It is very easy to get engrossed in all the arguments for God. People like me love to demonstrate the scientific and philosophical evidence for God. And there are good reasons for us to expose the ethical vacuum we create when we remove God from the culture. These are the kinds of things on which I focus a lot of time, energy, reading, and teaching. It’s good to know things about God. But people like me must also realize that knowing about God can become a distracting detour from the primary purpose of our lives — the pursuit of God. We have heads and hearts. And a balanced faith requires that we engage both.
One Wing, Won’t Fly
When I was in the Marine Corps, one of my best friends was involved in a mid-air collision. He was flying a Harrier that collided with an F-18 Hornet at a closure speed of nearly 900 miles per hour. His recollection of the impact was astounding. He vividly remembered seeing the left-wing of his Harrier twist and disintegrate after it contacted the left horizontal stabilizer of the Hornet. Time seemed to stop. And for a brief moment, he remembered thinking, “I may be able to fly this thing.”
His optimism was short-lived. As the thought was still echoing in his head, his airplane snap-rolled to the left. The sky became a swirling blur. He immediately reached for the ejection handle and pulled.
The team that investigated the accident estimated that in the short time it took him to recognize his plight, my friend’s Harrier had dropped several thousand feet. His jet was traveling more than 500 miles per hour when he ejected. A few minutes later, he was sitting in a life raft in the Atlantic Ocean eating Chiclets. Not a scratch on him.
I don’t know if my buddy’s story constitutes a “miracle,” but I do know this. Airplanes with one wing can’t fly.
The futility of trying to fly a one-winged airplane popped into my head recently when I began reading a book that has been sitting in my bookcase, untouched, for several years. John Piper’s Desiring God is a Christian classic and an eye-opening treat.
I have to admit my first reaction to Piper’s call to “Christian Hedonism” was negative. The word “hedonism” just sounds bad to me. But I would encourage you to listen to his entire argument. He makes a clear, biblical case for grounding our lives in the idea that:
The chief end of man is to glorify God
enjoying him forever.
Some of it is still sinking in. I have to consider it more deeply. And I have no intention of analyzing that concept point-by-point. I simply want to focus on the message that came through loud and clear to me. That there is an affective element to the Christian faith that people like me minimize to our own detriment.
The Touchy-Feely Church
To be honest, I have become jaded, even antagonistic, toward this notion. I have a natural aversion to the feelings-based thoughtlessness of the American church in general. History shows that many of the denominations that exist in America today were born during the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. The emotional appeals of those “Awakenings” were relevant and proper. But they also helped to produce an anti-intellectualism in the American church. Today we live in its aftermath.
I believe and defend the claim that this trend is not only dangerous but unbiblical. Christianity has never been based on the mindless acceptance of a blind leap of faith. It has always been anchored in intellectual assent to the objective truth that Christ embodied. Faith is a thoughtful, willful decision. I have been convinced of that for a long time.
But then Piper hit me with this (p. 247):
“It is astonishing to me that so many people try to define true Christianity in terms of decisions and not affections. Not that decisions are unessential. The problem is that they require so little transformation to achieve. They are evidence of no true work of grace in the heart. People can make “decisions” about the truth of God while their hearts are far from him.”
You Need Both
This is something we know, but that is easy for someone like me to forget. A wooden, intellectually-centered faith is just as dangerous as an emotion-centered faith. Neither works by itself.
We were told to “love our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.” We don’t get to pick our favorite way to love our God. It takes our heads and our hearts working together in holistic unity. Piper again (p. 76):
“Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers … On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone marrow of biblical worship.”
Put another way, a life of faith needs two wings to fly.
A Spectrum Of Faith
All of us are different. Some are driven more by feelings and emotions. Others by reason. But these shouldn’t be polarizing. As I have heard Greg Koukl put it, “emotion makes life delicious; reason keeps life safe.” We ignore either of them at our own peril.
Instead, they form the two ends of a spectrum of spirituality. A real and vibrant faith lies somewhere in the middle. When Christ told us that he came so that we “may have life, and have it to the full,” this is what I believe he meant.
So where are you on the spectrum? And what do you have to do to work your way toward the balanced life of faith that should be yours?
Recommended resources related to the topic:
Jesus, You and the Essentials of Christianity – Episode 14 Video DOWNLOAD by Frank Turek (DVD)
Letters to a Young Progressive by Mike Adams (Book)
Bob Perry is a Christian apologetics writer, teacher, and speaker who blogs about Christianity and the culture at truehorizon.org. He is a Contributing Writer for the Christian Research Journal and has also been published in Touchstone and Salvo. Bob is a professional aviator with 37 years of military and commercial flying experience. He has a B.S., Aerospace Engineering from the U. S. Naval Academy, and a M.A., Christian Apologetics from Biola University. He has been married to his high school sweetheart since 1985. They have five grown sons.
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