How Christian Rationalism Turned Me Into a Psychopath, or A Biblical Defense of Feelings

The story of my childhood troubles began when the Protestant Reformers inadvertently adopted a form of Christian rationalism as a corrective for the (at least perceived) mystical vagaries, sensory superstitions, material corruptions, and aesthetic deceptions of the Roman Catholic church.

Then that same Christian rationalism, even more narrowly refined, traveled to colonial America at the heart of the Puritan experiment, eventually becoming the main cause of its failure (see The Guise of Every Graceless Heart for an in-depth study).

In spite of the failure of the Puritan experiment, that even narrower Christian rationalism (largely unamended) was the mold into which I was poured as a child growing up in a “Reformed” church.

And, as far as I can tell, it turned me into an operational psychopath.

It has taken me years to pinpoint some of the most damaging errors in what I was taught as a youth (in word or deed), and it will take me many more years to recover from their ill effects. This article explores some of the biblical and personal realizations I have made in the course of my recovery. It is long, but I hope it is useful and edifying to you.

“The Heart” in the Bible

Have you ever wondered why Jesus apparently added a phrase when he quoted the greatest commandment? Deuteronomy 6:5 reads: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” So why does Luke 10:27 add “and with all your mind”?

I believe the main reason for this was not a change in the truth, but a change in the culture. Jesus spoke Aramaic (a sister language of Hebrew), and he very well may have recited from Deuteronomy exactly as it is written. But Luke, Greek that he was, perhaps felt the need to include an additional phrase to properly translate the substance of what Jesus said for a Greek audience. Luke knew his Greek audience would have a far different perspective on the heart than ancient Hebrews did. So he changed the words to maintain the truth of the original.1

See, in Old Testament culture, the seat of the intellect was not the brain/mind. It was the heart (leb: לֵב), the “inner man.” In fact, it continues to be the case that many Eastern cultures (at least in their language) use the heart as the organ of the intellect. In Chinese even to this day, the pictograph for the heart (心), not the brain (脑), features prominently in words like “interesting (有意思)” and “smart (聪明).”

Similarly, the ancient Egyptians literally threw away the brain during the embalming process. Though the heart was preserved in a jar as the center of the will and creativity, they had no idea what purpose the brain could serve in the afterlife.

It wasn’t until much later that the organ of the intellect began to migrate to the brain, and the organ of the emotions eventually changed from the Old Testament kidneys (or “reins) to the New Testament heart.

Old Testament translators have often rendered the ancient word “heart” as “sense,” “mind,” or “intelligence” for Western (read Hellenistic or Roman) audiences. But this translation is often inconsistent (sometimes for good reason) throughout English Old Testaments, which has caused no small amount of confusion. This is yet another reason why some familiarity with the original languages of the Bible continues to be helpful even to laymen like me.

For instance, consider Jeremiah 17:9-10. These verses are central to why many Christians reject emotions as deceptive and untrustworthy:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.”

“See!” they say. “God says it right there. The heart, the seat of emotions, not the mind mentioned in verse 10 is more deceitful than all else.”

Except the word “heart” in verse 9 doesn’t actually refer to the seat of your emotions. It refers to the seat of your intellect and will: your inner man. The misleading equivocation of the NASB translation becomes even more pronounced in verse 10. By using both “heart” and “mind” in verse 10, the NASB further emphasizes the wrong interpretation of verse 9, encouraging a projection of modern Western definitions onto ancient words. Here’s the thing: the word “mind” doesn’t belong in verse 10. That is, unless you translate “leb” as “mind” in both verses.

The two organs mentioned in Jeremiah 17:10 are “the kidneys”—the ancient seat of the emotions—and “the heart”—the ancient seat of the intellect, will, or inner man. As it is, either  the NASB translators rendered “kidneys” as “mind” in verse 10 (which is an odd choice to say the least), or they are translating the same ancient word “heart” in two nearly opposing ways over the course of only two verses.

I have no fundamental objection to the NASB’s translation of verse 10 (if they are using the Western “heart” as a stand-in for the ancient “kidneys” and the Western “mind” for the ancient “heart”), but only if that same translation holds for verse 9: you know, the verse right before verse 10. This kind of stuff makes me want to scream. Right now the translation is at least very misleading, if not flatly wrong.

It makes sense that translators and church leaders would downgrade the value of emotions and place the intellect at the forefront of the Christian faith. After all, the Bible has largely been translated, interpreted, protected, and delivered by scribes and scholars, and it is only natural for them to emphasize (perhaps unconsciously) their own strengths and downplay the importance of their weaknesses.

But, as important as it is to love God with your intellect, I believe that it is of equal value to love God with your feelings. All of our capacities need to be submitted to God, obviously, and that means all of our capacities should be strengthened, valued, affirmed, and exercised within the expansive parameters of God’s character.

So I take issue with the notion that any one human capacity is not prone to fallibility, as if reason is more to be trusted than emotion. If anything, when properly interpreted, Jeremiah 17:9 indicates that the intellect is the most deceitful capacity of man. In modern terms, it could easily be translated: “The mind is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick…” I would rather translate it here as “the inner man,” but either way, the idea that feelings are less trustworthy or more fallible than reason is not biblical. Both feelings and intellect are important and equally indispensable. Lessening the value of one capacity over another within the church is bound to create dangerous and truth-distorting imbalances.

Growing Up Under Christian Rationalism

And just such an imbalance nearly derailed my faith. I was born into a small “Totally Reformed” Presbyterian church where the primary preacher regularly corrected young people for beginning sentences with, “I feel that …” He would tell them, “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Feelings are deceptive. Instead, say, ‘I think that…’”

I was baptized in this church as an infant. I graduated from the school the church started. My first three children were also baptized in this church by the same minister who baptized me. There has only been a handful of years in my life that I have not been a member there. As thankful as I am for many things about my first church, I believe its central errors were providentially aligned with my own worst sin tendencies. If there is such a thing as a representative product of its teaching for good and for ill, I am he.

And most days, I feel like a psychopath. Or, excuse me, I think I feel like a psychopath—with a seared conscience, almost no spontaneous empathy, and a nearly complete lack of remorse for wrongdoing. And I believe much of my emotional anemia resulted from the unbalanced and unbiblical teachings I imbibed on the emotions and the intellect.

I imagine most church leaders probably won’t believe they are actually Christian rationalists. But it’s not just what you say you believe that counts. It’s what you do about your beliefs that makes the biggest difference. Wisdom is, after all, vindicated by her children (Luke 7:35). And it would follow that folly is damned by hers.

In my church experience, I never heard anything like: “You need to restrain your intellect.” Young people in my church were encouraged to exercise their intellects as much as possible. We were encouraged to be scholarly and logical. We were encouraged to read voraciously and view the world consistently, analytically, even critically. We were rewarded if we got good grades and debated well. We were admitted to the Lord’s Supper only when we could give a satisfactory intellectual explanation of our personal commitment to Christ.

I was encouraged to have an unbounded intellectual capacity—as far as my limits would allow me. I was never encouraged to put a governor on my intellect. I was never taught in practical terms the profound difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Propositional preaching dwarfed every other work of our church’s worship and service. The pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom—all of which were mistakenly assumed to be primarily intellectual—completely overshadowed all the other means of grace. The nearly exclusive primacy of cool-headed rational processing was early and often impressed into the wax of my young mind.

And, on the other hand, I and my peers were regularly encouraged to put a strict governor on our emotions. With regular consistency, the leaders and parents of my first church said things like, “You need to control your emotions. Restrain yourself. Suck it up.” All the time. Sometimes they referenced Proverbs 25:28 in their reasoning, without ever mentioning that the human “spirit” which needed controlling might comprise more than merely the emotions.

Children who felt very deeply were not encouraged or rewarded for their peculiar gifts. They were often “bad” students. Their parents compared them (negatively) to the “smart” kids. They weren’t allowed or encouraged to explore the upper limits of their capacity to feel. In fact, they were encouraged regularly to “Be reasonable!” They were criticized—sometimes mocked—by teachers, leaders, and other students if they processed or reacted in “overly emotional” ways.

Since these children couldn’t always explain the relationship they had with Jesus in clear propositional terms, their faith was often questioned or demeaned. They couldn’t debate or defend their views, so how were they going to be proper Christian soldiers? Their value in the church was diminished or overlooked. They questioned doctrines that upset them, and their doubts were coldly set aside with pre-fabricated “reasonable” answers. These children became convinced that they were “stupid.” Maybe even “worthless.” And the church either crushed their spirits or sent them into the world completely unprepared for the freedoms and temptations of adulthood.

My Psychopathic Heart of Stone

And this antagonism toward emotions affected me deeply. Each of us has been given quite different inclinations and tools for understanding the world. I have always been inclined toward verbal processing and abstract thought. I was already predisposed to demean the value of emotions even as a young child. I am not naturally empathetic. Like most children, I was also quite sensitive to mockery—a reality my childhood peers were savage in exploiting. At a young age, I learned to view my emotions as a weakness and a vulnerability. I hardened my heart into a tablet of stone.

So I was all too delighted to find out from my trusted authorities that curbing and restraining my emotional capacities under the rigors of logic and intellect was actually central to godliness and the Christian faith. If knowledge was at the center of the Christian faith, I was peculiarly suited to be a star in the church. And I loved the attention and praise I got, not realizing until much later the kind of damage I was doing to myself.

It was only in my twenties that I started to realize what a monster I had become. There was truly no wickedness that was beyond me. I felt absolutely no remorse when I hurt people. I could cheat, lie, and steal without even a tremor of feeling. I could use people mercilessly and sleep peacefully afterward. I had quietly compartmentalized my personality, stowing away my most rapacious lusts in a version of myself I could easily disavow in public without any hesitation. None of my personas were totally or really me, so there was nothing I couldn’t justify intellectually.

I was desperately sick in my inner man, but I could still give all the right answers, perhaps more clearly than ever. From the outside, I looked as serenely knowledgeable and “Christian” as ever, but I was a cruel and calculating thinking machine. In other words, I was an operational psychopath.

That is why it has always troubled me when people call Hitler “crazy” or when we say serial murderers suffer from “mental illness.” Hitler wasn’t crazy. His reasoning is sound if you accept his premises. His was not a failure of logic, but a failure of feeling. Any normally emotional person would not have been able to conceive the atrocities he orchestrated without being overwhelmed by guilt and remorse.

It’s interesting that psychiatrists have also not been able to pinpoint any common complex of mental illness when it comes to the vast majority of serial murderers and terrorists. In other words, psychopathic minds and psychopathic logical capacities are working just fine, often far better than average.

The problem is that psychopaths have generally subjugated their feelings to cold rationality to such an extent that their feelings are no longer useful as a check on their actions. They feel no remorse. They can justify anything in their minds. The mind is, after all, quite deceptive, especially when it has nothing to restrain it.

Taking Hold of “the Reins”

Notice that “the kidneys”—the ancient seat of emotions—are also called “the reins” in the Old Testament. This figure is quite fruitful. On one hand, your feelings restrain you from some of the worst things you are capable of doing. When you are a child, you feel bad when you hurt someone. When children lie, it’s usually obvious from the expressions on their faces. Your feelings “out” you. They keep you in check. They let you and others know what’s going on deep inside you. Even when they are pointed in the wrong direction, your emotions are nearly always an honest picture of your “inner man.”

But your feelings can sometimes be your “reins” in a different way—controlling you—causing you to react too quickly or unrighteously in the moment. It’s for this reason that we encourage children to “think before they act and speak.” The problems start when you tell children (in word or deed) that emotions really needn’t enter in to their decision-making or worldview at all.

God wants you to submit your reins to his spirit. This very well may be why God required “the kidneys” in sacrifice (Exod. 29:13, Lev. 9:10). He doesn’t merely want cold willingness from us; he wants passion. He doesn’t want you to cut off your feelings as if they are intrinsically untrustworthy or valueless. We are to love him with our whole person.

And, from my own experience as well as a consideration of “the reins,” feelings are directly connected to “the conscience.” Feelings need to be conformed to the spirit of God, and they can be faulty, of course. But feelings are no more faulty than the intellect, and they need to be allowed to operate as an independent and equal check and balance on the deceptions of other human faculties.

When Feelings Are Subordinate to the Intellect…

But in so many churches, like the one in which I grew up, feelings are subordinated to the intellect, and the implications of this subordination are massive.

For one, it creates psychopaths like me. Over the past few years, I have started to learn to feel again. The process has been painful and humiliating, and I feel like a vulnerable and awkward child when I am attempting to exercise sympathy or empathy. I must credit my wife as the central means God has used in my emotional development. Without her forgiving, long-suffering patience and perseverance I would likely be as cold-blooded and dangerous as ever.

But many of my childhood peers have not fared as well as I have. I have kept up with many of them since we’ve grown up, and nearly all of them have had similar experiences to me. A sadly significant number of them have rejected Jesus at this point. Basically all of them have had major crises of faith, many of which were connected to the unbalanced teachings of our youth.

If you look at the American church’s current retention rate of young people, the numbers are damning. That in itself should be reason enough to take a hard look at what we’re teaching our children, by word but especially by deed. It’s not good enough that they know the right things. We have to teach them to love the right things. And loving the right things involves valuing deep feeling.

Second, just as emotions have been subordinated in individuals, emotional people have been subordinated in the larger church body, especially in “Reformed” churches. And just as an individual loses his conscience without healthy feelings, so the church and this whole country have lost their collective conscience.

Somehow we can rationalize killing unborn children by clever bits of wordplay. Somehow we can rationalize drone killing terror suspects, bombing cities, and operating as police forces in sovereign nations overseas. And that’s just murder. We also justify slavery of all kinds, national theft and fraud, the widespread devaluation of women and feminine prowess, cruelty toward the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, etc. We are a rationalistic and scientistic society. We have sawn off our reins. And I hold the church directly responsible for this.

I believe the leaders at my birth church—and so many other Christian congregants and leaders—are wrong for assigning feelings a low place and importance in the church, and I believe their nearly exclusive affirmation of the utility of intellect is detrimental to the true and biblical practice of Christianity. The same error that sank the Puritans, rationalism, is sinking the inheritors of that legacy.

But is Emotionalism Any Better?

“But wait!” you might say, “the main problem with many churches in America today is that they operate entirely on feelings without any critical thinking at all.”

Yes. That may be true. But this problem is actually very much connected to the legacy of Christian rationalism, oddly enough.

Most “feeling-centered” Americans operate on mostly uncultivated and undisciplined feelings. Why? Because when a society discards a natural human capacity as basically useless, that capacity doesn’t cease to exist—it just becomes trivial and shallow in its applications.

Years ago, when I heard childish, repetitive worship songs and saw (or avoided seeing) childish, predictable “Christian” movies, my first thought was, “These people are intellectually deficient. If they knew more, they would reject this garbage.” I thought the main problem was that Christians were allowing themselves to be directed by feelings rather than by reason. My heart was filled with pride. I wanted people to be more like me, as if that would fix the church.

But in fact, this is not the case. Many of the people who are at home in “feeling-centered” churches cannot be scholars, and that’s potentially a very good thing for the church. Not everyone is like me: inclined to intellectual pursuits. Some people are inclined to, or at least capable of, emotional pursuits. They should be allowed and even encouraged to expand and cultivate their emotional prowess in the same way we encourage intellectuals in the church to expand and cultivate their intellects.

It is because we have not valued and affirmed the emotions that so many emotional people have not capitalized on their potential. The fact that so much of the mainstream church is adequately stirred by repetitive, childish pabulum is not primarily a failure of the intellect. For them at least, it is a failure of feeling. If they felt more deeply and expansively, such shallow emotion would not touch or satisfy them. The problem in the church, even in feeling-centered churches, is not too much feeling; it is too little.


Just imagine what would happen if the roles of the intellect and the emotions were reversed: What if the intellect were deemed useless and the emotions were alone invested with utility in our culture? Would not the intellect become to us like the emotions have become? Stilted at young ages, carelessly crushed or discarded, a human novelty exercised only for entertainment or amusement—receiving no nurture, little praise, and little affirmation.

There are biblical standards and values for both the intellect and the emotions. There needs to be a balance, both individually and corporately. I will not ever be as great as my wife in empathy and sincerity, but through diligent practice, I can at least learn to appreciate how great she is. And because I recognize that my wife is far superior to me in this area (at least), I rely heavily on her emotional intelligence to contribute to our decisions and inform my tone. (I’m still learning, so please don’t hold anything against her.)

No gift is insignificant in the church, and there should be mutual love, respect, and honor between brothers and sisters in the church for the varieties of gifts we all bring to the body (1 Cor. 12).

Knowledge involves discipline, sure. But knowledge involves intimacy too. Knowledge without intimacy is lifeless. Attempted intimacy without true knowledge is selfish and shallow. Churches have currently separated into divisive hemispheric lobes—some of hot aimless fire, some of cold heartless light. This has to change. There should be a healthy mix of hearts and minds in the church, each submitting themselves to one another in the fear of Christ.

But right now, the church desperately lacks deeply feeling people with expansive emotional capacities. They are our conscience. They are central to uninhibited worship. They are vital to our empathy for the broken world.

It’s time we hold feelings to the same standard we hold the intellect to, and we can do that only when we value feelings as much as we value the intellect. It’s time to topple the idol of Christian rationalism. It’s time we Westerners learn to love God with all of our human faculties.


The ideas in this article have many other applications. For instance, I can’t help but think that Christian rationalism affects gender relations in the church. It’s no great surprise to me that the patriarchy movement has grown naturally out of the Reformed Puritan Renaissance or that women (even in more “liberal” environments) have accepted a masculine-centered hierarchy of values and prowesses.

Also, I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that so many serial murderers grew up in strict religious homes.

Also, some of the greatest Emotionals in the church belong to the artistic community, so it makes sense that many, if not most, artists don’t feel at home in either shallow-feeling or Christian rationalist congregations.

If you can you think of other applications, or just want to sound off on something, please do so in a comment. Thanks for reading!

  1. Thanks to EricW for these corrections/refinements:

    I’m not sure Luke’s “Greek audience” would be the reason “he changed the words,” or that Luke was even the one who changed the words. Mark 12:30 has the same four terms, but in a different order (kardia, psyche, dianoia, and ischys; both Luke and Mark substitute ischys for the LXX dynamis) and Matthew 22:37 has three of them (kardia, psyche, dianoia), including “mind” but omitting “might.”

    In the LXX translation of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, it uses dianoia, psyche and dynamis to translate Deut. 6:5. So perhaps Mark (and Luke by carryover) added kardia (“heart”) to reflect the broader meaning of the Hebrew lev. In other words, kardia, and not dianoia, would be the “addition” to the text (as well as changing dynamis to ischys).

104 responses

  1. Thank you for this! You put words to so many thoughts in my head. I too spent 6 years at a church like the one you grew up in. They thought they were the most intelligent of all the reformed denominations. 🙁

    • You are welcome. Thank you for sharing some of your experience. Unfortunately, I have heard a pretty much identical string of these kinds of stories. I hope this article does some good.

  2. Michael, I totally believe you are a psychopath. Just look at your cartoon head at the top of the page. That stare sends chills down my spine.

  3. As for your article – excellent! Rationalism is the scalpel that was used to flay man into those unrelated non-tangent “organs” called mind, emotion, and will. I ran into this trichotomy when I was young and had my own struggle against it. The Bible does not teach it, but defines man as imago dei then makes a caldron out of the faculties of men that is not divisible. Mind and emotion are a mixture of ingredients that work together inseparably in what is called the heart. The life of man is only separated internally and externally in the Bible between the “life” ,i.e. walk, “conversation”, lifestyle, relation to the world and God and the internal heart which is the incomprehensible synthesis of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, faith, love, and all other created faculties coming to bear upon the circumstances of the external world. Union with God is how it is all balanced; only God’s Spirit can rein us in because we are too complicated to run our own lives equitably. Thank you for this article, brother! It makes me want to be a better minister.

    • Thanks, Tim! I think both the swirling cauldron and the system of parts you spoke of have been useful in their times, sort of like physiology and anatomy. My main problem has been the emphasis on the system to the exclusion of the cauldron. Emotional worldviews, given the nature of emotions, tend to allow for overlap—both/and, apparent paradoxes, and unresolved questions. For instance, “bittersweet” doesn’t exist intellectually. It exists emotionally and sensorily. The intellect demands either/or. Sometimes that inflexibility is good. Sometimes not.

      So, like you have said, navigating all of this requires discernment. At the same time, a lot of it would be worked out if Christians just honored each other, valued all the different things each of us is able to bring to the body, and worked to serve each other with our various gifts. I think pride and selfishness has turned many of these good gifts, and much good theology, sour.

      Thank you for reading my work, Tim! It means a lot to me.

  4. Your treatise is so sound, simple and straight-forward. Heart-felt thanks from someone who struggles to process experience linearly…from the bottom of my kidneys.

    I experienced a personal breakdown and crisis of identity when I could no longer define God logically. The God of Presence has been such a confusing orthodoxy to approach after guarding against my feelings (i.e. myself) for so long.

    Again, thank you for giving us words for this.

    • You are very welcome. Thank you for sharing. I have known many people like you. In addition to my wife, my eldest daughter and my second son have taught me so much about the power and complexity of emotional worldviews. Your comment was very encouraging. I’m glad I could be of service!

  5. Thanks, Michael. This resonates deeply with me, and I find particular applications here for Christian education as well as the church. This is my seventeenth year teaching in Christian schools, and I think the world of Christian education has a real uphill battle here. I don’t think this means a backpedaling away from “embracing, developing, and applying” a Biblical world view, but it does mean we should be considering with great passion into which desires and creative pursuits students take those realities. As James K.A. Smith has said elsewhere, we are not primarily thinkers/categorizers but rather lovers/loyalists. The things, ideas, and people that we love says a lot about us. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m a big fan of James K. A. Smith, too. Thanks for your comment.

      Since education is largely oriented toward intellectual pursuits, I can understand why it would be challenging to educate without falling into what would at least look like rationalism. But I think a lot could be done to balance education, at home and institutionally. For one, you could put standardized testing and most grading rubrics to death without much of a murmur from my corner. And for that matter, we could stop trying to diagnose every child according to some “normal/average” rubric and percentile.

      Some of this work can’t be done within the walls of the schoolhouse, though. I think the value of each individual must extend beyond mere educational status. And I think churches, families, and communities should emphasize that not every one is cut out for school, and success at school is only one kind of success. I don’t think you really need much more than primary school to get by in life, whether you are an intellectual or not. Shakespeare never went to college. The list of inventors and entrepreneurs who dropped out of school is large, almost to the point of a commonplace. Most intellectuals are auto-didacts anyway, even when they are forced to go through the university system to be eligible for the learned professions. So there’s that.

      It’s a cultural problem, though, and there aren’t any piecemeal solutions. Like Smith says, “You are what you love.” So if we want to change what we are as a culture, it is our loves and values that must change first.

      Thanks again for your comment. Let me know if there is anything else you have to add to this conversation!

      • This post makes me appreciate even more the push for synthetic rather than analytic learning or, as Charlotte Mason puts it, the Science of Relations so prevalent in that educational model. I began using her principles several years ago in our homeschool. I see the fruits every day. While academic, intellectual rigor is important, it is never promoted at the expense of the child making deep, emotional connections with the people and events throughout history.

        • This is such an important point. I put the the vital relational quality of learning/truth under the heading of “the epistemology of empathy.” I believe the biblical way of knowing, no matter how rigorous, is always and even fundamentally relational. Thank you for commenting!

  6. Michael, I have 1,001 things to say. My heart is so full. I will stick with this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And praise God for preserving you, for holding you so close to Himself. My heart is so full. Thank you for speaking the truth. For all of us.

    • Thanks, Valerie! After posting this yesterday, I felt entirely exhausted, but I couldn’t get to sleep. This was a difficult one for me to write, and I have only recently felt enough peace and forgiveness to write it without being overcome by bitterness. It has been very encouraging to hear from so many people today how much this article aligned with their own experience, and it has also been great to hear from parents and teachers who tell me this article has at least given them a lot to chew on (my Dad said it was enlightening and culture-shifting for him). I hope it is a tool more for healing than opening old wounds. Yet to be determined, I guess. Thanks for the encouraging words!

      • I get it. The bitterness, the peace, the forgiveness, the time it can take to get there. Like you, I have had a spouse who helped me get there, by God’s grace. So many have not had that hand of rescue. Now we have the chance to be used to help rescue others who are hurting.

  7. Thank you for this heartfelt explanation. One of the (admittedly many) things I appreciate about the Roman Catholic tradition is its space for many ways of knowing God and living in relationship with him, as is so well demonstrated by the variety of religious orders. What surprises me in what you’ve written, however, is the seeming dualism between mind/reason and heart/emotion. When we are women and men with bodies, emotions, minds, and souls, how could any of these faculties be independent of another? If it’s not to onerous to explain, I’d also be curious to know what your church leaders taught about the many Biblical outpourings of emotion and even emotion in speaking to God. Or could you point me toward a good resource on that topic? Once again, thank you.

    • I was a bit concerned about the seeming dualism of my post, but it was already nearing 4,000 words so I left it as is. I’m thankful you mentioned it so I can discuss it a little.

      I didn’t even touch on the will, the soul, the spirits, the body, the etc. Tim Price (above) mentioned that the whole person is more like a cauldron of ingredients than a machine of parts. That’s true. But it’s not the only truth. Sometimes it is very helpful to look at humans in terms of their parts, sometimes in terms of their intra- and inter-relationships and functions. As an analogy, anatomy and physiology have their places and their applications. Neither are wholly or only true. Both are prone to problems when they are not submitted to one another.

      I think the mind and the heart tend to offer different ways of seeing the world. I make a distinction between them because the Bible does, but I think a distinction is different than a separation. I make no general hierarchy of importance there. Each person needs to learn how the specific tool bag of inclinations God gave them can be of best service to God and others.

      In terms of how my church leaders viewed emotion and emotional displays in the Scriptures, they generally praised them in words. None of them meant ill. Most of them were merely following teachings that had filled in missing pieces of the puzzle for them without realizing that their children were exclusively getting those few pieces and not the whole picture. It was their practice that was most damaging. It’s kind of like someone who says that they value such-and-such very very much, but then when you look at how much time and money they spend on such-and-such, it turns out they didn’t value such-and-such hardly at all. That’s how it was with emotions and feeling. If you excitedly praise only intellectuals as giants in the faith, regularly discipline for displays of emotion, unintentionally set aside or discard “emotional” people and their suggestions, use 1 hour or more to preach a deep theological sermon bounded by twenty minutes of singing and sacraments on either side, completely abandon inter-personal discipleship and practice strict church discipline instead, etc. Actions speak louder than words, and all that.

      I hope that cleared some things up, though I could probably write a lot more. Thanks for commenting and reading!

  8. Michael, I am glad you have had this awakening. Thank you for sharing and for being open about something so difficult and personal. I hope you continue to heal. It’s not an easy path, and I wish you the best.

    And I especially appreciate your comments on Jeremiah. I have had that verse quoted at me more times than I can count as a way to dismiss criticisms of doctrine. In fact, I’ve heard it twice this week alone. I’ll be thinking (and feeling!) more about all of this.

    • Thanks. It’s crazy how Western our view of the Old Testament often is. The NASB is all over the place on literal vs. contextualized renderings, which doesn’t help the situation all that much. And that’s probably the most literal translation available. It’s best to look at the original languages, see how the same roots and words are translated across each Testament (and even in extra-biblical texts), check multiple translations, and try to consider the historical, cultural, literary conventions of the original authors. Perhaps this is work that teachers in the church should be doing more thoroughly, but alas and alack, many of them (perhaps most) aren’t willing or able to do that work. That’s a frustration for a different post though. I don’t know how much ire from church leaders I want to bring on my head all in one go.

      All that said, I’m glad this has been helpful to you. Thanks for reading, commenting, and encouraging me!

  9. Thanks so much for your honesty and willingness to share your story! I was deeply touched. My journey is similar and this is the first time I have read anything that expresses so well these particular problems in the Reformed church. You are very blessed that you understand these things now while your children are young. I only wish I had learned these things at a younger age when my children were little.

    This is a little off topic, but I think it illustrates the mind/heart distinction and how our understanding of it affects our journey. I used to read “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” as “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commandments”. I don’t think anyone ever said that, but the atmosphere made me think that. As I have grown to love Jesus more through the years, I realized that the commandments were not duties I had to check off. I find myself desiring to keep the commandments more as I love Jesus more. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” I Jn 5:3 They aren’t burdensome at all with love in the equation.

    This article has really piqued my interest in your blog, and I’m anxious to look through the archives to find some more food for thought. You have an amazing gift!

    • Thank you for the encouragement!

      I am very grateful that I have come to these realizations while my children are young. I thank God for that almost every day. I’m sure I’ll still find a way to destroy their lives, but at least it won’t be _this_ way.

      I don’t think your comment on love/obedience is off-topic really at all. In fact, I was going to write a follow-up to this article on the respective strengths and weaknesses of being an “Ought-To” or a “Want-To” Christian. I think duty and affection (fear and love) are variously necessary in the Christian walk and in different measures for different people.

      Lastly, I’m glad this article has piqued your interest in my archives, but I must say up front that up until a few months ago I was being paid to write mostly on political topics. Quitting that gig was one of the best decisions of my life. The articles I’m writing now don’t make me any money, but at least I’m free to write what I want. And I don’t have to look at trending political news stories anymore. I am quite sure this is currently adding years to my life.

      After I quit my paid writing job, I started this website, and since I still technically owned all the work I had written for the years previous, I archived the nearly 1K political pieces here (without filtering them) for approximately three reasons:

      1) I never wrote things I didn’t agree with, though I regularly wrote on topics or stories I wouldn’t otherwise have written on — and my tone often leaves a lot to be desired.

      2) I wanted a constant reminder never to prostitute my faculties for money ever again. There are few things worth less than money, after all.

      3) I was really happy with some of the articles, and some of my closest friends liked other articles, so I decided to just let them all be, tares and all.

      If I may say so, the articles I have written in the past month or two (since I quit) are my favorites. But I don’t know. The amount of attention this particular article has gotten has greatly surprised me. I never would have suspected it. So, I guess, just wander out there into the archives and read whatever strikes you.

      Thank you again for the encouraging words and the insights.

  10. Thanks for this article; I’ve felt the same psychopathic ways in the same subculture of Reformation thought. And my wife has done similar things for me! I remember a dvd (no recollection now whose exactly) played at a bible study when I was in high school, that divided Christian life/righteousness into orthodoxy, orthopraxis, and orthopathos, all resulting from each other (a trinitarian analogue that is very helpful, I thought). There was much discussion over the ingrained idea that feelings are what proceed from the other categories but don’t feed them. But when I thought it through, realised that we don’t read “If you keep my commandments, you will love me.”

    It’s obvious to me that an unwillingness to engage with feeling is exactly the same as an unwillingness to engage with the Holy Spirit, which we find in the same churches. “The Mind of the Maker” (Dorothy Sayers) is an excellent read that touches on all these topics with respect to art/writing–if you haven’t read it I know you would love it.

    • Thanks for the recommendation and your thoughts. I only heard about orthodoxy and orthpraxy as a youth. At least you got that much. : )

  11. Thank you for this article. I am going to apply this knowledge to my life today. I think I will be a better person, mom, wife, sister, daughter and friend because of it.

  12. Thank you for this. I’ve run across and read several of your articles before, and this is the first I absolutely wholeheartedly agree with or identify with, and this I do, both.

    My experience from birth has closely mirrored what you have described. As a person, I tend to function largely in thought space-and I agree, while it can be a strength tending toward the intellectual, the flip side is a weakness tending toward the psychopath to default to this type of functioning- and yet I had very, very strong emotions as well. I had in fact an incredibly strong and emotional hunger for relationship and friendship growing up, a hunger I starved based on the fact that emotions were condemned as less-than and based on the fact that I was told (often by the church) that I possessed the very best of relationship and friendship already. I believe as a child and a young adult I was much the worse person for having starved this. Now God has shown new grace to me through an amazing husband and child, and through them, I’m learning things I feel foolish for never having cultivated before. I KNEW (intellectually, and could articulate) that the Biblical concept of knowledge includes intimacy, but I did not experience it; even believed I should not let myself experience it.

    “But in so many churches, like the one in which I grew up, feelings are _subordinated_ to the intellect, and the implications of this subordination are massive.” MASSIVE. And not implications for good.

    The greatest and second greatest commandment are such for a reason. And they’re so connected, relating to God and relating to one another as WHOLE BEINGS. Incidentally, and I could be wrong here, I think perhaps the division of “self” from “neighbor” is related to what you have discussed here. Only intellectually can one believe there is health in saying and acting along the lines of: “I am going to treat my neighbors with as much love as I can, and this pleases God; but I am going to treat myself and have the expectation of my neighbors treating me with as little love as possible or in a way that looks as little like love as possible, and this is okay and also pleases God.” Speaking of intellectual division, I also think there is a sneaky dualism in many Reformed churches, because not only are the emotions subordinated to the mind, the body is, too, (perhaps more properly) subordinated to the mind; and an ongoing overemphasis of the mind creates, if unintentionally, an underemphasis of every other part of the PERSON, including the emotions and even of the body as more likely to be evil, and that’s just on the edge of the same old mystic dualism holding the belief that the flesh is to be punished while the mind is to be cared for and the belief that punishing the flesh (and squelching the emotions) while caring for the mind is healthy, let alone possible; a dualism which is completely unbiblical.

    Thank you for taking the large amount of time and mental and emotional and physical energy it had to have taken to write this.

    • Wow. These are some excellent insights. Thank you for writing them.

      And, as for my other articles: For a long time I wrote for a political blog, and a lot of those articles are archived here. I don’t like writing about politics, and I don’t care about most of those articles. I was paid to write them (two a day, five days a week). It was horrible. I don’t do that anymore. You probably saw some of those floating around and, yes, I can totally understand why you might have had mixed feelings about them.

      It’s pretty awesome that this article resonated so thoroughly with you though. I can’t promise I’ll always write things you agree with, but I’m very open to conversation if you ever want to comment. Thank you again for your thoughts and encouragement.

  13. Hello Michael,

    Your article was shared on a Facebook group I belong to. I wrote an extended comment there, but decided to repost here to share and possible gather feedback.


    There is a tendency to have a dichotomous Greek divide between emotions and reason, much like the old Epicurean vs. Stoicism schools. A lot of churches emphasize emotion – art, music, charismatic gifts, etc – while others appear more stoic. This leads to an unfortunate problem that we feel caught in a divide where it is one or the other.

    God created our intellectual and emotional capacities. I believe both are touched by sin – one isn’t superior to the other by virtue of purity. Both should be redeemed as part of our worship of God. But I think that a head/heart view (to use our contemporary way of thinking) isn’t adequate. First, we are to love God with all our heart and mind, as the great commandment teaches. But I think we need to love in action as well – hands. Love informs everything we do in worship as believers – or it should if we want to avoid becoming, ahem, a psychopath.

    He says “In my church experience, I never heard anything like: ‘You need to restrain your intellect.'” Certainly not in those words, but it is not an unusual teaching in churches that the mind (intellect) is fallen and that the “spirit” should have control. J.P. Moreland devotes an entire chapter in “Love Your God With All Your Mind” to refuting this view – this alone should help us recognize how shockingly common this view really is.

    Most churches don’t need to restrain the intellect – because there isn’t much intellectual life in the first place – see “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”. That isn’t to say however that there isn’t a need to do so, however. False ideologies are a sign of intellectualism run amok, and they often become false teachings within the church. For more on this I recommend reading Norman Geisler’s “Beware of Philosophy” which is a great primer on how easy it is for the mind to go astray.

    One of the things that always stuck me about John Piper was how much he seems to delight in singing as an act of worship. It is interesting how much he has written on pleasure and delight as a Christian and somewhat misleading if we only consider him as a theological heavyweight. Not only is it possible to have a balance, it is actually possible and good to have an abundance in both.

    Another bit I want to be careful about, is not confusing emotion with mysticism. There is a vast difference between being an emotionally healthy and worshipful person, versus being a mystical with an esoteric (searching within for knowledge of divinity). All of our knowledge of God is exoteric (Hebrews 1:1-2) outside ourselves coming from the God who reveals himself to us. We need to be careful to not allow ourselves to seek God from experience within.

    There are many other points I could make, but one thing I wanted to point out, a lot of believers in the prior generation were very positively affected by Francis Schaeffer’s “True Spirituality” and the picture of Christian love he painted there. Another book I like that explores these themes and the intersection of intellect and emotion is Jerram Barrs’ “Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience”. This would be a worthwhile read for exploring these issues more fully.

    • Thanks for that thoughtful response.

      It will certainly require discernment to avoid excesses and deficiencies (in practice) in all of these areas, and your notes of caution are worth considering carefully. But no matter how carefully stated or applied any of these things are, no person will ever get it entirely right within himself.

      This is why I am most concerned that Christians within churches, churches within traditions, and traditions within the larger Christian community work hard to actually learn from and support each other, confessing their sins to one another and asking forgiveness. So many denominations are under the impression that _they_ have the exclusive and only truth. This basically reads to unbelievers and other denominations as, “Believe and practice how _I_ believe and practice, or you’re at least wrong, maybe lost forever.” I think it would be far better for Christians to love and serve each other in submission to each other, considering others more important than ourselves.

      Based on your description of mysticism, I think you may be referring to Gnosticism (maybe a mysticism, I don’t know), and oddly enough that is a real problem when individualism and intellectualism are married together. An idea that an individual alone holds the whole truth within himself (some secret accessing) is something I combatted my whole growing-up life.

      I’ll check out those books also. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  14. I went to a southern baptist church for nearly a decade and they were very heavy on rationalism/intellect without the feelings please. When we finally left I believed God hated me and was pretty hopeless (deep depression). Recovery has been slow and still have very negative feelings toward anything baptist. I fell into the trap of clinging to their philosophy of God rather than God Himself.

    • I’m sorry to hear that. It certainly is a temptation for me to be bitter, especially when so many abusers in positions of leadership refuse to see their part in the devastation of their children. But I have found that forgiveness is as much for the forgiver as the forgiven. I never felt more free than the day I forgave my father (I should say, for the record’s sake, that my mother didn’t need to be forgiven) in my heart. I have felt only more freedom and fearlessness as I have continued to forgive the leaders in my life who (I believe unintentionally) led me astray. Thank you for responding. I pray God gives us peace.

  15. The plea to love and accept the passionate Christian as well as the intellectual in the last part of your essay was spot on. Like you, I have to work at being a balanced person. I even have a note in my Bible reminding me to ‘stay out of my head’- a place of refuge from the torrents of emotion that my ‘feelings driven’ friends seem to have. I do think you may be too harsh on the reformed churches. Not every person is intellectual but the desire to know God through His Word is critical to every person. Where I live the charismatic mega churches are overwhelming. The study of God’s Word is fading there is only experiential . The authority of the Word is individualized to what each person feels good about.
    It’s all about the balance.
    Thank you for stirring up an important

    • I tried hard to be un-harsh with Reformed churches, but maybe I’m still learning how to do that.

      It’s interesting that you should say this: “ the desire to know God through His Word is critical to every person.”

      You can actually read and study the Bible emotionally as well as intellectually—especially considering the huge amount of non-propositional literature it contains. And the Word of God is a person. The book is designed to point us to him and engage us in relationship with him. For a lot of my young life, to my shame, reading the Bible was like having my nose stuck deep into the biography of a person who was standing there in the same room with me. I was reading about God, but I wasn’t communing with him.

      Thank you for your comment and the encouragement! Lord willing, my tone will only become less harsh as time goes on.

  16. Very well, Michael! Thank you so much for addressing the key problem not only of many individuals but probably of most Reformed churches as well. And thank you for expressing it that clearly. It reminds me of the pendulum effect of the church history (you are probably familiar with it) and with the need of stability and ballance, not the extreme poles at the expanse of the opposite one. Great job, man!

    • Thank you! It’s certainly easier to rest on the one wall of a room or the other rather than to stand on your own feet. I hope this article itself is not over-corrective. In order to achieve true balance we have to empathize even with the things that have hurt us. That’s a hard discipline.

  17. You’ve pretty much nailed me and my childhood. I’m also in that stage where I’m just learning to feel again and give value to it. This is a lot to think about. Thank you for writing.

    • You’re welcome. When I first started to learn about these things, it was terrifying to me how much I couldn’t comprehend (look at me putting these things in intellectual terms even still). It really kicked me in the pants. Or maybe it was more of a spankin’ sitchation. 🙂

  18. Wow ..excellent insights …this article was a real blessing. As somebody who is definitely more like yourself – processing the vicissitudes of any given day with a detached rationalism- (and in a position of leadership) I will be careful to not stunt any one’s emotional development just because they are often more lead by their feelings than logic & reasoning. Perhaps, it is a symptom of our noetic deficiency that we are always too eager to reproduce Christians only in our image.

    • Right on. Creating Christians in our own image is one of the reasons we have failed to offer hope to the contemporary despair of self-obsession. I am so glad that this article was of service to you, and that perhaps it will do good also for those who depend on you for leadership. Thank you!

  19. //some of the greatest Emotionals in the church belong to the artistic community, so it makes sense that many, if not most, artists don’t feel at home in either shallow-feeling or Christian rationalist congregations.//

    Yes, exactly. Great post. My son is a youth pastor and he was just telling me how he wishes he could disconnect from his emotions. I read him your article and it sparked a great conversation.

  20. I really appreciated your article and as one who both is emotionally inclined but feels as though that is seen as a weakness in this world (even the religious world), I wonder what the reformed theology has to do with your thought or if there is some resentment toward the reformed? I actually came out of a none reformed seeker friendly southern baptist church to a reformed church and found the most balance of encouraging to love with feelings and thoughts.

    • I grew up in the Reformed church. I am still a member of a PCA church. For a long time, I had a deep resentment toward the Reformed church, but I don’t anymore. I have spoken to other people like you, and it’s important to talk about the number of people who cherish the Reformed church having come into it from other traditions.

      If you think about it, the original Reformers did not grow up in Reformed churches—they too came to Reformed doctrine later in life. They learned emotional, sensory disciplines in another community (the Roman Catholic one). For them, the renewed consideration of loving God with the mind was like the last puzzle piece to a fuller picture of God. And, rightly so, they cherished that puzzle piece. But it seems that many of them gave their children _only_ that single puzzle piece, not considering that much of what they had learned in the Roman Catholic tradition had actually informed their spirits, emotions, and relationship with God—even _after_ they had left the Roman Catholic church.

      I’ve seen this same myopia and resentment in so many people leaving so many church traditions. Pentecostals come to Reformed churches. They reject the flimsy intellectual basis they came from perhaps. To them, Reformed doctrine gives the words and bones to so many scriptural realities. And it feels like the final pieces of the puzzle coming together. But they never forget how to dance, raise their hands, shout amen, and make all the Presbyterians very uncomfortable.

      Reformed children often end up in Roman Catholic or high church traditions. Many of them don’t realize how much of their mental discipline and worldview they bring with them from the Reformed disciplines they think they have entirely rejected. They will probably be in for a rude awakening when their children end up joining Grandpa’s church and the cycle continues.

      Without realizing it, many Christians leave their original church traditions (in God’s providence) to both “complete their training” elsewhere _and_ deliver their former training to an environment where it might be much needed. I don’t think we should fight this. We need each other. Instead, I think we should, in humility, recognize that we don’t have the only or exclusive angle on the truth. We’re finite individuals and we’re wrong about lots.

      In many ways, my main desire with all of this is to encourage balance and integration, mutual love, honor, and respect, both between individuals and between Christian traditions.

      I do believe there is an imbalance in Reformed traditions, but I think there will always be and I’ve accepted that. I don’t want the Reformed church to ever lose its place of service as a community where intellectual rigor and discipline and vibrant and deep intellectual conversations can be valued and explored. I just want the Reformed (and all the traditions, really) to stop de-valuing other traditions and disciplines merely because those traditions aren’t like them. We shouldn’t want Christians in our own image. It’s all about membership in Christ’s expansive, inclusive person.

      Thank you for sharing and commenting! I hope my comments made it more clear where I am coming from, but please comment again if they didn’t.

  21. I once heard a Sunday School teacher comment that each denomination tends to attract people with similar spiritual gifts and approaches. I think that’s a shame because that diversity is part of what makes the church strong. I appreciated your emphasis on the need for both perspectives–emotional and intellectual–within the body.

    • I agree. I wish congregations and traditions valued diversity more. I understand the need to pursue purity and peace, but I think those things come from mutual works of love and service, not manicured creeds.

  22. Thank you so much for this article. It spoke a lot to me, and expresses something of the unease and frustrations I have felt (!) over the years, without being able to adequately articulate them.

  23. Michael:

    Provocative and thoughtful article. Thanks for sharing it.

    Something you wrote or asserted got me looking, though. You wrote: “Have you ever wondered why Jesus apparently added a phrase when he quoted the greatest commandment? Deuteronomy 6:5 reads: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” So why does Luke 10:27 add “and with all your mind”? I believe the main reason for this was not a change in the truth, but a change in the culture. Jesus spoke Aramaic (a sister language of Hebrew), and he very well may have recited from Deuteronomy exactly as it is written. But Luke, Greek that he was, perhaps felt the need to include an additional phrase to properly translate the substance of what Jesus said for a Greek audience. Luke knew his Greek audience would have a far different perspective on the heart than ancient Hebrews did. So he changed the words to maintain the truth of the original.”

    I’m not sure Luke’s “Greek audience” would be the reason “he changed the words,” or that Luke was even the one who changed the words. Mark 12:30 has the same four terms, but in a different order (kardia, psyche, dianoia, and ischys; both Luke and Mark substitute ischys for the LXX dynamis) and Matthew 22:37 has three of them (kardia, psyche, dianoia), including “mind” but omitting “might.”

    • I just now looked at the LXX translation of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, and it uses dianoia, psyche and dynamis. So perhaps Mark (and Luke by carryover) added kardia (“heart”) to reflect the broader meaning of the Hebrew lev? In other words, kardia, and not dianoia, would be the “addition” to the text (as well as changing dynamis to ischys).

    • Thanks for writing this! I’m going to post the bulk of your comment as a footnote here in a second.

      I think my point still stands either way, but the details are also important to me. It’s a crucial detail actually (and further supports my case) if Luke and Mark “corrected” the Septuagint translation by adding feelings (and not mind) back in.

      A couple questions: I’m sure there is scholarly precedence for it, but why do you think Luke borrowed from Mark? And why do you think Matthew dropped “the body”?

      I also think it supports an intra/inter-tradition humility and deference that God chose to include _four_ distinct Gospel accounts from different voices to different audiences rather than one master account, but that’s a different article.

      Thank you so much for writing. I really did mean it when I said I was a layman with only “some familiarity” with the languages, but it seems like this is something you have studied more deeply and with eagerness. I will definitely further investigate this when/if I ever come to writing a book, and I might call on you for help if you’re game.

      • Re: Luke borrowing from Mark, I’m just assuming the scholarly consensus of Markan priority. Some hold to Matthean priority. I don’t think anyone holds to Lukan priority, so it seems to me that Luke more likely copied/borrowed from Mark than that he used an independent tradition or source, but I have not studied Gospel sources much. It’s interesting that Luke changed the order of two of the words. My commentaries don’t seem to shed much light on this.

        Re: why Matthew dropped “might”… Re: Matthew and the others, I may need to append my comment again. The Göttingen Septuagint (which is what I looked at when I wrote my comment) has dianoia, psyche, dynamis, but Rahlfs Septuagint has kardia, psyche, dynamis. The NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint) reads “…mind…soul…power” so they apparently prefer the Göttingen LXX reading of dianoia. Based on the Rahlfs text (updated by Hanhart), it appears some Old Greek texts may have had kardia and others dianoia. So maybe Mark and Luke were conflating the textual readings, and Matthew somehow or for some reason omitted dynamis/ischys? (I’m way out of my league here; all I can do is look at the original texts and note what I see.) The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (Flint, Abegg, Ulrich) shows that “your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” is missing from the DSS so we can’t know what the DSS said; however, the DSS fragment 4Q130 Phylactery C seems to only be missing most of the word “with all” before “your might”; while the rest of the text, agreeing with the Masoretic Text, seems to be there.

        • Wow. This is a fascinating study. Thank you so much for this. I have appended your previous comments as a footnote. There really is so much for all of us to learn here. Thank you!

          • From the Critical Apparatus of Rahlfs (SESB) Septuaginta. Rahlfs primarily used 3 LXX manuscripts: A Alexandrinus, B Vaticanus, and S Sinaiticus:

            kardias is the reading in A: Codex Alexandrinus: London, Brit. Mus., Royal 1 D. V–VIII; medii V saeculi. Quo in codice Regn. I 12:17–14:9 et Ps. 49:201–79:112 αυτης periit. Hic codex in psalmis mixtum B- et L-textum habet (Rahlfs, S.-St. 2 [1907] p. 56; Septuaginta ed. Rahlfs X [1931] p. 70). Cui simile: in libro Levitico A cum B, in libro Jobi cum V (vide praefationem ad librum Jobi) saepissime miscetur.

            dianoias is the reading in Br (r= “rescriptor i. e. qui primum textum correxit et omnino sustulit, ut hic legi iam non possit” – I don’t know Latin but I assume the “r” means a corrector to B Vaticanus): Codex Vaticanus: Romae, Bibl. Vat., Vat. graec. 1209; quarti saeculi. Cuius initium codicis usque ad Gen. 46:28 npwwv et Ps. 105:271–137:61 periit et ab aliquo XV. saeculi suppletum est; quae supplementa hic negleguntur, cum alium textum habeant atque B. Ceterum Vetus Testamentum integrum est; soli libri Maccahaeorum et Psalmi Salomonis ut in ceteris codicibus antiquissimis desunt.

  24. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, but certainly in one where emotions (except for the adults’) were unwelcomed. If I was happy, I heard, “Wipe that smile off your face” or “Who died and gave you the right to be happy?” (I didn’t know Jesus had!) I also heard when I was sad, “Quit that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

    As an adult (I became a Christian in college), the words were different, but the result has been the same. “Stay silent. Stay in my shell where it is safe.”

    But it’s lonely! And not what God paid such a HUGE price for.

  25. (cont’d …) I remember the turning point came when I was in a hammock in my garden and I told God, “If you can’t handle reality, I don’t think much of you as God.” That’s when I knew He COULD handle reality – mind, will, intellect, emotions and all. 🙂

    I’m still practicing when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, when to walk away, when to run. But I also now have people who are walking with me in the process, not abandoning me when I get the social (ie. religious culture) rules wrong.

    The herd has thinned, but the crowds don’t always hold the answers.

    Now … to convince my own soul not to run away because I fear getting it wrong. [Pushing the enter button before I chicken out 😉 … ]

    • Thank you for this. I think it is interesting how much God rewards us when we come to him with honest doubts and questions. He is truly and completely unafraid of all reality, which is really just another way of saying he is comfortable with himself. Comfortable enough to receive all our hurts in himself without holding them against us. I think it’s interesting that the book of Job says this in the end:

      It came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.”

      God testified that Job, the complaining, searching, but trusting doubter,—and not his self-assured friends, had spoken “what is right” concerning God.

      Thank you for sharing some of your story. I’m glad God has granted you a measure of peace, and I hope it is multiplied.

      • I remember church leaders (back in the day) telling me NOT to read certain books of the Bible, Job being one of them.

        Several years ago, in a healthy church, I guiltily got out my Bible and read Job from cover to cover in context. No wonder they didn’t want me reading it! I was SO encouraged – and free to question, to wonder, to ponder.

        • Yeah. Most church leaders just ignore Job (or look at its plot rather than its characters, poetry, and ideas) rather than actively oppose it. Your case is pretty brutal. Ecclesiastes is similarly opposed and/or ignored. And people just cherry-pick bits from the Proverbs. Looks like a lot of the church has trouble with Wisdom literature generally speaking. Hmmm.

  26. I think you might appreciate the book “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero. I’m on a similar journey of no longer denying my emotions but learning to embrace and appreciate them as part of God’s gift to us.

    • Thanks for letting me know about it! I’ll check it out when I get a little time. My book list has grown rather larger since I published this article. (God’s providential irony/humor, I’m sure.)

      • The book pinpoints human autonomy (which I think is at the heart of rationalism’s downgrading of empathy and relationship) as the seed of Puritanism’s failure. It’s a fascinating study, and not very long either.

    • That’s a very good response. Thank you for sharing it.

      I myself worried that my piece was not focused enough on the Gospel. But _how_ our faculties are redeemed (through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit)—or that they are all (every one of them) broken—was never in question for me and it wasn’t the point of the post. If you’ll notice, I didn’t even mention how I myself was reconciled to God. Again, wasn’t the point of the post. The article is already 4,000 words and at a certain point, you’ve just got to come to grips with the fact that you can’t say everything. I say that, but I try to be as careful in my language as possible. Which nearly always undermines all my desires for brevity. For instance, this comment is super long. Of course.

      My main point in the article is simply that the intellect is _not_ more trustworthy than feelings, that the intellect should not have _necessary_ primacy, and that people who process emotionally should also be valued and affirmed within the church.

      And that’s where I most disagree with the response:

      “We are equally suspicious of our intellect as well as our emotions, but we DO believe that God’s word, empowered by the Holy Spirit is supernaturally endued with the power to speak truth first to our intellect. Yes- I confess to being convinced of the primacy of the intellect.”

      Whether Van Til holds to the primacy of the intellect or whoever else does (and my critique was not exclusive to the Reformed church, though that was my particular experience), I still don’t believe the intellect is primary for _everyone_ or should be. And why would one think it is? Only because of one’s Western cultural roots. Try preaching the intellectual Gospel in Eastern cultures and see how far you get. Oh yeah. Not far at all. Just read “The Heavenly Man,” written by Brother Yun about the underground church in China. He recounts that the church there started to divide after some well-meaning Western churches sent them theology books. Brother Yun recounts that he squashed the beef by inviting over the pastors who had started to denominationally divide and he kneeled before every one of them and washed their feet.

      It’s really weird to me that so many people in the US believe reading the Bible and receiving the Spirit in it is a primarily intellectual exercise. It’s not. I’m _not_ saying it isn’t an intellectual exercise _at all_. Perhaps Rev. Church means by primary that it is first in order rather than first in importance? That’s not true either though. The Word of God can and should be processed emotionally as well. And for some people, the emotional processing is primary in both order and importance. Much if not most of the Bible is non-propositional literature, and there is no quicker way to kill the life of a body of literature than to chop it up and name its parts. There is no quicker way to ruin a joke than to explain it. There is no quicker way to kill the intimacy of communion with our Groom than to ever bring a systematic love manual with us into the bedroom of our devotions. By all means—study, name, and systematize with rigor and discipline. But if that is _all_ you do or are drawn to do, I imagine you’re not getting as much as you could out of your experience with the Scriptures and God’s world.

      Most of the experience an Old Testament Christian had with God was sensory and emotional. I’m not saying we should return to that. But shouldn’t we have at least that and more? I think the biggest deficiencies with most commentaries on the Psalms, Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the parables, and Revelation is an inability or an unwillingness to receive and understand them with the whole person. It’s not really any wonder to me that seminaries don’t generally require the reading of fiction or poetry and that most of the Doctors of Theology whose commentaries I edit (that’s my paying gig, after all) don’t even have the most basic working knowledge of art and literature, much less a deep appreciation for its value and importance.

      However God gets to our spirits to regenerate them, I think it differs for different people. Why shouldn’t it? Isn’t God bigger than the intellect? The Holy Spirit certainly doesn’t strike me as a very intellectual side of God. The Father? Certainly. But there is a reason (excuse the stereotype) that the pronoun for the Holy Spirit is often female.

      And that brings me to the last bit. It might surprise Rev. Church to know that I am a happy member in good standing of a Reformed church (PCA), and I very much appreciate a lot of what the Reformed tradition has contributed to Christendom. I just don’t think they have the whole truth. I don’t think any denomination has the entire truth. How could any finite being or institution entirely contain the infinite, eternal truth? We all fill our little parts in the church/body of Christ—some hands, some eyes, some feet. Sure, it’s a real bummer if you’re blind. But it’s a bigger bummer if you are nothing but a pair of eyes.

      I didn’t write this article because I am bitter. I didn’t write it because I am not an intellectual. Or because the gospel didn’t penetrate my wounded heart (which you have to admit is a strange figure from a literary standpoint). Or even because I am no longer Reformed. I know many people have probably come to the conclusion that I hate or have rejected the Reformed church or the church in general. Some—I’m sure—approvingly, some disapprovingly.

      But I haven’t. I’m not bitter. I would have to hate myself not to forgive and serve men who were and are just like me. But my job in the Reformed church is to encourage men like me to appreciate those who _aren’t_ like us, and to speak for the voiceless. I know America wasn’t saved by Pentecostalism after it rejected Puritanism. But I am not really calling for any one tradition or perspective to be exclusive. Pentecostals need Puritans. Puritans need Pentecostals. It’s really too bad that they regularly demean each other and divide in practice.

      Won’t America know we are followers of Jesus by our love for one another? If we don’t love our brothers, whom we have seen, how can we love the Father whom we haven’t seen? With humility is wisdom. Etc. Etc. We all have much to learn from each other. Each of us has superiorities. It is my desire to seek out those superiorities and praise them and ask forgiveness every day for the ways I don’t consider others as more important than myself. And that is at the heart of the Gospel: not just propositional preaching, but proclaiming the good news of reconciliation also by _being reconciled_!

      Thank you very much for posting this. These conversations are very important, and I am grateful that my post warranted such a thoughtful response from Rev. Church.

      P.S. The pride that breeds rationalism in the church also produces legalism. They are both rooted together in pride.

      • P.P.S. I didn’t know where to put this.

        This isn’t only my own individual experience. A large sampling of people from Reformed churches all over the country have contacted me telling me how their experience was exactly the same as mine. Way, way more than I could have imagined. My heart has been breaking and overwhelmed for them. Would it not be foolish to assume “all is well, carry on” in the face of that?

        I understand that the Gospel is the answer, but I can’t help but feel that bringing it up Jesus-jukes the conversation. It’s kind of like saying, “You’ve been talking about losing your job and not being able to find a new one in this difficult job market, but I think you’re missing the heart of the real solution here. The debt-rending power of _money_ is obviously the answer.” The real question is, “How do you get the Gospel? How do you apply the Gospel? How does it work its way out for different people and different cultures?” These are practical and individual issues (involving hundreds or thousands of estranged and hurting individuals) and they can’t be resolved by returning to general truisms. If only it were that easy.

  27. I have to differ in part with the responder who said (excuse the inexact quotation) “it’s ok to search without but not to search within”. I think spiritual health benefits by searching in both places, but balancing and checking them against each other. Neither our intellect nor our emotions are entirely trustworthy, but God can (and does) speak to us through both.

    • I agree. Though especially when it comes to empathy, it’s best to express it to others (without), not within. In other words, some people attempt to empathize with themselves, and as you would imagine, they end in a destructive feedback loop—a sort of emotional mise en abyme.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting!

  28. Michael, it’s been good to witness your growth, and the maturing of others who once worshipped with us. With all the problems and frailties of our Reformed church, it still gave me a fleeting glimpse of what a church could be.

    Pride was perhaps our greatest flaw. In our doctrine. In our intellect. In our unique position as guardians of the Reformation. What you share is true, but it’s also a simplification. Nurture and nature both played a role in who you are.

    Keep sharing from the heart. Transparency and vulnerability are indeed rare among Christians writing on the Internet.

    I’d love to collaborate with you on a post.

    • Hi,
      Thank you for commenting. I tried to make it clear in the post that my natural inclinations (toward verbal processing and abstract thought) together with the nurture at the church coincided to nearly derail my faith. Perhaps that wasn’t clear enough.

      Pride was indeed a great flaw, and I think it worked itself out in concert with our rationalism. We were drawn to discrete, non-overlapping answers. When we believed we had “arrived” at a personally satisfactory system of interpretation, we assumed (because of the law of non-contradiction) that any other system of interpretation was fundamentally flawed. We just couldn’t understand the value of doctrinal approaches dissimilar to our own, and I believe that resulted in a dismissive and demeaning attitude toward other faith traditions—and even toward people in our own church who approached the world in a less intellectual fashion.

      Thank you for your encouraging words. I don’t know what we could collaborate on, but if you’ve got ideas, I’m all ears.

    • I can get behind that. Testing the spirits to see if they’re from God is certainly a necessary discipline in the Christian life.

  29. Michael, I was just introduced to your blog today, through the piece from yesterday about your father, whom I knew briefly when I lived in GA; used to attend church with your sister Christa. I have a store of respect for your parents, and keenly appreciate your words about your dad. May I say, I sincerely respect your honesty and depth of exploration…I shall, with interest read other things you have written. Now – I would simply like to share that I read this piece about rationalism, wondering what you meant…and came to the end with a profound respect for the somewhat more balanced teaching I received…one “father” of my faith explained, in a way that I never forgot, how we are, as human beings, “spiritual…intellectual…emotional…social…physical”, pointing at each of five digits in turn as he said it…the intent to convey that we are “one hand…five fingers…one grasp”. A simplistic teaching tool, but deeply penetrating as you reflect biblically on the import of those characteristics. I have many times reminded myself with this little model that there are more layers than we sometimes appreciate…and that GOD Himself is so-layered, being the model of our “image”. A really neat resource I recently have come to appreciate, where more of this kind of thinking is explored, is the new ministry of Ken Sande, Relational Wisdom 360…the website is RW360_dot_org. It is encouraging to hear your thoughts and the thoughts of the many other commenters to your blog…may there be true health in the whole man for each of us!

    • That is a very simple and profound teaching tool. Thank you for sharing it. And thank you for the encouraging words and the resource recommendation. I’m so glad you commented.

  30. Hello Mike,
    I have enjoyed your article, and believe there is something really good here; and am trying to understand more what you are saying in it.
    I do not understand what you are saying or what the following exceprts mean.
    Would you help me to understand more by explaining what these things mean?
    And the last paragraph ~ maybe elaborate more and explain what this all means in more general terms.

    1)What is the “patriarchy movement” ?
    2)And what is a ” masculine – centered hierarchy of values and prowesses”
    And finally,
    “The ideas in this article have many other applications. For instance, I can’t help but think that Christian rationalism affects gender relations in the church. It’s no great surprise to me that the patriarchy movement has grown naturally out of the Reformed Puritan Renaissance or that women (even in more “liberal” environments) have accepted a masculine-centered hierarchy of values and prowesses.”

    3)…..what does this mean? I really do not understand this paragraph, and wonder if it means there is some sort of thing against women or something, in the ” church”.
    4)And do you mean the church as it is explained in the bible, or a specific church somewhere?
    Please help me to understand !

    In closing, in addition to your writings, i also very much appreciate the “no advertising” policy you have.
    That is very lovely.
    Thank you,
    Brian Pratt
    Flushing, Michigan

    • Hi, Brian. Thank you for commenting. I’ll do my best to further explain my parting comments in the article, though they require a great deal more unpacking than is probably fit for a single comment.

      1) The “patriarchy movement” specifically refers to a particularly aggressive/erroneous form of complimentarianism that, in practice if not in teaching, places the male head of household above all other authorities, ecclesiastical and civil, in nearly every matter that touches on the family. Though I don’t disagree with every facet of its teaching, I think the prideful spirit of it is misleading and unbiblical. Further, it shelters/protects abusers, authoritarians, and psychopaths.

      2 & 3) I tend to think that men, generally speaking and all apologies for the stereotype, more often process intellectually whereas women more often process sensorily and emotionally. I am not saying men don’t have emotions or that they have no access to sensate cognition. Or that women don’t ever process intellectually. I’m merely talking about traditional, general go-to inclinations which I’m sure are also quite dependent on culture and upbringing. That said, I think women (even and perhaps especially “progressive” women and feminists) have been hoodwinked into believing that they are not valuable unless they can compete with men in things that men have manicured (sometimes for centuries) to suit their own strengths. That isn’t a fair fight. And it shouldn’t be a fight at all. The utilitarian/sensate/emotional/holistic approach to the world is extremely valuable, and men are, generally speaking again, not as good at it.

      I wrote an essay in college on the process by which the practical (sensate/emotional) epistemology of midwives was devalued and discarded by the abstracted positivist epistemology of the “chirurgeon [surgeon]” in the early modern period. This is just one area where “masculine” values have discarded feminine input to the detriment of the overall discourse. For instance, the surgeons did not wash their hands (they thought it was an “old wives’” superstition because they didn’t yet know about germ theory), whereas the midwives always washed their hands (because it had been passed down as a traditional humane measure of courtesy and seemed reasonable enough). You can imagine how that worked out. Even to this day, hospital birth (overwhelmingly managed by men) has a higher infant mortality rate than midwife-assisted home birth ( Medicine, science, scholarship, theology, etc. could very much benefit from listening to holistic (non-systematic), practical (non-abstract), emotional/personal (not objective/distant) input. I’m not saying that women are the only ones who provide this kind of input. But I do think they are generally speaking naturally or culturally better suited to these important and massively undervalued perspectives on the world/truth.

      Anyway, for the church, if you think the Gospel is primarily intellectual (which most in the church unwittingly do), you downplay the importance of sensate and emotional processing—perhaps even casting it as sinful or less-than-righteous. So that would mean that, generally speaking, the female perspective in those churches would count for little. Add to that the vicious feedback loop of patriarchal thinking, and you basically create an environment where women and their ways of viewing, managing, and interacting with the world are given little to no importance—to the great detriment of women and the overall harm of the church.

      I don’t think this is just a single church’s issue. I think “liberal” and “conservative” churches all generally fail in this. Liberal churches by continuing to set traditionally male prowesses as the standard to which women can and should aspire (as if generally and peculiarly feminine strengths still don’t have that great of an importance). And conservative churches by generally downplaying the contributions that women are able to make to the church while elevating masculine input to exclusive importance. This also plays out in biases against various family models. Progressive women (unwittingly joining a chorus of chauvinists) often look down on home-makers as “not realizing their potential.” Home-maker wives often look down at women who work (and their husbands who might stay at home) for violating God’s plan for the family. I believe there needs to be more room in the general church for various ways of approaching our callings. But, for the purpose of this article, my main point was in fighting for the importance of a (generally but not exclusively) feminine mode of processing.

      4) In case it wasn’t clear, I think this is a problem in the American church generally (not just a specific one) based on the American church’s unholy union with American culture. This manifests itself differently in different environments (“liberal” or “conservative”), but think about what’s important in America: science, business, Hollywood, and government. None of those fields elevates the feminine voice. Women in those fields are largely required to transform into men (or serve the masculine appetite) in order to have a voice and influence (for what that distorted voice is worth).

      No one should need to be in positions of leadership in the church in order to be heard and have an influence. The fact that men and women aren’t heard unless they are in positions of leadership is a major problem in the general church. It raises the question: Are we leading in the church like Jesus did? Brings Matthew 20:25f to mind:

      But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

      You’re welcome about the ads. I hate them too.

      I hope that cleared some things up. It probably just raises more questions. Furthermore, though generalizations are helpful sometimes, I prefer to operate according to each person in a specific way. Many of these stereotypes become fallacious in practice (sweeping generalization). These generalities can sometimes be helpful in perceiving or diagnosing a problem, but they usually don’t do much to fix it. The fix has to be personal and local, and that requires the stirring of the Spirit among church leaders and members to be open like Jesus was to serve and listen.

      Thank you for responding!

  31. I’ve waited for a long time to comment…this article has been quite influential in a crucial way recently.

    Background: I’m (most likely) the lone Reconstructionist in my decidedly Arminian church (therefore a lot of added pressure + cringe-worthy elements)…I became one through studies. But anyhow, I’m very intellectual/nerdy (people say things like “you’re the smartest kid I’ve ever known”; usually I don’t know what to do with such compliments haha). And yet I’m not the best at understanding emotional responses…I’ve lost count of how many times I realize in hindsight that others have checked out.

    Recently, I confronted my church’s failure to confront abortion…but I was not watching to see if my blazing passion for justice (*and mercy, believe it or not) had singed others. Long story short, I almost took over the entire occasion to dominate…later sending a rather insensitive email to 2 of my pastors (though I wasn’t intending to be controversial for its own sake).

    True, this failure is still I think a grievous issue (much more could be said on that). But this article helped me realize that I need much improvement in (what some people refer to as) E.Q. (Emotional Quotient)…(Already I’m starting to sound sophistic & detached haha)

    One of the pastors figured we should talk. I went into this meeting with your article in mind…I can’t imagine what an arrogant, domineering wreck I could’ve been without this article.

    Anyway, this article played a part in restoring rapport with the people involved…thank you so much for this article!! And praise God for being so patient with me (that’s an understatement).

    • I’m glad this article helped you to deal with your conflict more graciously. That’s a very tough place to be, for sure. I’ve had many run-ins with authority figures for very similar reasons. God—and my friends and family—have been very patient with me too.

      • It’s especially difficult considering the two main factors mentioned: being a Reconstructionist/Calvinist & having a legitimate (& extremely urgent) concern (which is the tip of an iceberg of failure to address issues of justice & mercy)!

        My aunt also helped open my eyes to some of my flaws/weaknesses…but like work, school, etc. I don’t seem to learn fast enough (that’s me). Thank God for His patience (to severely understate it)!

        Any further advice/insight from your experiences in light of all these factors?

        • This is always good advice: Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. I’d have to know more about the urgent concern to give you much more particular advice. But I know I have looked back at my young self’s zeal with a great deal of embarrassment. You will probably not regret being quiet more often, asking God for more patience, and doing your best to honor your authorities, especially when you disagree with them. Leave room for God to work in them, and be quick to ask forgiveness even if they never do.

  32. My wife, who is finally getting a chance to read this (I printed it out for her lol) had an excellent observation: Emotions are who we are inside, while the intellect is dependant on who we are, and the learning environment. Intellect, while having the supposed advantage of peer review, in effect and functionally, we all bring biases, ignorance, and blind spots to the table. Who we are inside needs to be conformed to the image of Christ, obviously, but not necessarily just by intellectual refinement and assent. The whole being must be given over, or those intellectual blind spots, etc turn us into devils.

    I find in myself that often my emotions direct where my intellect learns, and once my intellect learns, it can then direct and refine my emotions to further refine and direct my intellect. Life isn’t one long struggle to keep emotion under subjection to intellect, but both mutually submitting and not leaving the other behind.

    She also brought up the proverbs passage, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”, which is an interesting choice in words by the original Preacher.

    • I agree. The will, the emotions, and the intellect should be interdependent. I think the “fear of the Lord” has to do with the will firstly—in the sense that the fear of the Lord is reverent submission to the unchallengeable superiority of God’s character. That would, of course, have both emotional and intellectual effects.

      Thank you for sharing this, by the way. I really appreciate your encouragement!

  33. Alright, wow. That was SUCH an interesting take. I so appreciate your vulnerability and humility; you serve your insights well.

    I didn’t grow up in as rigid a rational environment, but I relate so deeply to much of what you shared. I love the connection you made to the “feelings centered” churches and rational roots. Wow, man.

    My mother died recently and it’s sent me into quite a crisis of faith. I think a big part of that is that I had no solid basis for experiencing death as a Christian. The rationalists have all kinds of theology about it, but when you are facing it, all the verses and interpretations seems trite (sometimes just cold). Yet the “other” Christian response is unsatisfying, too, as it relies on some of those rational conclusions (that death has been defeated, that we’ll see our loved ones again, etc) and while I used to feel something warm when I sang those repetitive songs – “O, death, where is your sting?” – now they just make me angry; they feel numbingly shallow and sometimes irreverent of this universal human experience (which can feel cruel though I know it’s not intentional). Where I’ve found comfort is in this in-between (maybe over-all) space where Jesus knows, rationally, that he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, yet stops to weep and mourn with his sisters over the loss of his friend. In that space God devises a systematic plan for humanity while expressing grief and anger and delight and desire for it.

    The Christian faith has such potential to be fertile soil for all we go through – the best parts of living and the worst can be couched in this robust tradition and could produce incredible, life-giving, kingdom-building fruit. It requires nuance and complexity; it requires the full breadth of what it means to be human. Instead it seems we’ve traded so much of that for something simple. We prefer quick answers and straightforward conclusions. Throughout the story of the Bible, God surprises; Jesus is our most blaring example of God being weird and messing up status quo. God is not static; it’s disappointing that we try to pin him down.

    Thank you for your piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s (obviously) given me much to think (and feel) about! 🙂

    • Thank you for writing! It’s quite gratifying to see your thoughtful (and heartfelt) response to this piece.

      You are exactly right about the need for complexity and nuance in the Christian faith. I too have noticed how often we settle for simplistic resolutions to avoid the sacrificial work of processing the Christian faith. Human experience is in many ways larger than the Christian faith today, yet clearly the Christian faith should instead comprise all human experience if it is truly of divine origin.

      I agree also with your observations concerning death. I know a few people who believe Jesus wept not primarily over the loss of his dead friend but at the unbelief of his living friends (since they doubted his resurrection power). That may have entered into it, but this narrow interpretation seems like a truncation of Jesus’ humanity. There is certainly a huge amount of substance to unpack in those two words: “Jesus wept.” I think your approach at least allows for that unpacking without moving too quickly to an airtight explanation.

      Thank you again for reading and commenting!

    • This comment! This is what I love about Christianity – or should I say God – anything and everything can be answered for, and/or dealt with. Whatever mess we are going through, God can be there in the midst of it. There’s no untouchable box. Just, as we are mortal humans, we need to be patient, keep seeking God, and often have to walk the long route.

  34. Just read this article by following a link from an old college friend. This is really well-written, well thought AND well felt. Thank you for putting it out for others to read and learn from, and maybe heal. My experiences have been different from yours, and my interpretations of my experiences are probably not all that accurate either… but I’ll share some stories, to add to your anecdotes collection.

    I grew up in a nominally Christian family, but we did not begin attending anywhere regularly till I was in middle school, and by then we found a nice Methodist church between our rural home and the way into town. Seemed friendly, and since my mom grew up Episcopalian, it seemed a comfortable fit, so we went for it. Methodist are supposed to be thinkers, and loud singers! (We have the Quadrivium of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience to help people process ideas and theology and such, though there are occasional tiffs over whether the other three are there to support Scripture as primary, or whether all four are equal, gah! … but life goes on.

    When I attend a class or a Bible study, I’ll stay shy/quiet as long as I can get away with… but if someone says something that flat-out contradicts scripture or accepted doctrine, I can’t let it go, and Feisty Me steps up. Sometimes it goes okay, sometimes not so much. It has varied over the years. Oddly, I am both an Intellectual & a Feeler / Empathetic person. (Yes, you can be both. Probably read too many fairy tales and King Arthur and Robin Hood tales as a child … I’m big on chivalry and not bad with a bow and arrow, too. Oh, and Narnia … that’s set you straight in so many ways!) Long Live Narnia! Lewis and Sayers have a lot to answer for, someday, for their theological teachings.

    When I was still in college, the only active group was the Baptists, and those ladies could sure cook! (Points for feeding the temporarily-orphaned college students!) We all bonded despite wide gaps in church backgrounds, and through different study groups, we learned a lot from each other, which helped us grow and gave us more for for thought to take back to our home churches. (I lived in town, so I got to bug my home church pretty much weekly, LOL. Ended up teaching some adult Bible studies because of it… yikes.

    All these years later (many and many), I am at the same church, now with my family. They ARE family, and I shan’t give up on them if I can help it. But I will point out when there’s something not right. Safety violations (part of my job, as a scout leader, actually), or Bible passages yanked so far out of context they’ll need a GPS to find their way back … things like that. They have, some of them, decided that when I do open my shy mouth, it’s worth hearing. Others have decided you listen, pat her on the head, and run. But at least I try.

    (I do my share of helping, for what that’s worth … not just a bossy criticizer. My big thing is mentoring the young ones … so mostly I work with our Scout groups these days. Good fun in that.

    • Hi! Thanks for the anecdotes and the encouragement. Your experience has certainly been quite different from mine, yet it’s strange how similar our conclusions have been. The Holy Spirit has a way of knitting us all together in him. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment at such length!

  35. Hi Michael, SO EXCITED to read this article. Do you remember coming to our house here in NZ? (Love your parents and family heaps).
    Brilliant article. Our family have been quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) battling the cold rationalism of this group here in NZ for over 30 years now. We have observed a chillingly close resemblance to the Catholic church in essence, when it comes to the individual and his/ her relationship with Christ. (Our major concern is the sexual abuse which flows far and wide from the Reformed churches here. Why are we tempted to be surprised?)
    The carnage in people terms is a sad testimony to the failure of this group as a light to the world. Thank you for concisely identifying this negative aspect of the so called Reformed Church.
    The main objection we have to the collective thinking of the Reformed Church is the confusion it produces around the understanding (and experience) of what salvation actually is, – and how to get it. There is no gospel in their church that we have seen and those who are truly saved get there, I feel (!) in spite of its teachings, not because of them. (The so called Covenant Theology is especially insidious).
    Roy and Catherine. NZ

    • I’m sorry it took me so long to respond. I _do_ remember visiting with you! How could I forget? I still think about the amazing spent-oil-burning furnace you invented and your hospitable family. I felt at home immediately with you all. Thank you for commenting here and for your kind words. This topic is still resting heavily on my heart. I think it is still one of the main problems in the Reformed church. I hope to see you again at some point. If any of you all ever make it all the way to the States, please do send me a message!

  36. This was good. However, I would change your designation of yourself from psychopath to sociopath. Modern FMRI studies have in fact shown consistent physical differences in the brains of psychopaths that simply are not present in sociopaths. Without a scan, one couldn’t rule you out for psychopathy 100%, but you are far more likely to be sociopathic given what you described. The reason why this designation matters is that it becomes *very* important in the treating of a mental (or emotional) illness to know where nature and nurture combine and collide. The current not-entirely-official-scientific statement is that psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made.

    I suspect that the same injection of Aristotle’s pagan rubbish into early Church doctrine that nearly got Galileo martyred and which set the stage for the Dark Ages (a less superstitious more scientific society would have been better prepared to weather the plagues even if we stuck to about 4th century tech and just let it branch out instead of throttling it!) has also deeply rooted in the anti-emotion/pro-reason mindset seen in the Church — with a hefty side order of Patriarchy because Aristotle was nothing if not a rabid misogynist. Anyway, fascinating stuff. I enjoyed reading it.

  37. Michael: what a brilliant, insightful and heartfelt gift you have shared. My first church as an adult, was a clone of the “Reformed” presbyterian Church you describe. Here I was a new Christian, working in the healing profession (counseling) I was like a lamb to the slaughter, thirsting for knowledge but seeing little value given to the integration of the heart, I voiced the painful contradictions I witnessed, much to the chagrin of our pastor and elders. The spiritual wounding was significant, being branded as rebellious because I questioned some of the very things you spoke so eloquently about. I also want to thank your wife for Being a beacon of light for you and being a profound teacher of the heart (kidneys). So Looking forward to your book. It’s so needed. Thank you!

  38. Fantastic, Michael! I can empathize, whoops cognitively relate to your post. It’s a subject that has affected so many Christians and not just in Reformed circles.

    This is of particular interest since I’ve retired from pastoring Reformed churches to being a family and parenting coach. How frustrating and sad it is to see parents associate children’s emotional responses with sin and evil. Nevertheless, this is the trap many families are in.


Leave a Reply