Does the Church Need More Heart Knowledge or More Head Knowledge?

I’ve heard people say, “We don’t need more head knowledge in the church today; we need heart knowledge.” But the problem is not that we know too much!

By learning with humility and wisdom, the truth in our heads will also be in our hearts. As Lois Tverberg writes in Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, “The longest 12 inches that your faith has to move is from your head to your heart. And once your faith makes that move, it naturally comes out through your hands and feet.”

The head and the heart should not be pitted against each other. We need both. Bruce Ware says, “If you don’t have it in your head, you can’t have it in your heart.”

You are a whole person, and the path to your heart travels through your mind. Lois Tverberg explains, “In English we speak of the heart to refer to our emotions, sometimes even contrasting our hearts with our heads—our rational thinking. But in Hebrew, the heart…doesn’t just describe your emotions. It also refers to your mind and thoughts as well. It is the center of all your inner life.”

Truth matters. When you speak truth, you come to believe it. To touch us at the heart level—and to keep touching us over days, months, years, and decades—truth must work its way into our minds.

Jen Wilkin writes, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” And “If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about God.”

I cringe whenever someone says, “We know too much truth/doctrine/theology. We need to live it.” Of course, we need to live it, but the solution is not knowing less. In fact, Christians know less about the Bible and biblical doctrine than any time in memory. We need more of it, not less, and when we learn it properly, it will draw our hearts to God.

The Apostle Paul saw love for God and knowledge of Him as being inextricably connected: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). The problem with the Pharisees isn’t that they knew too much Bible, but they failed to embrace and live out a central core of the Bible—love, grace, and kindness.

The heart that deeply knows and loves God will bear the fruit of the Spirit, and overflow with joyful service to others.  J.I. Packer put it this way: “There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve Him, boldness to share Him, and contentment in Him.”

But there’s a problem. Over nearly five decades in my church (a church that has always taught and emphasized God’s Word), I’ve seen a noticeable—even startling—reduction in the average person’s grasp of biblical truth. It’s possible for someone to hear Bible-based sermons, as we regularly do at my church, while at the same time adopting a worldview that is less and less biblical. This happens because most church people spend little time studying God’s truth during the week.

Our era is in no danger of going down in history as “The Era of Deep Thought.”

In our world, feelings overshadow thinking and sizzle outshines substance. And what ends up in the heart comes first into the head. 

We should hunger for God’s words and delight  in them. But first we must cultivate a taste for them. We live in an age where mental “junk foods” are thrust upon us constantly on television, radio, online, in social media, and even through superficial conversations.

Compare the time we collectively spend reading Scripture and great books that teach biblical truth with the amount of time we spend watching television and reading social media, both of which often exemplify an anti-Christian worldview. What chance does one 40-minute sermon a week have—no matter how biblical—of correcting 40 to 70 hours of input that’s contrary to Scripture? It’s impossible, unless that 40 minutes of Bible teaching motivates us to study and discuss God’s Word and read quality books in our remaining discretionary time.

The current tendency to minimize Bible study and sound theology in the interests of focusing on the heart is badly misguided. The anti-intellect, popular-culture-driven "all that matters is my heart" is wrong, but even if it were right, we still would need to cultivate our minds in order to cultivate our hearts. “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10, ESV).

God help us renew our minds, set our minds on things above, and love God with all our hearts and minds, never supposing we can do one without the other. (See Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:2, Mark 12:30.)

In this shallow culture, how can we keep from turning into trivial Christians?

“Reflect on what I am saying,” Paul wrote, “for the Lord will give you insight into all this” (2 Timothy 2:7). When we invest in understanding and meditating on God’s truths, we become people of depth and substance. If you want depth, you have to behold God’s truth often, allowing it to make the crucial sixteen-inch journey from your head to your heart.

Scripture confronts sin in our lives, prompts us to obedience, and gives us delight in Christ. We need to go to God’s Word, open it, read it, meditate on it, and learn to delight in it. It will make us better, deeper, and happier people.

“For we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you…Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:14,16, CSB).

As I shared in this blog, surveys demonstrate that we are currently not winning the battle of renewing our minds by God’s revealed truth. Most evangelical Christians are losing their grip on a biblical worldview. Reversing this trend will never happen without radical and decisive changes in our personal habits: supplementing our personal study of God’s Word with reading truly good books of spiritual substance, and getting solid training in our churches and Bible studies.

So what’s the answer to the question, Does the Church Need More “Heart Knowledge” or More “Head Knowledge”? The answer is yes, we need more of both and less of neither, and we need to not artificially divide them or promote a false choice between them. The biblically-informed mind of Jesus fed and directed His heart, and His heart moved His mind, in complete concert. So it should be for us.

We simply must encourage enhanced biblical and theological knowledge in our churches, so that instead of conforming to the world, we can become transformed by the renewing of our minds, just as Romans 12:1-2 instructs us. This requires our partnership with the work of God’s Spirit. Let’s follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who prayed fervently that the love of the Philippians would “abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (1:9-10).

Let’s not be content with empty entertainment and diversions. Let’s turn instead to the delicious truths in God’s Word that energize, strengthen, sustain, and comfort us. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed [how happy!] is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8, ESV). May God help us to renew our minds, set our minds on things above, and love Him with all our hearts and minds. 

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries