Saturday, July 5, 2008


I have been working on a presentation I’ve been invited to give at a missions conference later this month. My topic is the integration of “head and heart” in Saint Paul’s proclamation of the gospel. The basic premise is that formal Christian studies, in something like Pauline theology, puts the focus on cognitive understanding while almost ignoring spiritual formation — at least that is the way seminary was back in my day. Professors live under a pressure of being published, which is the route to recognition and respect in the academic community. Academia is concerned mostly with the “head.”

Students in seminary can learn how to do exegesis and learn theological details of things like superlapsarianism or over-realized eschatology. Some may develop skills of philosophical engagement between non-Christian world views and Christian apologetics. Yet I did not have homiletical classes that stressed the point of preaching being “a dying man speaking to dying people” (this was something I inherited from my semi-fundamentalistic roots). I did not leave seminary having learned, at least not there, how to spend an hour in prayer with the Lord. Maybe it was assumed we would acquire that in another context (but it was not an explicit expectation).

I was fortunate to have models throughout my life whose lives showed something beyond the mere subject being discussed. I had witnessed the power of godliness, and I knew it went beyond an academic theological education. The “head” without the “heart” is cold and sterile; but at the same time, the “heart’ without the “head” is gullible and prone to tangents. One of Paul’s phrases that encompasses both was written to the Ephesians: speaking the truth in love. Truth without love is harsh; love without truth is sentimentalism — it takes both to give authentic Christian witness, and that is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I had one particular seminary professor that almost always lectured with an anointing of the Spirit. He could give a presentation on the Synoptic problem in such a way that I was drawn into the thrill of belonging to Jesus Christ. One day I asked him how he kept the scriptures fresh in his life. He could quote much of the NT in the original Greek. Surely that much familiarity invited times of casual reading when he could anticipate what was coming before he was through a previous sentence. I have never forgotten his reply: “When I realize I'm too casual when I come to the scriptures, I go somewhere alone and stay on my knees until God breaks my heart.”

Jesus wants us to know him. Jesus wants us to love him. We can’t truly have either without the other.... Head and Heart.

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