The Idol of Rationalism
Mysticism teaches that you can find God in your emotions. It is the “god in your heart” heresy, for it locates the divine within, in the landscape of one’s inner subjectivity, rather than understanding God as an objective, transcendent, personal Being who exists “out there” as the ultimate external Reality, the One in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), the One by whom, through whom, and unto whom are all things (Romans 11:36). Mysticism turns emotional states and experiences into idols, for it ultimately involves the worship of one’s emotions. Revivalistic forms of Christianity are saturated with mysticism and the radical individualism (“me and my personal Jesus”) that naturally flows out of it.
While mysticism tells you to find God in your emotions, rationalism tells you to find God in your mind. While mystical versions of Christianity often identify the work of the Holy Spirit with powerful religious experiences of an emotional “liver shiver,” rationalist versions of the faith tend to equate the work of the Spirit with the gaining of a deep intellectual knowledge of Christianity and its doctrines. If mysticism tends to lead to the idolatry of our emotions, rationalism tends to lead to the idolatry of our thoughts. If mysticism is the “god in your heart” heresy, then rationalism is the “god in your head” heresy.
Rationalism(1) is a heresy to which we Reformed and Presbyterian believers are particularly susceptible, for while we rightly value the importance of growing in our knowledge of the Bible and of sound biblical doctrine, at the same time this emphasis on the intellect can be taken to an unhealthy extreme if we imagine that doctrinal precision is necessarily the same thing as true piety or godliness.
The Bible avoids both the “god in your heart” and “god in your head” heresies. It does not set “head” against “heart,” emotions against intellect, for it recognizes that God created both and is to be worshipped and served by both (Eph. 4:26; Matt. 22:37; etc.). Holy Scripture leads us to find God, not in our own hearts or in our own heads, but in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the living Word, and in God’s infallible word-revelation, the Bible, which is the written Word of God.
Dear reader, don’t try to find God in your heart (mysticism), or in your head (rationalism), or in any other created thing.(2) Turn from the idol of rationalism, and trust instead in the true and living God who is revealed in Christ and in the Holy Scriptures!
(1) Let the reader understand that there is a difference between rationality and rationalism. Rationality is a God-created faculty of the mind which enables us to use the God-given gifts of reason and logic. God’s Word is not against reason or rationality when they are used in submission to God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. But Scripture is against rationalism, which involves autonomous human reason sitting in judgment over the Word of God, and which seeks to understand the mysteries of God’s revelation exhaustively, rather than accepting these mysteries by a confident, child-like faith, even if these mysteries cannot be fully comprehended by our intellects. (Think, for example, of the mystery of the Trinity, a Divinely-revealed mystery which can be understood at some level by the human intellect, but which cannot be exhaustively, comprehensively understood by mere human reason.) Rationalism ends up making human reason the final standard of truth, whereas true biblical Christianity looks to God’s Revelation in Scripture the final standard of truth and the supreme authority for Christian faith and practice. Rationalism puts the mind of man above the Word of God, whereas the godly use of rationality seeks to employ human reason in submission to the Word of God.
(2) Some of the points made in this blog find their source and inspiration in Rev. Jonathan Fisk’s book Broken: 7 “Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought To Break As Often As Possible (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, copyright 2012 Jonathan M. Fisk). While Rev. Fisk is a confessional Lutheran, and thus I would take exception to some of his theological views; nevertheless his book overall is very helpful and thought-provoking in confronting many contemporaries idols, including the idols of mysticism, rationalism, and other contemporary “isms” found in American Christianity.