I Feel We Should Think, Then Feel.

DramaIn a previous post, I lamented the fact that much of fundamentalism is driven by emotionalism/mysticism/subjectivity that results in “peace-and-fleece” living. Decisions are made based on either gut feelings (“I have peace about this.”) or circumstances (“I’ll put out a fleece: if God wants me to move, our house will sell.”). It starts early: college break-ups are almost always justified by saying, “I just don’t have peace about dating you anymore” or some similar sentiment. What girls really mean is, “The thought of marrying you scares the willies out of me.” What guys really mean is, “There’s a cute girl in my History of Civ class that may very well be an upgrade.” Sad, but true. Of course, saying “I don’t have peace” sort of sanctifies those brutally honest facts. Joking aside, I fear that we can breed a pseudo-spiritual subjectivity into our young people, and when we do, we’re setting them up for trouble. It’s an agonizing and spiritually dangerous way to go through life. Even worse, it opens the door to continued direct revelation from God. Yikes!

Reading through For the Sake of His Name, I came across a stellar quote on this topic which my (published) friend Pearson Johnson highlights. Kenneth Kantzer is speaking specifically about not allowing emotions to dictate doctrine, but his words are germane to the subject of emotions in general:

“Our emotional life is as fallible as our intellectual life. Our minds are warped by sin and molded by pressures from those around us. Our finite intelligence simply cannot probe into the mind and plan of God. Because of this, we must be guided wholly by the written Word, the Bible, that God provides to shed light on our path.” (For the Sake of His Name, p. 172-173, quoting from Kantzer’s “Preface” in Through No Fault of Their Own?, p. 12)

Notice that Kantzer warns that our emotions and intellect are fallen. So we’re not calling for mere thinking. Rather, we’re calling for minds and emotions that are “guided by the written Word, the Bible.”

Another good though on the danger of emotionalism is expressed in today’s blog post by Al Mohler. Though they’re not addressing the central theme of his post, I want to highlight three profound sentences. Asked if he was offended by the Pope’s saying that the Catholic Church makes up the entirety of the catholic church, Mohler responds this way:

“No, I am not offended. In the first place, I am not offended because this is not an an issue in which emotion should play a key role. This is a theological question, and our response should be theological, not emotional.”

Amen and Amen. I believe that’s the point Dave Doran repeatedly tried to make during the “A, B, C” saga. The discussion tended to focus on feelings and degrees of “niceness” rather than on the legitimacy of the points being considered. Mohler’s call for biblical thought rather than visceral reaction in the face of theological questions is welcome indeed!

As I noted in the previous post, Mark Dever addresses the subject of subjectivity here, as well. And speaking of the previous post, my quick thoughts on this topic are buried there. I’ll reproduce them here, though I know there is much more to be said on this important issue:

“A proper understanding of the deceitfulness of our own hearts would do much to alleviate [our reliance on our feelings and circumstances] (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 17:21-23; James 4:1). Our own ways almost always seems right to us (Proverbs 12:15; 14:12; 16:2, 25; 21:2; 30:12). Yet, Scripture is clear that trusting in our own hearts is folly (Proverbs 28:26). The sort of feelings-based, “glandular” thinking which ********** describes is prevalent in our movement, and we need to weed it and replace it with a stout commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:14-4:4; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Otherwise, we will be subject to the whims of our own “gut feelings”—the very thing we’re warned against in Proverbs 3:5b.”

Now, here’s a confession: I’m an emotional sieve. I get misty watching Hallmark commercials, for Pete’s sake. I’m not suggesting that we become a movement of stoic “Spocks.” I am suggesting, however, that we force our emotions take a back seat, far behind biblically-saturated thinking, whether the issue is decision-making, theological positions or worship. Unfortunately, that’s often not the way we work. We make our emotions sovereigns, when they make much better servants. The good news is, we can change this, and we must.

Let’s rethink the way we think, friends.


29 Responses

  1. I know you are dead right for several reasons: I just felt a real peace come over me as I read, it didn’t offend me one iota, and I really feel like this is something we all need. What more evidence does a soul need?

  2. Thanks, Bob.

    Now read it again.

  3. Hi Chris,
    thanks for the post. Since you reference the A, B, C brewhaha, I will make this overly long note. Me and others who think like me (poor fellows) were once on the receiving end of criticism at the Fundy-Blog-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named…The other posters criticized our ideas, but without ever making any personal references. The moderators, and other notables there quickly apologized for any hurt feelings which might have been (and of course, must have been) occurring on our end of things.

    But, when we pointed out that we weren’t hurt, and ‘would you please stop acting in this Oprahesque way,’ we were told essentially that it was essentially out of line for the criticizers to have said what they did, and we must be somehow emotionally scarred. We kept trying to explain we were big boys, and we did not run home to Mom when someone attacked our ideas, not ourselves, but they essentially would have none of it.

    There is something stirring in some fundies which is bringing about an over-reaction to some kinds of controversies. It seems to have roots in them not wanting to appear as condoning what they see as continuation of the so-called abuses in Fundamentalism. It leads men to be so overly cautious as to fall all over themselves with “I’m not attacking you personally”-type of waivers, or using “hurt” kind of language, when no one was (or should’ve been) hurt…

  4. Chris,

    I read this article today and thought it meshed well with your thoughts- http://purechurch.blogspot.com/2007/07/heart-of-paedo-vs-credobaptist-matter.html

    This paragraph in particular:
    “In those cases, I’m convinced that people are helped if they can come to understand at least two things. First, the truth of Scripture should determine their feelings rather than having their feelings determine what they accept as true. We often determine what we accept as true by how this or that proposition makes us feel. If it feels difficult or disconcerting, we often reject it. If it “feels right” or acceptable, then we’re inclined to accept it. The Word of God must be the locomotive’s engine and our feelings the caboose. We must receive the Word of God with meekness (James 1:21), which must mean in part that we conform our feelings to the truth. That can be a slow process at times, but it is nonetheless necessary.”

    Good thoughts from both of you.

    In Christ,

    Pastor Frank Sansone

  5. […] follow the Lord’s leading (a term I’m always leary of for reasons that are explained quite well here) […]

  6. Excellent observations Chris, particularly if you helped Bob get some peace. I am just glad you could get a nugget from that oft-skipped section of For the Sake of His Name!

  7. Psalm 19:7-8 makes it pretty clear what parts of us need to be transformed by the Word of God. We are pretty much train wrecks spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. Thanks for the post reminding us of this. I’m planning on linking to it but after I’ve posted my sermon. I feel the need for my thoughts to be read first by both my regular readers.

  8. I’m not sure the problem is so much feeling before thinking. I think that is how we are built. I used to use the illustration in music conversations that the emotions are the caboose on the train – they ought to follow right thinking.

    Now, I think that’s rubbish. Our problem isn’t that we feel before or more strongly than we think. Our problem is that we feel the wrong way about most things. Our strongest feelings are about things that don’t matter, and we have to manufacture feelings about things that do.

  9. Listen to this:

    [audio src="http://www.centralseminary.edu/mp3/Bauder_HeartofBiblicalReligion.mp3" /]

    He talks a little about emotions in this message (though not with the specific topic you address, Chris). I wonder, though, if the idea he expresses of “skewed emotion” is not also a factor in this discussion.

  10. Lilrabbi,

    The thing I don’t understand is this: if the problem is that we feel “the wrong way about most things,” isn’t the answer still to bring our feelings into submission to the Scriptures—to educate them with biblically derived thought? How is the idea that emotions should grow out of biblical thought “rubbish”?

  11. First, I hope my statement didn’t come across too strong. I was referring specifically to my old way of thinking as being rubbish.

    The problem is that we are incapable, to a degree, of feeling the right way about things. It takes more than describing how we ought to feel, or worse, just telling someone how they ought to feel. There is some training that can and should take place, but the most effective training isn’t one that consists of theological statements.

    I have learned more about how to respond to God by reading Lewis’ description, in a novel, of how the different characters responded to Aslan during the creation of Narnia. An even greater change has been wrought in me by listening to Arvo Part’s, An den Wassen zu Babel. I think this is where the most effective training comes from.

    My wife and I were considering that VBS is something like the axe in the hands of the orcs, chopping down the Forest Fangorn. So much wisdom in that forest. So much potential for ordinate sensibilities in those children.

  12. Obviously, biblical thinking will help us discern right emotions from wrong. It helps us know what God is like, which helps us know how we ought to respond. But the response that we actually have, not the manufactured response that fundagelicals are so used to putting on, come from our affections, from our sensibilities.

    At a recent VBS program, the bible guy, after distributing the toys and candy, tried to tell the kids and parents how “exciting” the bible was; how “AWESOME” it is; how “cool” God is. I doubt a single kid in that room has any right conception about God after that charade. I had my doubts that the bible guy even had it.

    It is an extreme example, but not uncommon. There are better situations, but they aren’t so common. But are they much better? How can anyone feel rightly about God when they are attending for candy and toys and there are such paintings and statues of “Rescue Workers” and all that on the stage? We can’t have a good painting or sculpture in the church, but we can cover the walls with cartoons? Does this lend itself to right feeling about anything?

    It doesn’t matter what is taught and preached. The medium is the message. God has become something like a cartoon.

    The axe is laid to the root.

    (ahem, I might not be referring to your church, Chris, as I have no idea what you do….I’m speaking from my experience several states away, though I believe it is usual…)

  13. I’d suggest that sober biblical thinking would do much to cure these ills, lilrabbi. When we minister flippantly, it reveals (in my simplistic mind) that we aren’t thinking rightly about God. The guy you describe was promoting a wrong concept of God not primarily because of wrong feelings, but because of thoughts that aren’t biblical. The very idea of a “right conception about God” relates to thought, does it not? And I certainly believe that the solution is biblical and theological—say, studying the worship of OT Israel or of saints and angels in heaven—not from fiction.

    Frankly, the idea of telling those parents to go home and read Narnia or listen to a choral recording in order to teach their kids how to feel about God is about to make my head pop. The implications of that idea are astounding.

    We’re just going to differ on this, apparently. If I’ve misunderstood you, I apologize, but it seems that you are suggesting that our affections would be better shaped by religious art than by Scripture. Yikes.

  14. Greg,

    I listened to Bauder’s message and am digesting it. I’m not sure whether I agree or not. I’m certainly not arguing against the importance of the affections. However, even in Deuteronomy 6, the command to love God entirely follows a doctrinal assertion. Of course, we’re not talking about either/or (as Dr. Bauder points out), but elevating right affections over right beliefs about the Object and Source of those affections gives me pause.

  15. I can think rightly about God and still not be saved. The demons are a good example. There is something more to honoring Him. I reject the idea it all goes back right belief alone. I know the gentleman knows a lot about God and His works and the Bible. But he doesn’t feel the right way about God. I’m sure some clearer thinking and understanding of Scripture would go a long way towards curing him, but there is something more.

    I wanted to read the book “Telling yourself the Truth” for a counseling class in college, but the professor told me that it wasn’t a great book and he wanted me to read something on his list. I think I see a little why he didn’t like that book. It made it all seem so formulaic: wrong behavior A: cured by right thinking A, etc. There’s more to it than that.

    Again, don’t misunderstand me. It is at least right thinking. But the Bible itself is more than just right thinking, as Dr. Bauder’s sermon points out.

    Tell me, what is wrong with training one’s emotions with hymns, songs, and spiritual songs? I thought that is what we were supposed to do. The Bible kind of says to use two books, doesn’t it?

    It is my understanding that everything we do, even down to the little things like eating and drinking, shape (and show) our loves. Therefore we must certainly feed our children imaginative works which will help and not hinder ordinate affections and right thought.

    Perhaps this is where we disagree?

    Or we could starve their imaginations entirely, to save them from all possible interference of second books. We could send them to Bible colleges and…:)

    All of life is a sort of second book. Our kids are taught what and how to love by everything they do. I think everything, then, is pretty important. It would be easy if there were only one book that held sway on what I think about God. But that’s just not how we’re built.

  16. […] Read this post in light of yesterday’s sermon July 17, 2007 Posted by roberttalley in Spiritual Emotions, Psalms, Bible. trackback  https://mytwocents.wordpress.com/2007/07/13/i-feel-we-should-think-then-feel/ […]

  17. Lilrabbi,

    The more I think of this the more troubled I am. Though what you’re saying may sound refined and educated, it’s just a not-so-subtle attack on the sufficiency of Scripture, hardly less nefarious than “Christian psychology” or “Church marketing.”

    Read good books? Sure. Listen to good music? Yes. But to suggest that either is the key—even more so than theology!—to shaping the affections? I think it borders on heresy.

  18. It seems to me that Scripture itself addresses this and clearly leans on the side of the need for a mind transformation as paramount rather than just an emotional adjustment.

    The Bible tells us that the transformation we are to have is to be done through a “renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2) and that the new man is “renewed in knowledge” (Colossians 3:10).

    In Christ,

    Pastor Frank Sansone

  19. It depends on what you mean by “even more so than theology.” Good theology done rightly will direct the heart towards God. Proper expressions of worship, right thinking, and so on should be underscored and enhanced by sound theological principles. One should not be exclusive of the other. For instance, a good hymn will be sound in theology, and the music will be an effective vehicle at delivering and enhancing the message of the hymn.

    It’s like communicating love and devotion to your wife. The content of the message “I love you” needs to be more than just stated. How it is stated means something. Expressing words of love for her in harsh, angry tones will not be effective. Telling her you love her while speaking in Creole will do no good if she doesn’t know the language.

  20. Greg is right in what he says.

    And don’t misunderstand me. It is at least right thinking. I never said good theology could be thrown out the window.

    Have you ever read Reformed writers on Sola Scriptura?

  21. I’ve read some of the Reformers on this and other issues, but certainly not as much as I ought, I admit.

    I’m not urging cold, heartless intellectual assent, nor am I arguing for truth that is stated in “harsh, angry tones.” A right understanding of Scripture would never permit that. I am arguing for the sufficiency of the Scriptures to form right affections—which is essentially saying the sufficiency of the Scriptures to sanctify. To suggest that extra-biblical works are necessary for sanctification—or even more suited for that purpose than right doctrine—is astounding to me. Specifically what I can’t fathom is this statement:

    The problem is that we are incapable, to a degree, of feeling the right way about things. It takes more than describing how we ought to feel, or worse, just telling someone how they ought to feel. There is some training that can and should take place, but the most effective training isn’t one that consists of theological statements.

    I have learned more about how to respond to God by reading Lewis’ description, in a novel, of how the different characters responded to Aslan during the creation of Narnia. An even greater change has been wrought in me by listening to Arvo Part’s, An den Wassen zu Babel. I think this is where the most effective training comes from.

  22. The only thing about the Reformed folks is that they note with indignation what “Sola Scriptura” has become. It bothers them that those who reject Christian Tradition, history, and culture claim to hold Sola Scriptura. I’m told that what our Biblicists hold is something more like Solo Scriptura. Or something like that.

    I didn’t explain the art bit very well. It is my fault. What those works of imagination did, they did better than our beloved fundagelical entertainments. In fact, what they did was quite possibly the opposite of what most of my music and kiddie activities did for me. What fundamentalists do only clouds things. Lewis and Part cleared those unneeded clouds away so that I could see and feel things more clearly, more acutely.

    Now, I hope you notice that all of this assumes that the Bible is being read and understanding it is my aim. That is assumed. What I am saying is that these entertainments in our churches are not equipping us with the emotional tools to love God as we ought. We are being taught to love him like we love cartoons. Kids who grow up in our churches are being taught to feel very shallowly about God and sin. I daresay that feeling properly about these two are at least as important as having the intellectual understanding the facts of God and sin.

    Nobody is going to get rid of the art in their church. All of this art shapes our sensibilities. Furthermore, we are commanded to make art for God, for worship of Him, for the development of humanity. Why would God command us to do these things if they weren’t really really important for something? We must take these extra-biblical activities more seriously.

    I believe we all act according to the strongest love at the moment. This is just how God made us. The problem for the demons isn’t an intellectual one. Its a problem with their love. Every time we sin, it is because we aren’t loving God as we should. This is my main concern with your thesis of “we should think, then feel”.

    I’m working on what I think about sanctification. I know it is incomplete so I won’t get into it too much. I’ll only say, as I’ve said a few times already, right doctrine isn’t being thrown under the bus. It is necessary. Intellectual truth is necessary. But it isn’t all that is involved. There is more to man. There is more to sanctification. Perhaps this is why the Bible itself commands us to sing and make art to the Lord. Just a thought.

  23. Lilrabbi,

    You seem to argue against Edwards. Edwards said, “if you truly believe, it changes behavior, and if you are not behaving properly, it is because of unbelief.” (Religious Affections) For Edwards, the behavior was (primarily, at least) an indication of belief, not emotion.

    If you have a chance, I would also like you to expand upon the idea that “we are commanded to make art for God, for worship of Him, for the development of humanity.” Particularly helpful in this expansion would be some passages that make that command. I am not saying it is not there, it is just not as evident to me and I am wondering what the statement is based upon. (Of course, I worked all night and I am getting ready to go to bed, so it may be more evident when I am more awake.)

    In Christ,

    Pastor Frank Sansone

  24. The fact that we are to make music and beautiful things for God is assumed all throughout the Old Testament. In Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, I take it as a command.

    His “truly believe” assumes a change in the affections. This is probably something like God ‘foreknowing’ the elect. It is something more than just a knowledge of their existence. Truly believing is something more than a mere assent to the facts. I am okay with speaking in that way, as long we remember that affections have a role. Otherwise we aren’t being fair to Edwards.

  25. It is a false dichotomy to assume that one must think first and then feel. The heart is descriptive of both thinking and feeling. The two terms cannot be separated.

    If you think correctly, correct feelings will follow.

    But it is also true that if you feel correctly, correct thoughts will follow.

    Depending on the circumstances, sometimes we feel first and then act accordingly with righteous thoughts and actions. Sometimes we think first, and then our feelings drive us to action.

    Both are legitimate.

  26. I haven’t got into this, but what is meant by ‘feeling correctly’ with ‘correct thoughts’ following. I can imagine a scenario – a difficult illness, for example – where the individual is feeling miserable. Two (at least) options are available for thinking: Job’s initial complaints or Job’s final faith. One is correct and one is not. How would one’s feelings in the sickness be anything other than what they are?

    Unless I am missing something, always a possibility…

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  27. Someone pointed out this comment thread to me just now, and I thought I’d jump into the fray. I’ll admit that I have not read all the comments, though.

    A few thoughts:

    Maybe the confusion here lies in a lack of clarity in our terminology. When Chris bemoans “feeling before thinking” in his post, I think he is referring specifically to the passions. If that is the case, then I don’t think lilrabbi or Greg would have any disagreement with Chris’s points. Maybe when they read “feelings” in Chris’s post, they are reading “affections.” We must keep the two ideas separate in this discussion, IMO.

    Second, when we’re talking about what comes first, thinking (belief) or feeling (affection), we must also distinguish between learning how to love rightly and learning what to love rightly. Learning how to love rightly can (and often does, and often should) precede belief. So in that sense affection precedes belief. But it is only after we learn what to believe that we will be able to love the right things rightly. So in that sense belief precedes affection.

    For example, I constantly expose my 6 month old to music that expresses noble affections because I want him to learn how to love rightly before he even has the capacity for thinking rightly. Then when he reaches the point where he learns what to believe, he will be better equipped to love those beliefs rightly. This right love for the right things, I believe, is the essence of biblical religion, and it is only this right love for the right things that will result in right living.

  28. Thanks, Scott. In one of my many deleted drafts of comments I tried to point out that what Chris talks about in his article is something shallower than what I was talking about. As long as we keep the distinction, I’m okay with Chris’ article. Perhaps I need to be a better self-editor. lol

  29. […] Said It? More on Thinking and Feeling Much to my surprise, my post on the priority of thoughts over feelings was quite controversial. My proposition was that our […]

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