The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart

In 1994, Mark Knoll wrote “The scandal of the Evangelical  Mind” in which he protested at what he perceived as a lack of willingness to think deeply and carefully among evangelicals. He identified an anti-intellectualism within our movement.

Rachel Held Evans became a notable doubter/sceptic of evangelical faith and in 2013, she wrote:

The questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart.[1]

Evangelicalism is a fairly broad grouping and so within it you will find plenty of people happy to leave their brains at home, the anti-intellectualism grows out of a suspicion of academia and learning because of the way that liberal academic theology has so often attacked the Bible.

At the same time, I can’t help thinking that for my end of the grouping Held-£vans was more on the money. Our problem has been less with out brains and more with our hearts.  For the record, I disagreed with her about most of her conclusions on Evangelical faith but if her faulty conclusions and doubt arose as much out of a perceived lack of compassion and empathy then that should concern us.

I suspect that this is not simply a case of conservative evangelicals being harsh and judgemental. Rather, I think we have a little problem with emotions.  We give the appearance of being so clinickal in our thinking.

To give a couple of examples.

First of all, I think this links to the point I raised in an earlier article. How can we come up with 9 marks of a Healthy Church and not think that “love” should probably be first of the list, overt, up front, essential. Noting that the list was not meant to be exhaustive but a corrective to what was under emphasised I would still want to suggest that “love” is the big corrective we need.

Secondly, when we were preparing to get married, Sarah and I read, Christopher Ash’s book “Marriage, Sex in the service of God” our reaction was that it left us cold. Sarah’s reaction to his take on aloneness was that it took all the romance and intimacy out of marriage. Imagine being able to do that in a book about marriage and sex!  We ended up with a functional and theological book about the purpose of marriage but nothing that would really help cultivate a relationship.

You can find similar books and articles about other aspects of Christian life, theologies of worship for example where there seems to be a lack of sense of joy, love and intimacy in relation to the Lord.

It’s strange because it doesn’t have to be that way. Go and read John Piper on Desiring God or Michael Reeves and Tim Chester’s books on the Trinity, Joy, delight and love are there if you look in the right places. Historically you can go back to Calvin, the puritans and Jonathan Edwards and you will get a much greater sense of intimacy, joy, love, tears and experience. 

This is important because I believe that a faith that lacks the experiential dynamic will be stunted and one dimensional. We will lack the deep wells we need to get through tough times. We will fail to engage pastorally (notice how many discussions about communion during lockdown don’t really seem to get to the heart of what it means to feed and protect hungry and frightened sheep).  And the Gospel we offer will seem thin, unappealing gruel.

We need to pay attention not just to the “hard facts” of doctrine and structures but also to the softer ones of emotions, atmosphere and culture. Those should naturally flow from what we believe so that Doctrines of Grace lead to a culture of Grace.


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