The Extreme Tension of Intellectualism vs. Emotionalism

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We’ve all seen extremes in Christianity and the church. For example, there is the liberalism of the Sadducees and the legalism of the Pharisees. Both are unhealthy. We see prosperity theology and poverty theology. Both are unbiblical. Instead, we need proper theology.


Another extreme that bubbles up in local churches is the swing from intellectualism to emotionalism. Sitting through a sermon that provides intellectual stimulation is wonderful. Being provoked into an emotional response is natural.


My concern is when a church is overly-intellectual or overly-emotional.


Extreme Intellectualism

I’ve sat through sermons where the pastor spouted out a professorial perspective of a text, and it was as robust as it could be, but it was also not very practical. Furthermore it made the Bible feel more like a dry document to study for the sake of a test than a living document on which to build your life.


This is common amongst younger pastors who are more recently out of seminary. I fell into this in my first few years out of seminary.


This is also a trait of Reformed churches. Other soteriological leanings can fall into this, too, but my anecdotal perspective of this extreme is that Calvinism and over-intellectualism in preaching often go hand-in-hand.


Extreme Emotionalism

I’ve been in some worship services where the pastor was preaching and the atmosphere was electric. People were “hootin’ and hollerin’” all over the building. There was a big problem with it, though: The emotionalism was over-the-top and not based in the rooting of the Scriptures. People left the service knowing they were worked up, but if you were to ask them what, in the Scriptures, caused them to have such evoked emotion, they wouldn’t know how to answer you.


Crying due to the Lord tugging on your heart is great. Shouting praises to the Lord is biblical and heavenly. Don’t take this section of the article out of context. I’m talking about extremes of emotionalism.


This is a trait especially prevalent in charismatic churches. Not all charismatic churches fall into this category, but it is found more often in these fellowships than ones with different views of the gifts of the Spirit.


What to Do About the Extremes

Assess your ministry and ask yourself, “Are we extreme in either of these areas?” Although I am not Reformed, I can more easily fall into the extreme of intellectualism because I am also a professor, so it’s more a part of my life. This post has caused me to assess if my preaching is overly-intellectual. There are definitely areas of improvement I could make.


If you sense you’ve drifted too far into intellectualism or emotionalism, think through how you can become more practical or grounded, respectively. It is always healthy to assess yourself in order to get better.


Do you have any thoughts on the extremes of intellectualism or emotionalism? Let me know in the comment section below.

One Comment on “The Extreme Tension of Intellectualism vs. Emotionalism”

  1. I have sat through sermons where I honestly thought I was in a seminary classroom. Not too inspiring. Did not encourage me to share the gospel or to give my life completely to the Lord.

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