They Were Wrong that We Can’t Trust Our Emotions

They Were Wrong that We Can’t Trust Our Emotions March 4, 2023

Are feelings just the caboose?

I became a Christian in the late 1980s. At a very early stage of my faith, I was trained in doing evangelism with the “Four Spiritual Laws” from Campus Crusade. To this day, Cru is using this tool to great effect in reaching people for Jesus.

The little yellow booklet that I was so familiar with had a page in the back that had a train illustration. After someone had received Jesus by faith, there was “an important reminder.”

What was it?

“Do Not Depend on Feelings.”

This is the tract as I remember it:

“We rely on the promise of God’s Word, not our feelings. The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the reliability of God Himself and His Word. This train diagram illustrates the connection between fact (God and His Word), faith (our trust in God and His Word), and feeling (a result of our faith and obedience. A train is pulled by the engine (fact), not the carriage (feeling). In the same way, put your trust in the facts of God’ trustworthiness and His promises. The more fuel of faith (trust) that is put into the facts of God’s promises, the more His power will be released in your life. Do not allow your faith to depend on your feelings. ‘We live by faith, not by sight.’”

I get what the tract is trying to accomplish here. Bill Bright, the author of the Four Spiritual Laws, wanted to make the point that our conversion is not based on how we feel, which can be fleeting. Salvation is based on God’s promises in his Word and our faith in those promises.

Becky Castle Miller traces some of the history of the “3Fs” (Fact-Faith-Feeling) concept in her substack, “Whole Emotion.” As she says, “It started out of a sincere desire to give people assurance of their salvation without needing to have any particular affective experience.”

But what happened, as I experienced it, was this: Many took this “Fact-Faith-Feeling” concept much further toward the conclusion that feelings are never legitimate, and that Christians could only trust their Reason.

James Dobson Told Us Not to Trust Our Emotions

Becky Castle Miller just posted the next article in her series on how evangelicals demonized our emotions with a post on James Dobson’s 1980 book Emotions: Can You Trust Them? (see “Emotions: Dobson thinks you can’t trust them”). It is a balanced critique of the book.

When I became a Christian in the late-80s, James Dobson was perhaps the most influential person in all evangelicalism. He was considered the expert on Christian psychological issues.

The things he wrote, and what he said on his radio show “Focus on the Family,” were taken pretty much as gospel truth. So, when he wrote a book that critiqued seeing feelings as legitimate, many latched onto that.

You see, many in those days had been taught to never trust feelings and to only trust reason. We had been taught something more along the lines of Greek philosophy than of biblical wisdom.

Is the Heart Deceitful and Desperately Wicked?

To this day, I still hear Christians say, “We can’t trust our hearts because our hearts are deceitful, and therefore we can only trust our minds, our rationality.”

A verse that they have memorized is Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

A few years ago, a man in a Bible study I attend insisted that we cannot trust our hearts. We are to instead focus on our minds. After all, the Bible tells us to renew our minds. I absolutely agree that we should renew our minds; Romans 12:1-2 tells us as much. My ministry is often helping people think rightly about things in the Bible. This post is attempting to do just that.

Many like my friend have been so inculcated to believe that feelings are opposed to God’s will that they read Jeremiah 17:9 as proving that our feelings are “deceitful above all things.”

But they miss that Jeremiah later promises that the heart will be transformed when the New Covenant (in Christ) comes:

“‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).

The worldview of the Bible is not the same as the worldview of Greek philosophy. The Bible sees humans as holistic beings, and God is redeeming and restoring every aspect of what it means to be human: Physically, emotionally, mentally (and all sorts of other things too). Our rationality is not the highest aspect of our humanity, because God sees it all as important.

Minds and Emotions: Both are Good, and…

So what I’ve come to believe is that emotions, sanctified by God’s Spirit, are just as legitimate as “reason” (if it is also sanctified by God’s Spirit).

BOTH are a good part of who we are as humans; BOTH are fallen and broken by sin; BOTH are redeemed by the blood of Christ.

And BOTH are therefore legitimate for Christians to trust.

Only, of course, if we are gauging BOTH by God’s Word while deciphering them in community with other believers.

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

How can God command us to feel something? And how can God command that we do it with all our being, including both our minds and our hearts, unless we can do so?

Feature image by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

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