Piper on Argumentation and Affection

I recently heard a pre-sermon musing from John Piper, delivered way back in 1980, before he was internationally known and–more significantly–during his first year as the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. The way he instructs his new congregation regarding what they should become is fascinating to me as a pastor. The content of the instruction is helpful for me as a student and worshiper.  Piper is working to teach them that intellect and passion must not work independently of one another.

The discussion is excellent–one of those “that’s what I believe, and I wish I could have said it that way.” You can find the mp3 here or read the transcript here. (The transcript has been “cleaned up” quite a bit, but I prefer the mp3–say, the first 10 minutes.)

Here’s the portion of the discussion which I especially appreciated:

I want Bethlehem to become a people who do not believe or feel that argumentation (just as I described it) and deep emotion are opposed to each other. For many people the work of the head and the overflow of the heart are at odds. Thinking and feeling are like oil and water; they repulse each other.

Whatever the reason for this tension that exists in so many people, my own experience, my awareness of the experience of others in history, and my understanding of the Bible teach me that it is neither a necessary tension nor a healthy one, at least not to the degree that most people experience it. My goal is to help us all become the kind of folk for whom sound thinking kindles deep feeling and for whom deep feeling motivates sound thinking. Most of the opposition we feel between the heart and the head is, I think, due to learned behavior patterns which do not necessarily result from the nature of our emotions or our thought. We have been warned so often about not becoming a cold intellectual that we have trouble imagining the possibility of intellect that lights fires instead of putting them out. Or on the other side we have been taught to be so wary of fanatic emotionalism that we can scarcely believe that a tear in someone’s eye might be coming from a holy syllogism instead of a pathological passion.

God has given us minds and demanded that we use them in understanding and applying his Word. And God has given us emotions which are equally essential and which he has commanded to be vigorously engaged in his service.

If we neglect the mind we will drift into all sorts of doctrinal error and dishonor God who wills to be known as he is. And if we neglect the heart we will be dead while we yet live no matter how right our creed is. “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me.” So my goal for us is that we put together what so many keep apart to their own hurt. Let us be clear in our heads and warm in our hearts. Let us feel with all our might and think with all our might….

[This] is exactly what I want to change—the separation of our minds and our emotions so that shrewd advertisers and entertainers (who know us better than we know ourselves) can hook us in the nose of our emotions and pull us wherever they want because our minds are shut down. They have taught us to shut them down when the music begins.

But in Bethlehem Baptist Church we will not shut them down when the psalms of God begin. I will sing with my spirit and I will sing with my mind. If I don’t, my mind will be lifeless and my spirit without truth and substance. Let’s be whole people and not let the stereotypes of intellectualism or emotionalism force us into their mold. Let’s make a new mold—fashioned by the Spirit of God—the Spirit of truth and the Spirit of love.

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