Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Sensuous Christian...

It was a happy occasion when I received an email from Ligonier Ministries, granting permission to reproduce here an excerpt from Dr. R.C. Sproul’s book “Knowing Scripture” (Intervarsity Press, 1977), entitled “The Sensuous Christian.”

A Sensuous Christian is someone who relies more on feelings rather than the correct handling of God's Word. Heaven knows I need to be less and less of a Sensuous Christian. May the Lord use this to keep us all from becoming one, or to transform us from being one—not just during each Lenten Season.

Ligonier Ministries was established in 1971 to equip Christians to articulate what they believe and why they believe it. Our foremost desire is to “awaken as many people as possible to the holiness of God by proclaiming, teaching, and defending His holiness in all its fullness.”

You can help support Ligonier Ministries by visiting their website
(Pls. right click on the link for the option to open it in a new window.)

What is a Sensuous Christian? One dictionary defines sensuous as, “pertaining to the senses or sensible objects: highly susceptible to influence through the senses.” The sensuous Christian is one who lives by his feelings rather than through his understanding of the Word of God. The sensuous Christian cannot be moved to service, prayer or study unless “he feels like it.” His Christian life is only as effective as the intensity of present feelings. When he experiences spiritual euphoria, he is a whirlwind of Godly activity; when he is depressed, he is a spiritual incompetent. He constantly seeks new and fresh spiritual experiences and uses them to determine the Word of God. His “inner feelings” become the ultimate test of truth.

The sensuous Christian doesn’t need to study the Word of God because he already knows the will of God by his feelings. He doesn’t want to know God; he wants to experience him. The sensuous Christian equates “childlike faith” with ignorance. He thinks that when the Bible calls us to childlike faith it means a faith without content, a faith without understanding. He doesn’t know that the Bible says, “In evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). He doesn’t realize that Paul tells us again and again, “My beloved brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (see, for example, Romans 11:25; or 1 Corinthians 10:1, 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:13—Boms).

The sensuous Christian goes his merry way until he encounters the pain of life that is not so merry and he folds. He usually ends up embracing a kind of “relational theology” (that most dreadful curse on modern Christianity) where personal relationships and experience take precedence over the Word of God. If the Scripture calls us to action that may jeopardize a personal relationship, then the Scripture must be compromised. The highest law of the sensuous Christian is that bad feelings must be avoided at all cost.

The Bible is addressed primarily though not exclusively to our understanding. That means the mind. This is difficult to communicate to modern Christians who are living in what may be the most anti-intellectual period of Western civilization. Notice, I did not say anti-academic or anti-technological or anti-scholarly. I said anti-intellectual. There is a strong current of antipathy to the function of the mind in the Christian life today.

To be sure, there are historical reasons for this kind of reaction. Many laymen have felt the result of what one theologian has called “the treason of the intellectual.” So much skepticism, cynicism and negative criticism have spewed forth from the intellectual world of theologians that the laymen have lost their trust in intellectual enterprises. In many cases there is the fear that faith will not hold up under intellectual scrutiny so the defense becomes the denigration of the human mind. We turn to feelings rather than to our minds to establish and preserve our faith.

Christianity is supremely intellectual though not intellectualistic. That is, Scripture is addressed to the intellect without at the same time embracing a spirit of intellectualism. The Christian life is not to be a life of bare conjecture or cold rationalism; it is to be a life of vibrant passion. Strong feelings of joy, love and exaltation are called for again and again. But those passionate feelings are a response to what we understand with our minds to be true. When we read in Scripture, “Take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), “ho hum” is not an appropriate response. We can be of good cheer because we understand that Christ has indeed overcome the world. That thrills our souls and sets our feet to dancing. What is more precious than to experience the sweetness of the presence of Christ or the nearness of the Holy Spirit?

God forbid that we should lose our passion or go through the Christian pilgrimage without any experience of Christ. But what happens when there is a conflict between what God says and what I feel? We must do what God says, like it or not.

Reflect for a moment. What happens in your own life when you act according to what you feel like doing rather than what you know and understand God says you should do? Here we encounter the ruthless reality of the difference between happiness and pleasure. How easy it is to confuse the two! The pursuit of happiness is regarded as our “unalienable right.” But happiness and pleasure are not the same thing. Both of them feel good, but only one endures. Sin can bring pleasure, but never happiness. If sin were not so pleasurable, it would hardly represent a temptation. Yet, while sin often “feels good,” it does not produce happiness. If we dot know the difference, or worse yet, do not care about the difference, we have made great strides to becoming the ultimate sensuous Christian.

Learn more about correctly handling the Word of God. Rely less on feelings to interpret the Holy Bible. Read Dr. R.C. Sproul’s book “Knowing Scripture” (InterVarsity Press, 1977). Copies should be available at the following online booksellers:

Ligonier Ministries
InterVarsity Press
The Reformers Bookshop, Stanmore Baptist Church

(Pls right-clink on the links for the option to open each one in a new window.)

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