Thursday, September 16, 2010

Passion and Truth

Some time ago I ran into an acquaintance that I used to go to church with. After exchanging the usual pleasantries he began to ask me about some other people that we both knew. It was the typical “have you talked to so and so lately” and “did you know that so and so is doing such and such” type of thing. But when the discussion turned to a particular friend this man became very concerned. His body language changed, his eyes diverted downward and I was expecting to hear that something really negative had happened. What he then proceeded to tell me was quite shocking but not for the reason that I expected.

He shared with me that he was praying for our mutual friend and was trying to talk to him because he was concerned that “he seems to think that he can get his religion out of a book”. Now it is true that this friend is a rather serious thinker who often ponders things in an academic way but I wasn’t sure I understood the concern properly. I asked him if he felt that our friend was not sincere in his love for God or the brethren etc. to which he replied that this was absolutely not a concern. I was a bit confused as to what the problem was exactly so I asked him to explain what he meant. I inquired as to if our friend was secluding himself in an unhealthy way, or didn’t sincerely believe the gospel, or didn’t show any evidence of fruit in his life. Again none of these was the concern. Finally, he explained that our friend studied too much and tried to hard to understand things and that he should just stick to the basics and not burden himself or everyone else around him with weighty matters of theology.

Is this man correct in his concern about our mutual friend? Are all forms of intellectualism somehow sub-Christian? Is passionate ignorance more spiritual and more commendable than studied consideration?

We live in an age emotionalism. People are encouraged to seek experiences rather than understanding and passion is often more highly regarded even in our churches than is knowledge. Many Christians believe that doctrine and theology are dangerous, divisive, and have little practical value. There are many who have an almost allergic reaction to doctrinal discussions and insist that we just need to focus on Christ and loving one another.

This sounds pious but unfortunately it is overly simplistic because without some doctrinal basis those words have no distinct meaning. I believe that the decline of theology has significantly weakened rather than enhanced the ministry of the Church. The reason why there is often little distinction in the moral positions of those who self-identify as Christians and those who do not can be traced to the lack of firm convictions and diluted teaching in modern churches. One of the marks of a person who is born again is the desire the things of God and a yearning to learn as much as they can about Him. We must encourage serious study of the Word of God and support those who want to learn more about Him.

Does this mean that I am dismissing the concerns about my friend? Absolutely not, biblical and theological studies are not ends unto themselves. The purpose in study is that by the knowledge we gain we might better live in a way that glorifies God and ministers to others. There is a type of cold and detached intellectualism that is not glorifying to God. As J.I. Packer noted in his book Knowing God, To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it.  … there can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard.”  Similarly, Gordon Clark used to point out that there was a distinction between understanding something and believing it. There is an important difference between someone who is simply intoxicated with the intellectual challenge of theological study and someone who desires that same knowledge so that they may delight in God and keep His commandments.

It is impossible for anyone who both understands and believes biblical doctrine to remain unchanged by it or dispassionate about it. Every believer is a new creation, born of the Holy Spirit with unique gifts and traits endowed by God so that they might fulfill His purpose in them. We need to be careful not to honor a pious ignorance where emotion is substituted for knowledge. We must also guard against a detached and cold intellectualism where knowledge is gained but not applied. Knowledge without faith is as useless as passion without truth. The bible affirms that we should seek knowledge and wisdom so that we might glorify God and serve Him well. The two cannot be separated. God works through people of all types including passionate brothers like Peter, and intellectual brothers like Paul but faith wrought in the Spirit involves both. Is there any among us who would claim that Peter, for all his passion, lacked essential knowledge? Or that Paul, for all his learning, lacked true passion?

Let us pray for and support each another so that we might be strengthened in our faith, growing in knowledge, and abiding in love. Let us pray also that both our passions and our minds are both brought captive to Christ.

1 comment:

  1. I believe Dr Clark once said emotions were the result of the fall. I don't put much stock in the emotional element of Christian experience. It comes and goes but knowledge of the gospel, the truth of Christ Jesus remains the same regardless how I feel. A man is saved by believing the truth, not feeling the truth. I understand with my mind and believe with my mind and what I believe doesn't change.

    Has anyone studied or read PS 119 lately? Or how about Proverbs? Here's a quote from 2 Peter, "...seeing His divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." Is life and godliness a feeling? Also, I find Paul saying a number of times, "I would not have you ignorant brethern..." In another place it's written that God's people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. And Jesus said if you love me you will keep my commandments. Love, therefore, by definition is the keeping of God's commandments. Do we feel His commandments or understand and do them? You brought up a good point KG and I hope others join in on this one.