Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Heart Rending Gospel: A Response to Michael Minkoff

The following is a response to Michael Minkoff's excellent essay "How Christian Rationalism Turned Me Into a Psycopath, or a Biblical Defense of Feelings." The essay has resonated strongly with many of us who grew up in a reformed church during the 90s. However, it appears to this reader that Minkoff's diagnosis is misplaced. While the extremes of rationalism and emotionalism in the church can be traced throughout history, one following and reacting to the other, the constant through it all is the depravity of both mind and heart. Just as the diagnosis has fundamentally remained the same, so has the cure- the transforming power of the Gospel.  The response shared below is written by Rev. Thomas Church (my father), a reformed minister who has spent  40+ years sharing that Gospel.

UPDATE: Mr. Minkoff responded in the comments of his post. His charitable rebuttal is worth reading as well. 


After reading the Michael Minkoff Jr. essay on Christian rationalism I found myself quite seriously discouraged. And I actually feel (rationalist reformed minister though I be ) very badly for the man.

Certainly the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, if not other reformed churches, has been beaten with this stick (though not so eloquently) for as long as I can remember. I recall it was a surprise for me when I first heard it because it has never been my experience.  I don’t say that defensively or proudly. It just has never been so in any Orthodox Presbyterian Church that I’ve pastored or been associated with.   

But I don’t mean to say that I don’t doubt this is an issue in many reformed churches. I have certainly seen a certain tendency  toward heartless rationalism and heard the “Don’t trust your feelings” mantra used many many times. In fact I’m sure I have said it myself… and to myself. And sometimes it was very helpful and needful to have heard. To be truthful, it is hardly unique to reformed churches. In point of fact the first time I saw the famous “Faith…Facts…. Feelings” diagram (the choo-choo train being driven by the engine labeled “Faith”, fueled by the coal car labeled “Facts” immediately behind it, with the caboose labeled “Feelings” tagging along at the end)- was in a tract that came from Campus Crusade for Christ (now curiously renamed as CRU) -which could hardly have ever been accused, particularly back then, of being reformed. But I get Minkoff's point… We need to strike a balance in worship and in proclamation between intellect and emotions. They both must be appropriately engaged. And I don’t doubt that there are many particular reformed churches that have failed to do this. They have been driven doubtless in part by reaction to the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalism in the 30s through the 60s, and partly by theology.

So far as the theology side of it - I will gently and tentatively say that Mr. Minkoff  appears to show little appreciation for the doctrine of the depravity of the human heart. I don’t believe that’s an invention of late 17th century rationalism. I think it’s pretty well-established from cover to cover in the Bible- and profusely illustrated by the lives of every one of us! Perhaps in reformed churches we overplay this - but I think there is good biblical reason for the conviction that the nature of man has been vitiated by sin in every regard and this, more than anything else is what has driven a suspicion with emotions. We are equally suspicious of our intellect as well as our emotions, but we DO believe that God’s word, empowered by the Holy Spirit is supernaturally endued with the power to speak truth first to our intellect. Yes- I confess to being convinced of the primacy of the intellect. I learned that from Dr. Van Til (NOT a rationalist). But our  emotions are also addressed through his word. Rationalism does not trump the power of Scripture. I am sure Mr. Minkoff would confess that.

I am no theologian or historical scholar but I suspect what killed the New England churches wasn’t simply rationalism. It was  more broadly the depravity of the human heart that ruined her theology. America has not been saved by Pentecostalism.

Again I take his point. But what I really want to say is that after reading the article, by the grace of God I turned to the Scriptures also this morning- reviewing some current memory passages such as 1Timothy 4:7 -10 and Hebrews 10:19 -22, and reflecting on my evening sermon from 2 Samuel 23:13 – 17, I thought to myself- Did this poor man never hear the gospel? Did he never hear of the love of Christ in his reformed church? Were there never any tears spilt for the sweet love of Christ!  Did he never hear an exposition of the account of Jesus interaction with the sinful woman who anointed him with tears of love- please pause to read the “punch line” in Luke 7:47!  It sounds to me as if what this good brother really suffered from was legalism! Maybe all he heard about was the law and doctrine of sanctification and little about justification. Reformed churches make that error… But so do other Evangelical churches.

The doctrine of the active obedience of Christ is instructive. It teaches me that I am completely righteous- and delightful- loved- graciously received in the sight of God, that I’m clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

I need to say that I never heard Romans 5:19 nor anything about the imputation of the Righteousness of Christ in the decidedly non-rationalistic fundamentalist churches I attended when I was first converted… Never. I learned that at Westminster seminary and in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It changed my life!

I’m not gainsaying this man’s experience- I get it. But the antidote is not to be found in emotionalism - not even in listening to our hearts. What will save Mr. Minkoff from being a psychopath is the gospel! The gospel recognizes the depravity of man, and then moves on quickly to a description of a loving Savior, and the loving God who sent him! The gospel teaches me that the more I see of my sin the more I see the corresponding love of Christ. Did this man never hear the gospel in a reformed church? Perhaps not. I’m very sorry for that.

Perhaps I am missing Minkoff's point. All I know is that I have the privilege of serving in a very loving church where people feel secure and free and loved enough to show it. This Sunday morning during our prayer time three people publicly admitted to addictions… One of them, a drunk who walked in the door, lives a few blocks away and grew up in our church 50 years ago. This is not my doing. I’m not a particularly loving person. But, by the grace of God I do love to preach the gospel. And that answers all. I'm sorry Mr. Minkoff couldn't have found a church where the love of the gospel might have penetrated his wounded heart.

-Rev. Thomas Church

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