One of the most interesting (and troubling) things about the contemporary evangelical movement is the struggle we have with paradox. The Bible reveals a faith that is full of paradox: sovereignty and free will, the already and the not yet, gain your life by losing your life, grace and responsibility, and more. All appear to be contradictory, but are utterly true and essentially connected.
Another is the seeming paradox between head and heart, or intellect and passion. Across the years, I have encountered Christians who seem to think that the mind and the heart are mutually exclusive areas, separated into little individual pods that don’t really connect. You can lean into either.
There are two primary areas where struggle with this paradox shows up. The first area is emotional expressiveness. Some feel that the Christian faith should be a sober-minded affair, with no demonstrable emotion. They suspect emotional Christians of shallowness. Opposing that are those who gauge spiritual reality by what they feel emotionally. They suspect that sober Christians have no passion.
The other area of struggle in the head-heart paradox has to do with relationships with people. Some think that a concern for doctrine necessarily cripples a person’s love for people. Conversely, others think that a deep and consistent involvement with people’s needs indicates a disregard for doctrine.
Neither position is accurate. There is no such atomism in the Bible. Jesus affirms the greatest commandment as a wholistic call for God-ward passion: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt.22:37) That’s the emotional, spiritual and intellectual aspects of a person’s relationship to God– all connected together. The next verse calls for compassion and love for other people: “And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt.22:38) There’s the both-and paradox: love for God (including the mind) and love for people.
You see it in the life of Jesus. Jesus knew Scripture and doctrine so well that he confounded the teachers and often left them speechless. But he loved people deeply, and was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
You see the same thing in the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. He was trained in the leading theological “schools” of his day and had a mind that articulated the essence of the gospel in the majority of the New Testament and engaged the pagan worldviews of his day. But he also demonstrated an intense love for people and the churches he had planted, along with a willingness to suffer for their good.
So, here’s the point: interest in and pursuit of growth in understanding Biblical doctrine does not quench or deaden genuine love for people. Nor should a compassionate love for people quench or deaden the pursuit of a Biblically-shaped mind. Do both of those negative results sometimes happen? Yes. It is the nature of progressive sanctification. It is a growth edge for many disciples to grow in the pursuit of both passion for God with the mind and compassion for people with our lives.
Now, see the connection between the previous post — Dumbing Down Faith? — and this. When I say that there is a need to train Christian disciples to love God with their minds by engaging doctrine and thinking more deeply about faith, it is certainly not to the exclusion of loving people with creativity, intentionality and tenderness. Doctrine should lead disciples to love people. Why? Because theology is the study of God and His character, and God is love. If it doesn’t, then there needs to be an adjustment.
It also means that in training disciples, we lovingly take people where they are, link arms with them and take the next step– together. Humility and servanthood finds a way to connect with people at their current place on the journey and move on -together. It means that we always link doctrinal study with practical opportunities to express love to real people in the real world.
Disciples who both know God through His Word and love all sorts of people with practical passion make a profound impact in the world. Disciples of the mind and the heart most closely resemble Jesus. That may be a paradox in our world (and even among evangelical Christians!), but that’s precisely the sort of disciples we want to make.
(next time: how does all this relate to evangelism?)