In my end-of-the-year attempt to build readers' vocabulary, I wrote Wednesday about exegesis and eisegesis. Today I'd like to distinguish between gnosis (abstract knowledge) and epignosis (knowledge through personal experience). We need both: Epignosis without gnosis might lead us to over-generalize based on a small sampling of life, but gnosis without epignosis leads astray many people with advanced degrees. To be useful, Ph.D.s in psychology need post-docs in streetology, and we can all use diplomas from the School of Hard Knocks.
This has political implications. President Obama seems to have no understanding of how hard it is to run a business, and how he hurts job creation by disparaging the people who create jobs. For that matter, few members of Congress have ever run a business, and it shows. Much of the debate about Obamacare was theoretical, with not enough attention paid to the importance of patient interaction with personal physicians.
Epignosis could also have helped Occupy Wall Street participants, many of whom graduated from college without having learned much about civics. Maybe through the Occupy experience, where people orated at large meetings but an inner ring made decisions at smaller gatherings, some will grasp the complexities of trying to make democracy work. One Occupy organizer, Max Berger, huffed and puffed in The Huffington Post about "the incredible amount of media attention it has garnered." Maybe he'll learn how easy it is to gain attention, and how easy to lose it.
But the most important implications are theological. Muslims say Allah is omniscient, but his supposed pronouncements in the Quran show no epignosis. Christians can have confidence in the God we trust because He is truly omniscient, with both gnosis and epignosis. We rejoice at Christmas that God knows our frames because He came to earth and suffered all the indignities of babyhood, and eventually experienced the ultimate in pain when He atoned for our sins.