Head and Heart

Who or what are the people and elements in the title banner of this blog? From left to right, they are: A.W. Tozer, Augustine of Hippo, J. Gresham Machen, Gerhard Tersteegen, the seal of the Moravian church and Jonathan Edwards. Why were these chosen?

They were not chosen because they represent perfect Christianity. They had their flaws. Edwards was perhaps reclusive as a pastor. Tozer did not examplify all we might hope for in a family man. Augustine believed infant baptism washes away the guilt of Original Sin. The Moravians were occasionally swept up by subjectivism.

Nor were they chosen because they are ‘patron saints’ of conservative Christianity. They were chosen because in their various ways, they embodied what Christians should strive for. Their lives reflected a pursuit of a living, experiential relationship with Christ, not divorced from history or fact, nor operating independently of sound doctrine.

These were men of the Scriptures. For the most part, these men and groups, along with many others throughout church history, represented the coming together of head and heart. For them, it was not an either/or proposition between sound theology and high affections. It was both/and. Indeed, some of them argued that you could not have the one without the other. Sound doctrine enables true and high affections. True and high affections (and this you don’t hear today much) enables sound doctrine.

Modern Christianity has hardly paid attention to the writings of these men, or their calls for head and heart united in pursuit of Christ. We are in the unenviable position of having made affection and doctrine antithetical to each other for so long, that we can no longer see how they relate. We have ignored what Augustine, Edwards and Tozer wrote on the affections, and clumsily try to fit ‘the emotions’ somewhere into the Christian life.

So the church-goer today has to choose between two extremes:

1) The head-oriented, cerebral church which feeds its people the dry oats of discursive doctrine, insisting that this alone is the basis of all else. Affections are secondary, always subordinate and resultant rather than primary and formative. Coldness of heart is common; a mere mental interest in the system of Christian theology passes for piety.

2) You might expect me to say ‘heart-oriented’ for the other extreme, but that would be a mistake. Because the other extreme church-goers get to choose from is not heart-oriented, but belly-oriented. Such churches do not reach the heart of man, that is, his soul, through illuminated Scripture by appealing to the religious imagination. They appeal to the belly, the koilia, the mere appetites and passions of man through various techniques: pseudo-spiritual experiences, mood-music, dynamic and entertaining presentations (including the preaching). The passions are ignited, it feels ‘real’, ‘exciting’, ‘passionate’, but it is a sad substitute – like giving someone a pulse-raising drug to make them feel that life isn’t boring. Here, spiritual realities do not drive true affections; sensual and carnal tricks and techniques just arouse very natural and base responses. Rolland McCune calls it ‘glandular religion’.

One side of Christianity today tells us that a sound, biblical, expositional theology will solve our problems, because it will shape all else. They are partly right, but they are blind to the reverse truth: affections shape our understanding of theology and our application of it. Such people think the affections are quite dispensable and cosmetic, and that the faith of our fathers sails in the steel ship HMS Doctrine.

Another side of Christianity tells us that we need to get the passions going one way or another, while they ignore the many shades of ’emotions’, being blind to how some are hostile to the very faith they profess. As long as there is some form or emotion, they feel superior to the ‘dead’ church down the road. Their heated passions lead them deeper and deeper into error, but the ‘reality’ always seems preferable to those ‘cold’ theological egg-heads discussing predestination and textual criticism. For them, as long as the boat’s motor is revving, nothing much else matters.

Granted, this is a generalisation, but it is not entirely unfair or far from the truth.

The men and groups portrayed in this blog’s banner, along with others, tried to start and pastor churches that were heart-oriented. They taught the faith of David, Isaiah, Christ, Paul and John.

Biblical faith drives no wedge between head and heart. That’s why we strive for conservative Christianity. We want to conserve the faith once delivered to the saints. We believe the faith of our fathers teaches that the life of piety is driven by the affections, which are induced by the illumination of sound doctrine. Equally, we know that right behaviour and right affections further shape our understanding of Scripture. Conservatives seek an ongoing ‘symbiotic relationship’ between head and heart, between affections and belief.

Don’t buy the lie that you have to choose between head or heart, light or heat. Do yourself a favour. Read something – anything – written by these men.   Acquaint yourself with historic Christianity.

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