Conservative Christians seek to conserve a biblical view of the religious affections. Religious affections is a term that washes over most Christians today with little more than a blank expression of incomprehension. So few today are talking about what the affections are, how they relate to Christian living, and how they are developed that the term affection sounds archaic, while the term ordinate affection sounds almost alien.
Most today don’t use the term affections; they have simply adopted the more recent psychological category of emotions. This is unhelpful and unfortunate, for reasons we will examine in a later post. With this vague and unhelpful term, evangelicals and fundamentalists have said vague and unhelpful things about ‘emotions in the Christian life’. Some have relegated them to peripheral status; some have almost outlawed them. Some have enlisted the ones they were comfortable with, while still others have introduced emotions alien to historical Christianity and baptised them into our liturgy and church life.
Without a proper understanding of the affections, Christianity becomes a hollow shell. As we have seen, the Rule of Prescription simply gives us the skeletal frame for worship; all the meat and tissue is a matter of the circumstances of worship. These are guided by right affections.
Remove the understanding of the affections from Christian thought, and you have the circus that is modern evangelicalism, with every man doing that which is right in his own eyes. Nothing is too bizarre, too freakish, too worldly, too lewd, or too irreverent for modern church services. Without hearts guarded by the wisdom that comes from ordered loves, ordered sensibilities and ordered tastes, man’s corrupt desires will skew his reason in the direction of his perverted lusts. He will profess to be wise, but become foolish, as his inordinate affection drives him ever further from the worship of the true God towards idolatry.
Recovering an understanding of the affections is rather like discovering a dusty golden compass in an age of faulty GPS systems. The compass is precise, tried and tested and in perfect working order. But few know what it means and how to use it. Permanent truth about the affections is still available to be learned. The problem is that there are very few modern Christians who have taken the time to read Christians from any era except their own.
I would say that the matter of the affections is the hardest battle that conservative Christians will face. Along with the matter of restoring meaning to worship, this view of the affections is the single biggest thing that will probably distinguish them from mainstream evangelicals or fundamentalists. To find believers who are knowledgeable and serious about ordinate affection is rare indeed.
For conservative Christians to ably defend and spread the message of the religious affections, at least four things will need to happen.
First, we will need to understand the primacy of the affections according to Scripture. We will need to see that the affections are not peripheral, but central, and therefore deserve our scrupulous attention. We will need to understand why they are so important, and what happens as a result of misunderstanding them.
Second, we will need to understand the definition of the affections, and be able to distinguish them from the passions. We will need to begin to understand the difference between the affections which belong to worship and the appetites which do not.
Third, we will need to begin a lifelong process of considering what affections belong to what object. The nature of the object in view determines a corresponding affection. We are to learn what affection is fitting or ordinate for the object, person, thing, or experience in question.
Fourth, we will need to understand clearly how the affections are shaped.
When these ideas begin to click into place, we are re-entering the atmosphere of biblical and historical Christianity, and exiting the glandular religion that is modern Christianity.