Growing up I remember hearing phrases like, “That head knowledge about God needs to travel 12 inches to your heart for God,” or “You can have so many degrees they call you Fahrenheit and still not be hot for God.” While I can certainly understand where these statements are coming from I fear that a balance is missing. We’ve overemphasized a heart for God to the neglect of a right head for God. But God wants both!
The Apostle Peter makes his case known for the importance of careful reason in his treatise on the importance of spiritual growth.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).
That word “spiritual” also means “rational.” The only other time this word occurs in the Bible is in Romans 12:1, where Paul says that presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice to God is our “rational service of worship.” Peter uses this term to show us that the spiritual milk of the Word is rational – it is grasped with the mind. Now, this rationality is not subjected to just a worldly sense. Human reason must be subject to the written revelation God has given of Himself in the Bible. But you cannot know God without using your mind, since He has revealed Himself in the propositional revelation of the written Word. God never bypasses our central processing units that are between our ears in order to lead us to salvation. God wants us to think and reason!
While referencing 1 Peter 2:2 Thomas Schriener writes in The New American Commentary, “Peter uses logikos to define millk here, so that the readers will understand that the milk by which they grow is nothing other than the Word of God. The means by which God sanctifies believers is through the mind, through the continued proclamation of the word. Spiritual growth is not primarily mystical but rational, and rational in the sense that it is informed and sustained by God’s Word” (p. 100).
In his book, A Question for Godliness, J.I. Packer notes how the Puritans were educators of the mind. They believed, “the mind must be instructed and enlightened before faith and obedience become possible” (p. 69). While they deeply believed that God’s truth must affect not only the head, but also the heart, they also “regarded religious feeling and pious emotion without knowledge as worse than useless. Only when truth was being felt was emotion in any way desirable” (p. 70).
The balance the Puritans were searching for would correct many of the excesses in our day. I meet many Christians who are heavily heart-centered. They operate on a feeling level, devoid of solid theological content. The idea of commentary study and careful exegesis is foreign to them. Likewise, I meet many other Christians who are heavily head-centered. They emphasize theological content, but they’re afraid of emotions. But the Word of God ought to fill our minds with knowledge of God and move our hearts with a love for God. This is why Peter tells us we are to “desire the sincere milk of the Word” (2:2). There is a head knowledge and a heart love that have equal play here.
This idea isn’t unique to 1 Peter 2:1-2.
We live in a watered down church culture that knows little about thinking deeply about God. Theology is seen as just gaining a lot of head-knowledge about God without gaining and heart-knowledge. Thinking deeply about God is viewed as some dry, intellectual, academic stuff left within the pages of old, dusty commentaries in some seminary library. But those who refuse to study are setting themselves up for failure. This is why Paul would challenge Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul is literally saying, “Timothy, you need to study!”
To those who say that a heady theological focus leads to intellectualism and away from a close relationship, I would say – no matter what – we all shape our theology in one way or another. Indeed, deep-thinking Christianity has been guilty of being irrelevant and abstract at times, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. We need good theology and that requires some homework. If we are not thinking for ourselves and wrestling through tough issues, then pop-theology will lead us astray.
The end result of those who refuse to put their nose in the Bible and really think about what God says is that they determine their own beliefs, rather than God. In a sense, those who refuse to use their head for God are functional deists. They practically ignore God’s written revelation which includes “all that we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
Through God’s grace, may we be those who are willing to engage both our hearts and our heads in our pursuit of the Pursuer.
Caleb Phelps graduated from BJU with a BA in Bible and an MA in Theology. After graduating from seminary Caleb traveled in evangelism which took him across the country to many different churches and camps. While he was traveling Caleb met the love of his life, Rachel. They got married and moved to Indianapolis, IN where Caleb now serves as the youth pastor at Crosspointe Baptist Church. You can check out his youth group's website at www.crosspointeyouth.com.
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