theology of the heart

A few years ago I sat in on a seminary class with one of my sons. The professor was one who taught me back in my days in grad school, Dr. Robert Bell. In this lecture he made a comment that I have often thought about since. He was discussing two opposing theological systems. Then he said something to this effect: “Most people have a theology of the head and a theology of the heart.”

What he meant by that is that we may subscribe to a system of thought with our minds and be thoroughly convinced that it is the right way of presenting Biblical truth. Yet in our practice, we tend to live out a “theology of the heart” that isn’t entirely consistent with our systems.

In the class he was talking about Calvinism vs. Arminianism. The Arminian will pray for lost souls and ask God to change their heart so that they will believe. That’s really more of a Calvinist kind of prayer, isn’t it? On the other hand, the Calvinist will plead with sinners to respond to the gospel, even though in his system he believes that many of them (most of them?) can’t.

I thought about this again when reading about a guy who is pretty big on the idea that sanctification can’t come by our own efforts, we just lean on Jesus for everything, no “ergs” coming from our side. In the article he was commenting about the things Christians need to do in order to please God. He wasn’t speaking theologically or consistently with his own system. He was speaking from the heart.

It’s probably a good thing that we live this way. In our theological argumentation, we argue ourselves into very precise corners with our fine points and all. Yet in our lives, if we are pursuing godliness, we tend to live closer to the Bible than we talk. There is a certain instinctiveness to the spiritual life. Perhaps we should pay some attention to that and be a little less strident on our fine points.



  1. “There is a certain instinctiveness to the spiritual life.”

    Very good statement. I think this is what Paul had in view in Romans 12:2 when he talked about the good and acceptable will of the Lord.

    The Bible is not a mere book of rules. It is a transformative Book which refines our spiritual instincts.