I was converted in a Pentecostal church. Soon after, however, I discovered Reformed theology – I was mentored by a wise Reformed man who introduced me to the works of R.C. Sproul. I remember it still – I was reading Sproul’s works and I couldn’t put it down. It was hardly a year since I became a Christian. It was just about the end of high school, I was waiting to go to college, and I remembered I couldn’t sleep very well for a couple of weeks thinking about all the implications of what Sproul was teaching. I came to the conclusion that this was what the Bible actually teaches. Particularly, I believed, and still continue to believe, that our human wills are incapable of choosing God, because of sin. I strongly believe, that if left to ourselves, we would continue to hate him. Our problem, deep down, is not intellectual or cognitive, but rather a problem of the heart. Without God’s sovereign grace that transforms us effectually, from the inside, we would never have chosen him. God, therefore, elects us in sovereign love and brings us to himself. This is the only way one could be regenerated, and so have faith in God.
But I wrestled with this. At first I didn’t like it. I cherished the thought that I was saving myself from my old ways – of course I depended upon Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, but this was my choice. I was the one who repented – I turned a new leaf. It was my free will that chose to do this. But I couldn’t reconcile this with Romans 8 and 9. I couldn’t get pass Ephesians 1 and 2. Behind my will, these texts teach, was the sovereign work of God, without which I would never have willed my repentance. God gave me the power of faith, though the act was wholly mine.
I began to react to all this. So, in my mind, the Bible was firm, but the heart was fickle. Theology stands strong, but it was my emotions that resisted it. So that’s how I taught. We shouldn’t trust our affections, not even us as Christians. We should follow theology wherever it may lead, despite how I feel. To be Reformed is to ignore the emotions, and to follow the Bible no matter what.
Over the years I began to realize how falsely one-sided, of course, this picture is. Even a cursory look at the Psalms would lead us to see that God wants our hearts as much as he wants our minds. Our emotions must be aligned just as much as we affirm what God says. Not only that, I began reading Bavinck. Over and over again, readers of Bavinck would know, he bids us to challenge our theology by asking us whether it actually “satisfies the demands of the heart.” Consider one passage, as Bavinck rejects a wholly “immanent God” that versions of liberalism may offer to us:
“…an immanent God, identical with the world, may for a while aesthetically affect and warm man; it can never satisfy man’s religious and ethical needs. It fails to raise us above the actual, and supplies no power stronger than the world; it brings no peace, and offers no rest on the Father-heart of God. This, after all, is what man seeks in religion, -strength, life, a personal power, that can pardon sin, receive us into favor, and cause us to triumph joyfully over a world of sin and death. The true religion which shall satisfy our mind and heart, our conscience and our will… must impart to us eternity… This is the reason why transcendence, supranaturalism, revelation, are essential to all religion.” Philosophy of Revelation, p. 17.
Of course, the heart of the Christian is still often fickle. It still wrestles, it still aches for the things of the past, it still struggles. But deep inside every person, according to Bavinck, is a deep longing that can only be satisfied by the true God. Echoing Augustine, for Bavinck the human being is essentially a lover. We must love, for it is in our natures to love – and if we do not love God, we only love that which ought not to be loved – our hearts are restless, indeed, until it finds its rest in Him. To put it in terms of Bavinck’s worldview – the self longs for an organic connection with its creator. That organic connection obtains when the self, as an organic unit, finds itself corresponding in heart, mind, and will, to the revelation of God in Christ.
Again, if Reformed theology is right, then we must affirm that unbelief comes not from intellectual reasons, but from reasons of the heart. Why, then, do we present this theology, often, in such intellectualistic terms? Reformed theology satisfies not simply because it is the most intellectually stimulating or biblically accurate theology (though I think these are both true), but because it is the very theology that can satiate the longing of the heart. It isn’t a lofty, cold, and purely cognitive theology meant to suppress the affections – it is the only theology that ought to satisfy the affections because it presents the sovereign, unchangeable, Triune God, whose free love saves us in Christ. This, at least, was what Bavinck believed. This, also, was Bavinck’s strategy.
A suggestion, then. Perhaps we Reformed folks can rethink about how we present this theology we love. In addition to our affirmations and elaborations of the doctrines contained in our confessions, in our teaching and writing, perhaps we can ask these questions – how does, say, the doctrine of God’s sovereign decree satisfy the longings of the heart? How do the Reformed teachings on, say, the Lord’s Supper, divine election, or the sufficiency of Scripture lead to the emotional delight (and cognitive rest) of the believer? If Bavinck is right, one should have no fear – the truth would vindicate itself – and it vindicates itself not merely by presenting to us its biblical accuracy, but also by giving our hearts delightful rest. Or, as John Murray puts it, union with Christ forms in us an affirmation of “intelligent mysticism.”