“What do you mean by ‘affective theology?’ I’ve never heard of it before I met you.”
This was the lead line of the Spreading Goodness entry for June 4, 2018. In that piece—and I invite readers to visit there—I explained why I adopted this uncommon phrasing. I also use the phrase “heart-based spirituality” to say the same thing—that the Bible constantly uses the language of “heart” to speak of the motivational center of every soul. We always respond to our most immediate desires, and our desires are stirred by someone or something that moves us.
Is this notion simply meant to be provocative in an age when most people presume to make most personal choices virtually out of the air? Not really. But it often stirs a response, usually in defense of our presumed “free will.”
The actual reason for using it is that the Bible constantly uses the term “heart” to explain human choices. Constantly! Take Proverbs 4:23, for instance. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Or Jesus, in Mark 7:20-23. “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Yet in my experience I can’t recall a living pastor or theologian who has spent time explaining the use of heart language in the Bible. Back in 1517 Philip Melanchthon, reflecting his mentor Martin Luther, mocked the theologians of his day for being “thick headed” for preferring the language of “intellect” or “will” to explain our actions. Well, Philip, we may still have a problem!
So, my ambition for the next seven entries in Spreading Goodness is to offer key features of heart-based spirituality. And while any regular reader here will recognize most of the ideas I’ll share, I’ll aim to pull things together in a more extended and coherent summary. Whether we agree or disagree on any particulars, it’s a crucial topic to chase.
Once again, “What do you mean by ‘affective theology?” Good question. I plan to say more, starting a week from now.