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Allegiance, Truth and Power: Three crucial dimensions for Christian living


The Problem

In the aforementioned articles, I focused on the fact that most EuroAmerican Evangelicals have known virtually nothing of the spiritual power dimension of Christianity. Unfortunately, in certain circles, at least, there is also a tendency to degrade or ignore the experiential, relationship dimension as well (see Kraft, 2002).

Church historians tell us that whenever there is renewal the experiential component comes into focus in a major way. This experiential component tends to be maintained in pietistic and Pentecostal groups, though often allowed to dim in “more respectable” evangelical circles except perhaps at conversion and revival times. In mainline liberal groups, then, experiential emphases tend to be discouraged or even castigated. The conversions involved in renewal movements, pietism or the like, of course, bring new people into the Church on the basis of new relationships to God and the Christian community. And these new people need training if they are to move toward maturity.

Our training institutions tend to move the focus from growing in the allegiance-relationship dimension to acquiring knowledge in the understanding dimension.

Our training institutions, however, tend to move the focus from growing in the allegiance-relationship dimension to acquiring knowledge in the understanding (cognitive) dimension. Unfortunately, this change of focus often does great damage through leading to neglect of the much more important process of growth in Divine-human and human-human relationships. Whether in pre-membership classes in our churches or in the classrooms of our Bible schools, Christian colleges and seminaries, many people are weaned away from the centrality of their relational experience with God into an emphasis on learning information about the faith. This is one of the main reasons why many people “lose their faith” (that is, their closeness to Christ) in Christian colleges and seminaries. And because people lose their faith in academic institutions, many Christians, especially those at the more conservative end of the spectrum and those who value the relational-experiential dimension most highly, have become anti-academic.

When the emphasis is on the truth/knowledge dimension, the focus becomes knowledge about Christian things, including the relational and the freedom dimensions, rather than experience of these things. The result is that many people who are well trained in Christian institutions can discourse very learnedly even about subjects such as relationship and spiritual power—subjects with which they have had little or no experience.

Evangelicals who come from this knowledge-oriented stance tend to make statements against emphasizing experience, as if it were something to be afraid of, not to be trusted and, therefore, avoided. This has led to the experiential/relational dimension functioning largely underground. For example, even though all knowledge is grounded in experience and all interpretation pervasively affected by experience, many evangelical knowledge brokers perpetuate the fantasy that what they are teaching is objective Truth unadulterated by their subjective interpretations. Whether they admit it or not, however, all of what they teach as objective truth is strongly conditioned by their or someone else’s experientially-influenced interpretations. And both their experience and their interpretations are conditioned, perhaps quite unconsciously, by the kind of relationship they have with God and their fellow human beings.

The fact is, then, that all we know is totally conditioned by both our conscious and our unconscious interpretation of our experience and our relationships. When someone teaches theology, for example, the real quality of what they teach is dependent on the nature of their relational experience with the God whose Truth they claim to proclaim. A distant relationship with God, the Source of theology, or with the subject being dealt with (e.g., pastoring, deliverance) yields a mere theoretical knowledge of those subjects that at least reduces, if not destroys the relevance of what is being taught.


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Category: Fall 2010, Living the Faith

About the Author: Charles H. Kraft, Ph.D. (Hartford Seminary Foundation), is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Intercultural Communication, Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California). He has served as a missionary in Nigeria, and professor of African languages at Michigan State University and UCLA. He has published widely both in missiology and in African linguistics, and his books include Christianity in Culture (1979 and revised 2005), Worldview for Christian Witness (2008), and The Evangelical's Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Scriptural Insights and Practical Instruction on Facing the Enemy (Chosen, Feb 2015). His ministry website is

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