Thinking and Emotions in the Christian Life

Thinking and Emotions in the Christian Life

To be well-balanced Christians, we should be men and women who dive deeply in the word and examine the doctrines of the faith. These beautiful truths should not only challenge our thinking, but deeply move our affections for the Lord. The more we learn about him, the more we should love him. The more we love him, the more we should desire to learn more about him.

Human beings are people of extremes. The pages of history give testimony to our ability to diagnose a problem and then overcorrect to an opposite error. Children raised under the pressures of legalism often gravitate toward licentiousness. Reacting against an overemphasis in logic, some have gone to the opposite error of relative truth.

The church is not immune to such pendulum swings.

One area we see the pendulum continually swinging back and forth is the area of thinking and emotions. Some refer to this as focusing on either the heart or the mind, some might say emphasizing either Word or Spirit.

However one phrases it, the gist is that in our personal life and in our church services, we tend to either highlight truth/thinking or emotional/experiential. Some tend to prioritize emotions to the neglect of their mind. Others, perhaps in reaction against that, feed their mind but seem unmoved in their emotions.

How do we understand the relationship between truth and emotions? What are we to make of church services that simply seek to move our emotions just to have an emotional experience? What about the churches that strain the gnat regarding truth but seem to lack any true emotion?

Both/And Not Either/Or

Perhaps instead of swinging the pendulum to one extreme or the other, we recognize the value and importance of both truth and emotions. Jesus said we need to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Those who gravitate naturally to the experiential side need to equally emphasize truth and doctrine. Those who naturally flock to the truth and love studying doctrine would do well to make sure those truths are stirring their affections for the Lord.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones emphasized the need for both. He said that often the problem is “due to the fact that people have emphasized either experience or doctrine at the expense of the other, and indeed they have been guilty, and still are, of putting up as contrasts things which clearly are meant to be complementary.”‌1 He argued that we must avoid the extremes of fanaticism on the one hand, or dry intellectualism on the other.

We tend to think that you have to pick between truth or emotions. Many assume if you focus on truth, then you will be dry, intellectual, and boring. A church service with this emphasis will feel more like an academic lecture. Others view emotion as mere effects of entertainment or emotional manipulation. Certainly, both of these extremes exist, but that doesn’t mean it has to be one or the other.

Books could be written on this subject, but for today we’ll just narrow it down to two propositions: (1) Our emotions should be based on truth, and (2) studying truth should move our emotions.

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