Emotion in Christian Anthropology

Emotion in Christian Anthropology

Dr. Brian G. Mattson

Senior Scholar of Public Theology, Center for Cultural Leadership

Relational Wisdom 360 is committed to helping Christians better understand their relationships with God and with others. Integral to this is understanding God, ourselves, and others—particularly becoming aware of what motivates us in these relationships. God-awareness, self-awareness, and other-awareness cannot be complete without taking into account the emotional life, because our inner desires, affections, and passions are key motivating factors in our relationships (James 4:1-3).

This essay will probe the place of emotions in the Christian life. Some Christians are enthusiastic (pun intended) about the emotions, often to the point that their theology is driven by how they “feel” at a given moment. Others, sometimes due to this negative example, are more wary of the emotional life, often to the point where passions and affections are suppressed. This essay seeks to point the way toward a more fruitful integration of our minds, hearts, and wills.

Seeking Balance and Relational Wisdom

Sinners are in desperate need of balance in all aspects of life. We are squirrely tires, jerking this way and that, wanting to go anywhere but smoothly down the road. Left to ourselves, we think white is black and black white, good is evil and evil good. In its bracing and stark way, the Bible indicts us with the madness of rejecting our Creator and worshiping and serving created things (Rom. 1:18-25). You cannot get more 180 degrees backward than that (c.f., Isa. 44:9-20)!

We are often self-deceived in our thoughts, perceptions, emotions, actions and reactions. We separate things God has joined together and we join together what God has separated. We exalt things that should be humbled and we humble things that should be exalted. We emphasize peripheral issues and banish to the periphery things of central importance.

Much of the Christian life, being renewed in the image of our Creator, is about becoming “balanced,” rediscovering the unity of God’s world, how he intended things to relate and fit together: God and creation, God and humanity, humanity and creation, human beings with one another. In a sense, given our new birth, we need to learn anew the way God has fashioned the world. This is relational wisdom.

But when I say “balance,” it might seem as though I am saying nothing other than what Greek philosophers, Yoga instructors, and small, green, grammatically challenged Jedi masters have been teaching for millennia. Finding “balance” in life, too, they speak. Aristotle called it the “golden mean,” that “middle” place between two opposing extremes. Meditation and yoga exercises are designed to bring into proper balance the spiritual and the physical, mind and body, “yin” and “yang,” or the dark and light sides of “the Force.”

But that isn’t what biblical balance is about. You see, in Greek philosophy, eastern religions, and the mind of George Lucas, the idea of balance is to bring together two basically antagonistic things or principles, things that don’t really fit, never have, and never will. The spiritual and the material, soul and body, are basically incompatible in these worldviews; the “spiritual” is the real you, and your body is an unwieldy appendage (especially in the case of Yoga). Any “balance” achieved is therefore temporary or illusory, like suspending oil in water. We are just managing the tension, standing in the middle of the balance beam, not really resolving anything. The ultimate goal in these worldviews is to transcend the one (e.g., the material body) to achieve the true bliss of the other (e.g., spiritual nirvana).

But in the Christian worldview, soul and body, spiritual and material, are not fundamentally antagonistic or incompatible. Whatever tensions we feel are not natural, not something merely to be managed, because God made the spiritual and material worlds in beautiful unity and harmony. In the beginning it was all “very good” (Gen. 1:31). And, amazingly, his grand purpose is to renew and restore that harmony when he raises us to be like the Resurrected Jesus on the final day and we are at last given physical bodies so Spirit-filled and incorruptible they can be called “spiritual bodies” (1 Cor. 15:42-44). In other words, this harmony is hope for a Christian, but an oxymoron for both Greeks and Gurus.

What gets us out of balance? It is sin, not our bodies, our time, our busyness, our work, our relationships, or our kids. Unless it is strictly muscular flexibility you’re after, repentance is the better remedy than a Yoga workout.

Trinity and Cosmic Unity

As creatures, the need to have biblical “balance,” that recurring impulse to find the proper relationships and unity between things, is actually rooted in who God is. God is triune: In his one, undivided essence he exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unity and diversity; oneness and three-ness; perfectly harmonious, eternal, complex relationships characterize God himself. And because this triune God is the creator of all things, the cosmos as he created it exhibits true unity and diversity, or, we might say, “balance” or “fitness.” This is not at all the same thing as bringing together antagonistic forces, no more than are the Persons of the Trinity antagonistic to each other. In fact, the word “universe” originates here: uni(ty) + (di)versity.

This seems far afield from the topic at hand, but I promise we are getting there. I bring up the Trinity not just because it is basic to theological reflection on unity and diversity, but because the history of the doctrine itself shows what happens when, as sinners, we get things out of whack and emphasize one thing to the exclusion of others.

When God the Father is emphasized to the diminishment of Son and Spirit—as in, say, the ancient heresy of Arianism—the result is a cold, aloof, and lifeless God. One might warm up to the created (at best) semi-gods, Son and Spirit, but never to God himself. When God the Son is emphasized to the diminishment of Father and Spirit, as in ancient Gnostic heresies, the result is the same: One might warm up to Jesus, but “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” remains mysterious, cold, or even—as the Gnostics had it—an ever-present lurking evil.

Or one might emphasize the Holy Spirit and let Father and Son recede out of the spotlight, as in the ancient heresy of Montanism. The result is no better. The Spirit is full of life and joy, spontaneity, creativity, and freedom, while the Father and Son are then viewed as lifeless, bookish, and irrelevant intellectual curiosities.

When we understand and know the Trinity properly, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in an eternal, vibrant, joyous fellowship that now—through Christ—includes us(!), when we worship, adore, and serve the whole “three-person’d God” (to use poet John Donne’s phrase), then our theology will be in proper harmony.1

So our “God-awareness” and “God-engagement” can get off-kilter when we separate what belongs together, like Father, Son, and Spirit. Mess that up and we won’t really know God at all! But this is not just a danger with respect to God (theology); it also threatens our awareness and understanding of ourselves (anthropology).

Imago Dei and Human Faculties

Human beings are, after all, the creaturely image and likeness of God. And we are image-bearers in our whole persons, not just this or that particular aspect like, say, the soul as opposed to the body.2 Individually we are remarkable unities (there is only one “me” and only one “you”), and yet we each exhibit a diversity of faculties. I do not believe it’s accidental that human faculties are generally classed into three categories. We have intellects, emotions, and actions; or we could characterize it as minds, hearts, and wills; or, to really bring it down to street-level, we have heads, hearts, and hands. These faculties relate to the three traditional areas of human interest: truth (head), beauty (hearts), and goodness (hands); or, as they put it in classic philosophy, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics.

John Calvin wisely cautioned us not to be overly speculative in trying to find Trinitarian “analogies” everywhere, but it seems to me we are hitting here on a pretty firm one.3 These faculties are completely different; our minds—what we think and know—are very different, indeed, than what we feel emotionally. Often they are in conflict! And what we feel emotionally is a very different sort of thing from what we say and do—the actions of our will. And yet, my “head” is my head; it is what I think and know. My “heart” is my heart; it is how I feel inside. And my “hands” are my hands, what I say and do. Unity, and yet diversity!4 Nineteenth century American theologian Charles Hodge put it well, responding to those who locate regeneration exclusively in the feelings or heart:

This theory overlooks what the Bible constantly assumes: the unity of our inward life. The Scriptures do not contemplate the intellect, the will, and the affections, as independent, separable elements of a composite whole. These faculties are only different forms of activity in one and the same subsistence. No exercise of the affections can occur without an exercise of the intellect, and, if the object be moral or religious, without including a correspondent exercise of our moral nature.5

And just as we can get off-kilter in how we relate the persons of the Trinity, we can wrongly relate our human faculties. If we mess up the first, we won’t really know God; if we mess up the other, we won’t really know ourselves.

God and Emotions

If human beings are the image and likeness of God and human beings have emotional faculties, does it follow that God himself also has emotional faculties? The answer is an obvious yes. Nobody can read the Bible without encountering a very emotional God! He is pleased, angered, provoked, delighted, compassionate, merciful, and so on. God has a complex emotional life, and anyone who denies this simply has not read the Bible very carefully.6

But simply saying that does not alleviate all problems. The Bible is equally clear that God is not like human beings. In fact, orthodox Christianity has always held that one of God’s attributes is his “impassibility,” i.e., “without passions.” How can this possibly square with the immensely passionate God we encounter in Scripture? Some people respond to this discrepancy by alleging that early Christian theologians were influenced by Greco-Roman philosophy, and thus conceived of God as a cold, “above it all,” deity who does not involve himself in the affairs of space and time. This is not correct. Those Christian theologians had very good reasons to believe in divine impassibility, and they did not mean by it that God does not have emotions!

What they meant by impassibility is that God does not experience emotion in the same way as human beings experience emotion. Our emotions are often brought about by situations and events completely outside our control; we are basically reactive. But God is the self-determining sovereign, completely and utterly in control. He is not captive to his own creation and events in space and time. Things do not take God “by surprise.” This means that God’s emotions do not affect him involuntarily or unexpectedly. God has meaningful emotional experiences, without a doubt, but they are meaningful in a way consistent with his self-sufficiency, freedom, and sovereignty. J.I. Packer writes that God’s impassibility is

not impassivity, unconcern, and impersonal detachment in the face of creation; not insensitivity and indifference to the distresses of a fallen world; not inability or unwillingness to empathize with human pain and grief; but simply that God’s experiences do not come upon him as ours come upon us, for his are foreknown, willed and chosen by himself, and are not involuntary surprises forced on him from outside, apart from his own decision, in the way that ours regularly are.7

The doctrine of divine impassibility was not developed in order to turn God into the cold, abstract, lifeless Greek god of Aristotle and Plato. On the contrary, it was to ensure that God’s emotions are viewed in ways compatible with who God really is: the sovereign creator and sustainer of all things. Ironically, a God who is not transcendent, free, and in control, who only reacts begrudgingly or unwillingly to human events, resembles Zeus and Apollo and Athena! Divine impassibility was not a concession to Greek philosophy, but a guard against it.

Finding a Biblical Balance

At any point in history, if we were to grab a “snapshot” in time, we could identify various groups emphasizing one human faculty to the exclusion of others. One group is mired in rationalistic “dead orthodoxy” (head), another in a wild and exciting “Spirit-led” mysticism (heart), or another only engaged in this-worldly “social” programs (hands). And yet, if we were to back up the tape and “let it roll,” so to speak, we would likely find that these groups are doing what they do in reaction to what other people were doing before them. The Apostle James puts it well: he who doubts and lacks wisdom is “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Or, to use my earlier metaphor, like squirrely tires—when they take us off the road to the left, we over-correct and end up in a ditch on the other side.

Everyone is aware, even if just implicitly, of a perennial running debate about whether we should be “head” Christians or “heart” Christians, or whether we should be concerned with saving souls or caring for material needs. The whole problem is that stubborn, silly word “whether.”For these things are hardly real alternatives! It is like the waiter asking whether I want coffee or cream and sugar. But the so-called “heart” Christian, silly as it might seem, is reacting against something real, not entirely imaginary. This person did not wake up one day and decide that the mind and intellect are dangerous and that we should just run on feelings. An attraction to “heart” (as opposed to “head”) Christianity is likely brought about because some preachers, teachers, and communities overemphasize theological knowledge to the point where the orthodoxy (“right doctrine”) is unassailable from outward appearances, but the orthopathy (“right heart”) seems cold and dead. It is a very real phenomenon that “head” Christians may be brilliant, but they are often seen as uncaring, insensitive, obnoxious know-it-alls.

On the other hand, people who grow up in, say, radical Pentecostal circles where everything is about emotions and how one “feels” often flee in their adulthood to those “head” churches, where they find the doctrinal content intellectually stimulating and personally grounding. The orthopathy in charismatic circles is white-hot from outward appearances, but the orthodoxy is sometimes nowhere to be found. This also is a very real phenomenon.

Still others see churches so overly devoted to knowledge (head) or evangelism (heart) that they end up being attracted to socially-conscious churches, the ones running soup kitchens and building Habitat for Humanity houses on Saturdays (hands, or orthopraxy).

Emphasis is not a bad thing, of course. God does call and gift different people and communities in diverse ways. The danger arises when we start using those words “whether” and “either/or.” That is a sure signal that we are dealing with overemphasis. And it seems that sometimes we just cannot stop ourselves from being unbalanced.

We can see this historically in a great debate about the “seat of religion.” What is the essential religious faculty? Which faculty truly connects us to God? Which one is an adequate instrument to receive the divine? Is it the intellect, or is it the heart, or is it the will?

Enlightenment rationalists like G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) were firm: mind is the religious faculty, for God is absolute and ultimate rationality. Not so for Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who believed that God could not be “known.” He taught that the essential religious faculty is the will, obedience to the moral duty of the “categorical imperative.”

Reacting against the cold rationalism of Hegel and the dead legalism of Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) declared the heart or the emotions to be the locus of our religious consciousness. Indeed, the foundation of his entire theology was our “feeling of absolute dependence” on God. And so Schleiermacher’s Romanticism was, in many ways, a predictable reaction to the magisterial exaltation of Hegel’s Reason and Kant’s Will in Enlightenment philosophy and theology.

From our long-term historical vantage point, this all seems quite senseless. But before you judge too harshly, keep in mind that we often spot the “either/or’s” and “whethers” at a distance and miss them in the heat of the moment. That does not make the consequences of these exaggerations any less serious.

Exalting Reason, Intellect, or Mind to the lone post of religious faculty, so to speak, led to the coldest of dead theologies. Hegel’s abstract, intellectual theology was designed to freeze at his goal of absolute zero—the point where our minds are literally coextensive with God’s. It was no theology at all; it was pantheism. Fancy that: the idolatry of mind led to deifying our own minds. Who could have imagined that? It means faith is pure mental assent, knowing the right things, and having nothing to do with things like affections or trust.

Promoting Will and Obedience to chair the religion faculty, as Kant did, led to pure legalistic moralism, for Kant was himself a pure philosophical Pelagian.8 He taught that faith has nothing to do with knowledge or our affections, just the sheer duty of our wills.

And replacing Mind and Will with Feeling fares no better, as Schleiermacher’s theology, devoid of intellectual content and propositional revelation, devolves into pure mysticism. To him, faith was all about affections, but certainly not knowledge or trust.

These are complex historical examples I’ve greatly simplified, and I can simplify still more.9

We all know Christians who are enamored with knowledge—and it tends to puff them up, as the Bible warns us. They can lack love.

We all know Christians, too, who are enamored with emotions and affections—but “it is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way” (Prov. 19:2; c.f., Romans 10:2). Neglecting the mind and truth can certainly lead one astray, particularly when mystical experiences become the guiding factor in a Christian’s life. As some clever fellow recently wrote on Facebook: “‘God told me’ is not a substitute for ‘The Bible says.’”

Or, on the other hand, we know of Christians who care not for either knowledge or affections, but are enamored with action and doing the right thing. But at the end of that road is a stale, legalistic, judgmental moralist, not someone abounding in the fruits of the Spirit.

Notice that what each of these approaches does is assume from the outset disunity or disharmony between our faculties.10 Yet, as Charles Hodge rightly perceived, the Bible assumes the unity of our inner life, between our heads, hearts, and hands. This is why, in fact, the Bible uses the word “heart” quite differently than I have so far in this essay. In the interests of clarity, I am using the word to focus on our emotional lives, but in the Bible it is far more expansive than that. “Heart” in Scripture refers to the whole person, the subject of our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Nineteenth century Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck describes the heart as the “seat and fountain of man’s entire psychic life, of emotions and passions, of desire and will, even of thinking and knowing.”11 It is the same “I” who thinks, feels, and does; the Bible often uses the word “heart” to describe “me.”

Yet our faculties are different. Thinking and analyzing is a different sort of thing from feeling and intuiting. But our faculties are also inseparable. You cannot have one without the other. There is no such thing as “thinking” something without, at the same time, having a feeling about that something.

Theologian John Frame notes that even his most intellectual academic work (reading and reviewing a book, for example) would be useless without feelings or emotions.12 For if a book does not provoke any feelings or emotions, he would not bother reading it! Oftentimes such feelings precede what one thinks. For example, I know that I often read a theological work and something about it “bothers” me (emotions) long before I have intellectually analyzed precisely why the book bothers me (mind). In fact, it is often only the initial emotion that prompts me to go back and work through it with my mind.

On the other hand, there is no such thing as “feeling” something that has no cognitive content, even if it is only implicit and we are unable to articulate it (Rom. 8:26). We ask people how they feel “about” something, which is another way of asking how they feel toward something, an object, a person, a situational context, and so forth. Our feelings have objects and intentions, even if we have difficulty describing them.

We could expand this to include the will or our actions, but I trust there is no need. The will (decision making) cannot operate properly without intellectual and emotional input. In fact, we have a word to describe people who do things with no thoughts, no rationale, and with no particular feeling or motive: insane. We generally do not even hold them criminally liable for their actions! We recognize such people as having a fundamental deficiency in their humanity; this same appraisal extends to those whose intellect is disconnected from the emotions and will, or whose emotions are disconnected from the intellect and will.

In most of life we intuitively know that a healthy human being will exhibit great unity in his (admittedly, diverse) faculties. So let us renounce our arguing about whether we should be “head” or “heart” Christians, and let us pursue the wholeness that God offers to us through Christ.

When the Bible speaks of regeneration, the new birth, and conforming us to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, who is the true “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), it includes each and every one of our faculties: our minds (e.g., Rom. 12:2), our emotions (e.g., Rom. 12:9-12), and our wills (e.g., Rom. 13:8-10). So we should resist the temptation to prioritize one faculty over another. The Christian life is about conforming our whole selves to God: heads, hearts, and hands. Our faculties are mutually dependent and one is no more important than another. As John Frame wisely writes:

It is true, of course, that people sometimes ‘follow their feelings,’ rather than thinking responsibly. But it is also the case that people sometimes follow rationalistic schemes that run contrary to what they know in their ‘guts’ (feelings) to be true. God gives us multiple faculties to serve as a sort of internal system of checks and balances. Sometimes reason saves us from emotional craziness, but emotions can also check the extravagant pretenses of reason.13

The answer to an undue emphasis on the mind is not Schleiermacher’s answer: a retreat to romantic emotionalism. And the answer to Schleiermacher’s romanticism is not a swing back to intellectualism or even a this-worldly emphasis on social action (e.g., Albrecht Ritschl’s “social gospel”). All these “solutions” assume that one human faculty is primary or more “godly,” and ignore the biblical teaching that our faculties are distinct but inseparable.

The truth is that the Christian life is a progressive restoration to the image and likeness of God, a rediscovery and renewal of the blessed unity and harmony of all our faculties as our triune God created them.

God does not want your mind. God does not want your heart. God does not want your will.

We are slow learners, for we should have known as much from the First Great Commandment: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5).

God wants the whole you.

 

A Brief Excursus on the Emotions in the Reformed Tradition

In this essay I made a conscious decision to quote Charles Hodge because he represents the kind of person who often has been unjustly interpreted as having a rationalist streak (i.e., prioritizing the intellect and downplaying the emotions). This is Hodge, the Princeton theologian influenced by rationalist-leaning Scottish “Common Sense Realism,” the ardent defender of “propositional” revelation.

There is something to this characterization. People did not just make up the caricature out of whole cloth. But the caricature is still skewed; as a result Hodge and his entire school of thought (literally, Princeton Theological Seminary) have often been viewed as having a dim view of human emotions and locating the theological task primarily to the brain. This assessment of Hodge applies retroactively to his own theological tradition, the 17th and 18th century Reformed scholastic writers, who are likewise accused of cold intellectualism and viewing faith as mere mental assent to propositional truths. And the critique moves forward in time, as well, to his Princeton successor, one of the greatest of American theological giants, Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield.

I address this excursus to two groups: those who would criticize the alleged intellectualism in the Reformed scholastics, Hodge, and the Old Princeton tradition, and those who celebrate them for it. The former group views Reformed theology as quintessential “head” Christianity and desires to throw it out for a more emotionally sensitive version of Christian theology. The latter are suspicious of more emotionally sensitive theology and flee to the “head” Christianity of the Reformed tradition as an antidote. Both groups are wrong. Over the past couple of decades scholarly research about the Reformed scholastics of the 17th and 18th centuries has generally put the lie to this caricature. These men were warmly devotional and pastoral, as well as intellectually rigorous.14

And this applies to the “Old Princeton” tradition moving forward from Hodge, as well. B.B. Warfield is likewise often thought to be a rationalistic “head” theologian. How that image emerged mystifies me. One of Warfield’s most popular essays is a lecture he gave, “The Religious Life of Theological Students,” in which he insists, in no uncertain terms, that the student must never do theology unless it is accompanied by a warm, devotional spirit. Speaking of the tendency to separate the “heart” from the “head,” he wrote: “Nothing could be more fatal … than to set these two things over against one another.”15 In addition, one might consult a section of his book, The Person and Work of Christ, for his monumental exploration of what he called “The Emotional Life of Our Lord.”16 B.B. Warfield did not downplay the role of human emotions in his Christology, much less his anthropology!17

 

Brian MBrian Mattson, Ph.D.

Senior Scholar of Public Theology, Center for Cultural Leadership

Brian Mattson is a theologian, writer, speaker, singer/songwriter and independent recording artist, avid follower of current events, cultural and political, as well as the Minnesota Twins Baseball Club.

He has a B.A. from Montana State University-Billings, an M.A.R. from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the University of Aberdeen (Scotland).

He currently serves as Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center for Cultural Leadership. He blogs at his website, www.drbrianmattson.com, hosts and directs a weekly web video series on Christianity and culture, Dead Reckoning, also available as a weekly hour-long podcast. He is author of the popular-level book, Politics & Evangelical Theology, and a major academic monograph on 19th century theologian Herman Bavinck, Restored To Our Destiny. He likes people to “like” his public Facebook pages (“Dr. Brian G. Mattson” and “Dead Reckoning”) and to follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson).

He lives in Billings, Montana with his wife and two daughters, where he goes fly-fishing at every opportunity.


1It is no accident that RW360’s “circle of relational wisdom” is threefold. (1) God-awareness and engagement, (2) self-awareness and engagement, and (3) other-awareness and engagement are together an unfolding of the relationships that the Triune God intended for his creatures.

2C.f., Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin & Salvation in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 553-55.

3John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.xv.4. His caution, of course, is not that such reflection is inherently wrong or impossible; only that the reality of our sin should make us modest. Even keeping that in mind, the “three-foldness” of so much of our knowledge and experience is quite overwhelming. John Frame collects a vast number of “triads” in Appendix A of his book, The Doctrine of God, everything from the triadic musical chord to the significance of “three” in a “Three guys walk into a bar…” joke. (Really: the joke doesn’t work without “three,” or with more than three.) The analogy I am drawing between intellect, heart, and will with the Trinity here is not original, but has a lengthy history in orthodox Christian thought. C.f., Augustine, De Trinitate, IX-X.

4Out of an abundance of caution, I will simply repeat that this is an analogy of what the Trinity is like. My head, heart, and hands are, obviously, not like the three distinct persons of the Trinity. If this analogy were pressed as a one-to-one (or “univocal”) comparison, I would end up with a form of Sabellianism (i.e., the heresy of modalism). As every Trinitarian theologian has quickly discovered, we make analogies at our peril: a creaturely image of the Triune God will inevitably be, well, creaturely, and thus limited in its usefulness. Augustine rightly says (ironically with reference to the Sabellians): “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][H]uman language labors altogether under great poverty of speech.” De Trinitate, V.9.

5Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3.16.

6I cannot do better than recommend John Piper’s classic essay, “Are There Two Wills in God?” He brilliantly explores what he calls the “infinitely complex emotional life of God.” The essay is helpfully available online: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/are-there-two-wills-in-god

7J.I. Packer, “Theism for Our Time,” in God Who Is Rich in Mercy, ed. Peter O’Brien and David G. Peterson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 17, cited in the most recent, helpful, and accessible treatment of divine impassibility, Rob Lister’s book, God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 33.

8Reading through Kant’s classic Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) a few years ago, it struck me that it is, through and through, a purely philosophic defense of the early heretic Pelagius.

9Readers interested in a much less simplified version should consult Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Prolegomena (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 253-69.

10This dualistic assumption is a key legacy of Plato and has, unfortunately, made inroads into Christian theology from time to time. Philosopher Richard Sandlin describes this “classical” view: “[It] assumes that there is strict dualism between reason and emotion. On this view, pure reason and pure emotion, both untainted by the other, exist in competition with each other. However, [it is] unlikely that pure reason and pure emotion actually exist.” Richard A. Sandlin, Reason, Emotion, and Piety: Overcoming Impoverished Devotion (Mount Hermon: Center For Cultural Leadership, 2012).

11Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2: God & Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 556-57; c.f., John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1987), 322.

12Frame, DKG, 337.

13Frame, DKG, 336.

14See, for example, Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Prolegomena (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 83-84; The Philosophy of Revelation (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2003), 208: “The heart cannot be separated from the head, nor faith as trust from faith as knowledge.” It is particularly the work of Richard Muller that has undermined this caricature of the Reformed scholastic tradition: “[T]he generalization that the Reformers held a relational view of faith as trust or faithful apprehension of Christ, while the orthodox reduced faith to an assent to propositions, simply cannot hold: Both the Reformers and the Protestant orthodox insisted that faith consists both in assent to teachings and in trust,” Richard Muller, “Calvin and the ‘Calvinists,’ Part Two,” Calvin Theological Journal, 31 (1996), 144.

15This outstanding, classic essay can be found online at: http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj6g.pdf.

16B.B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1950), 93-145. Also available online at: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/emotionallife.html

17See Andy Naselli, “Warfield the Affectionate Theologian,” http://andynaselli.com/warfield-the-affectionate-theologian; also Fred G. Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 567-70.

Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
One Response to "Emotion in Christian Anthropology"

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    About Ken Sande

    Ken Sande is the founder of Peacemaker Ministries and Relational Wisdom 360. Trained as an engineer, lawyer and mediator, Ken has conciliated hundreds of family, business, church and legal conflicts. He teaches globally and has written numerous resources on building relationships and resolving conflict, including The Peacemaker, which has sold over 500,000 copies in seventeen languages.