Saturday, November 5, 2011

Understanding epignosis can help you write your memoir

Epignosis: experiential knowledge

I asked my son the professor (and now the chair of the Educational Foundations Department) to explain epignosis in language we all can understand, and here’s what he said:

Epignosis is a Greek word for “to know” but it carries a depth and dynamic that our English word for “to know” does not have. When you gnosis something, it is like studying all about bungee jumping from a book, talking to bungee-jumpers, and maybe even watching bungee-jumpers. From all that, you would know, or gnosis, bungee jumping.

However, once you [know all that] and you actually bungee jump, you would truly epignosis what bungee jumping is. There can be a big difference between gnosis and epignosis, yet in English they both come across as “to know.” Both are ways of knowing about bungee jumping, but the doing provides a special kind of knowing (epignosis) that the gnosis alone probably would not convey.

John and Paul both talk yearningly about knowing the reality of Christ in our lives, but the word often used is not gnosis only, but rather it is epignosis: to truly, fully, and experientially know and love Christ. This is where our faith becomes fully authentic.…  Often it comes from the scary steps of faith and obedience, which is why the bungee jumping metaphor works well. Everything else is only gnosis which does not carry the fullness of life that Christ brought and makes available to us. (Matt Thomas, Ph.D.)

Thanks, Matt!

Here’s another example: We can hear a sermon about prayer, read a book about prayer, and take a class about prayer, but in all those activities the learning is merely gnosis, head knowledge. On the other hand, epignosis, real experiential knowledge of prayer, comes only when we actually pray.

Over at my other blog, Grandma’s Letters from Africa,* I wrote:

After I slept in a tent for six weeks with lions or leopards prowling on the other side of the tent wall, I can tell you I’ve experienced the truth of Psalm 91:4-5, “[God’s] faithfulness will be your shield.… You will not fear the terror of the night,” and verses 9-11, “If you make the Most High your dwelling, then no harm … no disaster will come near your tent.” *

Believe me, that tent wall was skimpy. (Here's a picture from my scrapbook.) It did not keep out big cat sounds just inches away on the other side. Were they lions? Leopards? I’ll never know. I saw only their paw prints in the dust the next morning, but by God’s grace, I lived to tell about it! *

Because I lived to tell about it, I can say, along with David, that though I walked in the midst of trouble, God preserved my life (Psalm 138:7). I knew because I’d experienced it. 

People who live to tell about it have moved beyond gnosis, beyond mere head knowledge. They have lived the reality. Epignosis: to know by experience.

God invites us to move beyond gnosis—beyond head knowledge: He offers us a chance to epignosis—to live out the reality of Himself and His Word.

Within the stories of your life, I hope you recognize you have received one opportunity after another to truly, fully, experientially know God!

That is the place from which you write your stories!

Maybe you have written a vignette about a scary situation; you thought you couldn’t endure it, but God gave you strength beyond yourself and you did get through it. Within that vignette, probably in your summary, tell your readers something like this: “God says, ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ (Isaiah 41:10), and the Bible says, ‘Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint’ (Isaiah 40:31). I know God can and does give us strength beyond ourselves because, as I’ve told you in this story, God has done that for me. When you go through difficult times, when you think you have no more strength, I encourage you to trust God to help you.”

You want your readers to more than gnosis (know about) God—you want them to epignosis (personally experience) God. Your stories can encourage them to do so.

Epignosis—how cool is that?!*

*Related posts and links:
Grandma's Letters from Africa,

Because we lived to tell about it,

The pad, pad of invisible feet,

Epignosis—how cool is that?!

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  1. Excellent! Thank you for this very helpful explanation.

  2. Dear Linda,
    Once again, you and Matt have brought it all home in a most vivid and powerful way. Thank you for showing us the way. Those paw prints by the thin-walled tent made me shudder. But you showed how your faith was stronger than your fear. Thank you for your ongoing inspiration and enlightenment!

  3. Thanks, De and Kathy, for stopping by and leaving your encouraging comments. :-)

    Kathy, your blog post today is so full of rich writing tips for all of us. Here's a link for others reading this:

    I'm so eager to put into practice what you've shared on your blog post, Kathy. Thanks. :)


  4. Wonderful teaching and illustration.