Theology 101

Towards An Integrated Faith Part II: Knowing & Feeling

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Ed. Note: This post has been adapted from its original form. Read the full paper here.

This series is focused on practical ways of integrating a Biblical perspective on faith & work into daily life. The reconnecting of what we know and believe with what we do and what we feel is essential to this task. Knowing, feeling, and doing must be combined.

Last week we discussed the importance of knowing God and the Bible intimately – such knowledge provides depth to our lives and substance to our ministry to others.

The next important step is understanding the relationship between knowing and feeling (the desk and the kneeler, respectively, in my original illustration).

A question I am often asked is, “Which is more important? Knowing Scripture or feeling?” You need a balanced view of both:

  • Intellect is important because God has given us the Scriptures as the central way for us to know Him.
  • Feeling and emotion are important, because although we use our minds to study the Bible, but we shouldn’t stop there. We should be focused on experiencing what we study.

Emotional Faith

Feeling is first in the order of importance. Our feelings are good, though sometimes twisted by the Fall. Affections are a measure of spirituality and are much to be desired. Jonathan Edwards argued that it was his duty to:

…raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can provided they are affected by nothing but the truth. 

God intends for us to be satisfied in Him. The Westminster Catechism’s answer to the question, “What is the chief end of man?” is “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (emphasis added).  We often forget the latter part of the answer.

It can be argued that our purpose is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. We are created to feel the greatest joy when God is most glorified. John Piper once emphasized that,

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

Nothing produces emotion like truth. The disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 got perhaps the greatest Bible study ever given when Jesus expounded all the things in the Law, Prophets, and Writings of Scripture that pointed to Him. These disciples described their emotion in Luke 24:32:

Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?

Nothing will produce this kind of burning in the heart like truth.

Knowledge Brings Depth to Emotion

It is so easy to manipulate emotions. Remember your high school or college pep rallies? It is possible to get people excited apart from truth.

Movie producers know how to get you to feel what they want unless you consciously resist. It is easy to identify or cheer a character’s action that in a saner moment you might reject. There is a section of Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man” that is a haunting commentary on our times:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien/As to be hated, needs but to be seen/Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face/We first endure, then pity, then embrace. 

It is easy for feelings to become distorted even in worship. Edwards points out in his treatise on religious affections that,

If a minister be driven with a fierce and intemperate zeal and vehement heat, without light, he will likely kindle the like unhallowed flame in his people and to fire their corrupt passions and affections, but will make them never the better, nor lead them a step towards heaven, but drive them apace the other way.

The ideal is both “light” and “heat.” Puritan pastor Richard Baxter followed this method in his preaching: first light, then heat. He would expound a text then forcefully apply it.

Quoting Martyn Lloyd Jones, John Stott defines preaching as “logic on fire.” Stott talks about two extremes to be avoided:

  • Undevotional theology: a theology that does not touch the heart, and is devoid of feeling.
  • Un-theological devotion: a superficial devotion lacking in substance.

C.S. Lewis once said he got more benefit from doctrinal books than some “devotional” books because the devotionals were so light on substance.

Next week we’ll look at how knowing, feeling, and doing all tie together.

What do you think? Do you tend to lean more towards knowing, or feeling? Leave your comments here.

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