Affective Lives

“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 1521 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.



  1. Jonathan Gale

    Can’t wait for the next installment of, ‘Spreading Goodness’ – This article has stirred my desires to chase after this theme in my Bible reading! – I was also prompted to read, ‘Testaments of Love’ by Leon Morris by last month’s article. An excellent suppliment along side my Bible reading to understand the heart language of the Bible. However, the author is no longer with us, having went to be with the Lord some years back.

  2. Hollie-Anne Gale

    THIS will be an exciting series!! Poised with a pen in one hand and a cuppa in the other 🙂 I’m so excited for this adventure Ron. Praying for you as you engage our hearts on this journey!

  3. Rick

    Ron – I’m really looking forward to your upcoming series on affective spirituality. I went back and read your 6/4/2018 post and I have two questions. Re: “And if we presume God—whose Spirit awakens the soul to “hear” the Scriptures in a life-giving way—isn’t being arbitrary, we’re left to locate the problem in “hard” and skeptical human hearts. And addressing that is another conversation!” – can you point me to a post or two where you may have elaborated on this – I am interested in this topic?
    And re: “Second, we need to recognize the heart as God’s locale for communing with us—where his Spirit lives after our conversion. But despite the huge weight of heart-focused references in the Bible the default view of the soul in most churches is that love is an act of our will rather than a response of the heart.” – how do you view the distinctions between soul, heart, will (and I’ll add mind and emotions)? How are they different? How do they intersect? How do they function within us? Again, you may have written on this topic, so if you can point me to the appropriate posts it would be must appreciated. This is another topic I am interested in.

  4. R N Frost

    I’m just now picking up the comments here. Sorry for the slow response.

    Yes, Jonathan, Leon Morris was an Aussie scholar who prospered in the middle of the last century. A meticulous Bible specialist who always “kept his finger on the text.” But not so much a theologian offering broad synthetic insights. In this case he certainly spotted the obvious!

    And Brian, it’s lovely to hear your ‘voice’! I so enjoyed having you with us in our Cor Deo days.

    Rick, I appreciate your good questions. I confess, though, that I don’t know my own collection of writings. So I’ve addressed some of what you’re asking in what amounts to a set of random and often overlapping posts. But I wouldn’t be able to pull them up for you without plunging through the whole. About the ‘heart’ – I expect to cover some of what you’re asking in the weeks to come. And if I don’t, please ask again. As a clue, though: I find the ‘heart’ is regularly aligned in the Bible with our affections or desires and not through a disaffected rationality. As believers we love [and make our choices in the context of that love] because God first loved us.

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