We All Know that Person
It isn’t uncommon in Western Christian Culture (WCC) to have at least one friend that despises intellectual Christian pursuits. Sadly, the commonality of this often exceeds those who pursue intellectual endeavors in Christianity. There was once a time when Christians led the way in thought and philosophy. Even in our modern error men like RC Sproul and John Gerstner were bright lights of deep thought. However, shallow emotionalism is winning the day, and has been for some time.
Consequently, because of this shift away from intellectualism, shallow emotionalism has permeated the ranks of believers in the Church. Because of this, many of us are surrounded by genuine believers that have no grasp of theology or doctrine. Instead, they operate off an overwhelming reliance upon emotional reactions to things pertaining to their faith.
Problematic Emotional Statements
These are the folks that faithfully and joyfully attend bible study but respond without thought to the Scriptures.
“What this verse means to me is…”
“I feel like God is telling us…”
“The God I serve is a God of… and not…”
“I just feel in my heart that God wants…”
“God spoke to me and told me that we/I need to…”
On the surface these thoughts feel right to us. Who can argue with finding a deeply personal meaning in a particular verse? The thought that God communicates directly with us resonates with our emotional being. We cherish that kind of deep interpersonal connection with our Father.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with emotional responses to God as we discover Him through His Word. However, the deeper issue isn’t an emotional response. Anecdotally speaking the moment of my conversion was deeply emotional. I wept for what felt like hours on the floor of my bedroom. The important consideration is whether we increase in understanding or remain emotional.
Shallow Emotionalism and Fluffy Bunny Jesus
I have two Roman Catholic friends, Brian and Eric. They host a podcast called Passing Currents. The show is decidedly RC. The reason that I am even aware of their show is because I met Brian in Lanesboro Minnesota while preaching there in the summer of 2018. Brian reached out to me in the early fall and asked me for an interview. Ever since that time we have developed a friendship based on mutual respect. Certainly, there are some deep theological differences between us. However, we have a mutual distaste for the certain shallowness that has permeated our respective theological camps.
In a recent podcast Brian and Eric discussed an interview that Eric had conducted with a local man. In this episode Brian expresses a deep and abiding disgust for the Fluffy Bunny Jesus of modern Roman Catholicism. As a Reformed Baptist (the proper position by the way Brian and Eric), I can attest to the rampant nature of shallow emotionalism.
Across the spectrum of modern Christian thought and theological camps, there is decidedly precipitous slouching towards mediocrity. Furthermore, this slouching is tenacious and often fostered by the powers-that-be. The Fluffy Bunny Jesus of WCC is easier to deal with. He is more palatable. This Jesus leaves you feeling good about yourself.
The Jesus of Intellectualism Tells The Truth in Love
The Jesus of Intellectual Christianity, the GOD-man of Scripture, exposes your wicked nature and leaves you clinging to Him. This isn’t the way you win friends and influence people.
While the Passing Currents crew and I have stark differences, we love each other. This love is spurred on by our rugged and tenacious desire to teach what we are convinced is true. Make no mistake, one can be firmly committed to their camp of thought and pursue it with vigor and be wrong.
Shallow Emotionalism Aside, I am not an Intellectual
Let me be perfectly clear. I am not incredibly well educated or very bright. My college education lasted a year and a half. This period of my life was a waste of time and money. My high-school years were marked with mediocrity as I selectively chose classes that I could manage to pass without effort. The classes I was required to take but hated, (think any math related classes above consumer level), were abject failures.
I excelled in the creative arts from a writing perspective. Beyond that, nothing.
What those years instilled in me was loathing for my lack of intelligence. I utterly despised who I was in those years. When I think about my early elementary years and the remedial reading class I had to take, it sums up my perception of myself. I hated me. I vowed later to never settle for “ME”diocrity.
It was with this motivation that I began to pursue anything I became interested in. In the years following my failed forays in college, I began to take an interest in politics. Having grown up in a Christian home with conservative values, it was natural for me to gravitate towards that philosophy.
I immersed myself into politics. I absorbed everything that I could, I was so welled versed it was all I could talk about. My mother often chided me that if I were as passionate about Christ as I was politics I would be a powerful force.
It was with this backdrop that I came to Christianity. My conversion, emotional as it was, moved me from one sphere to another. From lost to saved. False convert to true believer. The framework was laid for me to lay hold of Christianity on two fronts. Experientially and intellectually. This was as God intended for believers.
Shallow Emotionalism and the Enlightenment
Perhaps the greatest and most dangerous period for Christian thought was the Enlightenment. Suffice it to say that thought and philosophy were powerfully changed during this time. Philosophers laid hold of rationalism and began to hack away at the roots of Christian supernaturalism.
In response many within Christianity revolted against rationalism and naturalism and clung instead to the experiential nature of Christianity. Christendom, having once been the bastion of thought and logic, broadly abandoned those schools for emotional experiences and feelings. Revolting against the direction that Enlightened thought was heading, Christians sought to make Christianity palatable to the masses by simplifying it.
Movements like the Quakers, originating in Great Britain, suspended rational thought in favor of subjective, mystical emotional encounters with God. This movement jumped quickly across the Atlantic and began to spread. During this time the bright lights of the Church of England were working to pen the Westminster Confession and the Reformed Baptist were working on the LBCF. Still Emotionalism was racing out ahead of them. Before either the Church of England or the Reformed Baptist could so much as tie their shoes, mystics and emotionalism were holding sway over the masses.
Christian Intellectuals Battled for a Higher View of The Word
The Westminster Divines and Reformed Baptists were working to hold the two sides of Christian thought together. The supernatural and experiential along with the logical and rational sides of Christian thought were intended to cooperate synergistically with each other. However, the damage was done, and the Enlightenment succeeded in doing what many heresies couldn’t do. It drove a wedge deep into Protestant Christianity.
Much like the Schism of 1054 that divided the Eastern Catholics from the Western, there was battle for ideas. The two factions of the Reformation would spend the next four hundred plus years vying for the hearts and minds of Christendom.
A Brief Note on The Biblical View of the Heart
Shallow emotionalism in WCC speaks of the heart often. Some of this is due to the Western perception of the heart as the center of emotional being in a person. We love with all our heart. We hate with all our heart. It is said that when we are committed with undying ferocity to something that we are giving our hearts to that thing.
This perception of the heart as the source of emotions gives rise to all matter of misunderstanding. Therefore, when the average Christian reads Paul in Romans 10 “if you believe in your heart”, they perceive that belief as emotional. This is what gives lie to the phrase “I just feel saved” or “I know that I am saved because I feel it in my heart.” Moreover, when we read about the heart being deceitful and wicked, this isn’t the emotional heart we presuppose, it is the intellect.
Western Christian Cultures Values Emotions Over Deep Thought
In WCC experience is tied to emotional reactions, passages about the heart are used to perpetuate this mentality. However, there is tragic flaw in this way of thinking. The culture at the time of the penning of Holy Writ did not view the heart the same way we do. Culturally, the heart was the seat of the intellect and the emotional being was tied to it. Consequently, intellect was used to reign in emotional response.
When we read passages like Romans 10 in that context, we can understand that belief isn’t merely a function of emotions. The early Church would have recognized the intellectual basis for belief. The saving response to the Gospel was by necessity an intellectual response to Gospel truth.
Consequently, early Christians did not stand firm in the faith based on what they felt. They stood firm because of what they knew, to be true, intellectually.
Modernity and Shallow Emotionalism
The divide has continued to grow over the years. The further away from the Enlightenment we are the more shallow emotionalism seems to hold sway. It may look quite different today than it did four hundred years ago, but it is still here.
Today it can be seen in the likes of trite comments such as, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” It is observable in the overly emotionally
Moreover, it is also present in apparently sound churches. In many churches congregants put no effort into being Berean. I recently had occasion to find myself in disagreement with a congregation I was part of. Amid that disagreement one young person messaged me and stated “I just don’t have the time for bible reading and study like that. I just have to trust that the pastor is leading me well.”
That last part may sound right, but it isn’t biblical. Hebrews tells us to follow our elders as long as they are walking according to the light of the Gospel. The only way for us to know this is if we are studying the Scriptures for ourselves.
What is Most Important
Earlier in this article I mentioned other problematic statements that have risen as part of shallow emotionalism, so I will not linger here much longer. However, what I want us to do is consider our own walks. What drives our understanding of the Scriptures? Are we responding to the truth contained in the Word or to how the Word makes us feel?
This is vital for us to grasp. Too often we dismiss intellectual pursuit for the sake of what feels right. Should we really trust our emotions?
The Solution to Shallow Emotionalism
The Scriptures are replete with commands to study and know God. Proverbs 25 says that it is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search the matter out. We are commanded to study to show ourselves approved. The Proverbs especially, strive to remind us constantly of the power of wisdom in the lives of all people.
The New Testament strives with us to set aside childish ways and to pursue maturity in our faith. We are to study and know doctrine, not just for the sake of knowing, but to stay on the right path. We are to be discerning of what we allow ourselves to be taught.
Of course, there are places where we read that knowledge puffs up. However, in context that passage is not pushing us towards shallow emotionalism over intellectual pursuit. That passage is arguing against knowledge that is had just for the sake of it. True biblical intellectualism leads to orthodoxy. Furthermore, orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy. Orthopraxy displays a heart and mind working cooperatively for the good of our fellow believers to the glory of God.
A Final Plea
Please, my beloved, do not allow yourself to be sucked into the shallow emotionalism of WCC. Be willing to give an apologetic for your faith. Rest on the wisdom of God that begins with the fear of the Lord. Understand that God is the source of all wisdom and understanding. God is the source of logic. We need not be in fear of the “rational” world and dismiss intellectual pursuit of the Word. Instead, we cling tenaciously to the source of all intellect, God Himself.
Without Him, there is no wisdom, logic, or understanding. Intellect and emotion are not enemies.
Soli Deo Gloria!