Experience is the best teacher. No doubt you’ve heard that one before. There are many things one can learn as they are encountered in life. What should I do if my vehicle breaks down in the middle of nowhere? How does one go about buying and maintaining a house? What do I do if I mess up my tax return? Living within a community of people tends to create a type of “crowdsourcing” dynamic wherein each individual learns from the collective life-experience of the group. This is good and healthy.
These are matters of “epistemology.” Epistemology is the theory of knowledge; or, how do we discover truth? For the Christian, this is an important area of consideration because God is very concerned with intellectual virtuousness. This is why he gave us the Scriptures!
Emerging within our 21st-century American culture is an epistemological approach that spins life-experience in a slightly different way. At the center of it is the belief that certain cultural groups have special access to truth while others are blinded to truth by virtue of the group they’re a part of. What accounts for the difference is lived experience.
There are grains of truth in this idea. It is wise to be aware we all have cultural blindspots and translate that awareness into listening to the life experiences of others. As Christians, a general rule of thumb is: listen more, talk less (James 1:19).
However, lived experience should never rise to the level of unchallengeable insight. This undermines Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). The truths we glean through life experience ought always be placed under the microscope of God’s Word. Our authority to speak about the plethora of topics that arise throughout a lifetime ultimately comes from God’s Word, not our experiences.
One of the encouraging outcomes of this is that no one individual or one group has special access to truth (To say some particular group of people has special access to truth is another form of ethnocentrism). If Scripture is the final arbiter of truth, then truth is accessible to all people regardless of their demographics (Ps. 119:130, 160; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 2:12-14; Heb. 8:10-12).