Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on March 22, 2007.
Many Christians see the intellect and intellectual activity as second rate at best. To them, the non-rational features of our being are more trustworthy, more receptive to spiritual things, and more alive.
When it comes to church life, these believers tend to feel that it’s more important to have our hearts stirred than to have our thinking challenged. When making decisions, they tend to rely on having a sense of peace, feeling a “burden,” or discovering a verse at just the right time.
When preparing for ministry or evaluating the readiness of others for ministry, they tend to view knowledge and skill as relatively unimportant as long as one’s heart is right. In their view, the quality of a person’s or ministry’s work pales in significance compared to the heart behind it. Sometimes “sincere but sloppy” is acceptable.
When they see someone profess faith in Christ but later fizzle, they view the problem as a matter of “head knowledge” rather than “heart knowledge.”
They also tend to feel that God is only at work when the unexplainable happens.
Test All Things
In the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (“test all things; hold fast what is good,” NKJV) and Philippians 1:10 (“approve the things that are excellent”), we must consider whether this attitude is a biblical one.
The first article of this series (see Part 1) evaluated passages that seem to support the “heart is better than head” point of view and concluded that these passages do not mean what they are often alleged to mean. “Heart” often includes the intellect when the Bible is stressing its importance, and warnings about the sinful condition of the heart (in both the rational and non-rational sense) abound. Apparently, what we feel is not safer than what we think.
Part 2 explored the case of two young men, Andre and Harold, who faced major career decisions. Both were yielded to the Lord and earnest in their desire to do what would please Him. Andre, being of the “all you really need is heart” persuasion, prayed until “God gave him a verse” about mountains. Harold, believing his intellect to be trustworthy, weighed pros and cons and sought the choice that made the most sense. Both men ended up in Colorado. Was either of them entirely right or entirely wrong?
The answer depends on the answers to two other questions: “What is the intellect for?” and “Where does the Holy Spirit fit in?” Part 2 answered the first question. Here we consider the second.
The Holy Spirit Within
Scripture is clear that believers are indwelled by the Spirit (Rom. 8:9), that they should “walk in” Him (Gal. 5:16, 25), and that He is their Guide and Teacher (John 16:46, 16:13). Less clear, however, is how we look inside and find Him. How do we identify His prompting and properly discern what He is telling us?
Sadly, many have chosen an easy but dangerous solution. For them, hearing from the Spirit is a one-step process of elimination. “Whatever is me is not the Spirit, and my reasoning is definitely me.” The result is that, for them, the leading of the Spirit is pretty much whatever is left when they have eliminated logic from the picture. They might grant that there are cases when what we experience is mere human emotion or impulse, but, to them, these exceptions are always obvious.
Thankfully, God graciously guides many of His children even though they approach decision making this way. But approving what is excellent requires a different view. If it’s true that “whatever is me is not the Spirit,” doesn’t it follow that our feelings and impressions are also “not the Spirit”?
What’s more, the Bible nowhere suggests that we’re more likely to be following the Spirit when we “go with our gut” than when we puzzle a matter out logically. The idea that mysterious impressions are more in tune with the Spirit than sensible thoughts seems out of sync with the New Testament emphasis on sober thinking.
Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly [sophronos], righteously, and godly in the present age (Tit. 2:12).
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded [nephalios] (1 Tim. 3:2).
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober [nepho] (1 Pet. 1:13).
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind [sophronismos] (2 Tim. 1:7).
It seems fair to conclude that the indwelling Spirit guides the yielded and diligent believer through both heart and mind, sometimes prodding through feelings and impressions, sometimes through rational thinking, sometimes through both. We do ourselves and Him a great disservice if we insist He does not operate through the intellect.
The Spirit and the Word
If sin has marred every part of our being about equally, and if Scripture does not indicate that the Spirit speaks in us through feelings and impressions more often than through reasonings, where does that leave Andre and Harold? Can we say that either of them made his decision the right way?
First, let’s be clear about what Andre actually did. He “went with his gut.” Long before “God gave him a verse” with a mountain in it, God had given him dozens of verses without mountains. His attraction to that verse stemmed from some inward desire to go to Colorado anyway.
Something similar might also be true of Harold. Since he had truly yielded the matter to the Lord and had diligently applied Scripture, he was not leaning on his own understanding (Prov. 3:6) by thinking through the remaining choices. But there is no guarantee his thinking was wholly objective. He may have merely rationalized what he had already desired to do.
Where one decision-making method rises above the other is in the differing views of how Scripture should be used. Harold understood that the written Word has one meaning and that there are no verses actually about what location he should choose for a career. He knew biblical principles should narrow his choices and that, beyond that, Scripture was silent. So he concluded, accurately, that the Spirit would guide him in a less clear and certain way toward his final choice. He knew that employing reason was a good option.
Andre, on the other hand, felt that the spiritual way to make the decision was to have the Scriptures speak directly to his dilemma in some way independent of their actual meaning. Joshua 14:12 (“give me this mountain”) has nothing do with whether any particular person should choose a career in the plains of Kansas or the mountains of Colorado. Though Andre was not necessarily wrong to make his final choice intuitively, his mistaken belief that God could not guide him intellectually contributed to a misuse of the Bible.
Sadly, his story is repeated countless times among Christians every day. Though God often graciously guides these believers to the right choices, He is not obligated to overrule our foolishness when we short-change the intellectual capacity He Himself has provided for our use.
Implications for Ministry
The Bible does not support the view that our emotions and impressions are superior to our intellect. Rather, it teaches that the whole inner man works in concert to accomplish God’s purposes as we employ our faculties for His glory.
That means we’re in every bit as much trouble if we neglect the “head” as we are if we neglect the “heart.” It means that professions of faith may fizzle due to superficial faith but not due to a problem of head rather than heart. Professions are just as superficial when they are driven by worked-up emotion and reach the heart without reaching the head. Genuine faith penetrates the entire inner man.
The fact that “heart” is not superior to “head” also means that service to our excellent and orderly Creator should not be sincere and sloppy. Meaning well does not cancel out the need for the discipline and high quality His name deserves.
A “heart on fire” is also no substitute for actual knowledge and skill in ministry. God’s choice of “the foolish things” in the context of 1 Corinthians is not permission for us to be ignorant. Missionaries, pastors, school teachers, Bible-study leaders, musicians, and other servants of God need more than heart. They need giftedness, skill, and the best training they can obtain.
Nor is church life all about having our “hearts stirred.” Scripture does not call us to the cold and dry sterility of information-focused worship and preaching. But it also does not commend meetings that are all passion and fire and no substance. In the long run, nurturing a heart for God requires the steady fuel of transcendent truth and disciplined thinking. Oratorical stunts and skillfully arranged music can easily produce the brief intensity of a flare, but they cannot sustain the long-term usefulness of a cooking fire. That’s only possible through diligent attention to matters of the intellect as well as matters of the heart.
|Aaron Blumer, SI’s site publisher, is a native of lower Michigan and a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin, where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software engineering.|