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Afraid of our emotions, lacking any passion for worship or missions?

Chatting with a friend over lunch at the weekend I realising afresh that there are two parts of preparation for teaching the Bible. First to get it accurately. That's essential because without accuracy and understanding we don't have truth, we just have imaginations which will tend toward idols. But, secondly there is a need to feel it. To have the word of God detonate the heart. To have the word of God shine in our hearts to see Jesus. To have the word of God warm our hearts, revive the soul and awaken our affections in proportion to the truth being considered, as Jonathan Edwards put it.

Less than that would be idolatrous like lacking understanding. Less than that would be worse that lacking understanding, because it would be to see the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ and to remain unmoved. That's to treat him with contempt, that's to mock God. I'm not saying it has to overflow absurdly. Being (in this sense) charismatic is not the personality disorder otherwise known as being an extrovert. But, what comes out of the mouth is the overflow of the heart, the fruit borne depends on the tree. The visible signs are normally signs of nothing, but if there is no heart-beat you have to wonder if someone is alive.

The church doesn't encounter new problems. This has happened before, over 200 years ago and it got called Sandemanianism. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes on this: And the result was that the Church became entirely lifeless, and it really was not delivered from that condition until those great revivals took place under William Chalmers Burns and Robert Murray M’Cheyne, and people like them, in the 1830s and the early 1840s. For almost a hundred years, the Church of Scotland was in a parlous and lifeless condition, very largely owing to this kind of barren intellectualism.”

Andrew Fuller faced this down over 200 years ago from his church in Kettering. His other great gift to the church was to undo the anti-missional hyper-calvinism of his day and see it replaced with the kind of God-glorifying Carey-to-India sending missions that has got us moving toward seeing the whole earth filled with the glory of God.

John Piper's biography of Fuller shows... how his engagement with Sandemanianism recovered and preserved a kind of vital faith that is essential for missions, and his engagement with Hyper-Calvinism (or what he more often called High Calvinism) recovered and preserved a kind of preaching that is essential for missions. And in both cases, the battle was distinctly exegetical and doctrinal even though the all-important outcomes were deeply experiential and globally practical.

Observing that... To sever the roots of faith in regeneration, and to strip faith of its holiness, and to deny its active impulse to produce the fruit of love (Galatians 5:6) was to turn the church into an intellectualistic gathering of passive people who are afraid of their emotions and who lack any passion for worship or missions.Therefore, Fuller, the lover of God and missions, waged another battle against Sandemanianism for the sake of the church and the nations.

Piper concludes: Therefore, devote yourself to experiencing Christ in the gospel biblically and authentically. And devote yourself to understanding Christ in the gospel biblically and authentically. And may God ignite that experience and that understanding in such a way that your life will count like Andrew Fuller’s for the cause of world evangelization to the glory of Christ.

Mere understanding is not going to be enough when I come to study the Bible. Not enough by far.


  1. Surely, we are too depraved to have any good feelings?

  2. Unless you have a new heart, and the Holy Spirit living in you...

  3. Er...ok i get you. But what about the people who spend all summer jumping up and down and getting very emotional about their faith and then don't do any evangelism? In other words, there's also a big problem with fluffy emotionalism and no doctrine. Maybe, I would say, a bigger problem than the one you highlight.

  4. Mo - can I make that follow up post to this one?

  5. I think it's better to have no feelings. That way we can be really effective in evangelism...

  6. Tom is obviously possessed today. Exorcise him Bish.

  7. I pity the man in his house in Surrey with only a cat for company.

  8. I think it's the cat that might need an exorcism. Everytime we open the bedroom door, she (Nibblet) races in and goes stright up the brand new curtains. Caroline (Nibbler) has nearly been in tears about it!

    I think that many of us would see a lot more fruit in evangelism and discipleship work, if we had a more biblical and more developed idea of what a human being is.

    See the brand new post on my blog.

  9. Indeed.

    (was hoping you'd provide answers there rather than just a scary picture)

  10. To be honest, I think that we have too readily settled into exactly that mode of 'what is the question?' -> 'here is the answer.' It means that we've been a little hasty in our adopting of a conceptual framework - or vision, of what a human being is. 'What is a human being?' 2 'a human being is an x.'

    There's a need here to confess that actually, what a human being is, is in some ways a murky mystery. We are the murky men (and women). We know that we are in the image of God, somehow, but cash that out for me in a nice neat answer. You'd be hard pressed to fit all the things that the bible says about human beings into a nice neat package. I think we need to be more humble about what a human being is. You and I don't really know much. We do know some things, but to be honest, these boxes and definitions are a big part of the problem.

    On the other hand, a lot of people really want to start with evangelism, or a reformed theological flavoured stress on the glory of God, so human beings are defined in the light of this starting point. You hear little statements, like little summaries, that point down to so much more about the person offering you their definition. "Human beings are blind." "Human beings love sin." "Human beings are for God's glory." "Human beings are rebels." "Human beings are created." "Human beings need saving."

    Many of these little summaries are true statements, but they are lies by their half-truthfulness. They are so narrow, so half-real that they are little more than useless, perhaps worse, because they are so confusing. In this the culture, or our situation, the environment that we read the bible from, has become the lens through which we look at scripture, and we've read into scripture our own focus.

    Of course, introducing mystery into our understandings of things, can threaten people, who have made inauthentic rational commitments in their own worldviews. They worry, "If we don't keep the foundations strong then it all falls down."

    Perhaps this is 'a bit postmodern' ? But then perhaps we never understood what that meant anyway.

  11. Not sure those are such half-truths that they're untrue or useless for some things, but I agree we need to consider the picture carefully and freshly - and I agree it's ok to say that there is some unknown (given 'mystery' has such a clear usage in the Bible I'd rather not use that)

    That's why I attempted to peel back the layers a bit and address that in that mp3 from our leaders weekend. It was only a start, but we can piece together somethings very easily i think.

  12. I'm not saying that the mixed nature of a dissembled statement or claim isn't very useful, or untrue for some things. Only that it is our familarity with these uses that can lead us into a narrowing of our understanding of the human being.

    When Paul wraps up his first letter to the Thessalonians he prays, "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." He isn't narrowing the human being to something that just makes decisions, but speaking of a more dynamic, integrated, yet differently featured reality. Something with a 'spirit, soul and a body' what does it mean to speak of a human being in this kind of way?

    So, often, we target the will, the deeper decision making centre of a person. Perhaps we are doing a lot of a particular kind of evangelism, or we have been reading a lot of theology about this area.

    Yet much of what moves us, much of the way that we think is more intimately connected to feelings, than the things we 'must choose'. In fact, belief isn't even under the direct control of volition or will, anyway. This is confusing, because it stretches our categories. "Surely scripture says that, we must choose to respond to God!"

    Feelings, emotions, affections, passions are sometimes seen as a rather disobedient miasma, distracting rather than a large part of the focus of discipleship. We understand a human being to be largely a being who makes decisions, or who chooses things. Feelings and emotions are only seen as wholesome or helpful if sanctified by regeneration or the direct work of the Holy Spirit.

  13. If you're going to write things like "the mixed nature of a dissembled statement" or use words like miasma... then you need to spend more time with normal people....

    I read Joe Kapolyo's The Human Condition on the train today which gives an african take on what it means to be human.

    I take your point about decisions and the will... but surely the whole point of the will is that it is what makes decisions... emotions are what feel things... I put air into my lungs cos they breathe. I agree we might over rationalise/intellectualise the will... somehow we need to keep ourselves together i guess rather than cut ourselves up too clinically.

  14. I was enjoying the words yesterday, sorry if that made my point unclear.

    I think Dallas puts the other view (different from what you are saying) quite well here..

    "One thing becomes clear when you think about the power of feeling. No one can succeed in mastering feelings in his or her life who tries to simply take them head-on and resist or redirect them by 'willpower' in the moment of choice. To adopt that strategy is to radically misunderstand how life and the human will work." Dallas Willlard - Renovation of the Heart (p118)


  15. I think you're slightly nissing what I'm saying.

    I'm not saying doctrine = will power... I'm saying, when we go without doctrine we're away from God and we wont see change without seeing God.

    I'm with Sibbes when we writes: the sight of Christ is a transforming sight.

    It's not about whether we engage feelings or will power, but rather than engaging with God's word should, somehow, be transformational.


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