Up front I will acknowledge the following:
- My theological, ecclesiastical and practical lens is Pentecostalism. (For those who are less familiar with the nuance of the term, I am not referring to the long skirts, no make-up, uber strict variety. I am speaking in terms of the Assemblies of God, southern variety.)
- My theological, ecclesiastical and practical lens is also what I will call “revival” Pentecostalism. (Think influences such as Finney, Ravenhill, Seymour, Wigglesworth, Azusa, Brownsville, Toronto, The Ramp, etc.)
- My theological, ecclesiastical and practical lens is not static, nor dogmatic, but ever-evolving as I become increasingly familiar with The Father, Son and Spirit. (Basically, I am not close-minded to other expressions of faith such as orthodoxy, AnaBaptists, Anglicans, common evangelical streams, modern church growth movements, or current heavy church influencers such as Jakes, Furtick, Piper, Chandler, Hodges, etc.)
- I am probably much more balanced and diverse in my theology, ecclesiology and practice than most would realize. That is in part, because the movement I have the tremendous honor and responsibility of leading looks like this…(HIT THIS LINK)
Why did I go through the above rigamaro?
Honestly, probably to try and convince you that I am not someone unqualified, or too biased, to discuss the idea of emotionalism. Probably because I have a bit of a sensitivity to the accusation of leading people via emotionalism. I went through all of the above to help you understand, being emotional is not a sign that one is deficient of intelligence or deficient in the ability to think more deeply, beyond the moment.
Regarding emotions, and their role in spiritual experience, faith formation, Christian maturity, and the over arching idea of “discipleship”…Well…no matter how much I evolve, I can’t escape this simple thought.
We are created in God’s image. In the most elementary terms, so much of who and what we are is derived from the being and nature of God. This includes our emotions. Our emotions are an expression of the image of God.
Yes, those too…
Certainly, we must steward our emotions well by submitting them to the Holy Spirit, but even emotions such as anger or sadness have their roots in God. They have value and add meaning. They can be expressed in a legitimate way, and are useful when leveraged for growth. Yes, they can obviously become distorted if they are separated from Him. Without a doubt, there are times when our emotions mislead us or create a false narrative. Nevertheless, we would be wise to avoid becoming overly focused on combatting “emotionalism” in the life of faith.
Because of my lenses and influences (#1 and #2 specifically), I have found myself frequently hearing the whispers of naysayers.
“That’s just emotionalism.”
“It’s shallow and won’t last.”
“It is manipulation to get a response.”
Are those accusations always unfounded? I’m sure there are instances in which these concerns are appropriate. However, I have never understood the antagonism toward emotional expression in conjunction with faith. In most other arenas of life, genuine expressions of emotion are celebrated and considered healthy. Counselors will expend much time and energy provoking clients to express their emotions for the sake of mental health. Yet, when it comes to matters of spiritual experience, formation and discipleship, such expression are often put into a category with negative connotations.
I submit to you that to attempt to stifle “emotionalism” is to put oneself at risk of contending against a legitimate expression of the image of God. I will go as far as to say, it is malpractice to attempt to sever emotions from faith. Faith is living and breathing and based on a Person. If faith is a systematic set of rules and regulations…a formula to be implemented…then yes, emotions are not very useful. However, as we engage the Person of God, our emotions have value as they propel us toward relationship. Human relationships, devoid of emotion, are unfulfilling at best. All the more this is accurate as it pertains to our communion with the Divine. Emotional expression is useful for soul health and genuine intimacy with God. Increased spirituality and faith is not a muting of emotions, but rather a usefulness of emotions. So much so that our spirituality and faith will create a dynamic in us where even “non-spiritual” aspects of life carry greater meaning and provoke our emotions.
Simply stated…emotional expression is not a sign of shallow faith. It is more often a sign of deepening faith…faith that is being enriched in the moment…faith that is being strengthened.
Finally, if we are taking our cues from Jesus, look no further than the edge of Lazarus’ tomb…
Jesus was troubled. Jesus was angry. Jesus wept.
In the aftermath a dead man came alive.