Faith, Reason, & Intelligence – followup

I feel like your last article (Sept. 13) has huge implications that I haven’t thought about. Can you provide some more examples of what it actually means for the heart to be stronger than the mind?

Let me give you two examples.

1. Human Development

Hans Urs von Balthasar states the obvious: 

After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks she finally receives her child’s smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge. Knowledge … comes into play, because the play of love had already begun beforehand, initiated by the mother.[1]

In other words: We are loved before we know; we are loved so that we might know; we know that which we love.

There are two temptations that we face when raising children. First, we are tempted to fill our children’s heads with as many good ideas as possible so that they do the right thing while ignoring the heart. We fail to cultivate a love for the good, the true and the beautiful. This is the rationalist error, which assumes that knowledge itself produces virtue. In other words, we tend to think that if one knows the right thing, he will do the right thing. But this view, of course, is wrong. Knowledge is not enough, for even the ungodly know the truth but suppress it in unrighteousness. Christian parents must nurture their children’s affections before they try to teach them good ideas, simply because the mind follows the heart. If your child loves Jesus above all else, he will prize truth and long to know everything about God, creation, himself and others.

Second, we are tempted to discipline in such a way that modifies behavior but fails to capture the heart (and I am the first to confess my own failures in this regard). I have seen many adult children make decisions because they continue to live in fear of their parents and do everything in their power to appease their parents. This is not what the Bible means when it commands us to honour our parents. We must raise our children so that when they are adults, they make decisions based on one criterion alone: what pleases my God and Saviour, the One whom I love above all else? This can be risky business because it allows for the very real possibility that our adult children will make decisions that differ from the ones that we have made.

Perhaps an example might help. I know a young adult man who desperately wants to please his Christians parents. He asks them, “What church shall I attend?” They could say, “Where we go, you go.” They could simply avoid the decision-making process and impose their own conclusion about the young adult. Or, they could embrace the love approach, “Son, that’s the wrong question. You need to ask yourself, “Where does Jesus want me to attend? Where can I serve the Lord most faithfully? How can I best glorify God and enjoy him forever? Where will I grow in my love for Jesus?” Christian parents must decrease so Jesus can increase, and this means that they need to stick with Scripture (i.e. Jesus’ words) and allow their adult children to wrestle through the process with Jesus, their first and greatest love.

The best way to train children to love God above all else is by way of example. Love is caught before it is taught, which is why Paul says to the Corinthians that they should imitate him, even as he imitates the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. Church Life

This past week I listened to a sermon in which the pastor said that doctrine is the most important ministry of the church. He said that our affections are changed by preaching and teaching. This is only partially true. It is certainly the case that when we love God, we want to know how we can grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and this requires that we have the right thoughts about God.

At the same time, this view can lead to some profound misunderstandings of church life. Churches that tend towards the rationalistic error will often only have teaching ministries: Bible study, catechism, preaching, etc.

However, because we are lovers before we are thinkers, the church needs to have a robust music ministry. This is not the place to argue for a particular form of music, but simply to observe the obvious: music is powerful and stirs us our affections in ways that a Bible study does not. The church also needs a robust diaconal ministry, so that the congregation not only has a doctrinal understanding of the ministering to the poor, but actually cares for the poor. Hearing a sermon on our Christian duty to care for the poor does not move the heart in the same way as ministering to a real person with real needs.

One last note. Next week I will address another question I received concerning the relationship between the heart and mind: How we can best train our affections? Practically speaking, how can we move, steer, direct, and encourage our hearts to love Jesus? What sort of practices or disciplines stir the heart?


[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Is Credible, trans. D. C. Schindler (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004), 76.

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