What Is Religious Passion?

What does a passionate Christian look like? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Passion is a difficult term to describe. Most of us when we hear of passion think immediately of romantic passion, and yet that is part of the problem of defining it. Watch a TV show or movie and you will think all passion takes place in the bedroom. Well, there’s supposed to be a lot of passion there, but ask most any married couple and there will be other places of passion. A wife can fix a great dinner for her husband with passion. A husband can passionately express his love through gifts or writing or music to his wife.

When it comes to religious passion, we often have some negative ideas about it. We might think of people barking like dogs and calling that the work of the Holy Spirit. Religious passion often seems to be equated with a show. It is a strongly expressed feeling or emotion.

Well, yeah. It can be. Maybe it isn’t just that. Maybe it’s something different and maybe it’s different from person to person.

My wife and I were talking about someone we admire very much who gave an excellent testimony at Celebrate Recovery and during the music in the last service talked about how she was dancing in the center aisle and she used to think there was something wrong with people like that. I asked Allie if she could ever see me doing that yesterday. Nope. Not at all.

Yet she still thinks I’m passionate about Christianity.

I think many of us know several Christians who we would say are passionate about that, but would not express that passion the same way. Get me together with some of my theological friends and there will be passionate discussion about matters of faith and practice. There won’t be dancing going on, but there’s a lot of excitement.

This doesn’t mean that we always have a strong feeling about what we are doing, and this is really a good thing. C.S. Lewis said something once similar about being in love. When you fall in love with someone, it is an emotional explosion at first, but if you stayed that way, you would not be able to function. The explosion dies down, but the will can stay there and that should be the strongest. It would be a mistake to coast from that point on after the explosion.

That passion can still show up momentarily. The great feeling shows up when you actually do the loving things you’re supposed to. So it is with religion. When my friends and I get together, I may not be feeling it at the moment, but get some discussion going and before too long, there is passion and excitement once more.

There is a mistake along those lines that we often make that we often think all genuine action must be backed by genuine feeling. Not at all. What virtue is it to you to act the way you feel? Anyone can do that. We could make a parallel to the words of Christ. You love those who love you? Wow! Aren’t you just awesome? If you love those who hate you, that is real love. You love when you feel like loving? Impressive! Your parents must be so proud! When you love when the feeling isn’t there and maybe even the opposite one is, that is real love.

As I told my wife yesterday about this, there have been mornings I have got up and thought the heavens seemed silent and I am angry with my God. What do I do? I go and serve Him anyway. Why? Because it’s just the right thing to do and nothing in Christianity says “Do the right thing provided you feel like it.”

“But I feel so fake doing that?” So what. That’s again putting the cart before the horse. Is it better to say, “I feel fake doing this so I won’t do what is the right thing to do.”? If your intention is you want to serve or you want to have a certain mindset, God knows and I believe honors your intention. Do you not feel like reading your Bible or praying but want it to be a priority? Then do it. Many times our feelings don’t change until we act. As long as we act the same way, our feelings will continue.

“But it’s just duty then!” And sometimes duty is where you have to begin. For one thing, duty does not mean that you don’t like it. For example, a husband in Scripture is required to give his wife her conjugal rights. I am sure so many husbands were saying “Well geez. If I gotta do it, I gotta do it.” That’s a duty, but it’s a wonderful duty to so many of us men.

We also have to be on guard that passion itself is not a goal. If we are coming to God because we want to feel really good, then we are just using God. Holiness is our real goal. If passion comes with that, great. If not, oh well. We have done the right thing.

But if you do want some excitement, I do have some recommendations. First, I think you really need to make sure you have some apologetic grounding. Not every Christian is meant to specialize in theology and/or apologetics, but all Christians are called to do those things. You have to do them. You might as well do them well.

At the same time, those of us more intellectually inclined need to remember that while Scripture says that there is zeal not according to knowledge which is dangerous, there is the reality that knowledge puffs up. We need to study. I think Lewis once spoke of seeing a lady in church and thinking she probably doesn’t have a clue about the Nicene Creed, but then realizing that when it comes to holy and devout prayer and living, she has him beat by spades.

Then just go and do what you are supposed to do. It doesn’t matter if you feel like it or not. Do it anyway. Let the actions and will lead the feelings instead of the other way around. Nothing says “Love your neighbor as yourself, provided you feel like it.” When our neighbor is being an agreeable person, we are to love them. When they are being a total jerk, we are also called to love them. Don’t like that? Keep in mind God’s love for you doesn’t change when you are a complete jerk, including to him.

To come back to Lewis again, when you start loving your jerk neighbor, you will notice a strange thing. You start to love him. If you wait until you feel like loving him, you will never do it. If you just do it because it is the right thing, you will eventually have the love for him.

Passion is good, but it is not to be our foundation. Enjoy emotions when they come, but do not make a steady diet out of them. Instead, shape your will to serve God more and do the right thing regardless of the feeling.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Core Facts

What do I think of Braxton Hunter’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Braxton Hunter is a professor of Christian apologetics who holds a PH.D. in the same field. He’s recently written a book called “Core Facts” written to not just give a good start to apologetics, but it also is a kind of teaching guide to help others learn how to do apologetics.

The presentation that Hunter presents surrounds his “core facts.” The list is as follows:

C – Cause of the universe
O – Order of the universe
R – Rules of morality
E – Experience of God

F – Fatality of Jesus’s death on the cross
A – Appearances of Jesus to the disciples.
C – Commitment level of the disciples
T – Testimony of the disciples
S – Salvation taught through the Gospel.

Now granted there are some here that I would not use. At the start with the cause and order of the universe, the scientific arguments are cited, but this is something that gets me wondering at times. Is it because I am opposed to science? Not at all! Is it because I am opposed to scientific apologetics? Again, not at all! It is because I have this fear that too often we make the case scientific and I want to make sure that those of us who do have taken the time to learn the sciences not just for apologetics purposes but general purposes. This is the reason why I do not use scientific apologetics. I am not a scientist (And I don’t play one on TV) and I do not want to speak in a field that is not my area.

I also am cautious about the idea of the experience of God. The problem is that experience is not an on-demand kind of thing and to this day, when Bill Craig gives his fifth way in a debate of knowing that God exists, I still cringe.

For the last group, I think in this day and age I would replace fatal with something like “Fact of Jesus’s existence.” There are more people who are Christ-mythers today than there are people who hold to the swoon theory.

For C, I would have probably gone with the idea of conversion, such as that of James and Paul. Why is it that those who were skeptical of the faith were the ones who later on joined it? They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. After all, C and T sounded awfully similar to me at times.

And as for S, an excellent ending would have been shamefulness of Christianity. It is too often overlooked that in the honor-shame context of the ancient Mediterranean world, Christianity was a shameful belief and that that belief not only survived in the face of persecution and shaming but also came to dominate is something that needs to be explained.

Still, the areas that Hunter does present, he does very well on. I was also pleased to hear him say that evolution is not a battle that we have to fight. Very few apologists make such a statement, but I agree entirely with Hunter. I would not argue it unless one was skilled in the sciences and making a purely scientific argument for or against. I only wish he’d gone further on this point and said that we can also go with an eternal universe or a multiverse and Christianity is still safe.

A bonus also is that Hunter does have tips at the end of each section for how to transition the material to a teaching presentation. This makes this kind of book ideal for a leader to use when teaching a class. There are several sidebars as well that provide more detailed information and Hunter has indeed read both sides of the issue.

If there’s one section though that contains poor argumentation, it’s the last one where Hunter has a debate that he did with the owner of an atheist forum who simply goes by the name “Will.” To be sure, the poor argumentation is not on the side of Hunter. It is on the side of Will. As I read this section I found myself repeatedly face-palming. It is embarrassing to see the arguments so many atheists use. Will uses everything from an insistence on YEC and Inerrancy, to a lack of understanding of biblical texts (Judges 21 has God commanding rape? Please find the command from God in there! It’s in fact showing what it was like when Israel was NOT following God.), to a Boghossian understanding of what faith is, and then going so far as to be a Christ-myther. (It should sadly be for the atheist community that they would want to get the Christ-mythers to be quiet. Instead, they champion them. Reality is there are more Ph.D. scientists who hold to a young-earth than there are Ph.D.’s in ancient and NT history that hold to the Christ myth theory. I also for clarification am not a YEC.)

Hunter answer very well, but the fact that Will is a preacher’s kid shows how bad a job is being done in educating the youth of our church. That anyone would think that these are serious arguments being put forward is a travesty. Now of course there are serious arguments atheism can put forward, but many used today are ones that should not be given the time of day. (And of course sadly, the same applies to many Christian arguments.)

In conclusion, while I don’t agree with everything Hunter says, naturally, I could recommend his book as a good resource to a starting apologetics class at a local church. It will become one that can easily be taught and easily discussed and the debate at the end should show how well the Core Facts can stand up to scrutiny. It is a work I could use myself. Braxton Hunter’s “Core Facts” has my endorsement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters