What happens when we are not grounded in our faith intellectually, and instead rely solely on our feelings?
It feels like a big question. An important question.
This fall I read again through Paul’s letters to the churches. One of the greatest pitfalls of the early church was false teaching. False prophets would blow through towns with new fads, watering down the gospel. This grieved Paul and he continually reminded the believers of the original and potent gospel of Jesus. The gospel that had not and would not change.
We live in challenging times where we are experiencing cultural shifts at a speed that is unprecedented. (Can anyone say whiplash?!?) Like in Paul’s day, there are teachers who are re-writing the gospel, re-packaging it for a new generation, watering it down to make it more palatable. Culture is working hard to “shape us” into its own image.
A few years ago I was invited into an academic setting to share my experience of being an ordained woman in pastoral ministry. I agreed to go, but said I would not enter into a debate and instead would simply share my story. After the presentation the professor gave me some unexpected feedback. He noted that I was approaching the subject with a “hermeneutic of feeling.” Now hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of scripture and this prof was observing that my understanding of being free to minister as a woman was not based on solid scriptural support, but rather on my “feelings” on the subject. I am not going to lie, it was a hard moment in my life and frankly felt a bit unfair, but I learned something valuable:
I needed to strengthen my mind. I needed to strengthen my thinking around what scripture says. I believed that as a woman I was free to minister, but had I done the rigorous intellectual work around it?
In Mark 12:29-30, in an encounter with the religious leaders Jesus said this:
‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’
Have you ever thought about loving God with your mind? To not just emotionally respond to Him but to work to understand who He is and how He operates.
We have all been given the incredible gift of our mind. We are able to think, reason and judge and in this we are fashioned after our creator. It is a part of how we bear God’s image and because of this, each of us bears responsibility to develop our mental capacities to their fullest. Not all of us will be academics, but all of us are called to love God with our minds.
We need to stretch ourselves. I love the example of Elizabeth, who is a part of my church community. Even though she has been retired for many years, she continues to take courses in order to “keep fresh.” She stretches herself. (I want to be like Elizabeth when I grow up!)
Here are some ideas for you:
Take a class at a local college, university or seminary in a subject of interest. Too intimidating? Consider auditing the class.
Join a bible study that’s central focus is diving deep into the Word. Do your homework!
Download podcasts of reputable teachers. You can use your commute in the morning to learn. If your commute is 45 min long, that translates to 367.5 hours yearly. Imagine what you could learn in that time?
Take one topic a year to explore. Choose from the traditional branches of theological study
Church history – We are a product of “the church” that is 2000 years old, and as my professor Dr. Van Johnson said, you can’t really know who you are unless you understand where you come from!
Biblical studies – This concerns the interpretation of scripture where the goal is to understand the meaning of the text as it was written for the original audience and then (and only then) drawing out conclusions from it for our use today.
Systematic theology – The study of Christian doctrines
Ethics – Based on what we understand about God’s words and His works, how then shall we live? What a great question! Based on what we understand about God:
What is our relationship with money?
How do we operate in a consumer world?
What is marriage?
Are we free to have any kind of sex we want?
These are BIG QUESTIONS and they cannot be answered with our “feelings.”
Apologetics – This is not “apologizing” for our faith. Rather, it is this: How do we rationally explain and defend our faith today in this age of unbelief? I Peter 3:15 says, “If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” The “Hermeneutic of Feeling” doesn’t cut it with our friends and neighbours.
Why does this matter?
As I said before, we are in an unprecedented season of change and all of us are susceptible to the winds that will blow. We are vulnerable to false teaching that tries to pass itself as the gospel. It reminds me of the picture in James 1:6, where the believer is blown and tossed by the wind, being unstable in everything they do. They have no confidence and the results are devastating.
Now, more than ever, we need to be grounded in our faith and strengthening our minds grounds us.
You are being shaped each and every day through every conversation, every random blog, every viral video and every social media post. Therefore, it is imperative that you ground yourself in the truth and use the Gospel to shape who you are and how you live.