationship. Now it goes without saying that the Lord is not implying that His children have a romantic relationship with Him (as the New Apostolic Reformation movement often implies), but rather that our knowledge of Him leads us to know and trust Him more than our closest family member.
Jesus used the same word “know” when speaking to His disciples about eternal life. Jesus did not say that eternal life was found in experiencing Him.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3.
Experiencing God is impossible unless we KNOW Him through His Word. Furthermore, salvation is only found through knowing our Lord in a personal relationship. Salvation is not grounded in our feelings or emotions about God. Again, there are false sects of Christianity like the NAR that promote having an emotive experience with God over knowing Him as He has presented Himself in scripture.
Basing our perception of God on feelings or our experience of Him makes God subservient to what pleases us. But when our perception of God is strictly based on knowing Him through His Word, we are at His mercy. And the knowledge of our depravity in light of His grace drives us deep into repentance, thankfulness, and adoration.
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24.
Again, the prophet Jeremiah did not write that God demands an experience of Himself. Rather, the same word for intimacy, to KNOW, is used. To say that knowing God implies a dry book knowledge is due to a misunderstanding of the depth of meaning behind the Lord’s command for us to know Him.
“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” Philippians 3:10.
The greatest longing of the Apostle Paul wasn’t to experience God. Paul desired more than anything to know Him through His Word. Even when Paul experienced seeing Christ on the road to Damascus, it was not the blinding light that changed Paul. It was Christ speaking the Word of the Lord to Him. It was the power of the spoken Word of God that brought Paul to saving faith.
It is impossible to have a relationship with God apart from head knowledge of Him.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2.
Christ desires that our minds be renewed through the knowledge of God. Peter did not wish for his followers to experience God, but rather to have knowledge of Him that would press them into an intimate relationship with Him.
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18.
When John wrote His epistle of 1 John, he distinguished how he could tell that a person had been regenerated and born again. He did not say that whoever has experienced God listens to them. Instead, he said whoever knows God. And those without the knowledge of God have no love for His Word. If we desire an experience of God over truly knowing the Lord, it is not Christ we seek, but our own preferences.
“We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” 1 John 4:6.
Remember, the golden calf that the Israelites built to worship in the book of Exodus was a cumulation of what they wanted to experience in their worship of God. As the worshipped, they indulged in drunkeness and sexual immorality. Had they possessed true knowledge of God, they would have been broken over their sins and have never acted in that manner. An experience of God that is not grounded in knowledge is very dangerous.
Jesus told a parable of a rich man and a poor man who both died. The poor man Lazarus went to be by Abraham’s side in Heaven, while the rich man went to Hell. As the rich man was in anguish, he recalled that he had five unbelieving brothers. And he knew that when they died, they would likewise join him in Hell. So the rich man made this plea with Abraham;
“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’” Luke 16:27-28.
The rich man wanted the spirit of the poor man Lazarus to be sent to his brothers to warn them of the consequences of unbelief. The rich man wanted his unbelieving brothers to have an experience that was from God. Like many today, the rich man wrongly assumed that an experience from God would lead to salvation. But Abraham said this in response to the rich man’s request;
“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”Luke 16:29-31.”
The rich man argued that if only his brothers could have an experience sent from God, then they would be saved. But Abraham refused, saying that if the written Word, which is written by Moses and the Prophets, did not regenerate them, then no experience would be stronger than the Word of God. Abraham placed knowing God through His Word over having a Divine experience.
In Matthew 7, Jesus gives us the picture of many church going and religious people standing before Him on judgement day. The Lord goes on to say that these people listed all of their good works and piety as the reason that they should be allowed into His Kingdom. But although these people would claim Christ as Lord, they had no true love for Him in their heart. The Lord tells these hypocrites to depart from Him into Hell. Notice that the Lord does not say “Depart from me, for you never experienced me.” Rather He says;
“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:23.
Once again, I have no doubt that Henry Blackaby loved the Lord with all of His heart and had the best of intentions in His ministry. In fact, many of the things that Blackaby says in his book are spot on and very useful in leading us into this knowledge of the Lord. But our experience of God can only come through a reverent knowledge of Him. And that knowledge can only be found in His Word. Sola Scriptura.