Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Emotion, Scheliermacher, Edwards, and the JollyBlogger

David Wayne has a curious post up comparing the role of emotion in the respective theologies of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Jonathan Edwards. David probably has as much or more of a grasp on the theologies of both men than I do, so all I can do regarding the specific point at hand is to echo his own sense that while Edwards thought the "affections" were important, for Schleiermacher they were all-encompassing (he wrote that music--by which he meant music itself, not lyrics--was a better expression of spiritual truth than any sort of rational discourse).

The more interesting point, to me, is the fact that David relates this to an ongoing discussion largely among Adrian Warnock, the Pyromaniacs, and David himself regarding the role of emotions and charismatic gifts in Christian experience. It seems to me that perhaps all parties are laboring under the misconception of regarding charismatic experience as inherently emotional (as opposed to other types of Christian experience, which presumably would be more rational, or at least more balanced between emotionalism and rationality). Even though Adrian (the charismatic in this discussion) himself made the appeal for a more "experiential" faith, and Pentecostal/charismatic services tend to be more overtly demonstrative of emotion, this identification of emotion and charismatic gifts lends itself to the idea that there is nothing to the gifts but emotion. It might even be thought that emotion itself is the only goal of charismatic Christian experience. That is emphatically not what Pentecostals and charismatics believe. Most of the churches and worship environments I've been a part of have been quite explicit about the difference between what we believe comes from God and what can come from one's own heightened emotions ("in the flesh" is generally how it's termed). Moreover, it seems to me that charismatics hardly have a corner on religious emotion. It seems to me that fear of too much emotional expression is just as much an emotion as anything else.

It seems to me that this view of charismatic experience is what suggested the Schleiermacher-Edwards comparison to David. To be sure, he didn't oppose them as Schleiermacher = emotion = bad and Edwards = rationality = good. In fact, he said they were actually very similar in their romanticism, and therefore it was something other than stressing emotional experience that made them either good or bad. He's getting away from the whole "emotion is the crux of the matter" mentality, which I view as positive. And yet, when they're compared and related to the charismatic-cessationist debate, it appears that Edwards falls into the camp of the balanced cessationist and therefore charismatics are left with the fount of theological liberalism as their representative of emotional, experiential Christianity. And isn't that actually the concern of many cessationists? that in emphasizing experience and emotion, we will deemphesize scriptural truth?

The comparison could be turned on its head, of course. We could compare, for example, John Wesley as the representative of emotional, vibrant faith (balanced with a firm commitment to scriptural truth), and Rudolph Bultmann as the representative of overrationalized exegesis. It would be just as wrong. The true gulf lies not between charismatics and cessationists, but between all of us who accept the authority of Scripture and all of those who do not. Our quibbles of interpretation are nothing compared to the foundational mistake of leaving behind the inspiration and authority of Scripture.


  1. excellent points all around,the emphasis on emotionalism is the favorite straw-man for the cessationist.

  2. Hey! Check out Dr. Matthew Elliott's book Feel the Power of Listening to your Heart for a great understanding of Edwards, Schleiermacher, and Bultmann.