Summary: Lessons In Apologetics #3: Experientialism & Evidentialism
The next methodology is experientialism. Though fideism strives to make faith alone the justification for religious knowledge or belief, Geisler observes that this faith is ultimately justified in terms of an experience had by the individual (65).
To the experientialist, God or the Ultimate is not so much something to be understood or comprehended but rather felt. Stretching all the way back to the Neoplatonist Plotinus, experientialism views what the believer refers to as God as "the one beyond all knowing and being (66)."
In fact, God is so far beyond what the finite mind is capable of comprehending that to really say anything about God is highly inaccurate as to do so would be limiting God. As such, the best the individual can aspire to is an intuitive mystical union with the universal by turning inward through an ascetic detachment from the physical world around us in pursuit of a metaphysical unity.
Friedrich Schleiermacher provided for a more accessible apprehension of the cosmic or divine by equating religious experience not so much with monastic solitude but rather with the feeling of absolute dependence we all feel from time to time. According to Schleiermacher, this feeling is actually the World Spirit reaching out to us and actualizing within each of us.
To experientialists, dogmas and doctrines are not that important (that itself actually a doctrine though) as these conceptual formulations are merely shadows or echoes of the deeper experience. While experientialists are correct that the individual must have some kind of encounter with God beyond that often referred to as "book knowledge", one begins to trod upon dangerous ground when the experience becomes the ultimate criteria for judgment by positing that those having more intense experiences are somehow more in touch with the cosmos as in the case of certain meditation cults.
If experience itself is made the highest standard, the individual will end up not knowing whether or not he is being led into deception. I John 4:1 tells us to test the spirits to see if they are from God.
The next apologetic methodology is evidentialism. Rationalism, fideism, and experientialism are largely inwardly focused approaches to knowledge of God with both fideism and experientialism also being highly subjective as well. Evidentialism tends to be more objective as it points to evidence existing independently of an individual's internal emotional or intellectual states to make a case for the existence of God.
While experientialism stresses the importance of a personal acquaintance with what we categorize as the divine, evidentialism provides an anchor to prevent such hypothesizing from meandering off into exceedingly esoteric or individualized speculation by providing a basis for belief any interested party is free to investigate at their own leisure. The primary forms of proof offered by evidentialists are nature and history.
Nature is probably the form of evidence best used when the individual being appealed to is not yet even a theist. This proof for the existence of God is known as the teleological argument in that it holds that the intricate structures found in the world point to the need for a designer.