The Information Bias of Reformed Evangelicals
Learning to embrace emotion and experience (as valid)
Information Bias: the tendency to value thinking over feeling, reason over intuition, and logic over emotion.
I should start off by saying that I am not an enemy of logic or reason; this would be contrary to who I am as a philosophy student and ISTJ.
In fact, it is very natural for me to adopt an information bias when it comes to interpersonal relations, church organization, or social issues. I am very quick to judge my sister or brother by their theological understanding or by a measure of their Biblical literacy. This is because I, like my reformed peers, seek to have a God-centered understanding of the world. Gospel-centeredness is, of course, a noble desire. But like most things, when taken to an extreme, my information affinity can become divisive.
We must realize that we face a trade-off here: an unyielding confidence in reason comes at the dispense of other essential, human faculties (viz. intuition, emotion, feeling, and so on).
Unfettered, our information bias can cause much pain and misunderstanding: we can find ourselves creating programs and holding meetings instead of doing the important work of fostering right relationships. Reasoning allows us to take a step back from the messy world of people into the abstract world of thought –– our safe zone, our home court.
Why is this the case?
The Head > Heart > Hands Fallacy
I have heard that the Bible prescribes a linear relationship between reason (head), emotion (heart), and behavior (hands). At face value, this seems right. We read the Word, are moved by the Word, and then we respond to the Word. . . right?
I don’t think so; in fact, the first two directions humanity is given in Genesis are one of work and one of relationship, that is behavior and emotion, not reason. The predisposition to analyze –– the process of methodically breaking something down into component parts to better understand it –– is a construction of man, not an instruction from God.
When told how we ought to love the Lord, emotion and behavior actually precede cognition: “You shall love the Lord your God,” says Jesus, “With all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27a, ESV).
Instead of a a head-heart-hands infrastructure, we ought to consider –– and supremely value –– all of our human qualities on a level playing field. When we fail to do this, we end up hurting those around us.
When Right Opinion Leads to Bad Relationships
A common outcome of information bias is the propensity to have adamant, closed-fist opinions. By and large, Calvinists are known to honest, vocal, and unwavering in their belief system. The problem emerges when we care more about right thinking than right relationships. If our theology is not causing us to love God and love people more deeply, it has become an idol. In his song Doxology Intro, Shai Linne explains that theology on its own, without doxology, is “dead, cold orthodoxy” –– that if theology doesn’t lead to humility and adoration, we have missed the point.
We see this all of the time in our Reformed circles: we find it difficult to respect or relate to other groups because they don’t think like us –– perhaps they can’t; this is a real tragedy. How many times have we caused arguments to erupt in our churches and on our Facebook feeds despite having theologically sound opinions? How many times has sound logic failed to absolve a disagreement between us and a sister or brother? It is dangerous and erroneous to believe that reasoning on its own will help us grow close to God and close to our neighbors.
If our focus on theology is not moving us towards reconciled relationships we have become victims of information bias.
Redeeming Feeling and Emotion
We are in serious need of a renewed value of feeling and emotion in our churches. We need to devote ourselves to a whole life stewardship approach to the Gospel — in all that we do.
This means that our worship shouldn’t be limited to high lyrical theology, or our sermons to the nuances of grammar or language usage in the Bible.
Perhaps Gospel-centered worship is the extolment of God through melody; perhaps it is the praise of God through reflection or introspection; perhaps it is the exultation of God through dancing. Perhaps our view of worship is too narrow, too comfortable.
And what about Gospel-centered preaching? Ought it always be theological exposition? Can we not use sermons for affirmation, encouragement, or how-to instruction?
In my limited experience, reformed evangelicals have a low opinion of churches that are less intellectual or ‘serious’; churches that sing Hillsong or Gospel music on Sundays, our information bias tells us, are less mature than us. Those churches that focus on a topical sermon series rather than our year-long study of Romans, are somehow more shallow than us.
This bias, I am convinced, can be overcome by a renewed understanding and appreciation of all of faculties God has given us, especially those of feeling and emotion. We must choose to press into the tense, uncomfortable waters of expression (even if it means clapping). We must start believing that personal experience and feeling are valuable (even if it means crying). We must start listening to each others’ stories before we analyze them (even if it means surrendering).
Written by Alex Burlingame. If you enjoyed this post, show some love by tapping the heart below so that others can find it too.