The Division Between Thinking and Feeling

I was not raised in church, but had a healthy penchant for deep theological questioning from a young age. When I came to the church at first, it was a Baptist megachurch that I did not mesh well with. It wasn’t until high school that I found a church that I actually liked–a United Methodist Church with a charismatic/evangelical youth group that was very welcoming to me. I, being an emotional person, really enjoyed the deep evangelical emotive faith, even while I did not fully grasp a lot of the charismatic leanings of some of my youth leaders and fellow youth group participants. Nonetheless, I found a spiritual home that I could thrive in. Through this youth group, I was able to get a full scholarship to a great United Methodist college where I majored in religion and psychology. In those classes, I encountered deep theological questioning, higher criticism of the Bible, and news ways to think about my faith apart from the evangelical experience I had become acquainted with.

Soon, I began to shirk evangelical, expressive emotion for being more rational about my faith. I sought out theology books that had intellectual depth rather than books on what the Bible had to say about my life. I thrived in this too; I even found that I felt I had to impress some of my friends in the religious academy with just how much I lacked religious emotion. I began to scoff at advertisements for concert-style Christian revivals and worship services, using buzzwords like “get devastated in worship!” However, whenever I was alone in prayer or struggling with something, I found I prayed the same way I did when I was in youth group–with tears, with expression, talking to a personal deity.

I took a class on Fundamentalism and found that even though I wasn’t embracing the charismatic movement or evangelicalism anymore, there were still stark similarities between fundamentalist movements and the intellectual Christian left. Both have fears. The Religious Right have fears of their faith being challenging through intellectual discussion, moral reasoning, the Bible criticized and scrutinized. The Christian Left are often afraid of their faith being too personal, too emotional, too irrational, too influenced by groupthink and crowd persuasion. In doing so, there has developed a deep and sad rift between the everyday Christian’s heart and mind.

I recall the words of a hymn written by Charles Wesley:

Unite the pair so long disjoined;
Knowledge and vital piety;
Learning and holiness combined,
And truth and love let all men see

I’m trying to find that middle ground. I wouldn’t give up my intellectual curiosity for anything, but I think the Divine also delights in my natural emotion. While this doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily start going back to thousand-person worship arenas with people feeding off of crowd emotion and attributing it to God, I don’t think I need to be so afraid of feeling passionate about the person of Jesus or wanting to be a devoted disciple. Here’s to hoping my head and heart can work together instead of apart.


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