Head or Heart?

Let me put this out there up front: I grew up in a revivalist tradition, in which a signal experience is what initiates one into the faith. Further, in that tradition it is more similar events which act as catalysts for further growth in the faith. Crisis experiences, usually building on emotions and culminating in a trip to the front of the church/campmeeting/crusade venue and subsequent prayer, are what create significant growth in the Christian life. These experiences likely have to do with the confession of a known sinful act or habit or the sudden realization that one’s current pattern is displeasing to God.

I am not about to dismiss the potential value of theses events/experiences. But I will question their sufficiency. Too often we watch the same individuals having emotional releases, only to return to the same patterns of life. It’s a problem at least as old as the revivalist tradition itself, as John Wesley himself struggled with it and created the methodist system as a corrective. One could conclude, as Wesley did, that those who reverted to the old ways never really tasted the saving power of Christ; others, wrongly in my reading of scripture and Christian doctrine, claim that the experience itself authenticates one as “saved” for eternity. Apparently, change is optional. Tell it to Paul.

That brings me to the subject of the day, and of the brief passage below. Transformation happens not by an emotional experience, but by the renewing of the mind. We may well experience—and many may well need—the jolt of the emotions provided by the revivalist approach. But change will only come when the mind is changed. We need to think differently about things if we are going to act differently. We need to unlearn some things, some of which were certainties before the word of God pointed in a different direction. We will have to take a look at the ideas we’ve adopted from the culture, along with the ones we didn’t even think were open to serious challenge.

But there’s more to it than turning the faith into an intellectual battle with “worldly” ideas. As Paul’s argument continues, we find that we are called into action immediately, requiring a different attitude and set of habits toward the people we live with and encounter on a regular basis. Is it the case that these ways of dealing with people constitute the renewing of the mind as much as the bigger worldview questions? Is it the major part of our renewal and transformation? Do we figure out the bigger questions as we reflect on the everyday ways of engaging the world around us? Do we all have the same role to play in this regard? That’s my question for the day—the relationship between how we think the faith and how we respond to people. Check the text below and share your thoughts.

Romans 12:1-8

12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.


4 thoughts on “Head or Heart?

  1. I’ve added (and linked) this article to my blog post today. Giving the message of salvation to my Vacation Bible school kids in the last few days, has put this on my mind.

    I talk a bit about the grace of God, blooming….and “ordo salutis.”


    Hope you can read and comment on it.

    Very enjoyable and thought-provoking read, Ken.

  2. I just read a facebook post on the page of a Church of Christ pastor who was a high school class mate that sums up a big part of the emotional problem. He was speaking of the thrill of seeing summer campers coming to Christ and being baptized in the camp pool. Several problems with this: 1. Baptism should be a Congregational function by the persons pastor making the determination the person is ready to live into the vows of baptism. 2. The person is baptized without being commended to a support group that will nurture and disciple the person in Christian growth. 3. This mentality is one of counting scalps, without regard for the long term care of the soul. 4. Much of the results are through manipulation of emotions and peer pressure, not a heart being strangely warmed.

    Mathew 28 commands us to make disciples and teach obedience to the teaching of Jesus, that is a marathon not a sprint. Whether it be a church camp, camp meeting, or a revival without proper preparation and followup the seeds are sown on the path, spring up and quickly die out.

  3. I know your world well Dr. Miller both with EC and independant Baptist experiences. I always distrusted the emphasis on emotionalism and still do to this day, but it IS hard to do an examination of self and not feel pain, and I am a BIG believer in pain.

    People who experience pain can be emotional about it in appearance or not, or not be particurally emotional about it at all. I agree with Gary this is a marathon, I’ve seen people come and go, and I’ve been called into the Sr. Pastor’s office about a convert and asked if I thought it was real. And I’ve said “no” on occasion, but for even those “big sinners” I’ve always added “but I hope I am wrong”.

    I’ve seen a river full of emotion and tears about situations, and while they might have been cathartic, there was no change, no change over decades, none even today, and then I think of Hebrews 17 “when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears”. Emotion was insufficient.

    Today at my son’s guidance session for a cyber charter school, on the table was a discussion of health classes and biology. Did we want to create a custom bio and health class? My son was confused. The counselor (who was awesome) said some people’s beliefs drove this. He continued to be confused. So I stepped in and said it was due to issues of exposure to evolution and sex education, and my son was slightly less confused.

    I then explained that while we would be viewed as FUN-DAMN-MENTALISTS or at least as arch conservatives by the school, that we were fine with this, and in not precisely the words relied on “the renewed mind” to deal with these issues.

    In fact I rely on that renewed mind in my son to make choices all the time, and having seen powerful medications work on the kids and me (1st generation anti-malarials and opiates come to mind) emotionally, I’d say it is easy to change emotions but hard to change a stiff necked schoffstall mind of any age.

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