“To define saving faith apart from feelings… is futile.” -John Piper
John Piper is a total trip and he and I are seldom in agreement, but I think he really gets a few things right. That quote is from a tiny clip of his speech at the T4G conference. I can’t link to it, but it’s a common theme with him, as you can see from some of his prior articles and blog posts such as,“The Problem with American ‘Christianity’,” in which he says, “In the last 200 years, Christianity in America has been distorted — or, to use a more serious word, ravaged — Christianity in America has been ravaged by the dominant teaching that decisions for God are more basic in defining a Christian than delight in God.”
Lord, all in good humor here, but you better check me for a fever or a head injury, because I seem to be in complete agreement with John Piper….
So what triggered this post was a whole lot of objections to that statement of Piper’s, “To define saving faith apart from feelings… is futile.” He goes on to explain that he is using “feelings” in the context of “affections.” He tries removing some of the feeling adjectives from the Bible, to try and demonstrate what faith without affections might look like. It is indeed, futile. You simply cannot have an emotionally detached, intellectual faith devoid of feelings.
So, I was really curious about the outrage and also apparently, a glutton for punishment, so I poured over the complaints and asked a few questions. The essence of the objection is that we can’t control our feelings. We don’t want to be accused of, “not having enough faith” because we aren’t “feeling it.”
This was my conclusion:
We do have a great deal of control over our feelings, but I think many Christians falsely learned that feelings are bad, deceitful, and can’t be trusted. Then people are shamed for having feelings that are actually right on, but contrary to the dominant narrative being sold.
I need to really object to this modern, cultural idea that we can’t control or change our feelings. I have just seen that false narrative sow so much complete destruction. Talk about robbing people of their power. You become nothing more than a powerless victim of your own feelings. You have no authority or control! You’re ruled by the whims of your own biology.
With all good grace and humor here, I am frequently an emotionally over wrought middle age woman prone to melancholy and anxiety, and I can control my feelings, at least 90% of the time. It’s a discipline, it takes practice. You have to learn how to take your thoughts into captivity. When I am at rest, abiding in His peace, it is way more doable than in times of stress, but it is totally doable. We are not slaves to our own emotions.
Absolutely no one, except perhaps God Himself, should ever tell you how to feel or force you to feel something that you don’t. That much is true. If your feelings have been yanked around by other people, taking control yourself is going to be much more challenging. It’s a discipline, a life skill, it takes some practice, but it totally can be done.
I’m not a fan of repressing our feelings, but rather expressing and resolving them. I think we should talk to God about what we are feeling. The Bible is full of very passionate people expressing their feelings. There are lamentations, anger, grief, defiance, praise, you name it, somebody in the Bible is going to be expressing it. That kind of intimacy with God is what helps us to build a relationship, containing real affection. Our faith is a love affair, not an intellectual exercise.
Piper says, “Christianity in America has been ravaged by the dominant teaching that decisions for God are more basic in defining a Christian than delight in God.”
Yeah, I sure hear that. I can’t tell you how many times I have been approached by people who clearly take no delight in God. In fact, many have even suggested that if you take delight in God you’re probably doing it wrong. God is all about being utterly miserable, donja know. If you feel good you’re probably in sin anyway.
Pffffttt. There just isn’t a raspberry big enough to counteract that nonsense.
Anyway, my heart goes out to many of those objecting, to the pain I see hidden behind some of those words, to the myriad of man made expectations within churchian culture that have left so many confused and disconnected from the Lord who has so much intense and passionate affection for us, for you.
Can you imagine if what defined us as Christians wasn’t our opinions or objections, but rather the sheer delight we have in God?