Address the Heart or the Head?
The respected Christian historian, Philip Schaff, once said that unbelievers “are seldom convinced by argument, for the springs of unbelief are in the heart rather than in the head”.
This has also been my experience. I began my ministry by planting a church in Boulder, Colorado – a town filled with scientists and intellectuals. I spent much of my time talking with people who marshalled every conceivable intellectual reason supporting their rejection of God. It took me awhile to figure it out, but eventually I realized that, in nearly every case, there was a deep-seated emotional reason for their rejection. And until I addressed their emotional reason, my arguments for God fell on deaf ears.
Take “Joe” as an example. He was an outspoken critic of Christianity. At first, I tried to answer all his objections. I talked until I was blue in the face but with no results. Finally realizing the futility of what I was doing, I tried to get to know him better. Over time he confided in me that his mother died when he was young and ever since he had been angry with God. I can’t report that he became a believer, but I can say our conversations became much more meaningful and productive. I pray that the Holy Spirit used those seeds I planted to later bring Joe to faith.
Usually it’s not easy addressing matters of the heart. Most people are quite leery of going there. Debating God intellectually is so much safer than applying biblical truth to our personal struggles and hurts. We need to win people’s trust before they will open up to us.
But usually, as Schaff points out, heart issues are what we need to focus on. Looking back on my ministry, I have trouble thinking of examples where I witnessed to someone effectively solely with intellectual arguments. I can think of many examples, however, of where God’s word changed their stress points to rest points. Once that happened, not only were they eager to address the “intellectual” issues, they also often quickly accepted the biblical position.
One example that has repeated itself quite often is trying to get a Mormon to believe what the Bible says about the Trinity. Whenever I started there, it almost always became a battle royal. But when we focused on their worthiness in Christ and they saw that Jesus did everything for them, then their accepting the biblical doctrine of the Trinity became a piece of cake.
This example brings me to my last point. We do have to address head issues. We do have to answer the world’s arguments against God. My point is that the order in which we do it is critically important. In most cases, focusing on the heart first rather than the head is the way to go.