If there is an uncomfortable prospect in the Fundamentalist Church these days, it is the subject of “emotionalism.” Emotionalism is the broad and ambiguous catch-all term where people dump things like 1. Being controlled by emotions, 2. Being too emotionally expressive, and 3. Practicing what they view as the extremes of “Charismania” or Pentecostalism. To add to the confusion, they use scripture to support their fear of emotionalism, as with the verse, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9
The trouble is, as is usually the case when we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we really need to understand what it is we are throwing out. Let’s try and break it down a bit.
1. Feelings(Emotions)-ok, so guys, what are feelings? They are the barometer for our soul. Feelings are what arise in response to the circumstances of our lives. If we are to “…walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise…” Eph. 5:15, then we must examine every aspect of our self. Emotions are a very useful tool to illuminate areas in us that God may want to address. Keep in mind that emotions are part of God’s attributes, and as such, there are no “good” or “bad” emotions, just as there are no “male” or “female” emotions. Men, we must engage with our emotions: discouragement, frustration, anger, melancholy, exhuberance, annoyance, etc, in order to get to the root of the matter, and we must do so every day. It is not indulgent, it is critical for our physical, relational, and spiritual health.
2. Feelings(Senses)-this category of feeling, while generally lumped in with emotions, is how we engage with life, and more specifically, with the spiritual realm. “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Heb 5:14 The Scriptures are full of examples of how we discern using our 5 senses, plus intuition, our 6th sense.
3. Emotionalism(being governed by our emotions)-this generally refers to how a person bases their course of actions on how they feel, or perhaps, just lives in a reactive state to the whims of their emotions. The antithesis of this, of course, is someone whose life is completely dictated by logic, like Spock. We are told that it is much more acceptable to be logic driven rather than emotion driven. The reality is that in order to be “whole,” we need to be balanced in how we utilize logic and emotion.
4. Emotionalism(abuse of “Spiritual Gifting”)-this use of the word applies to how the Fundamentalist Church views some of the wackiness that not just embarasses Christianity, but actually becomes a mockery of the authentic empowerment of true spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit. We get so gun-shy, that we avoid anything that has the label “Spirit-filled” on it.
So, what do we do with all of this? Well, Scripture seems pretty clear-we are to exercise our senses to grow in discernment, we are to examine our hearts and walk circumspectly, we are to model the fruit and the activity of the Holy Spirit, and we are to equip ourselves so we are not “tossed to and fro” (James 1:6, Eph 4:14).
Gentlemen, if we are to live Biblically-sound lives, then we must abide also by the scriptures that speak to our emotions, our senses, and how they are to incorporate into our walk with God. I would even venture the proposition that until you engage emotionally with God, you are keeping part of your heart from Him, and you are not a surrendered man.
Still a skeptic? Let me close with some thoughts from A.W. Tozer.
“I have had people tell me very dogmatically that they will never allow ‘feeling’ to have any part In their spiritual life and experience. I reply, ‘Too bad for you!’ I say that because I have voiced a very real definition of what I believe true worship to be: Worship is to feel in the heart!” Whatever Happened to Worship?