“Head” Religion Versus “Heart” Religion: A Fallacious Antinomy

The recent issue of a tabloid prominent in American fundamentalist circles contained the following statement, “If you want to write to me and straighten me out intellectually, save your paper and postage. I have something in my heart you are not going to reach through my head. My heart faith burns with a Living and powerful book. Let me go on in my ‘ignorance’!“1

Back of these statements I find several disturbing assumptions.

First, the author seems to assume that “head” and “heart” are somehow averse to each other. This seems to be a common assumption among Bible-believing people, although it is incorrect. Clearly in the Bible, the term heart, no less in the Old Testament than in the New, refers to the immaterial elements and functions of man in their totality. For many Christians, on the other hand, the heart seems to refer mainly to human emotions (when they say, “The Lord stirred my heart,” what they mean is that the Lord stirred their emotions). As used in Scripture, the heart does in fact refer sometimes to emotions (1 Sam. 2:1; Lk.24:32). It refers to all sorts of other immaterial human phenomena, however.2 The term heart sometimes refers to human reason (note Pr. 23:7 and Mt. 13:15). It is a mistake therefore to say, “I have something in my heart you are not going to reach through my head,” as though the “head” (and by this term I am certain the author means mind) is somehow not within the province of what the Bible terms by “heart.”

Second, this naturally leads to the error of creating an antithesis between the mind and the other functions of the heart: spirituality, volition, emotion, and so forth. And this is precisely what the author has done. He has stated he does not want anyone writing him letters to “straighten [him] out intellectually.” In other words, in his “heart” (the truly “spiritual” part of him), he knows he is right, and all of one’s reasonable arguments cannot change him. Implicit in this statement is the assumption that the mind is somehow inferior to genuine spirituality, and perhaps is even an enemy of it. We may probably safely infer from the writer’s statement, in addition, that the “head” (mind) involves reason and that human reasoning easily leads one to become an enemy of Christian truth. If this in fact is not the author’s meaning, that view is certainly held by many Christians today. One suspects their serious mistrust of the human intellect is a reaction to theological liberalism, which is a stepchild of Deism and “free thinking.” They seem to believe that emphasizing the intellect leads almost inevitably to a denial of the Christian Faith.

Yet that view cannot be sustained from the Bible. Some of its advocates may appeal to 1 Corinthians 1, 2; but they apparently do not recognize that Paul is not depreciating knowledge and reason (note 2:6), but the worldly wisdom of the “natural man” (2:14). The contrast in Paul is not between spiritual reason and human reason, but between spiritual reason and carnal, unregenerated reason. The Bible indeed depicts the mind and human reason as utterly depraved-as it does every other part of man (Rom. 3:10-18). But to say that the mind and human reason are utterly depraved is not to say they are constitutionally impaired. Indeed, Christians consistently appeal to the mind and reason of the unconverted. To be sure, because the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, he is unable to be converted apart from the regenerating power of Holy Spirit. But the problem is with his ethical depravity, his self-autonomy that has corrupted his way of thinking; it has not affected his ability to reason. The unsaved do not understand spiritual things because they have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18), not because their mind is constitutionally unable to grasp spiritual truth. The problem is ethical, not metaphysical.

Third, by circumventing and depreciating the mind, the author has abandoned understanding as a vehicle addressed by the word of God, whether in the unsaved or the saved. Those unconverted individuals in the parable of the sower characterized as “way side” soil (Mt. 13: 4, 19) are those who do not understand the message. It is impossible for one to be converted unless he understands the message of salvation, and understanding is a function of the mind: it is impossible to be converted apart from reasoning. That reasoning, to be sure, must be induced by the Holy Spirit; but that does not mean that human reasoning is somehow supplanted by some mystical, heavenly reasoning man is not able to grasp.

The same applies to Christians, whose love should “abound yet more and more in knowledge and all judgment” (Phil. 1:9). If the author mentioned above was saying, “I have become certain about a belief or practice because my emotions have been stirred and, thus, don’t bring up anything intellectual,” he is seriously mistaken. The Christian faith and message address themselves first of all to the mind, and then work their way to the will, the spirit, the emotions, and so forth,3 all of these being aspects of what the Bible terms “heart.” To isolate one of these aspects from the other, in this case, to imply that reasoning is inferior to emotion or volition, is just as inaccurate as to say that reason eclipses the will and the emotions (that would be a gnostic tenet).

To disparage the intellect as the author has done is to dispose of the very instrument God ordained for the apprehension of Christian truth. And it makes one vulnerable to all sorts of emotionalisms and mysticisms and irrationalisms and other unbiblical farces one can embrace simply on the basis that they “make him feel good.”

This sort of anti-intellectualism is a dominant blight among modern Christians.

1 The Flaming Torch, July-September 1990, p. 1 [From the position on the page it is not clear to whom this remark is attributed; emphasis mine].
2 W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), pp. 108-109, 297; Gleason L. Archer, R. Laird Harris, and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), pp. 466, 467; Gordon Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1986 [second edition]), pp. 90-94.
3 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), ch. IV.

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