Honor Your Head, Don’t Live In It. (or, I Think I’m a Protestant)

Honor Your Head, Don’t Live In It. (or, I Think I’m a Protestant) August 30, 2013

I think I am a Protestant.

I’ve spent my entire Christian life, since childhood, as a Protestant, but I got tired of it. I tried being nothing for a while, but that didn’t work. I tried being anything else, too, but that didn’t work either.

So, I think I am a Protestant.

It seems to me that the root reason is that I have a personality defect. I like to live in my head.

Protestants tend to focus on having better arguments than the next person—after all, claiming to be more right about God is how it all got started, a legacy that is downloaded from the Reformation onto all Protestant offspring.

Protestantism allows me to stay in the Comfortable Place—my head; a refuge, a rock, an ever-present help in time of trouble.

In fact, Protestantism positively encourages me to stay put in the fantasy world of my brain.

From there I control my life, my surroundings, the universe—God himself. Which is ironic, since Jesus has a few things to say about letting go of control, dying in fact, so that you can gain true life.

I have tried to take this to heart in recent years, the reason being that I came up against a number of experiences that I (wait for it) could not control—namely my life.

Of course, that control was illusory to begin with, but God in his mercy doesn’t leave us there for long. Without pressure points, without the messiness of life invading the command center of my brain, I was free to continue thinking I was moving the pieces of my life when and where they need to be moved.

So, I have been pushed into places where I am learning to honor my head without living there.

For the past ten months I have attend a liturgically minded church—15 minute (at most) sermon and 45 minutes of a lot of sitting, standing, and kneeling, plus a lot of reading of prayers out of books.

All that makes me uncomfortable and annoyed—which means it’s working. It means my monkey brain is jumping up and down, “Look at me, look at me!” but is given no branch on which to land.

Call me a slow learner, but maybe God is not a Protestant. Maybe God does not enter only or even primarily through our heads. In fact, our heads are sometimes the last parts of us to catch on. The head is where we are most alert to any threat to our control,

to any threat to our need to be right,

to any threat to our need to divide the world into those like us and those different from us.

Which is to say,

to any threat to our need to create God in our own image.

My control center is not happy now because it is having a harder time finding things to criticize, new lands to conquer, new things to be right about, new arguments to win.

So the point of all this seems to be to help the head learn its place. To honor the head but not to live there.

So, I think I’m a Protestant, but maybe the edges are being rounded out a bit.


I first posted this in November 2011. I’m reposting it because I like it. 

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  • Sean LeRoy

    As someone who attends a church that isn’t in line with my preference either, the thing I keep coming back to is, preference aside, can I serve there? In the capacity (for lack of a more appropriate term) God’s given me? I can deal with the preference problems, but feel like I can never answer the other questions…Blessings!

  • I think I asked you about a year ago if one could ever truly convert from Protestantism to another form of Christianity. Even my friends who have “swum the Tiber” or “gone East” will always in some sense be Protestant Catholics or Protestant Orthodox.

    I think your last line is key: acknowledging the shortcomings of Protestantism and “rounding out the edges” a bit. It’s not capitulation–it’s humility.

    • Dan

      I’m not sure I understand this comment. I’ve ‘swum the Tiber’ and I am fully Catholic, no longer protesting and therefore no longer Protestant. I was hoping that you could explain what you meant?

      peace in Christ,

      • Dan,
        I meant no disrespect to you or my Catholic/Eastern friends. What I meant was this: many Protestants who convert to Rome or the East still remain fundamentally Protestant in their reasons for doing so, and in the lens through which they evaluate and choose different traditions.

        For many of my friends (and for myself when I semi-seriously considered converting) the issue is Scriptural authority and its historical basis. They see a basis in the continuity of an ancient tradition. I, while respectful of those traditions, still hesitate on many specific Catholic and Eastern doctrines.

        Maybe I’m wandering too far afield. The question I ask my Catholic friends is this: is there anything that the Pope could say ex cathedra that you would reject based on Scripture? If the answer is anything other than “no,” then they are still working within a Protestant framework.

        • Dan F.

          I understand better now. I think the question that you are posing to your Catholic friends is a non sequiter though. If you understand the how ex cathedra is defined it is impossible for the Pope to say anything ex cathedra that is in fact contrary to Scripture. If it’s contrary to Scripture, than it wasn’t ex cathedra.

          So the answer is no by default.

          Also, as an aside, the issue is not Scriptural Authority but Apostolic Authority. Did Christ intend to leave an authority structure by which his gospel would be spread to all people and all nations, or did he intend to leave a book for that purpose? The historical testimony of the early church is that they based their beliefs not on the writings in the New Testament, but on the authority of the apostles and their apostolic successors who *taught* (orally) the early church how to follow Christ.

          • peteenns

            “Did Christ intend to leave an authority structure by which his gospel would be spread to all people and all nations, or did he intend to leave a book for that purpose?”

            Dan 1, Protestant Evangelicals 0.

          • Rick

            Being a Trinitarian, it would appear the Holy Spirit inspired a book.
            Protestant Evangelicals 1, Dan 1.

          • Dan F.

            Thanks Peter – that made my day 🙂

          • Rick

            “The historical testimony of the early church is that they based their beliefs not on the writings in the New Testament, but on the authority of the apostles and their apostolic successors who *taught* (orally) the early church how to follow Christ”
            Why are you differing between the N.T., and the apostolic authority? They are one in the same.
            As Scot McKnight has said- The NT is the apostolic tradition.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “Did Christ intend to leave an authority structure by which his gospel
            would be spread to all people and all nations, or did he intend to leave
            a book for that purpose?”

            From my understanding of Jesus’s ministry I would say he intended for neither.

          • I agree: neither.

  • Right there with ya, Pete. Good thoughts.

  • I like this line of thinking in general, although I struggle with a liturgical service at times because it is too oral/cognitive and not as experiencial as some forms of evangelical worship.

    • peteenns

      I understand your point, Clint, though for me, the opposite is the case. Some of this may depend on differing models of evangelical worship.

  • So then God is a feeling, when here I’ve been thinking he’s a literary figure, at least, and vegetarian.

    (Well, to understand, you’d have to read the whole way through to the end of my book. But that’s okay–don’t worry about it, Peter.)

  • AMBurgess

    Great post, Pete! I definitely know where you’re coming from.

  • Richard Wattenbarger

    Pete, are you really suggesting that we worship God with our … uh, I can barely bring myself to type the word … bodies? I mean, don’t we as Christians confess that we believe in the resurrection of the … oh, whatever?

  • Peter, this is a really wonderful post particularly in light of the fact that you are a biblical scholar. Thank you for your honesty and for keeping it real.

    We run the risk of disengagement with God when our heads, hearts and bodies are not operating in an integrative stance. Yet Western society places great emphasis on the mind instead of valuing a more somatic or experiential/intuitive sense. And as you said, it is protective to live in the mind. We can stay intellectually defended and operate on the ego level which limits our abilities to be truly present with God, self and other.

    I know for myself I came to God through the body and not my mind. Even though I adore the mind, I also use it to my detriment. (I have a pretty over-developed cerebral defense structure not unlike your cartoon only the cartoon is more cute!). Thus, it is my breath that quiets my mind which then allows the Holy Spirit to penetrate my very being. I have to take the elevator down from my head and back into my heart, belly and legs to truly “feel” God’s love for me. For this reason, I dearly love Ezekiel 37:1-10 even if I grossly distort the text’s original context. I love its imagery because it speaks to the life force that comes through God and through the breath. When we hold our breath, we restrict our life force; when we breathe deeply, we nourish our cells and restore them. As we breathe, we can start to experience spirit as well for our breath serves as one conduit to him. And yes, to the dying of the mind’s incessant need for control, perhaps there is the ultimate resurrection. Shalom.

  • Methinks you should give Eastern Orthodoxy a fair shake. ; )

    Your book on Adam will make a nice counterpart to Eastern Orthodox theologian Peter Bouteneff’s “Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives.” He makes the point that the only reason some of the ECF’s took Adam to be a literal person was because of his place in the genealogies since Origen and his followers certainly allegorized the story to death.


    No one has to affirm the innovation of Papal Infallibility, most Orthodox theologians have no problem with evolution, yet you wouldn’t find anyone doubting the incarnation or resurrection like some in the Episcopal Church today.

    And of course, it’s the original Church! Haha. So you have no reason not to join! Simple as that. Haha, actually, that claim requires a lot of corroboration. If only it were that simple.

    Also, we could use more OT testament professors! We have Patristic scholars oozing out every pore of the Church but unfortunately, very few biblical scholars.

    Well, I hope you’re convinced in a little less than 200 words. haha.

    But honestly, one of the reasons I started attending an Orthodox Church was that I realized there was no way I could figure everything out by myself…sort of what your blog post is saying as well.

    • peteenns

      Do the Orthodox pay better?

      • Haha, hell, no.

        Not only couldn’t you work at Westminster…I think Wheaton may have hired an Eastern Orthodox professor, I’m not sure. And you have Brad Nassiff who works with Scot McKnight at North Park, and a few others scattered here and there, but that’s about it.

        That’s what I have to look forward to. Can’t wait. Although secular colleges might like Eastern Orthodox because they would make the place more diverse.

        Anyways, good luck with your more liturgical worship. The Anglican Church was my last step before Eastern Orthodxy.

  • Fred Harrell

    Pete the picture of that whistling brain is scaring me.

    • peteenns

      So, the whistling is scary but not the fact that the brain is walking?

      • Andrew Vogel

        Oh my, I didn’t even realize the brain was walking.

      • I thought he was prancing.

  • Craig Branch

    As a recovering Charismatic/Pentecostal I concur. I attend an EV Fee Church that teaches God’s Word without the need to tie bow ties or ride in Hondas. I cut my spiritual teeth in a frenetic, more “spiritual” environment, and now very much enjoy worshiping in a place where tattoos are common and suits are not. Real spirituality is often incognito.

  • Nate Ferrero

    “didn’t work”? Why didn’t rationality work?

  • RJS

    I’m with Fred …

  • Spencer Griffin

    I’ve been trying to recall if I met you at New Life or Hickory Run? Jack Miller, there was a man who learned to love God and people.

    as to your post…. It seem St. Paul once preached so long that Eutychus fell asleep, fell down from a loft, and died…. Acts 20:9 …. so long sermons do have a precedent…… and a consequence? I nterestingly enough we are not told what Paul was preaching, but we are told that Eutychus was mercifully raised from the dead.

    Do we rest in God because of Christ? The best of Luther is when he is about thankfulness and resting in God’s goodness. The worst of him is fuel for -antisemitism. There can be found a deep experiential Christianity in Calvin, and Edwards, it is by no means all rational and heady. I listened to a sermon on line that Van-Til preached in some small mid-western farm town that was suffering under a providential drought, that drew me to repent, and worship, and to know that “in Him we live, and move , and have our being” ….
    Thanks for your post.

  • Kirk Lowery


    Where else can we live except in our heads? I mean, that’s where everything is: cognition, emotions, will (desire for control). Our side of our relationship with God is there. And, courtesy of our fallenness, we always want to be in control. After all, we know how the world’s affairs (and ours) is supposed to come out. Look at how well that worked for Job!

  • Each branch of Christianity has its head/heart segments. The Catholics have the scholastics and the contemplatives; the Protestants have the more rigid Calvinists and the Pietists, with charismatics taking on the latter’s general mantle in modern times. The problem is that each segment tends to view the other as a competitor rather than as a part of the Body with its own, complimentary insights. Attempts to bring the two sides together are almost always disparaged. For example, the Vineyard movement tried to blend the best of evangelical Christianity with with key insights from the charismatics. The result: The Vineyard was falsely accused of heresy.

  • Dr. Enns,

    Being an Anglo-Catholic is a beautiful thing. 😉 ~Rich

    Chesterton Wrote: “Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite seam and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get heaven into his head. And it is his head that splits.” ~Orthodoxy

    padawan learner,

    Rich Rojas

    • jon hughes

      That’s a great quote, Richard!

  • Mark Robinson


    Thanks for this. It’s so helpful and insightful. Every cognitive-based learner Christian surely struggles this way I would *think*.

  • Matt Colflesh


    Thank you for your post. I, too, have been enjoying the benefits of liturgy, particularly the Book of Common Prayer. I appreciate a good dose of the public reading of Scripture versus the “main event” of preaching a passage of Scripture for at least half if not more of the worship service.

    I have enjoyed reading things by Joel Garver of City Church Philly (University City) on liturgy as well as James K.A. Smith of Calvin College (“Desiring the Kingdom”). Seems our hearts have a flaw that requires us to re-enact the gospel regularly so we are reminded of it in a place past the cognitive and somewhere in what you might call the imagination.

    Too long of a comment…to sum up…thanks.

    Matt Colflesh

  • Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this subject. If possible, as you acquire expertise, would you consider updating your blog with more news? This can be very helpful.

  • jon hughes


    Great post. Really refreshing and honest for a scholar like yourself to write that way. It reminded me of Christian Smith’s book, “How To Go From Being A Good Evangelical To A Committed Catholic In Ninety-Five Difficult Steps”, where he also makes the point that Protestantism is indeed a religion of the head. That’s why increasing numbers of evangelicals (including myself) are finding richness in liturgy and traditional ways of doing worship that appeal to all of the senses.

    Another Christian Smith book, “Bible Made Impossible”, really set me free from trying to figure it all out cerebrally and doctrinally – and Scott McKnight’s book, “Praying With The Church”, has given me great enthusiasm for the daily offices and a sense of belonging to the wider Church.

    Every blessing to you.

    • peteenns

      Thanks, Jon. I think the world of Chris Smith. And he knows the Protestant/Evangelical world intimately–which is one reason why his books have brought on such strong reactions.

      • jon hughes

        I should add that I read your book, “Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament”, after Christian Smith referred to it extensively in “The Bible Made Impossible”!

        These are themes that should be debated openly and honestly within the evangelical world – but it takes much courage to do so.

    • j. johnson

      I would just like to say welcome home! Also if you haven’t read any thing by Scott Hahn or Jeff Cavins I would highly recomend them.

  • NicholasJames

    thanx for sharin ur thoughts peter, its refreshing to read what this man has trouble expressing inside his own soul…see ya around facebook, pax.

  • Peter, thanks for shating. Great thoughts. According to the Bhagavad Gita, God is the Essence of Everything, “O Arjuna, there is nothing else besides Me. Everything in the universe is strung on Me like pearls on the string of a necklace.” (G.7.07) http://pathtoanandam.org/bhagwadgita.php


  • Jessica

    “Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head. From all my thoughts, even my thoughts of Thee, O Thou fair Silence, fall and set me free.” C.S. Lewis

  • For the past ten months I have attend a liturgically minded church—15 minute (at most) sermon and 45 minutes of a lot of sitting, standing, and kneeling, plus a lot of reading of prayers out of books.

    All that makes me uncomfortable and annoyed—which means it’s working.

    Sounds a bit like an “incarnational model” of worship.

    I think Tom Howard gets into that in Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament.

  • Re Chesterton and the sanity of poetry (versus the insanity of rationalism), Chesterton pursued that theme in fictional form in “The Poet and the Lunatics.”

  • Rick

    This reminds me of what Dan Wallace once wrote:

    “I’m questioning some of the tenets of Protestantism and evangelicalism. That doesn’t mean that I’m questioning the whole thing; I still believe that the evangelical faith is the best expression of genuine Christianity today. But I also believe that it is flawed and that we can learn from Catholics and Orthodox. And just as it is possible for someone to be saved and be an evangelical, I think it’s possible for someone to be saved and be a Catholic or eastern Orthodox. So, I’m still at least 51% Protestant (and Luther is still a hero of mine), but I have no qualms criticizing my own tradition and exploring what we can learn from others.”

    • The blog won’t let me “like” this comment, but I like it.

  • Dainad

    I liked your blog, and related quite a bit to your “monkey brain” comment. I experience mine more like a ferret, constantly moving from one new object to another.

    I see you may be in a church in the Anglican communion (I suspect it from the kneeling part). I started there, swung all the way to a Dispensational non-denominational, barely orderly church, and am now finding comfortable the simpler liturgy in a PCA church.

    Do you mean “honor” by respecting that you can understand your relationship to God, and your life intellectually, but also recognize that it is a subjective place no matter how careful you are?

    I, like Bucky the cat, am distrustful of ferrets.

    • peteenns

      Yes, Dainad, that is part of what I mean. I would also add that I feel I am born for a “live of the mind,” being comfortable in the the world of ambiguous ideas, journeying onward in intellectual exploration. I want to honor that, too.

  • Mark Chenoweth

    I’m not sure I could have read I&I as a Protestant. It would have been too hard. Since infallibility ultimately rests in the Church, and not scripture for the Orthodox, historical biblical criticism is much easier to engage with. It is ultimately the Church’s job to extract what is eternal from what is culture bound in scripture. The scriptures are indeed sufficient for salvation, but only when interpreted through the “pillar and ground of truth,” the Church. Otherwise, I don’t see evangelicalism EVER coming to a consistent response of “one mind” regarding the homosexuality issue, among other issues. Smart men like the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will say one thing, and smart men like N.T. Wright will say another.

    Inerrancy isn’t what holds things together, it’s the Church. I only wish Norman Geisler understood this (poor Robert Gundry and now Mike Licona).

    Maybe this is part of the reason Christian Smith decided to become Catholic?

  • Mark Chenoweth

    It seems to me that if evangelicals really want to engage in biblical criticism, they must first develop a better and more robust Ecclesiology.

    • Andrew Watson

      Most evangelicals don’t know what Ecclesiology is. We Just Love Jesus.

  • Vita

    I’m pretty sure I’m congenitally a Protestant, too, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

    One of the things I most appreciate about liturgy is the space it affords me to think.

    What I most remember about the Anabaptist, Fundamentalist, Reformed, and Progressive Evangelical churches of my childhood and young adulthood was the incessant talk. You were not left alone with a Scripture text for more than a second before a preacher, worship leader, or articulate fellow congregant began to tell you exactly what it was about, what you should think about it, or what they thought about it. At the most recent Baptist service I attended, my aunt’s funeral, the pastor would not even read more than a couple of lines of our favorite hymn (O the deep, deep love of Jesus) without stopping to explicate it!

    What I remember most about my first experience of Episcopalian liturgy in graduate school was the quiet; for a blessed 30 minutes each week there were no demands but God’s still small voice. That experience continues 30 years later in a parish and with a priest about as far removed from university chaplaincy as it could be. The impersonal nature of liturgy makes possible (at least for me) a deeply personal experience of God, not at all mystical or emotional, but growing out of and then informing the life of the mind and body.

    • peteenns

      “What I most remember about the Anabaptist, Fundamentalist, Reformed, and Progressive Evangelical churches of my childhood and young adulthood was the incessant talk.You were not left alone with a Scripture text for more than a second before a preacher, worship leader, or articulate fellow congregant began to tell you exactly what it was about, what you should think about it, or what they thought about it.”

      Yup, this puts a fine point on it. It’s all about explaining–all things are to be filtered through our cognitive, argumentative, powers before they we see God.

  • golly, that’s encouraging, Pete! Really! I’ve been feeling quite sad and frustrated lately with people who keep threatening & dividing from others according to their brains, while pretending to walk and whistle ever so innocently. (and who would have thought one could discern what’s really going on in that pink thing? It’s dark in there! I constantly remind myself of Paul’s words – 1 Cor. 4:5)

  • Joe Rutherford

    The part about getting too caught up in the mind, I like. A few years ago as I was deeply involved in biblical study, it began to occur to me that I needed to be more fully developed as a Christian and not largely experience it in the mind. Of course our minds do need to change and think like Christ, but still our experience must involve our entire selves with Christ.

    Now on the subject of Catholic/Protestant, God did not call us to be either, rather He has called us to follow Jesus. We can follow Jesus 24/7, cause He is God and He wants us to follow Him. Jesus wants us to be active with the local Church. However, exactly who or what group constitutes the local Church, is beyond the scope of my ability to define at this time. So many groups and none of them are completly sound in doctrine and practice, but a good many of them are correct in some important ways. This is due to the falling away. I’m still praying about what to do to help the Church which has been ill effected in the falling away. Only God knows, so I will keep following Him.

  • “Maybe God does not enter only or even primarily through our heads.”

    The fundamental contradiction in all this, is the fact that God gave us a book of about 3000 pages full of words. There are no icons in that book. The problem is not philosophy. The problem is WESTERN philosophy. Thomism is a disease of the mind and that’s why you’re having problems and even if you think you’re not thomistic, I believe I can show you, you are under huge thomistic influences in a short conversation. The Reformers, Calvin is an exception with no alternative, operated strongly off of Thomism as it was the “established” system in the west. Augustine had been forgotten for a long time. Christianity is definitely mystical though, and I think that is what you and many in your position are looking for. Mysticism, does not have to be anchorism. I believe we need to go back to Auguistine’s De Magistro and get some more development from Gordon Clark. Not that Clark is flawless because he’s not but that immediate and uncreated light, is essential to Christianity.


    • peteenns

      Drake, I appreciate your point and understand it, but you realize that many Christians have disagreed and do disagree. I would begin by suggesting that the book God gave us is an ancient Mediterranean one that behaves under those structures, which includes literary “images” in the form of story. I do agree though that anchorism and mysticism do not need to be equated. But Gordon Clark? Is his thinking really the key? You are alluding to a rather obscure moment in recent fundamentalist reformed theology.

  • Beth D

    It’s so funny hearing you dudes who were raised up to be Christians slam the fundamentalist Protestant Church. At 23 years of age, Jesus used them to save my life — no lie. I was into all kinds of bad stuff that I won’t get into here on this blog. I am now 39 and I can’t imagine what my life would have looked like without Jesus and my fundamentalist Bible believing/preaching pastor and Church.

    I grew up with liturgy up the ying-yang and believe me, it can be way overdone to the point that the Liturgy itself becomes the point and the personal relationship with God is lost in the traditions, creeds and sacraments. I’m telling you it happens to many. And I had the AHA moment of my existence when I realized it wasn’t about doing or not doing; a real Galatians type paradigm shift for me. I don’t know where I would be without the Bible telling me how to live.

    At the same time, I appreciate what you are saying Dr. Enns and I’m sure there is some truth in it.

    • peteenns

      Beth, I hear what you’re saying. I think God uses different traditions at different times in one’s life to address true spiritual needs. What many have experienced re: fundamentalism, however, is that the “system” does not create an environment to question the system when legitimate concerns about that system arise. Maybe fundamentalism is for some people how God starts them on their journey.

      • Ralph Locklin

        I really like this reasoning…as long as we (those further along on the path of development) don’t look down on those further back.

  • Beth D

    Probably also depends on how one defines ‘fundamentalism’.

    My church taught the ‘9 Essentials’ as non-negotiable biblical doctrine– stuff like the Deity of Christ, Resurrection, Virgin Birth, Infallibity of the Scriptures, Creation of man. I think we need to agree on certain fundamentals as foundational to our Christian faith. I think we also all agree that the Creation was ‘of’ God, although exactly how he did it may be up for debate/discussion. I don’t see any compelling evidence for evolution or any overwhelming proof that Genesis must be allegory so I choose to believe it as literal. For those that think the the symbolism approach is more viable, fine – as long as though of us who go with the more literal intepretation are afforded some measure of respect if not included as ‘intellectuals’

    As for questionong the system, I think it’s great – if the system is all you’re questioning. Questioning the Bible is ok too, but I think there’s a point at which too much questioning (eg. too many miracles become literary devices) or questioning with a doubtful, dishonest heart brings dishonor to the Word and to Jesus Christ, especially when done by teachers, preachers,professors. Of course, on the flip side, when people think they’ve got God all ‘wrapped up’ that brings dishonor as well. So the pendulum swings both ways. ‘Balance’ is the key – something my pastor taught!

  • Beth D

    ‘questioning with a distrustful heart brings dishonor the the Word’ — that would have been better – ‘distrustful’ was more the word I was looking for in my prior comment

  • With all due respect, Dr. Enns, your categories in this post do not make any sense. “Protestants tend to focus on having better arguments than the next person—after all, claiming to be more right about God is how it all got started.” I would expect that sort of trite reading of the Reformation from an undergraduate paper but not from a published scholar. And the larger impression you give of Protestants as a whole–all the while employing the Pietistic rhetorical duality of heart and head, long a trope of anti-intellectuals everywhere . . . really? I’ve read other bits of yours and enjoyed them, including some of your comments about biblical hermeneutics and science, but this post is embarrassing.

    • A.W. Tozer says, and I agree with him, that our conception of God is the most important thing about us. So I think you’re not getting the import of Pete’s statement. But the statement has a double meaning, because if our ‘better idea’ of God merely stays in our brains, except when we feel we need to correct others’ bad ideas, that is bad. It is a repudiation of James’ “pure and undefiled religion”.

    • Andrew Watson

      you just said ” Pietstic Rhetorical Duality”. I think you proved his point.

  • mark

    Protestantism positively encourages me to stay put in the fantasy world of my brain.

    From there I control my life, my surroundings, the universe—God himself.

    That’s what the Protestant model of revelation is all about–domesticating God, making Him safe for human use. Not that that concept is original with Protestantism.

  • kathile

    Thank you for this post! It helped me see my own experience a little more clearly. I also am a person who lives in her head. I love living in my head. In Protestant faith I found a lot of scope for that life – many little controversies to debate, arguments to trace and explore, authors to attack and authors to defend–all that.

    But then, through other circumstances in my life, I encountered a liturgical church service. I noticed that it brought God near in a way I had not experienced before and that it created space for me to worship without slipping into argumentation. I noticed that it was beautiful.

    And it’s funny, just like you said, at first my mind was doing that “look at me, look at me” thing. Some Sundays I would sit during the eucharistic portion of the service utterly distracted by the idea that I had to delineate for myself, “what theory of atonement is being presented here?”

    But that doesn’t happen any more–I have been worshiping in the liturgical church for 6 or 7 years now. I’ve grown so much more peaceful – both inside as well as objectively – I’m telling you, friends notice I’ve changed. That need to trace arguments and take sides over minor doctrine and to be right is no longer a core part of my expression of Christian faith. It was a release that needed to happen.

    Thanks for expressing it so well.

    • Derek

      Hey Kathlie,

      Do you still hold to the importance of “contending for the faith that was once for all delivered to the Saints”?

    • peteenns

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Kathile!

  • Brian P.

    There are at least a couple ways of looking at identifying things, at least within folk psychology. There’s the more Platonic way, based upon ideals and forms. Things are things of a type because they fit in the box, within the boundaries of that which defines the thing. It’s based upon static definitions. I struggled getting evolution once because I thought about species as Platonically ontological types. Sounds like Pete once thought about Protestantism as something like this. It fit into a box. Another way in folk psychology of defining things is defining things off of a center, or an archetype. For instance, I might think that a robin is the archetypal bird and the closer things are to that, they more they are a bird. A bluejay is more a bird than an ostrich. Maybe a bat is more a bird than a penguin. Perhaps this is why the ancients in Deut 14. You say your “edges are being rounded out a bit.” It’s because you’re thinking less like a Western child of the Enlightenment (which is definitively what it means to be “Protestant” in many ways) and beginning to then in additional, useful ways, perhaps even in ways that are also “Biblical.”

  • Very good post as always. Thanks!

  • There is a balance between theory and experiment in science, such that attempting to go too far with one before bringing in the other yields diminishing returns. I suggest it is the same with theology and manifesting that theology (in actions). It is very Platonic to reject experience as a guide to discovering further truth; I don’t think God agrees with Plato in this respect.

    It is intriguing to observe how many Christians critique others’ ideologies on the basis of how people act when [allegedly] following those ideologies, how many atheists criticize Christians for their not-seemingly-Jesuslike actions, and yet how few Christians are willing to judge their own actions in this way and question whether their beliefs are accurate. Now, some of the time it is because we aren’t truly believing what our theology tells us to believe. But what if some of the time, our bad actions come because we believed what our theology told us to believe? Do we then go back and question that theology? I rarely see this happen.

  • Samuel Grummons

    This deeply resonated with me. I was heavily into evangelical apologetics and, to make this story concise, the arguments that I used to put a lot of my trust in just kept cracking along the edges and were never as certain as I felt they needed to be. However, for me it was through the Reformed Epistemology of Alvin Plantinga that I was able to let go of my need for certitude and the realization that the Scriptures were not a philosophical or theological textbook that I began to experience a greater freedom to approach God with more of my whole self.

    However, I do have a question for you (if you have the time): much of the ‘Protestant’ emphasis on cognition and belief stems from what seems to be a very plausible interpretation of passages in the Scriptures. At a macro-level, it seems like the concepts of “truth” and “defending the faith” are major themes in the New Testament. Jesus is full of grace and truth; He is the Way, the TRUTH, and the life, he says that the truth will set us free, etc… The apostles seem, especially in the later letters, with preserving the teachings handed down to them and defending them against imposters (whether it be the Judaizers or Gnostics). So, in the Christian scriptures there is a significant emphasis on truth and defending the truth. And the ‘protestant mindset’, in trying to take the Scriptures seriously, is an attempt to take what the Scriptures say, or seem to say, about truth and defending the faith seriously. So my question is how do I understand what the Scriptures say about truth and defending the faith seriously without falling into the pitfalls of making my faith too rationalistic?

    • Why not make your faith ‘updatable’ in a way similar to how science is ‘updatable’? There are some horrible Christian caricatures of science, about how it can change radically from year to year—it isn’t a solid bedrock. This is only kind of true: if we don’t understand a phenomenon well, we may radically change how we think it works as we get more data and do more thinking. But stuff like General Relativity did not make F = ma obsolete. The math—the equation—is still quite valid in many domains. We might think about things differently, but we still run a lot of the same computations. Indeed, GR is enhances F = ma by subsuming it and making it a special case. GR opened up the world to more fantastic ways that it can work, in certain circumstances. Might this happen to one’s faith?

      In my opinion, the Christian ought to be more confident in the ‘mathematical equations’ of Christianity—such as the need for Christ’s death and resurrection—than exactly what and how Jesus’ death did. Indeed, meekness is having the right confidence in what you believe. “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” If you can act wisely on things, it is a good empirical measure that you have reason to have high confidence in them.

      Does this make any sense? It’s still a bit of a raw idea.

      • Samuel Grummons

        Forgive me for the delay in response, life gets crazy!

        That makes a lot of initial sense. Evaluating this thought will bring in some discussion of realism in philosophy of science. So, on the one hand, this seems to express some version of anti-realism when it comes to both scientific theories and theological theories (what kind of anti-realism, I am not sure, and whether anti-realism is the best category I am not sure also). As you are probably aware (but clarifying this for the general population), anti-realism is the view that the theoretical entities postulated by scientific theories (i.e. things like mass, quarks, space-time) should not be “re-ified”; that is, they should not be taken to be literal descriptions of what is really out there. Maybe they are useful fictions, or heuristic devices to really understand the math. This is not to say that an anti-realist is saying that scientific theories are false; like you seem to suggest, the truth of a scientific theory is in the math, not the ontology. But maybe you can still make your point and hold to a qualified realism; not only does the math of scientific theories get “closer to truth,” but so does the ontology. So it is definitely an idea worth fleshing out; thank you for the suggestion.

        However, that was not really my initial question! Maybe I can phrase it like this. Enns, and others, voice their concern with the ethos of “heresy hunting” in the evangelical church. We are too quick to draw boundaries and “shun the non-believer” for not toeing (what we take to be) the orthodox line. And Enns’ concern seems biblically founded: Jesus seemed interested in boundaries only so that he could shatter them. Paul was very critical of those who would divide the church (I am thinking of Corinth especially, and also the Judaizers in Galatia): there is one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one church. However, the modern “heresy hunters,” for lack of a better phrase, seem to have some biblical warrant for their ethos; the epistles contain many warnings to “stand and contend for the faith, for there are many wolves in sheeps’ clothing.” If someone, then, says we need to be less concerned with finding those wolves, how then should they read those passages which seem to encourage such behavior?

        • With respect to anti-realism: I’m really not sure where I stand on that. I’m inclined to say that if mathematical forms offer a more reliable description of reality, so be it. There’s obviously “something there”—I’m not sure I am concerned with realism vs. idealism! Pretty much all these options seem to lead neat places right now, and I’m not sure the Bible takes a strong stance on the matter. Perhaps this is just my view, but God seems to care remarkably more about how we treat people than the exact nature of our beliefs. This isn’t to say that beliefs aren’t important, but it does question the rigidity with which we sometimes hold onto beliefs—is that rigidity necessary?

          In terms of “heresy hunting”, I return to Jesus’ command to judge trees by their fruit. There’s also the parable of the wheat and the tares, with the lesson that you wait until the plants are full-grown. Mt 7:21-23 makes it clear that entrance into heaven is predicated on whether we followed Jesus (whether we did the will of God). The final judgment in Mt 25 is of the same pattern. Finally, the standards for kicking people out of a group of Christians are very high. In many situations where I think excommunication has been used, I think God meant those people to leave the fold of their own accord, along the lines of 1 John 2:18-19. The actual kicking out seems to be primarily reserved for those who are more [sexually] immoral than the surrounding culture (like Oedipus Rex-type stuff in Greek territory), those who are factious, do-nothings, and those whose consciences have been seared. I gathered a list of verses on unity & diversity, although I make no guarantee that it is complete.

          Whenever there is doubt as to how to go about this, I return to the telos of God: to unite all things in Christ (Eph 1:10). Unlike Eastern religions, this uniting doesn’t make everyone the same. God created fantastic diversity and I’ll bet he looks at anger on those who would reduce the diversity to make themselves feel better.

          • Samuel Grummons

            Good list; it is at least a great starting point! What fascinated me was 2 Thes 3:14-15. If they refuse to do what the letter says (and it would be good to see what kind of things Paul has in mind here), have nothing to do with him, but don’t regard him as an enemy. He is not “the other;” he is still your brother (do you like that, it rhymed so it must be true!).

            You also bring out a good point: we judge (or, should I say, evaluate, for I have too large a plank in my eye to judge) a teacher by his or her fruit. Now, let me throw out this complication. Being a *$$hole is ideologically independent. That is, I have seen people who believe all sorts of different things about theology or ethics or Jesus and the like showing bad fruit and good fruit. I have felt judgment (i.e. the kind that Jesus has a slight problem with) from all flavors of conservatives and liberals alike. I have also seen decent, nay, good people of a multitude of different perspectives (atheist, Christian, and…,well, maybe I need to expand my social circles). Liberal atheists and conservative Reformed folk can be equally as fundamentalist (negative connotations intended). So one might worry that evaluating a person’s teaching and whether or not it is “out of bounds” based on their character is not a reliable method; in fact, wouldn’t that be an instance of the ad hominem fallacy (which is problematic whether you don’t accept an argument based on a person’s bad character or do because the person is a saint)?

            With that said, I am not sure that Jesus is actually saying that we need to accept and use ad hominem reasoning. However, someone in my grad studies suggested that what mattered more to Paul and Jesus than orthodoxy is orthopraxy (right action/practice as opposed to right belief). And, this is not to directly deny the Protestant notion of “justification by faith”; for “right action” includes such virtues as humility, confession like the publican, faithfulness to Jesus, repentance, trust and dependence on God’s deliverance, et al.

          • There are several axes to judge by. One is teaching. But some preachers are fantastic at teaching but are terrible persons when you catch them in private. Another is being able to build other individuals up (pastoring). Can they enhance another believer’s faith in a way that lasts? Another is unity. If a leader cannot keep a congregation unified in a deep way (vs. 2 Tim 3:1-5), then one has reason to doubt his abilities. To close off my probably-incomplete list, there’s the question of whether the leader’s flock is maturing, Eph 4-style. We could throw in some Gal 5 with the fruits of the Spirit, but that’s a bit muddied, since someone can appear to manifest them on the surface, with 2 Tim 3:1-5 happening underneath.

            I’m sure I missed some things, but the above covers quite a lot.

  • Hello Peter, are you on the verge of becoming a non-denominational Christian like me? :=)

    With all what you write, it is only fair to say you can no longer view yourself as an Evangelical.
    We both believe that Biblical inerrant is an error which is dangerous both for the psychology, intellect, morality and spirituality of the individual.

    But if the Bible is no longer our inerrant foundation, we’re no longer protestant.

    The foundation of my faith is the perfection of God and I view the Bible as a religious book among many others, which doesn’t mean it is free of genuine miracles.

    Friendly greetings from Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son


    • Is it really right to pin Protestantism on someone’s version of inerrancy? We still think that the Bible can be trusted, no? And can we think of anything that can be trusted more, or equal to, the Bible? If not, I suggest that we still have the ‘mathematical equation’ or ‘pattern of behavior’ that traditional doctrines of inerrancy aim for. Consider that GR didn’t really invalidate F = ma—it subsumed it.

  • Lee Meadows

    Thank you, Peter. I’m a PCA elder and a Ph.D. science educator who is writing on teaching evolution sensitively in American public schools in the Deep South. So, yeah, I definitely live in my head. Interestingly, life has been unkind recently, I’ve been uprooted from my home church of 20 years, and I’m finding the most comfort in a liturgical PCA church I’ve been attending.

    Back in the day when life was neat and tidy, I was happy in mainstream Evangelicalism. Life worked, and my church helped me make it work even more. I was a control freak, and I found at church lots of formulas to expand my control. Now, life is really hard, and I’m out of control. Going to a church that welcomes mystery has been balm to my soul.

    There’s quiet, beauty, and gentle hope.

  • toddh

    It seems like a lot of Protestants also denigrate the mind during worship: 45 minutes of music designed to elicit an emotional response, followed by a half hour sermon with three steps to make your life better. Sometimes liturgy can fix this too.

    • Then again, this is a parody provided to me by an atheist which seems to describe much non-emotional contemporary Christian worship music, all too well:

      Oh Lord
      Ooh you are so big
      So absolutely huge
      Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you.
      Forgive us, O Lord
      For this dreadful toadying
      (And barefaced flattery)
      But you are so strong and, well, just so super.

      I really like Jeremy Begbie’s Veritas Forum, The Sense of an Ending. While the talk is also in A Place for Truth, the live version is better. In this, Begbie criticizes just about all modern music for having very little of the depth and breadth of music of old. For example, when is the last time you’ve heard a sad contemporary worship song, one that acknowledges that sometimes life really can seem to suck? I hear shockingly few of these, and shockingly few that give any color to e.g. Colossians 1:24.

      Let me suggest that there is no one true solution to ‘fixing’ the problems you mention. Satan can and will corrupt the most free of services, the most rigid, and anything in between. We must stay alive, on our feet, always reaching for God even though he has a firm grasp on us (Phil 3:12).

  • rvs

    Thanks for this. I find routines to be soothing, and I am often unsettled when I do listen to makeshift sermons in which pastors randomly call out to congregations to say things aloud, to repeat phrases, to stand up here and there, etc. -Sort of a square dancing situation. Such behavior reveals a longing for liturgy. Or, perhaps some of that evangelical strategy comes from corporate america’s rule book on how to target costumers.

  • Pete, Have you tried Roman Catholicism? These guys make Protestants look dumb. http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/02/mathisons-reply-to-cross-and-judisch-a-largely-philosophical-critique/

    • I’m reminded that Martin Luther’s intent was not to create a schism. It just strikes me that in the effort to be confident of their faith, the RCC has, through the ages, been overconfident. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” I also worry that the RCC allows for too much power to concentrate in fallen human beings who have, far too often abused it. This being said, I have a lot of respect for First Things and the more scholarly work of the RCC.

      “You shall know them by their fruits.” Both Protestants and Roman Catholics have erred so much in this realm that I think we ought not trust either too much. But that kind of trust seems like the trust a child has of his parents; Christ’s and Paul’s goal was for everyone to grow into maturity. I think Enn’s style of blogging and writing is excellent if the goal is to spur young believers to think, vs. just believe what “their betters” tell them to believe.

  • Thanks for this post. When we planted our church (an evangelical reformed church), some ten years ago, we had the unique opportunity to think about liturgy afresh. We determined to organize the worship service so that the sermon DID NOT become the main event. We think of our liturgical flow as a narrative. As a narrative we fashion things so that the rising actions culminates in the sacrament of communion – not the sermon. The homily, what we call the bringing of the gospel, in the order of things, follows the sacrament(s) and is part of the falling action of the narrative. We did this for a specific reason and this is why I am posting. We did this because we were convinced that in our circles, evangelical and reformed, there was a tendency to promote a cult of personality in the form of the preacher. This, in turn, we felt, led to the encouragement of the people of God to live their faith in the life of their heads, leading to all of the sorts of things that Pete mentions above. Thanks for your honest reflections, Pete.


  • Jon

    Doesn’t God use heads as well as hearts (and bodies for that matter)? What else would it be to love God with heart (passion), mind (intelligence), soul (being), and strength (will)? We aren’t called to live in one arena, God actually wants us, the whole package. Liturgical forms allow engagement of more than just the mind.
    But to say that Protestants “tend to focus on having better arguments” is too simplistic. Protestants have a liturgical form also, in some corners it can’t be readily distinguished from the Anglican/Episcopal tradition and can be comfortable for our RC brothers and sisters. Perhaps it would be better to say that Protestants are more likely to argue about what God wants or to define God or worry about who’s saved or who’s “in” or doctrinal purity than to come to grips with really knowing Him. Perhaps the strength of liturgical worship is that it’s more about knowing and experiencing God than reducing Him to propositional statements.
    Knowing about a person is very different from knowing/experiencing a person. I’m pretty sure this is what Jesus was getting at when asked “When did we see you and not do these things” and he answered “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

  • Fascinating — we share much.
    Realizing that “living in my brain” is just a temperament issue, I began to see through how the temperament-centric philosophy I developed was based on this.
    Like you, I lost jobs over changing beliefs.
    Indeed, Robert Weber was my prof at Wheaton College decades ago and he went episcopal after a fundie Baptist background at Bob Jones etc… He was my hero at that stage of my life.

    Life is uncertain, we are not in control. Living in our brains is our hobby, it shoud not be our philosophy.

    Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones can only make a different self, and changing the you, emphasizes that all that remains is love.

    Sorry — a philosophical rant stirred by this great post