Faith and Feelings

In the next few weeks I’ll be posting about submission and another about women in the church. These are very emotionally charged topics.

So I wanted to lay some groundwork by talking about theology objectively. Specifically, the danger we Americans face in a culture where feelings are praised as the North Star.

American culture (and perhaps elsewhere… I’m not sure) has so romanticized feelings that even the Church has begun to adopt the lingo. See if you’ve ever heard (or said) one of these:

  • Follow your heart.
  • What does your heart tell you?
  • Trust yourself to make the right decision.
  • I feel God leading me to…
  • Trust your gut…

When emotions rule theology, any change in mood becomes a foundational shift in belief. This is a shaky ground on which to build a life or raise a family. Even worse as the foundation for a movement as big as the church.

In high school I rebelled against the prevalence of feelings by deciding to cut off all emotions. I visualized myself as a terminator-style robot and did my best to feel nothing. Decisions were made as logically as possible and rules were black and white.

If the bible said pigs are unclean, I’d go without pork. If I read a verse about not braiding your hair, it’s time for a style change. And once a theological understanding was achieved, it remained unquestioned.

This didn’t work either.

While scripture is a book of absolute truths, our understandings grow and mature over time. And my decision not to feel really just meant stuffing emotions deep inside like a timebomb waiting to explode. Plus, much of debated theology is in the grey areas of application, not in the foundational beliefs about salvation.

The reality is that emotions are a gift from God. We were created to feel. We were not created to be ruled by feelings.

In college I developed what I called “the Eight Core Doctrines” which I believed encompassed the unshakable realities of the Gospel. From there I believed (and taught) that any church ascribed to those core doctrines was biblical.

( Coming to Wells Branch Community Church I learned about “open handed” and “closed handed” doctrines. Same concept as the “core doctrines” terminology. “Closed” doctrines are necessary to salvation where “open” doctrines are not. )

This is where I swung to the other extreme for a while. If it wasn’t a “core” doctrine then it didn’t matter and I didn’t want to discuss it.

Why hurt our relationship by arguing about 7 days vs 7 eras for creation? So what if we disagree about the end times; it’s not that relevant.

Today I find myself somewhere in the middle. There are “open” doctrines that don’t seem worth the argument (like the two above) because there’s no practical life reaction to them. But others, like homosexuality, submission, and alcohol, have real life implications.

One more important differentiation (another layer after “open” and “closed” doctrines) every doctrine has two components:

  • The doctrine – biblically defining the heart of the belief.
  • The definition – practically defining the application of the belief.

It’s important to differentiate these, especially in debate. To disagree on doctrine is to claim biblical misalignment. This is an attack to a person’s belief and should be handled carefully.

To disagree on definition (application) is to respond extra-textually or out of opinion. This is not a scriptural rebuttal but a cultural one.

Here’s an example from a recent, heated debate: homosexuality.

The doctrine about homosexually is that it’s a sin. Multiple scriptures make it clear that this is not just a sin but a sin against one’s own body.

Culturally defining (applying) this doctrine is more chalanging. Some believe in bans or protests. Others say “love the sinner, hate the sin” and advocate for the government to stay out of the issue while still believing it’s a sin.

And exactly this difference is the reason we must be aware of our emotional assumptions at play. There are absolutely going to be doctrines my that feelings dictate I water down. But they cannot be relegated to the realm of definitions because I don’t like them. Most doctrines are not as unclear as I’d like to pretend.

We will also have strong emotions about our definitions but must remember that in the realm of definitions none of us can claim absolute truth. Here grace is required, as every person is in a different place spiritually, their application may be valid as well as yours (such as Paul with meat sacrificed to idols).

Everyone is welcome to join the conversation. Please keep these thoughts in mind as you begin to navigate the conversation. How are your emotions effecting your theology?

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