But is that fair? As history shows, ecstatic experiences are remarkably common in the church. They've been around since the church's birth, and they aren't likely to stop anytime soon. If for this reason we must toss Colton's story into the fire, we must also chuck in the ecstatic visions of the martyrs, the mystics, and any experience that might supersede "Moses and the Prophets."
So what should we do with Colton's story? Is his experience utterly worthless? Perhaps as an objective field guide to heaven. But many Christians have been too quick to throw the four-year-old kid out with the bathwater.
A Supplement to Scripture
The Bible presupposes the supernatural—and, as Christians, we're supernaturalists. We don't have the luxury of rejecting inexplicable experiences outright just because they're being mishandled by some.
Certainly, experience cannot serve as an ultimate guide, but it is valuable as a supplemental authority under Scripture. In Satisfy Your Soul, theologian Bruce Demarest adjusts our typical response to claims of supernatural ecstasies:
Experience is not the means by which finite man reaches upward to lay hold of God. On the contrary, experience is an important avenue by which God reaches down to touch us. Virtually everything we know about God has come through believing other people's experiences—from Moses, David, and Isaiah to Paul and John. Our experiences must be checked against Scripture, but the Christian's experience of God is not as problematic as some allege.
When my wife and I lived in Denver, we frequently snow-shoed in Rocky Mountain National Park. On occasion we'd come across a frozen lake. I was always quicker than she was to trot out onto the snow-covered ice—perhaps foolishly so.
Suppose we were given a map, outlining safe paths, warning of danger spots, and detailing the exact thickness of the ice across the lake. Our faith in the map would push us to test the ice, to traverse the lake, and it would guide our hike. With each step, our faith in the map would be rewarded. We'd slowly learn that the ice could support our weight so long as we followed the map's directions. The feeling of solid ice under our feet would gradually build our confidence in the map.
But what would happen if our confidence became misplaced? What if, after a number of safe steps, we became over-reliant on our own feet, tossed the map into the wind, and set out on our own? Most likely, we'd fall through the ice into a cold, watery grave.
Experience is a double-edged sword. If it stays in a supportive role, it actually fosters faith in Scripture. But if experience gets too big for its britches and supplants trust in Scripture, we're sure to lose our way, like hikers trusting our own feet more than a map.