Emotivism and Emotion in the Church Part 2

Ok so now that I’ve outlined what the problems emotionalism causes are I’m going to explain why I think emotionalism itself is a problem scripturally and theologically.

Scriptural arguments for emotionalism;

Yada: knowing God intimately?

Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know [yada] and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.”
Exodus 33:13 “Teach me your ways so that I may know [yada] you and continue in your favor.”
Habakkuk 2:14 “The knowledge [yada] of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.”

The Hebrew root word for “knowing” “understanding” “becoming acquainted with” etc. is Yada. It is claimed over and over again that because of verses where yada is used to imply knowing someone sexually, this must mean that yada is meant everywhere as intimate knowledge of someone. This is simply false, as noted above yada is a root word for knowledge. This means it covers all kinds of knowledge and we have no reason to think that the ancient Hebrews believed all forms of knowledge were “intimate”, at least not in the same sense we use the word today. Even when the word does refer to knowledge of a person, it doesn’t automatically mean sexual relations or the emotional equivalent. Rather it can refer to anything from a casual acquaintance to a close friend or family member. So no, God wanting us to know Him doesn’t mean he wants us to know Him as a wife knows her husband, nor does it mean that He wants some platonic equivalent of emotional intimacy, at least not necessarily.

Examples of bad exegesis of the word “yada”; https://sites.google.com/site/kudeshet/the-hebrew-perspective/developing-intimacy-with-god—yad-yadah-yada-judah, http://www.ibethel.org/articles/2007/09/01/yada-yada-yada

Actual Hebrew Lexicon of the word; http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H3045&t=KJV

Abba: Is God our daddy?

Romans 8:15 “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Mark 14:36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Galatians 4:6 “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

Many claim that this word “Abba” refers to the way a child endears their father with tenderness and intimacy aka calling him “daddy”. There is actually very little evidence that Abba has this childish connotation. It comes from a New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias who wrote in 1971 that Abba resembled the chatter of a small child and thus it would have been seen as offensive to Jesus’ contemporaries for him to use such a familiar and informal term when speaking of God.

In reality Abba is the only word in aramaic for father, so Jesus didn’t have any other option. While Jeremias was right in that it was not strictly formal or ceremonial, it was as James Barr puts it “a solemn, responsible, adult address to a Father”. Indeed most scholars today recognize Joachim’s thesis as unsupported by the linguistic evidence.

Examples of bad exegesis for the word Abba; http://www.gotquestions.org/Abba-Father.html
Actual Lexicon entry for the word; http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5&t=KJV
Articles used as sources; http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-does-abba-mean-daddy/

Bride of Christ: Are we married to Jesus?

As a dude, I find the idea propagated by many pastors that every individual Christian is somehow married to Christ in an intimate and romantic fashion unsettling. It may be an attractive idea for women, but the implications are that Christ would be polygamous and married to His Fathers children, unless we are the Fathers sons and daughters… in law? What a ridiculous idea! Obviously bridal imagery in scripture is just that, imagery. Its drawing parallels between a husband and Christ in order to give us something to compare it to. But in this light the question still arises; does the Bible employ the analogy of the love between a husband and wife and the individual believer’s love for Christ?

There are 2 passages that seem to most strongly support the affirmative answer to this question:

– Hosea 2:19-20 “And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.”

Despite this being one of the strongest passages in support of the position that the individual is to love Christ with the same level and kind of emotional passion that he loves his spouse, this actually isn’t saying much. Honestly if you read the whole chapter, its fairly clear that the “you” is plural and refers to God’s people as a whole. Moreover, if this was meant to say God has multiple marriage like relationships with all of His followers, why does He state that He shall only have one wife?

– 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 “I am anxious for you with the deep concern of God himself–anxious that your love should be for Christ alone, just as a pure maiden saves her love for one man only, for the one who will be her husband. But I am frightened, fearing that in some way you will be led away from your pure and simple devotion to our Lord, just as Eve was deceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden.”

This is probably the best support for the emotionalists position with reference to bridal imagery. Clearly it refers to the individuals love for Christ. However, this passage seems to be speaking in terms of degree, not necessarily of kind. It says stay faithful to Christ in the same way a woman who is engaged stays faithful to her future spouse. In other words; don’t commit idolatry and stay true to your commitments. Unless you say love just is an intimate emotional passion for a person (an assertion which I don’t think can be justified Biblically) I fail to see how this verse really supports the interpretation that I and every other Christian have the deep kind of emotional bond in a modern marriage. But then if you say that, then this passage doesn’t have any more support for emotionalism than any other passage on God’s love.

Sloppy teachings on bridal imagery; http://www.creatingfutures.net/single.html; “Do we live our lives as if we are betrothed to Christ? As singles, do people look at us and see that we are in love. You know what I mean. You have seen people in love. They spend every spare moment with their lover. They will do silly things for and with their lover. They will talk for hours on the phone, even if it is long distance. They make plans for the future. They become inseparable. There is a look in their face.” If this is the way the Christian life is supposed to be lived, you would think Paul, Peter or one of the other New Testament writers would talk about how much they just love talking to Christ and how good He makes them feel. Good luck finding that, most of the time Paul speaks of himself as a bondservant of Christ aka a slave to Christ, not Christ’s girlfriend (Christ is our Lord, not our lover). I will grant however that most articles and sermons written on this issue correctly see Christ’s bride as being the Church collectively as two parties in covenant relationship. Whatever elements of Christ’s affection towards Christians present in bridal imagery passages, if there are any, are secondary to this central message.

Agape: God’s intimate love for us?

Ok so we’ve established that God relating to us as Father not to the Church as a bride entails a deep emotional connection with God. But what about God’s love for us in general? If emotionalism is correct than God’s love for us is centrally His desire to be in relationship with us. This relationship, in turn, entails a deep emotional connection whereby God allows us to feel things we’ve never felt before at certain times (usually in helping others or worshipping God) and bringing us closer to Himself in these emotional experiences.

If I have not made this clear before allow me to make it clear now; I reject the viewpoint described above in its entirety. God’s love as it is expressed in scripture, if anything is a tough love not intended to bring us into an emotionally based relationship with God but obedience to God and unity with God (which doesn’t mean emotional attachment). This is a crucial point of contention for the emotionalist. If they are wrong about what God’s love is, they are wrong in how they frame the purpose of Jesus death and resurrection and they are wrong about the essence of the Christian life. Also a disclaimer to avoid any confusion. The rejection of the above view doesn’t require that we believe God is a cold, distant God not involved in our experiences or lives at all. It just means that emotional and experiential elements to the Christian life are secondary in importance to our ethical and role based duties to God and our neighbor. In other words, you don’t have to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to be saved (gaaaasssspp).

J.P. Holding and a number of Biblical scholars have realized, however, that both the exegetical and contextual evidence of passages pertaining to God’s love for us do not have the connotations we attach to them. Holding writes; “A key difference in understanding the meaning of agape is to recognize that our culture is centered on the individual, whereas ancient Biblical society (and 70% of societies today) are group-centered. What is good for the group is what is paramount. Hence when the NT speaks of agape it refers to the “value of group attachment and group bonding” [Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul, 196]. Agape is not an exchange on a personal level and “will have little to do with feelings of affection, sentiments of fondness, and warm, glowing affinity.” It is a gift that puts the group first.”

Scholars Bruce J. Malina and John Piltch point out that love in the ancient world was not about emotional passion but social attachment and the role you played in another persons life. As such to hate someone is just not to love them and vice versa. This means that both love and hate on the part of God are not descriptions of His emotional attitudes towards us but the role He plays in looking after our best interests.

This makes sense of how Christ could at one moment speak of turning the other cheek and in the next moment call Pharisess hypocrites, white washed tombs and broods of Vipers. In that world, love and hate weren’t personal, no one got offended if you confronted them about their behavior or some such thing. Confrontation was the norm. It also makes sense of passages in the Old Testament such as the story of Jacob and Esau where God states “Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated.” Also of particular interest in that same story is this passage; “Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” This passage makes no sense under a modern understanding of love. We would say that there’s nothing about selling your birth right that indicates you hate it, it only means you don’t care about it. In ancient Mediterranean societies, however, love was seen in terms of attachment; you either are attached to your birth right, or you aren’t, there can be no in between.

So what about specific passages about love? How much sense does this model of love as social attachment make of these passages;
– 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” At first glance, verse 3 seems to refute the idea that the Biblical authors saw love as attachment, not emotional attitudes. After all if you can give all that you have away and die as a martyr but still not have love that seems to indicate love has more to do with your emotional motivations than your attachment to individuals and groups as a duty-bound servant. However, As Malina and Pilch point out, Paul is trying to distinguish charismata (charisma, courage, heroism) from agape (group allegiance, attachment to others). In other words someone might aim to give all they have to the poor and die as a martyr to leave an honorable and heroic legacy and not have any interest towards looking out for others interest. So this passage is saying that we need pure motivations, but its not saying those pure motivations require pure emotional attitudes.

Whether or not you accept what Holding, Malina and Pilch have to say, its clear that the default view of love is not our modern western conceptions. Even if love does have to do with emotional attitudes in the Biblical world, this doesn’t mean that God’s love for us implies an emotionally attached relationship. The Biblical view of love on both models points towards a more wholistic approach where our motives and actions are in harmony towards furthering the will of God and where God’s love towards us entails a looking out for humanities best interests and a will for individuals to grow in righteousness. And nothing about this central truth requires us to have personal relationships with God. That is a view someone can take, but it is dangerous to say that having a relationship with God is what the gospel’s all about.

Sources; http://books.google.com/books?id=cMrQOr9GmhoC&pg=PA117&lpg=PA117&dq=John+Pilch+on+1+Corinthians+13:3&source=bl&ots=WSNMzdDOEk&sig=oeqkUTDWQaEEVxF5UONuXYBIPDw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zKLIU7-AL9CDogThyIKoAg&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=John%20Pilch%20on%201%20Corinthians%2013%3A3&f=false, http://www.tektonics.org/whatis/whatlove.php

Imago Dei: Relational creatures?

Another claim often made by emotionalists is that we were created in the image of God to be in personal relationships. They cite as evidence the fact that God created Eve so that Adam wouldn’t be alone and that God walked with both Adam and Eve in the Garden. While its undoubtedly true that part of being made in the image of God is our cognitive capacity for communication and personal relationships it seems equally true that the primary aspect of our being made in the image of God is our stewardship over God’s creation as His representatives. Involved in this is our identity as moral creatures who make moral decisions and are meant to live according to God’s purposes.

Again nothing about this requires the emotional relationship that many Christians describe where God. For instance in collectivist societies individuals are not nearly as introspective as we are in the West. So they don’t see interpersonal relationships the same way we see them. For them group identity is more important than individual identity so they don’t think in terms of how they feel about the group but what role they play in the group. So if we define within our view of imago dei a western view of personal relationships where two or more people have this great connection and get along very well in their personalities (a word which didn’t even exist until a little over a century ago) then we could be unintentionally saying all other cultural perspective are lacking the imago dei.

This is partly why I frame the Image of God in terms of stewardship over creation and ethical responsibility as these transcend cultural boundaries and truly get at the heart of who we are as human beings.

Sources; Pilch J. & Malina B. (2009). Handbook of Biblical Social Values. Peabody MA; Hendrickson publishers.

Is eternal life knowing God?

In John chapter 17 Jesus is recorded praying to the Father; “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Well this settles it, eternal life is knowing Christ personally. Not exactly, the trouble is that “knowing” someone has a diverse range of meanings. Does this passage mean that we know God as the triune God who sent Jesus Christ and live according to that knowledge? Does it mean that we actually have conversations with this triune God? Does it mean we know God as we know our father? I think the first option would be the best, simply because it is the most simple. Knowing God is simply recognizing Him as the true God, learning His will and living it out through the power and life of the Holy Spirit. Again nothing about this requires a personal relationship so we have no justification for defining salvation in such terms.

Unity in Christ: becoming intimate with Christ?

John 17 also contains this passage; “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the worldmay believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Aha, being in Christ and Christ being in us, that’s so intimate its almost erotic. This has to prove that salvation, whether individual or group centered involves personal intimacy. Well not really, the language of being in Christ or Christ being in us was employed by Christ in a collectivist society where individual identity was shaped by group identity (you are one with the body of Christ). Its saying we do not form our own identity as Christians, our identity is shaped by Christ such that our goals must be His goals, our desires must be His desires. The way we relate to Christ then is not as two equal persons seeking an mutual emotional connection but truly as a potter forms clay. As such it is not us who lives but Christ in us. This is not a description of a literal person abiding inside of our souls so much as the power of Christ to conform us to Himself. And again nothing about this implies a personal relationship in the sense of two people seeking an emotional connection based on personality.

Sources; http://books.google.com/books?id=zqoJj4WhJXAC&pg=PA296&lpg=PA296&dq=Bruce+Malina+on+John+17:3&source=bl&ots=f6PkGfY17b&sig=ag9BbAYge-tw2W72LYOvJub0LHE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3VnJU5ncONK6oQSblILICg&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=Bruce%20Malina%20on%20John%2017%3A3&f=false, http://www.tektonics.org/qt/selfesteem.php

Worshipping in Spirit means worshipping emotionally?

What is the purpose of worship? If it is truly to give glory to God through hymns and proclamations of thanksgiving and God’s truth and goodness should we not have some passion for God something more than a stoic devotion to Him? Well yes, obviously we are going to have passion. But I think this passion is more like the passion we have for a great leader or someone we are inspired to follow in the sense that you don’t have to know such people personally for them to evoke passionate feelings in you (I don’t think God has a favorite color or a favorite kind of music etc. so its not like we can get to know Him in that respect). As such pastors like John Piper are right to say that we should enjoy God for who He is and we should celebrate what He has done for us in worshipping His character.

I would also deny the idea that worship is where God fills us with a sense of euphoria or even a special sense of peace. Such an experience of God is not intrinsic to worship and so we shouldn’t expect to feel God’s presence every time we engage in worship. In addition to this, more often than not in the Bible God’s presence brought a sense of terror in the hearts of His followers, so I would question why we assume God is going to make us feel comforted by His presence at all times. It seems equally possible that God will convict us in worship about a grave sin we have committed and we should be sensitive to that feeling of guilt as much as we should about comfort and peace.

So I can easily grant the claim that there is an emotional aspect to worship and an emotional aspect to worshipping in Spirit in John 4:24, its just not the level nor the kind of emotion expressed by so many pastors today.

Useful resources on the study of worship; http://books.google.com/books?id=XV3MSDLAt6kC&pg=PA171&lpg=PA171&dq=richard+rohrbaugh+social+commentary+on+worship&source=bl&ots=-BsOGjabYt&sig=CxmrzKBQtP3FfL6N3PjU1nNs-P4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=auvJU6DDIJbhoATdyoKYDw&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=richard%20rohrbaugh%20social%20commentary%20on%20worship&f=false

The Indwelling Spirit: God inside of us?

What is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is often portrayed as a separate consciousness, communicating with us on a constant basis through our own thoughts, emotions and externally through our own actions and the actions of those around us. This is all done in an effort on the Spirits part to conform our moral and spiritual character and nature to that of Christ’s. Moreover, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is often cited as a testament to our intimacy with God because God is not only with us but in us.

Hank Hanegraff from Christian Research Ministries writes; “…to say that the Holy Spirit is in you is not to point out where the Holy Spirit is physically located, but rather to point out that we have come into a special, intimate, personal relationship with Him through repentance. Similarly, when Jesus says, “the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38), He is not speaking of physical location but intimacy of relationship.” However when it comes to explaining what this intimate personal relationship entails, Hanegraff only comes up with this; “To deny that the Holy Spirit is spatially locatable within us is not to deny that He is activelylocatable within us, working redemptively within the deepest part of our beings to conform us into the image of Christ. Far from detracting from our nearness to the Holy Spirit, the classical Christian view intensifies the intimacy of our special relationship to the Creator as well as the benefits of our redemption.” Ok, but how is this intimate? What about the Spirit’s active part in our lives requires this personal intimacy Hank is describing? If, as described above, being in Christ primarily means our being conformed to the identity of Christ through self-denial and selfless love then The Spirit doesn’t really need to communicate all that much with us to allow us to fulfill our purpose, let alone communicate with us as a unique personality. Such interaction makes no sense if the whole point of our relationship with the Spirit is to be like the Spirit in all His communicable attributes (i.e. righteousness, selflessness, holiness, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, self-control, peace, patience, love and goodness).

But perhaps Christians leaders and Pastors like Hanegraff are suggesting that the Spirit is affectionate and loving in a nurturing fashion, similar to that between a mother and her child and not so much between two friends or even lovers. Such affection wouldn’t involve communication so much as feelings of comfort in times of distress. But if this characteristic is central to our relationship with the Spirit we hit a scriptural wall when it comes to Acts where the Spirit acts as a supportive role almost solely in the ministry of the Apostles and is never mentioned as supporting them personally. Luke, nor Peter, nor Paul, nor Barnabas ever report feeling comforted by the Spirit in times of distress such as in the numerous times Paul was imprisoned and beaten. The Spirit brings the Apostles visions, provides them with the power to perform miracles and convicts them to evangelize. So again, it seems we must see these intimate nurturing aspects of the Spirit as secondary to His role as a guide to Christ-likeness and Kingdom building.

Aha! But what about verses like John 14:26 where the Holy Spirit is identified as the Comforter? This seems to conclusively demonstrate that the primary identity of the Spirit in us is that of a comforter! Well actually this leads us to the ambiguity of words in Greek when translated to english. The greek word here is paraklētos Which has a fairly broad set of meanings. The basic idea of it, however, seems to be centered on that of a helper or aid. But if this is true than “comforter” properly translated doesn’t have the therapeutic connotations so often attached to that word in modern society. It simply mean the Spirit is there to aid us in the mission God assigned to us. But there still could be a sense in which the Spirit gives us feelings of comfort and peace at times. The point is these must be seen as secondary to His central goal in breathing life into the Church through the ministries of Christians.

But what about external signs that the Spirit is there for us? These are certainly present in scripture, but they are perhaps more rare and less romantic than many would like to imagine. The Holy Spirit is never portrayed as forming a gust of wind around us or floating a flower down before us to let us know we’ll be ok. The signs from the Spirit are usually less cryptic and more direct. For instance, in Acts 16 the Spirit literally just prevents all attempts on the part of Paul to enter into Asia, and instead sends him a vision of a Macedonian calling for help. Not much interpretation is required to understand the Spirits message here. Even more so, events like this only happened every few years or so in the life of the Apostles, the founders of the Church! It seems foolish to suppose they would occur on a regular basis in our lives.

Sources; http://www.tektonics.org/qt/quietthird.php, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3875&t=KJV, http://www.equip.org/articles/the-indwelling-of-the-holy-spirit/#christian-books-3

Scriptural conclusion; By my roughly brief analysis of the wide range of passages used to support emotionalism and relationship theology I don’t find the case for seeing salvation in terms of a personal relationship with Christ very compelling. More often than not it seems more assumed that we have a personal relationship with Christ than scripturally established and no one seems to have bothered to build an in depth exegetical case for the idea or even develop what it really means to have a relationship with Christ. It’s always spoken of in very vague terms of “being intimate with Christ” “feeling His love” “having Christ in us” etc. So I suppose that at the very least I encourage Christians to really flesh out what they mean by a personal relationship with Christ because in every sense I could think of it actually meaning something it either seems to be a more confusing way of putting the message of the gospel or a needless (and perhaps even dangerous) addition to it.

Theological Objections to the gospel as a relationship;

On top of these scriptural considerations as well as the sociological problems discussed in part 1 I also have theological qualms with emotionalism. Going back to Part 1 you’ll recall I defined emotionalism as; “the view that the Christian life is best understood as an individual transformation through an emotional and intimate relationship with God and that Christ’s atonement and resurrection were meant to establish said intimate relationships.”

You’ll also recall I tied this definition to various attributes of emotionalism; seeing God as our therapist, lover, friend, and/or daddy, seeing our interactions under these relationship frameworks as being primarily emotional and scriptural (since it would be impossible to hold that we can have verbal communication with God on a regular basis), and seeing our relationship with God as therefore being primarily internal and thereby primarily existing in the individual.

Before I engage in a theological critique of this viewpoint I want to make clear that what I am talking about isn’t a doctrine that you either adhere to or not, rather its an emphasis on the way God relates to us. My point is that the personal and emotional aspects in the way we relate to God have been grossly over-exaggerated in the Church. I do not however deny that there is an emotional and personal aspect to salvation (such a view would also lead to troubling implications).

Theology is Pointless;

If we agree with the average evangelical and say that God is literally a person present in our minds then theology seems to be on the chopping block along with scripture. Revelation becomes immediate and ever present. Of course, most churches add that experiencing God means reading scripture and obeying God’s word in order to balance the tension between God’s immanence in our lives through our intimate relationship with Him and His transcendence above and away from us in His holy and righteous nature. My worry is that merely by saying being in Christ means being in a personal affectionate relationship with Him it is unclear how scripture is really helpful. After all Christ is right there with you at all times on a mental and emotional level, what need do we have for scripture if that is really the case? Moreover, why should we listen to theologians or pastors in theological and ethical instruction if it doesn’t match up with our immediate direct connection to Christ?

I don’t see how we can emphasize our closeness with Christ to the degree that emotionalism requires without sacrificing the revelation of God through sources outside ourselves. We have to say that Christ is really quite distant from us as individuals but also powerfully impacting our lives as our Lord and God through scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A Church Club;

A corollary of this would be that under an emotionalist framework the Church itself becomes an optional gathering of individual Christians desiring to share their experience with Christ. If we have this direct connection to Christ where He tells us directly what His will is for our lives its unclear what need is for the Church. Again churches will qualify that the Church has a common relationship with Christ and that Christ uses the Church to exhort individual believers and fill them up spiritually. However, this doesn’t seem to be enough to really treat the Church with the amount of importance both Christ and the writers of the NT put on the Church however. I cannot find a reading of Paul or Peter where they do not see the Church as the core of God’s activity on earth. They both go to great lengths to establish communities of Christians devoted to sharing and living the gospel. Paul doesn’t seem to understand any sense of a Christian life outside the Church. Therefore participation in the Church cannot be viewed as merely optional or beneficial for the individual believer, its absolutely essential to the individual believer.

But if this is true it seems equally difficult to imagine that at the same time salvation is primarily an internal affair of emotional and spiritual well-being. Salvation seems simultaneously internal and external; we are changed by our closeness to the Will and identity of God and then are sent out to fulfill His will and calling. This change within us, however, cannot be seen as a single event but as a process. The Church facilitates this process but more importantly we have a role to play in the Church. Paul describes the Church as the body of Christ with many members, each playing an integral role to the function of the whole. Each member is defined by their specific calling or gifting to perform tasks such as evangelism, teaching, shepherding, counseling etc.

Thus salvation is also external in that the plans God has for us have little to do with us relative to the Church and her mission. Emotionalism, by defining closeness with God as a state of deep spiritual connection with God within yourself doesn’t seem to allow for this view of the Church. Emotionalism sees the Church as primarily a service for the individual Christian in nourishing his daily walk with Christ. While a person can be saved and not participate in the Church for a time, I do not think a truly faithful child of God can ignore or neglect the Church indefinitely. Emotionalism, particularly in its stronger forms, states positively that Christians can do this and this emotionalist attitude has captured the hearts and minds of most evangelicals.


Emotionalism also has interesting implications for one’s view of the law, grace, faith and works. If Christ really did atone for our sins and conquer death to get closer to us on a personal level and changing us through a personal relationship then any good works we do must be a direct result of this relationship. This is certainly in line with Orthodoxy (good works are a result of God’s grace) but oddly Christians have repeatedly juxtaposed a relationship with Christ and religiousness. A relationship with Christ is described as a vibrant and living faith and religion is seen as empty rule following and obedience. These two seem to be portrayed as so opposed that one cannot have rules or obligations to follow without neglecting Christ and faith in Him. In an article entitled “God Hates Religion” we read:

“But relationship with God cannot be found through religion. In fact, religion is the biggest roadblock to seeking a relationship with God. Religion is simply Man trying to reach out to God by doing something that he thinks will please God. “If I can do enough, say enough, pray enough, give enough, sacrifice enough perhaps God will show me favor”. Every religion is based upon this “works theology”. Neither ceremony, liturgy, creeds, sacraments nor money have ever brought one soul into a reconciled relationship to God. Abstaining from drugs, alcohol, tobacco, illicit sex and the places that provide them is a healthy thing to do but cannot of itself restore a broken relationship with God. Giving up a favorite food or drink, reciting ‘program prayers’ or self mutilation does nothing to convince or satisfy God.”

My problem with this attitude is that it rubs very close to antinomian ideals (that sanctification is optional for the Christian). If our relationship to Christ is what saves us, and this relationship doesn’t involve changing us to perform good works, than what on earth is the point of a relationship with Christ? In addition, this attitude seems to go against most Church tradition and scripture on sacramental rituals. Even the most staunch memorialist (we only take communion in remembrance of Christ, it is not a means of grace) would say that both communion and baptism is an important part of the Christian life and most definitely pleases God. As the author of Hebrews states; “It is impossible to please God without faith” but faith is also what motivated the Patriarchs and the Prophets to obedience to God. Rule following, therefore is not the core of the issue, its rule following with the goal of earning our own salvation. Christians can gladly speak of obligations to God and good works as a necessity, just not as a necessity to earn salvation. Rather, obedience to God through good works is the believers participation in the salvation Christ afforded her by living the life of mutual servitude she was created to live. Christians who speak of religion vs relationship may have this in mind when they make statements like the one quoted above, but it sure seems like a confusing way to make a fairly simple point, and all for the sake of cultural relevance.

In addition to this there seems to be a false dichotomy between doing something because we have a duty to do it and doing something because we have a desire to do it. The simple fact of the matter is that it is good to desire to love and serve God as well as our neighbor because it is our duty to do so. Desiring to do our duties and fulfill our obligations is the same as being loving if you really think about it. If you are doing your duties begrudgingly then you really don’t desire to do them but desire an effect or benefit of doing them.

Sources; http://definingthenarrative.com/god-hates-religion/, https://bible.org/seriespage/christian-obligations-romans-13,
A side issue for those interested in Catholic teachings; http://catholicism.org/faith-and-good-works.html

Destroying Christian ethics;

Emotionalism also seems to have a general negative effect on Christian ethics; it discourages the discussion of them. In its stead the Christian life is solely about growing spiritually. If Christianity becomes all about interpersonal (maybe intrapersonal) relationships with God then living as a Christian becomes more about maintaining an emotionally healthy relationship with God then it does about obedience to Him and self-sacrifice to the Church. In other words Christianity becomes therapeutic and psychologized. To see this, one only has to look at the top 100 best selling Christian books on amazon or barnes and noble websites. The majority talk more about self improvement in regards to attitude and inner peace than they do about tangible ethical issues in the Christian life.

In contrast to this the Didache, written around 100 A.D. (just 67 years after the death of Christ), outlines the Christian life in terms of ethical obligations and moral principles;

Chapter 1:
1)There are two ways: one of Life – one of Death, each having great differences between them.
2) The way of life is this:
First, You must love the One who formed you;
Second, you must love your neighbor in the same manner as yourself. Do not do to others, what you yourself would not want done to you.
3) And these are our teachings:
Bless the ones who curse you. Pray for your enemies. Fast for your persecuters. Do you expect a great reward if you only love those who love you? Do the Gentiles not conduct themselves accordingly? But if you practice love to those who hate you, your enemies will vanish.
4) Refrain from the impulses of your selfish nature and the self-serving world. If someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the left to be likewise stiked. This discipline will lead to your perfecting. If someone forces you to go one mile in service, go with him a second. If someone robs you of your robe, freely give him your coat. If someone takes anything from you, don’t ask that it be returned, for what good would that do?
5) Give to all who ask, and don’t expect return; for your Parent in heaven wills that everyone should be recipients of our free gifts. Great rewards await anyone who gives according to the commandment; for that person is guiltless. A negative return is given to the one who receives but has no need, for he will pay the penalty for why he received for nothing but greed, and under examination will be required to divulge everything concerning his choices, and will not be freed from his obligations until everything owed is paid.
6) On the other hand, the one who is in need and receives is guiltless. Let your gifts rest in in your sweaty hands, until you know to can discern to whom you should give.

Chapter 2:
1) This is the second commandment of the Teaching;
2) You must not murder; nor given to adultery; nor molest children; nor practice immorality; nor theft; nor a practicioner of black magic; nor a practicioner of witchcraft; nor a terminator of unborn children; nor any sort of infanticide; nor one who unlawfully seek to take ownership of your neighbor’s possessions,
3) You must not commit perjury nor be given over to false testimony, nor speak evil, nor hold grudges.
4) You must not be deceitful nor fickle; for to be fickeled is a snare of death.
5) Your speech must never be false, nor meaningless, but confirmed by action.
6) You must never be greedy, nor accumulate riches, nor a hypocrite, nor malicious, nor arrogant; nor given over to plot evil against your neighbor.
7) You must not hate anyone; but some you must correct, and pray for others, and some you must love even more than your own life.

Speaking about how psychology relates to Christian living is actually quite beneficial, but such discussions have replaced ethical discussion that the early Church clearly seemed committed to teaching in many Christian circles. If the Didache was read aloud in churches today, it would most likely be labeled a document of legalism even though Paul writes much the same way in His epistles to the Romans and Corinthians. In contrast to this, daily devotionals speak more about having a positive attitude and encouragement than they do about serious issues of morality and doctrine. For instance Max Lucado writes in his devotional Grace For the Moment;

“It’s time to let God’s love cover all things in your life, All secrets. all hurts. All hours of evil, minutes of worry… Picture a dup truck full of love. There you are behind it. God lifts the bed until the love starts to slide. slowly at first, then down, down down until you are hidden buried, covered in His love.”

All of Lucado’s writings are like this and all of them are equally centered on making Christians feel better. This is pure therapy and cannot be viewed as the core of Christian living. But I fear it is seen as such by many Christians today.

Sources; http://web.archive.org/web/20101009033540/http://ivanlewis.com/Didache/didache.html,
http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Books-Christian-Living/zgbs/books/12333/ref=zg_bs_nav_b_2_12290#1, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-law-ethics/

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