Do we give to much importance to emotions in Evangelical praise, preaching and theology?
Emotions don’t have to be bad. They were given to us by God therefore they can be good.
According to Scripture, good emotions are those that are based upon a true love for God and our neighbour whilst bad ones are centred upon our selfishness. Emotions, then, are morally neutral. Let me give you an example: anger can be both good and bad.
If you get angry for carnal reasons such as pride or laziness, you’ve sinned; but if you get angry when the glory of God is at stake, as the blessed Lord Jesus did in the Temple, then such a wrath is thoroughly praiseworthy. Emotions can be both good and bad. It all depends on the root. The Lord weighs the spirit.
Now, as well as recognizing the importance of our emotions, we must be careful not to deify them. If Post-Modernism has been useful for anything, it is for its emphasis on the Modern danger of deifying reason. Nevertheless, Post-Modernism’s Achilles’ Heel is the opposite mistake, that is, glorifying subjective emotions to the point that they become the new foundation of Western religion.
Sadly, this kind of thinking has been making itself more than a little known in the Evangelical sector of the church, above all in congregations where the Church no longer revolves around Scripture but around human impressions, sensations and emotions.
I.- Emotions during Praise-time
This new Post-Modern or emergent tendency produces a style of Sunday praise wholly focused upon the feelings and actions of the worshipper. There are so many famous songs nowadays that have nothing to do with the glory of God. They merely talk about the plight of the worshipper and his/ her subjective religious sentiments. Yes, plenty of these contemporary songs produce tears; but for a song to be theologically correct, it has to do something more than touch us emotionally. It has to be biblical!
All this means that there are a host of modern-day praise groups and singers whose ministries now longer depend upon the truth of the Gospel but upon religious sensations. As a general rule, what really counts during praise-time is no longer the biblical depth and quality of the songs, but the multi-coloured fluorescent lights, the rhythm, the volume of the loudspeakers, raw musical talent and the personality cult.
I mean, it’s almost impossible to go to a youth retreat in these days without ending praise-time with a pounding headache. You can’t even hear yourself sing anymore! This is not God’s plan for praise. Such ministries cannot be scripturally justified.
Happily, in the midst of this current praise pigsty, there are dear brothers and sisters who are not giving into the seduction of success and popularity, opting to stick to Scripture with a good musical ethic and composing songs in the fear of the Lord and with a passion for sound doctrine.
Taking this route isn’t easy because it means that they’re probably not going to get those 50,000 followers that so many other Christian artists already have on Facebook; or maybe they’re not going to be invited to the next big nation-wide Evangelical conference.
But there they are, faithful as the Lord commanded, glorifying Him according to the gifts He has given them. Their Father will reward them abundantly even if they don’t get a taste of worldly glory.
Christian music is not the only area that’s being threatened by the monster of emotionalism; but the Protestant pulpit is having to face the same enemy.
II.- Emotions during Preaching-time
Preachers, although you may not believe so, also feel pressure. The great temptation for today’s heralds of Christ is to be cool, relevant and chummy.
This state of affairs leads to a novel type of preaching founded upon human emotions. In contrast to the giants of the Protestant pulpit such as the Reformers, the Puritans and the likes of Whitefield, Edwards, Ryle, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones, now everything’s just about application, application and more application.
Instead of drawing near to the biblical text asking: “What does the Lord want to teach His people through this passage?”, today’s preacher runs the risk of coming under the spirit of Post-Modern gurus enquiring: “What Bible verse can I best use to impact my church? What tale can I tell them so that they all break down? What testimony could I employ to get them all out to the altar once the message’s finished?” Their whole preparation time is given over to musing about the effects produced in the congregation; not the truth of the biblical text itself.
Rather than a God-centred approach which, as it should be pointed out, will always feed the true sheep of the Lord, the present drift is man-centred. Just as with the theme of music, success is no longer based upon fidelity to the Word but the emotional reactions discharged from certain messages.
Over the years I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard verses like “I can do all things in Christ” or “I know the plans I have for you” announced with a triumphalistic spirit without any mention of the immediate biblical context whatsoever! This is infidelity! Again, I confess that such a way of preaching can raise spirits momentarily however it continues to be a distortion of God’s pure voice.
III.- Emotions in Protestant history
Our gloomy situation is not new. The founding-father of this emotionalist movement was called Friedrich Schleiermacher. In his systematic theology, ‘The Christian Faith’ (1822), he redefined Christianity in terms of human emotions and feelings. Christian theology, as far as he was concerned, was to live with “the experience of an absolute dependence upon God”. From that man-centred basis, Schleiermacher constructed his theological system.
The problem of course is that Schleiermacher was no longer penning a treatise upon theology but anthropology. Instead of starting with the revelation of God in the face of Christ, Schleiermacher began with ambiguous human faith.
What were the effects of such a theological method? Well, disaster after disaster! Theological Liberalism was born and the world has been under its curse ever since. Schleiermacher denied pretty much every cardinal Christian doctrine: the Trinity, the double-nature of Christ, His atoning work and the personality of the Holy Spirit, not to mention a myriad of other heresies. It’s not for nothing that some have dubbed him the “Judas Iscariot” of the XVIII and XIX centuries.
What I’m trying to say with the aforementioned is that our current situation is by no means new. History is repeating itself right before our very eyes. Sooner or later all of these contemporary Post-Modern theologians and singers that we admire so much are going to deny the faith in their craze to be relevant, popular and “authentic” (things which the Word never praises).
If you don’t believe me, read the biographies of any of the emergent spokesmen that rose up a few years back and look where they’re at today (Brian MacLaren, Doug Pagitt and Rob Bell come to mind). When we put anything or anyone above the written Word of God, the Church will always end up being damaged.
Let us wake up and learn from these vital errors so that the same trash that paralyzed the Church in the States will not do the same with us over here in Europe. Let us be wary of artists and preachers who only play to human emotions and do not minister in the spirit of classical Protestantism.
The doctrine of God matters.
The truth of God matters.
And our emotions must not prevail against them; but rather be subject to them.
Soli Deo Gloria!