How does language shape our beliefs?

I don’t think so. We can understand that Rm 10:9 is not simply about emotion:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Yes it’s cumbersome. And reminds me of David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament. Have you seen it? Parts of it are almost unreadable!

Maybe a preferable term is self-talk? And about beliefs, we can certainly lie to ourselves.

[Blessed is the one who] …speaks truth IN his heart.
Psalm 15:2

  • Yes, I believe there is but would be surprise if anyone agreed.
  • “Explaining everything the Bible says in rational terms” and “explaining a rational belief/faith” are two different animals. As noted, I believe the latter is possible, but the first would hard, if not impossible, to do.
  • Would it make a difference to those who believe? Maybe, probably not. Those who believe confidently get–at most–rational support for their belief, but don’t actually need it. It just gives the Holy Spirit more bricks to build with.
  • Short of being in the presence of Jesus Christ Himself, everything else is gravy.
  • “Definitive, scientific proof” is a vulnerable to the scientific method as following your mother’s recipe for yeast biscuits and getting yeast biscuits that taste as good or better.

I disagree. The use of heart in Western culture traces back to Greek culture where the heart was thought to be the center of thinking and will. We have lots of Bible verses that associate the heart with faith, but it’s not because it is the center of emotion, but they believed it was the center of decision-making.

For example, here Paul speaks of the heart as what receives wisdom and revelation and knows things.

Eph 1:17 " I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people"


Could it be that faith is both reason and emotion. My understanding of faith is that it is made up of three elements:

1: Knowledge - awareness of the proposition;

  1. Ascent - rational agreement that the proposition is true; and

  2. Trust - surrendering ourselves to the implications of the proposition which can be an
    emotional undertaking if the proposition isn’t 100% verifiable.

1 Like

I’m pretty sure there has to be something experiential sooner or later, as well. It does not have to be outward necessarily, but I think it needs to objective and not just emotional. Phil Yancey’s conversion experience was of the latter sort and which he details in Where the Light Fell: A Memoir near the end.

1 Like

We have a culture among Christians here in the UK, and I suspect a similar (if not worse) one in the US of catastrophic failure to apply critical thought. The resulting lack of judgment leads to all sorts of perversions of Christianity, and widespread misreading of the Text. An example: the song “God’s not dead” includes reference to “feeling him in…” various parts of anatomy, but NOT the head. A culture that says experience of God has to sink from head to heart mistakes the truth that - it needs to SPREAD. People who do not see the value of thinking, are gullible to the first spurious convincing false doctrine they come across. Can you not see that that is happening on a grotesque scale (as with Creationism, and, dare I say it, attachment to Trump)?


The processes of thought of a Christian are (or should be) guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. They are rational but supernatural. Such informed rationality is not the enemy of spirituality it is its product. Paul is always on about the acquisition of discernment, wisdom and understanding. All of these are mental capabilities which he says we have to grow into. When we make Christian experience out to be just emotional, that has to damage the processes of maturing in the faith and in the knowledge of Jesus and his teaching.

1 Like

I find it fascinating to see idiolectic use of language shaping belief in this thread.

We in the Chrisitan ghetto understand, more or less, through familiarity with the Text, the biblical use of the term “heart” and its relationship to thinking, although I have some doubts about how secure that is. But that means our mindset is very different from that of the unchurched. In order to communicate we have to adapt our language so that we give the most accurate message that we can. I suggest that means a considerable adjustment is needed on our part, across a wide range of the language we use.
“How will they believe unless they hear”. “How will they believe accurately, unless thay hear accurately.”

What do you believe accurately John?

I would agree with you here. The “born-again” conversion experience and fluffy Christian pop music leave a lot to be desired, in my opinion.

Are our mindsets really that different?

I think the rational thought vs emotional thought division is a construct we have imposed on how our brains work.

David Brooks talked about these developments in nueroscience a bit at the last BioLogos conference. From one of his columns:

Over the centuries, humans have come up with all sorts of concepts to describe different thinking activities: memory, perception, emotion, attention, decision-making. But now, as scientists develop greater abilities to look at the brain doing its thing, they often find that the activity they observe does not fit the neat categories our culture has created, and which we rely on to understand ourselves.

It feels as if the rational brain creates and works with ideas, but that emotions sweep over us. But some neuroscientists, like Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern University, argue that people construct emotions and thoughts, and there is no clear distinction between them. It feels as if we can use our faculty of reason to restrain our passions, but some neuroscientists doubt this is really what’s happening. Furthermore, emotions assign value to things, so they are instrumental to reason, not separate from or opposed to it." David Brooks: You are not who you think you are | COMMENTARY – Baltimore Sun

Knowledge in the biblical sense is not just assent to propositions, it’s experiential and involves love. (There is a philosopher named Esther Lightcap Meeks who argues that love is an epistemology.) And trust is often a correlate of knowledge because you have confidence in something based on what you have experienced and otherwise know to be true.

The heart/head division we impose on knowledge or on the exercise of faith is a metaphorical construct we made up to try to understand facets of our experience.


Point taken. Paul also references the mind in Romans 12:2, one of my favorite passages:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Having said that, I still think that faith involves a certain amount of emotion when we place ourselves in the hands of a spiritual being. I believe the Holy Spirit comes into play here but I am not going to go there since the work of Holy Spirit has been the center of disagreements between church bodies for hundreds of centuries without any consensus.


Agreed. I think there is a Biblical reason for what you are describing but that probably is better left to a whole new forum thread.

If our minds are not different from the unconverted, those devoid of the Spirit, then there is something to question about ourselves. But it is simpler than that. The church has its memes and tropes which are opaque to the unchurched. If we try to communicate without due cognisance to that divide, we will not be understood. A simple example: We mean by “grace” something totally different from secular culture, so we are not understood. Some even still use thees and thous! On the other hand it seems from this discussion that our meaning of “heart” is a closer match with our secular culture than with what is meant in the New Testament. In consequence our use of language needs ongoing re-examination - it always will.

1 Like

I don’t like the “us vs them” thinking. Also, the Holy Spirit can be working in a person’s life long before he knows it.

1 Like

I’ve always thought that Christian jargon was not helpful and a barrier to non-Christians. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.


I ran across this podcast this morning and thought it was a good fit to add to this thread. The first 2/3 are mainly about the usefulness of metaphors in conveying truth.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a transcript, but there is a nice blurb.

“ Even as formal religious adherence wanes (at least in the West), people go on talking about God and spiritual matters. But how is that even possible? How can you talk about someone (or something) that is beyond language? Is all God–talk literally nonsense?

In this episode, Nick Spencer speaks to Prof. Janet Soskice about her classic Metaphor and Religious Language and her forthcoming Naming God about how on earth we can hope to talk about God.?

THe whole thing is just a bit over 1/2 hour. Good for drive time or KP.

1 Like

I’ll start at least as I go to bed and see how I do.

Not nonsense at all but also no account is literally true in every detail IMO. God is far from the only thing that resists adequate verbal account. The biblical God is a cultural accretion of something beyond our reach which completes and perhaps explains us to ourselves, but poetically not explicitly. It isn’t evasion and it certainly isn’t a cheap con job. It is the opposite of meaningless; however the only meaning it can give you is that which you didn’t realize you already had. You can recognize it but you can’t pin it down or package it for universal consumption without pulverizing the winged life Blake extolled beyond all recognition.

1 Like