Let’s take the gloves off – head vs. heart…

(While some members of Theologykungfu.com would not put themselves squarely into a particular tradition of faith, this blog is for everyone to chime in on – here we go):

Given some of the latest ( and more contentious) blogs on the site, it seemed like the time has come to take off the gloves and get real with each other…

The question is this:

is the Gospel better served by a purely experiential accounting of faith or a reflection upon and with that experience of faith that draws upon critical – logical categories and traditions of the Christian faith? In short – is it revelation or tradition that is most authoritative in our deepening and sharing the faith?

We seem to have been building to this over the past month through various blogs and the string of comments that follow, but the issue has come to a head for me in regard to the following snip in an email stream I have been having with some folks:

“And I have sat in many a meeting or bible study, and watched the learned M-Div ministry-types totally misconstrue the daily and gritty application of the word, and want to bring in things like fear as ‘practical’, where I’m pretty sure the janitor or the babysitter would nail the issue because of their “simplicity” – all a great reminder to me that most things in Christ are upside down from our worldly viewpoint.”

Well… being one of those ‘M-Div ministry types’… I guess I just mess things up anyway just in my being “me” then. Since the line of who can offer ‘simplicity’ and ‘clarity’ is drawn based on easily to recognize “bummer of a birthmark” things like schooling…

On the one hand: “he is one of those M-Div ministry types” = obviously can’t communicate with ‘real’ people, wrapped up in jargon, studies too much and doesn’t have a prayer life, therefore is THE problem for the forwarding of the Gospel…

on the other hand: “he is the babysitter” = noble savage, unspoiled by society and things like reading commentaries that could draw on tradition in order to ensure that our reading of scripture is part of something bigger than the next flashy thing, therefore a good resource for biblical insight since he speaks from the ‘heart’ and not the ‘head’

In short, the conversation is closed and I have nothing to offer. Granted, entire ministries are built on the “prehistoric caveman lawyer” model (“Man, I don’t understand all the ivory tower rubbish and why people spend all that time with dead languages and ridiculously out-dated books… what I do know is that Jesus saves and that’s enough!!!”) but I feel that the Gospel deserves more than that passiveness and ill-attention given that we have been made in the image of God and therefore given the ability to reflect on not only our actions but the ‘why and whence’ of our very lives.

Here is part of my credo then – without some concern for the thoughts upon our actions through some critical reflection (“I am doing this/believing this because….”), we can be too easily blinded by the presuppositions and preoccupations of our own time and place to the wisdom of Christians of other times and places. As G. K. Chesterton once observed, “Tradition is democracy extended through time. Tradition means giving the vote to that most obscure of all classes, our ancestors….Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who are walking about.”

I agree that the Kingdom of God is a turning upside down of the world’s messed priorities and challenges the privileging of some guild or class of cleric as having a Gnostic passkey to deeper understanding of faith – I believe this not because of any studies I have done, but because of the conviction, akin to Paul’s credo, that all I know is dross compared to the surpassing greatness of the Cross and I believe in this because Christ is my Lord and Savior and through the outpouring of His holy spirit I have been both convicted of my sin and saved from the fall through His blood.

Some of you are banging away at advanced degrees… some of you are banging away at the folks WHO ARE banging away at research degrees…

Hate logic? Hate Ignorance? Love the “WORD become flesh”? Love the “word become FLESH”?

Chime in… and don’t be afraid to shoot straight…


Leave a Comment

  1. I think that theology has a place. I don’t want to be taught by somebody who doesn’t know greek or hebrew. But I also don’t want somebody to speak to me in these languages.

    Look, my father has a masters in theology from Fuller. But when he talks to me about the Bible and about differing views of philosophy or theology it’s not trapped up in language I can’t understand.

    In other words when you ask…”revelation or tradition”. That’s not the right question. Most of us live in the world of hear-see-taste-touch. In other words, for most of us our faith grows through experience. I pray for something – I get an answer – my faith is deepened. I get a paycheck, I give some of the money (tithe) and lives are changed.

    I recently told somebody “less talking, more walking”. Now I’m sure you could figure out a really complicated way to word my little statement. But that’s what I’d like to see more of in the Christian and evangelical community at large. Faith in action.

    But this blog is called “theology” kung-fu. Not “every day faith for average joes” kung-fu.

    But, I honestly don’t have anything to add to the conversations about Kierkegaard, Augustine, Erasmus, etc. because I’ve never read any of those guys. If you want to talk about CS Lewis or Francis Schaeffer or Paul or Jesus – I’m game. Outside of that you all pretty much have it covered.

    I like what Jimmy said…”I’ll show you what I believe by what I do”.

    I remember when the singer of The Supertones got on my case because I was undecided in such matters as election, predestination, pre-post-amillenialism, etc. and was pretty frank about the fact that I really didn’t give a shit. Or more to the point – I didn’t see how making a decision one way or the other was going to have any impact on the way I was going to live my faith out day by day. If that’s anti-intellectual, so be it.

    And I guess I still think that way.

    I’m glad, though, that somebody is taking the time to study all this stuff. Because that gives me the freedom to say “ask sensei jfk.” : )

    And finally – if the way you experience God is through your mind and through study – you shouldn’t let anybody tell you you’re wrong.

    There’s room in the house for everybody.


  2. As one whose faith is as deeply rooted in the traditions, or (more precisely) the battles between the traditions, as his doubt, I come pretty squarely in the ‘head’ category — to the vague, slightly questionable though practically certain extent, anyway, that ‘head’ / ‘heart’ can be differentiated.

    It is this distinction that brings me back occasionally to the biography of Schleiermacher, who sort of ping-ponged between the poles. Even when he claimed later in his life, after settling nestling himself back in the faith he very nearly abonded, to find a comfortable (hermeneutical?) middle-ground between the two, we would be wise to be suspect otherwise.

    I’m almost inclined to think that, the title of this post notwithstanding, ‘heads’ and ‘hearts’ will forever be dealing with one another with kid gloves.

  3. I agree, Brad (and great to see you on the blog!) – the via media seems to the sweet spot as every (no-)self respecting Buddhist will tell you… I also agree with Bill (frankly… I always agree with you, Mr. Truth-Teller) that I am setting up a false dichotomy between heart vs. head and “that’s not the right question.”

    Obviously (or maybe not so obviously) we are people of mind, body, soul and strength – on that I think we can agree. So why is there such a problem then in our understanding of faith and how it is expressed? As Jimmy has posted often (I paraphrase here) logic kills but beauty gives life.

    What is this middle road and how do we strike that balance? As a teacher, the last thing I want is to encourage wacking off…

  4. This could be our first “50+ comments” thread if we can get some real disagreement started.

    I am very sympathetic with iambillpower’s comments. I think it is possible to suggest, as he does, that “experience” is the primary way our faith grows, as long as we remember how widely “experience” can be understood. For some, it is the experience of miracles. For some, it is more of a personal/mystical experience. For others, it is the experience of liturgy, the recitation of creeds. For some, it is the experience of learning, of reading and studying and wrestling with texts, scriptural and theolgoical. For others, it’s something that comes through great worship music and inspiring preaching or Bible study.

    I’m glad we’ve so quickly established that this division between head and heart is a false one. What we Wesleyans call the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” (to which Anglicans say, “Huh? That’s ourquadrilateral!”) designates the four avenues of revelation as Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason. I think of these as the four panes of glass in a window (kinda like [+] ) – we all use all of these at one time or another, and different traditions might place a higher priority on one or two over the others (Baptists tend toward Scripture; Catholics, Tradition; Pentacostals, Experience). But we’re all looking out of the same window at the same God, and we need all of these – and consequently, the insights of traditions other than ours – to get any real glimpse of the God we worship.

    Maybe, as Brad, suggests, it’s not so much the coincidence of head and heart as our oscillation between the two – God knows this sounds like most weeks of my life: 3 or 4 days where my faith (or lack thereof) is more in my head, and 3 or 4 where my heart takes over.

    We need to be aware of the tensions that seem to exist between faith/works, head/heart, logic/beauty, theology/spirituality, confession/conviction, etc., but work to see these not as contradictory or mutually-exclusive, but as mutually reinforcing. The via media is a tough place to live, but it might be the only place to really live – at the point where these things Cross.

    Final thought re: theology kung fu – kung fu is all about mind and body synchronized in action. Which is to say, I’m not convinced that “theology” is the most important word in the title! 😉

  5. I’m not quite as convinced that an individual needs to somehow find the so-called middle-ground. Compromise is normally banal enough in realms of politics (ecclesial or otherwise), even when it is dressed in as the Draq Queen called ‘Progress’; and, really, I don’t see any reason why this threat isn’t even more real for an individual.

    Talking off the top of my head, I wonder if it might be possible to bastardize various tenets of pluralistic – liberal dialogue, and begin thinking about intra-faith head / heart dialogue as built around the ‘solid’ foundation of neither getting it quite right (contra the more ostensibly palatable notion of somehow finding the best of both dialogues, some kind of determinate field in which they agree, or celebrating ‘dialogue’ without anything actually being advanced).

  6. Time to weigh in here with a bunch of issues.

    #1: The question is a great one!

    #2: The extrapolations based on the quote are over the top.

    Wonderful question. The Mormons (not that I mean to put them within Christianity) are in all kinds of trouble over this. If it is revelation that justified polygamy, why is it no longer appropriate? Who is allowed to have revelations?

    When it comes to tradition, who guards the traditions?


    Sidenote: dealing with point #2

    Would you say that because some businessmen & women are criminals (a jury of 12 said that Bernie Ebbers is), that all businessmen & women are criminals?

    Would you say that because some M-Div ministry types misconstrue the daily and gritty application of the word, that all M-Div ministry types misconstrue the daily and gritty ministry of the word?


    Going back to the original question, I believe that God is at work within and through us. There is room for us to have truth revealed to us. Paul bears witness to this in 2 Cor 3:16-18

    …but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away….but we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord…

    Etymological note — removing a veil = revelation.

    Paul also calls those who are overseers to hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching.

    Where I would get concerned is if either revelation or tradition get too far from the statements that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that we learn what this means through the testimony of Scripture.

    Having put all kinds of time into learning & maintaining my Koine Greek, go ahead and write to me in that language…I don’t think I’m fast enough to handle someone speaking in it though. And lay off the dative participles. 🙂

  7. ευχαριστίες Tom – μεγάλος να σας έχει κτύπος μέσα! Πρέπει να αναγνωρίσω ότι τα ελληνικά είναι ακόμα ελληνικά σε με… έτσι η ταχυδρόμησή μου θα είναι πιθανώς μόνο στα αγγλικά εάν αυτός είναι ΕΝΤΑΞΕΙ.

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