Our Need for Religious Experience: Part 4, Radical Openness to God

In the last three posts of this series I've made two points.

First, faith needs religious experience. We need to bump into God from time to time or faith reduces to ethics and politics.

Second, on first blush it might seem that religious experience is increasingly rare in our secular age, but that's actually not the case, as William James has pointed out. We are surrounded by religious experiences, if we know what we are looking for and are intentional to be on the lookout.

In short, religious experience requires attention and intentionality.

All this made me think of the series of posts I did about James Smith's description of "the pentecostal worldview" in his book Thinking in Tongues.

According to Smith, the genius of the (small-p) pentecostal experience is a radical openness to God, especially God doing something different or new.

This openness is, writes Smith, "a deep sense of expectation and an openness to surprise." Charismatic and pentecostal worship "makes room for the unexpected" where "the surprising comes as no surprise."

Importantly for this series, what is key here is a posture of receptivity. As James says, "pentecostal spirituality is shaped by a fundamental mode of reception." This posture of receptivity creates the potential for surprise.

When I say cultivating religious experience is a matter of attention and intentionality, these are the things I'm talking about. Cultivating...

...a posture of receptivity.

...a deep sense of expectation.

...a capacity for surprise.

...radical openness to God.

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