Mark 12:30: "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."
I have been in pastoral and ministry leadership for 35 years now. Along my journey as a follower of Christ, and as a mentor and coach for other believers, I have regularly perceived a tension among members of the body of Christ in grasping the dimensions of love signified in Jesus's statement in Mark 12:30 (above). As simple as this issue may sound, it is no small matter.
I have experienced the tension, or at least the misunderstanding, that exists between those who perceive love for God as a "heart" issue and those whose love for God appears to be cognitive, intellectual, and contemplative—between those who believe that emotionally driven worship and passion are closer to what God wants and those who worship God "with their mind," remaining seated, reflective, and with hands unraised (they do not typically "dance as David danced"!).
In my own spiritual development, I was fortunate to have been nurtured with both dimensions at work in my worship, discipleship, and ministry—careful reasoning and the joy of adventures in complexity coupled with passionate worship with the Spirit's powerful anointing. God used youth leaders, pastors, professors, and teachers from diverse theological backgrounds in laying a healthy doctrinal foundation and structure for my spiritual formation. It has been a dynamic process over the course of years.
Now, I do not believe that worship from the heart is somehow better than worship from the head, or from the soul. These terms reflect the whole of the inner nature of man that is touched and moved upon by the ministry of the Spirit, Who engages the intellect, emotions, and will of each individual believer. Indeed, we are to love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength; this is a picture of the totality of our being. Human beings are psychologically complex creatures, made in the image of God. Each individual is unique, with particular traits, inclinations, and styles. Of course, all these differences are what make us special. We are special not only because of what we have, but also because of what we do not have: "Then the Lord said to him, 'Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?'" (Ex 4:11). Add to these traits the spiritual gifts that God's Spirit sovereignly endows each believer with and we have a tapestry of human souls woven together to form the body of Christ and called to accomplish His purposes.
That being said, it is clear that there are some believers who do not share my moderating perspective in accepting the unique ways individual believers approach, experience, and nurture their walk with God, their ministry, and their worship experiences, individually and corporately. For some reason, there can be a resistance to encouraging a strong intellectual pursuit of God. It is as if by doing so, one is taking a "worldly" approach that is inferior to the approach of those who believe that more emotive and demonstrative expressions of worship and ministry are the key to a healthy spiritual life. Those who feel this way are not opposed to using one's mind but are resistant to those who take strong stands on doctrine and to the complexities both of the defense of doctrine and of a carefully reasoned faith. My observation is that they believe that such individuals just like to argue. And so such intellectual pursuits are deemed a sign of immaturity, and it is thought that if we were following the gentleness of Christ, we would not need to value seeking to convince others. We should be feeding the poor, not winning arguments on doctrine!
Such a perspective clearly falls short of a healthy understanding of how God uses the multifaceted, multi-gifted nature of the body of Christ. It fails to understand that loving God with the mind will cause us to embrace the rigors of contending for sound doctrine. Indeed, the problem is not that we take a firm and vocal stand on important doctrinal and theological truths, but that we act in a childish and immature way in how we respond to those with whom we disagree. I repeat: taking a stand isn't the problem—it's how we behave while doing so. Manipulation, coercion, lies, deceit, anger, threats, intimidation, gossip, and back-stabbing are all devices I have seen throughout my years of ministry. In my experience, these devices have been, very sadly, observed equally in the lives of leaders (or individuals with perceived power and wealth) as in the laity. I have observed this problem among church elders and deacons, college professors, members of boards and committees, and scholars. Fortunately, I have observed far more good and responsible behavior than this sort of immaturity; but nonetheless, this immaturity has usually been present and has always needed to be confronted. I have had to call people out for such behavior, and even in my work among Christian scholars I have had to confront those who have engaged in childish fights and power struggles, arguments devoid of dignity and maturity. Loving God with our minds must begin with me and the maturity I need to bring to every meeting, every conversation, and every teaching opportunity. We need to kindly but firmly engage others with biblical truth and always seek to correct error. This must be done in a way that glorifies God, encourages believers, and shows genuine love for others. We must learn to accept being wronged. We must learn to consider the needs and desires of others above our own needs. But we must never, ever, ever exchange the truth of God for a lie.
By extension, it is time for us to stop telling our younger disciples that it isn't mature or spiritual to take strong stands on doctrine! Instead, we need to inculcate in ourselves the demeanor and maturity Paul expected Timothy to demonstrate while actively having discussion with, reasoning with, and challenging those under his spiritual care and responsibility.
"Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity." (1 Timothy 5:1)
"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
"Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us." (Titus 2:6–8)
No, loving God means we will contend for the faith and have a kind, loving, and gentle—but rigorous and sober—approach to those with whom we disagree. Love God "with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength" (Mk 12:33). We would do well to follow Jesus's example when He instructed the Sadducees in Mark 12:24 and 27: "And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?"; "He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err" (KJV). Our God is a God of power and truth, and we are in peril when we exalt our weak social sensibilities and empty reasoning above the truth of God.
In my role as Director of ABR, I have been prayed over by pastors asking God to work in me so that I would not get too lost in the intellectual pursuits of my work and so that I would not lose the real meaning of ministry. The "real meaning" of ministry??? I know the intentions are sincere, so I refuse the fleshly inclination to be angry at such sentiments—sentiments expressed in my presence in prayer to my Father in heaven, no less! Hmm.
Such attitudes and comments reflect an all-too-common belief that those who pursue apologetics and deep intellectual and philosophical reasoning are going beyond God's intention for the believer and for ministers. Part of this perception is rooted in a distorted understanding of Paul's (the Spirit's) rationale in 1 Corinthians 1:18–31. Some reason that to be too intellectual is to be like those whom Paul is condemning in this text; sadly, this idea reflects an improper understanding of the actual context and meaning of this important passage. Those who reason thus fail to realize that God often accomplishes his declaration "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart" (v. 19) through the preaching of the gospel and the careful teaching of His Word by His servants. Paul articulates this point in his second epistle to the Corinthians: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor 10:3–5; NASB 1995). Jude, in explaining his purpose in writing his brief letter, urges his audience to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (v. 3).
Arguments and reasoning against the faith come out of the cultural and philosophical stew of every generation and worm their way into the Church. We are CALLED to do the hard work of spiritual battle against such sophistry and lies for the sake of the Church, Christ's body. Accordingly, engaging erroneous ideologies also applies to our evangelistic efforts. Paul gently but clearly did this on Mars Hill, as recorded in Acts 17, and in the cities he visited on his missionary journeys. When we love God aright, we understand the necessity of being ready to explain to unbelievers our hope in Christ and their need to flee the idolatry of false philosophy. In love, we will challenge ALL believers to follow sound teaching.
Some, unfortunately, have a bifurcated view of ministry: if we are feeding the poor, that is ministry, but if we are reasoning with humanists, that is a waste of time. We are told that we cannot reason anyone into belief anyway, so we need to get back to doing real ministry—which typically means church activities, singing some popular worship choruses, or plugging in to more social ministry. I must confess my utter annoyance at such a narrow understanding of ministry, worship, and our purpose as believers. Coupled with this narrow view is the insistence that teaching the Bible is to be kept at a simple level. Since God's ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are above ours, we should not presume that we can understand deeper doctrine—so they reason. Besides, the "seekers" won't understand, or they might get offended. Such thinking is laziness, and it has helped create a generation of weak, uninformed believers. Hebrews 5, however, properly critiques believers in their obsession with spiritual milk when what they really need is to desire deeper teaching. Not only that, but they themselves are supposed to be teaching these deeper truths! Maturity is what we are called to in speech and conduct, and in our understanding and application of biblical truth. This is loving God with our mind.
At the foundation of this matter is a mindset that developed during the Modernist controversy of the early 20th century. The Enlightenment and the humanism it birthed brought the tsunami of Darwinian thought crashing down upon the American church. In desperation and fear, many Christians and Christian institutions retreated into a fortress mindset that exalted the Bible as "all that we need." None of us would question this fundamental conviction that they placed in the authority and supremacy of Scripture. The catastrophe, however, was in the disengagement of the Church from the culture at large and the effort to isolate those in the community of Christ from ideas and philosophies springing forth from Darwinism and its tentacles that reached out across the educational landscape of America. Sadly, some continue to believe that confronting such lies and errors is a waste of time. We respect all those who properly understand the primacy of Scripture as the foundation of truth. God's revealed Word is to be trusted as the final authority in all things. The continuing error that I observe is a resistance to taking the threat of false philosophy seriously with our children. We are concerned about what is happening to them in our culture, but we may not have made the important and necessary changes in our own posture toward spiritual warfare to provide rigorous answers to their questions. Loving God with all our mind will involve the careful instruction of our children, which includes the dismantling of both the silly and unscientific claims of Darwinism and the complex and often confusing rationale used by those who believe that biological existence has been nothing more than "[primordial] goo to you."
Let me conclude by encouraging all of us toward a robust understanding of what it means to love God. I have no doubt that Jesus used words like "heart," "soul," "mind," and "strength" to make an obvious point: every moment of every day is to be spent using every vestige of our being in an all-out pursuit of God. Believers must bring their thoughts, their motives, their emotions under the lordship of Jesus Christ. In areas of the Spirit's gifting, unique expressions of this love for God will be seen in operation: the body of Christ will feed the hungry, preach on the street corner, have discussion and debate with atheists in chat rooms and classrooms, clothe the poor, study and teach all that Christ taught, pray all the time, clean the toilets at church, pursue the lost, sing songs of praise, serve anywhere that is needed, write articles, write songs, write letters, use art, use photography, use crafts, read books, and do lots of hard stuff—all for the love of God. Let us stop summing up all meaningful ministry and love for God under the banner of social ministry, entertainment, and music. Let us embrace what God is doing in reaching out to the thinkers of our age, to those who ponder and wonder, and to those whose minds are trapped in unbelief.
God calls and equips His Church for a multitude of tasks, all under His sovereign guidance. May we never again look down upon those whose hands are at the plow doing the hard work of confronting the ideas of this age. Indeed, may the Lord raise up workers for the harvest in every place of higher learning and in every place where the reasoning of men is raised up against the knowledge of the truth. May a watching world see how much we love God as we love Him passionately with all our mind.