Head knowlegde vs. Heart knowledge – a false dicotomy

This past Sunday our Pastor Lon Solomon preached a message entitled “People Jesus Met, part 15– The Five Thousand (Eating Fresh Manna Every Day)” which had some highlights but was ultimately worrisome.

The good:
I think that dispelling the common misconception that Christ in John 6:53  was referring to the Eucharist is noteworthy especially because of the tendency of readers to miss the contextual clues and commit eisegeses:

Eat His flesh and drink His blood?  What is He talking about?”  Well you know, a lot of commentators have said that what Jesus is talking about here is communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, where the bread symbolizes the body of Jesus and where the cup symbolizes the blood of Jesus, but friends, that won’t work, and let me tell you why. It won’t work, because when Jesus spoke these words here in John chapter 6, the Eucharist, communion didn’t exist yet.  It’s obvious whatever He’s talking about to these people, they were able to do right then and there.  Communion didn’t exist.  The Last Supper, where communion was instituted, is still several years away; He’s not talking about communion.

To drive home the point above, Pastor Lon introduces us to another important point, the parallelism in the two phrases of John 6:29 and John 6:54:

You say, “Then what in the world is He talking about?”  Well, put on your thinking caps now, and here we go.  Watch and look at the connection Jesus makes.  Here we are in John 6:29, 40, 47.  Jesus says, “Believe in Me, and you will have eternal life.”  Then here in verse 54, Jesus said, “Eat My flesh and drink My blood, and you will have eternal life.” Stick with me.  The point is that whatever eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood means, it’s clear that in Jesus’ mind, that was synonymous with believing in Him properly for eternal life.  Does everybody see that?  Those terms are the same in Jesus’ thinking.  In other words, Jesus uses this phrase, “eat My flesh,” to explain to us, to clarify for us exactly what kind of believing you and I have to do in order to activate God’s promise of eternal life.  Does everybody see that?  Do you see that?  That’s the fulcrum of this passage.  If you get this, we can make this passage make sense.

Pastor Lon also brings Christ’s analogy about manna into focus. He rightly points out that this analogy is essential to understanding Christ’s claim:

Listen, here in John chapter 6, look what Jesus says in verse 48.  He says, “I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate manna in the desert, yet they died, but I am the bread that comes down from heaven, which if a person eats of, they will not die.  I am the living bread”—verse 51—“that came down from heaven.”  Verse 58, “Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” Would you notice here that Jesus compares Himself to the manna that God gave the Israelites to eat out in the desert?  There’s an enormous spiritual lesson there for you and me as followers of Christ…

The problems I had:
Pastor Lon’s non-biblical distinction between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge” has really got me confused. To be sure, nowhere in scripture is a distinction ever made between “head believing” and “heart believing” yet Pastor Lon mentions the following:

I mean, there’s head believing.  There’s heart believing.  There’s a scientific believing.  There’s an in-your-gut believing.  Jesus wants to make sure that these 5000 people and you and I all know exactly what kind of believing it takes to unlock His promise of eternal life.

I’m not sure where Lon is getting these different types of belief from but I think it’s safe to say that his referent is not the bible. As Lon further develops his dichotomy between head and heart belief, two problematic assertions come to light:
1. Apparently, Lon believes that there is a biblical distinction between knowledge in the head and knowledge in the heart although he does not provide a proof text for this claim.
2. Lon does not believe that saving faith is equivalent to affirming biblical doctrine. Yet, the bible makes it abundantly clear that saving faith is equivalent to the affirmation (both verbal and behavioral) of biblical propositions.

John 8:51 states: Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
Consider what Pastor Solomon says in the following excerpt:

The most common mistake that people make when it comes to the biblical word “believe” is that they limit that word to intellectual, in-my-head believing.  Yes, I believe Jesus was the Son of God.  Yes, I believe Jesus died on the cross.  Yes, I believe Jesus rose from the dead.  Yes, I believe Jesus is the Savior of the world . . . in my head, that is. It reminds me of the true story of the famous French philosopher Voltaire.  One day Voltaire was out walking in Paris with a friend, and they passed a Christian processional.  Voltaire immediately stopped, stood at attention, and tipped his hat to the procession.  His friend was shocked by this, and when his friend asked Voltaire why he did this, here’s what Voltaire said.  He said, “When God and I pass, we salute each other, but we never speak.” The point is that Voltaire had this kind of “I believe that God exists in my head believing,” but friends, Jesus said here in John chapter 6 that is not the kind of believing that God grants eternal life to.  This is not saving faith.  This is not redeeming faith.  Instead, Jesus said that saving faith, redeeming faith is like eating.  You say, “Well, yeah.  What does that mean?”  Think about it.  Think now.  When we eat food, what do we do?  Well, we take it in.  We don’t just take it into our head; we take it into every part of our being.  We assimilate it.  We digest it.  We absorb it.  We break it down and distribute it to every cell in our body, and it becomes an inseparable part of us, an indivisible part of us.  The point is that our relationship with food, my friends, is not an intellectual relationship.  It is an intensely personal relationship.  It is an experiential relationship.

So Pastor Lon claims that John 6 warns us against having a merely intellectual belief in God, yet, not even one verse in John 6 hints at this bizarre claim.  Let’s see what the bible has to say about the intellect before we move on.
In scripture, the capacity for rational thought (the intellect) is ascribed to the ‘mind‘, ‘heart‘, ‘soul‘ and ‘spirit‘ (See Ezekiel 38:10, Matthew 9:4, Mark 2:8, Proverbs 19:2 respectively).

Ezekiel 38:10
Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought:

Matthew 9:4
And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

Mark 2:8
And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?

Proverbs 19:2
Also, that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; and he that hasteth with his feet sinneth

These four words are synonyms for the non-physical element (breath of life) infused into man in Genesis 2:7; as such, when these words appear together or in close proximity it is usually to provide emphasis.

  1. For example, in Matthew 6:25 and 10:28, man is said to consist of body and soul. But in Ecclesiastes 12:7 and 1 Corinthians 5:3,5, man is said to be body and spirit.
  2. Likewise, in Genesis 35:18 and 1 Kings 17:21, death is described as a giving up of the soul. But in Psalm 31:5 and Luke 23:46, death is a giving up of the spirit.
  3. In Daniel 5:20, Deuteronomy 2:30 and Exodus 8:15 the mind, spirit and the heart are hardened.
  4. In Proverbs 2:10Deuteronomy 11:18 and Romans 1:28 the heart, soul and the mind store wisdom or knowledge.
  5. In Philippians 1:27, Paul clearly uses the words spirit (pneuma) and soul or mind (psuche) synonymously.
  6. Another strong case is found in Luke 1:46, 47, where Mary, in biblical parallelism, uses spirit and soul as functionally equivalent terms.
  7. Finally, in Hebrews 4:12 the soul and spirit are presented as an indivisible unit.

The point of this all is to demonstrate that in most cases, when two or more of these synonyms occur within the sames sentence, they are used for emphasis. Consequently, and according to scripture, there is no such thing as “head knowledge;” our brain, contrary to popular opinion, is not the agent of thought, rather, our heart, soul, mind and spirit are, and these are all essentially the same thing.

Lon also seems to make a non-biblical distinction between claiming Christ as a personal savior vs. acknowledging him as the Savior of the world; consider the following:

So now in John chapter 6, what does Jesus tell us?  He tells these 5000 people and us that this is exactly the way it has to be with believing in Him.  Jesus says to these folks, “Look, I am not some theological theory to be intellectually debated in some classroom.  I am a personal Savior that is meant to be ingested and absorbed into every part of your life and made an indivisible, inseparable part of your being.  This is the kind of believing I’m talking about.” You see, friends, it’s not good enough to believe Jesus is the Savior.  In order to activate eternal life, we’ve got to believe that Jesus is My Savior.  It’s not good enough to believe Jesus died on the cross for the world’s sins; I’ve got to believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins.  It’s not good enough to believe that Jesus came to redeem the world; I’ve got to believe that Jesus came to redeem me, because I’ve reached out and ingested Him personally and experientially into my heart.  This is saving faith.  This is the kind of believing that activates Jesus’ promise of eternal life.

What does having a “personal relationship” with Christ mean? if the phrase means something more than assenting to true propositions about God, what is the lacking element? Judas had a personal relationship with Jesus but it didn’t seem to help him; it was his failure to believe the truth he learned from Christ that ultimately caused his demise. There is no biblical warrant for insisting that failure to use the word ‘personal‘ when referring to the Savior or failure to deduce that Christ died for my ‘own’ sins disqualifies me from eternal life (especially if I’ve assented to a more general and thus more inclusive proposition) but this is what Pastor Lon ends up saying. Furthermore, there is no biblical account of anyone ‘ingesting’ Christ ‘personally‘ or ‘experientially‘ into their heart. On the contrary, the scriptures say in 2 Timothy 2:25 that saving faith is attained by “the acknowledging of the truth.” In 2 Thessalonians 1:8 there are two categories of people for whom judgment awaits: people that don’t know God and people that are disobedient to the gospel; both categories of people transgress intellectually, no one is condemned for not having a personal relationship with God. In fact, salvation is only ever an intellectual exercise; adding emotions or personal encounters to the transaction confuses the clear teaching of scripture which says otherwise. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

Consider this final excerpt from Pastor Lon. In light of the preceding paragraphs, do you think this excerpt conveys an acceptable idea of  heart as the word is used in the Bible?

I had a man in my office a number of years ago.  After talking to him a little bit about his faith, I turned to him and said, “Sir, I don’t mean to offend you, but I need to tell you that you are 18” away from eternal life.”  He said, “What?”  I said, “You are eighteen inches away from eternal life, because everything you’ve got is right up here in your head.  You need to move it eighteen inches down into your heart if you want eternal life.  It’s not going to get you eternal life in your head.  You’ve got to embrace Christ.  You’ve got to absorb Christ.  You’ve got to receive Christ like you do food.”

Of course not! No one will miss Heaven by eighteen inches, for as discussed earlier there is no distance between the head and the heart: Proverbs 23:7 states “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” “Conduct, particularly habitual conduct, is the best criterion fallible men have for judging hypocrisy. What a man believes, really believes, even if he says the contrary, will show in his living.” 1

In the second chapter of the book of James, the human litmus test for a genuine profession of faith is the individual’s actions. In the analogy used by James, a person’s actions confirm or betray what they really believe. Jesus asserts as much in Matthew 7 with the fruit analogy; a person who is really saved should have corresponding fruit and vice versa. The key is really understanding how or what fruit to look for. Obviously, God doesn’t need to look at the actions or fruit of man; He sees directly into out hearts.

Instead of using the false dichotomy of the head vs. heart, Lon should have referenced the biblical dichotomy of the heart vs. mouth. “Consider instead what is contrasted with the word heart in the Bible. In Matthew 15:8, for instance, we read that the people honor God “with their lips, but their heart is far from” him. That sort of contrast is regularly made in the Scriptures. You find the same thing in the well-known passage in Romans 10 in which we are told that it is not enough to confess Christ with the mouth; the one making the profession also must believe in his heart. Notice the contrast: heart/lips, heart/mouth. In the important passage 1 Samuel 16:7, we are assured that “man looks on the outward appearances but [in contrast] God looks on the heart.” Plainly, in all of these pivotal passages there is a contrast between the heart as something inner and the lips, mouth, and appearance as something outer. That is the true Biblical contrast, not a contrast between intellect and emotion.”2

1. WHAT IS SAVING FAITH? Gordon H. Clark

2. Preaching to the Heart, Jay Adams

5 thoughts on “Head knowlegde vs. Heart knowledge – a false dicotomy

  1. blogginbaldguy says:

    This is a good post and one that is very interesting. I am a member of the PCA and this issue just came up in a Sunday School class. I had just finished reading Vincent Cheung’s commentary on Ephesians where he mentions this issue.

    Needless to say most people in the class looked at me as if I was from Mars when I mentioned that this business of head vs. heart knowledge is unbiblical non-sense. Simply put this is *yet* another form of neo-gnosticism. The leader of the class agreed with me but I was very intrigued by the number of people that attempted to argue *their* side w/me.

    • James says:

      I appreciate your comment, if there is one thing that I am increasingly convinced of it is that this theme will repeatedly rear itself amongst otherwise sound Christians who have not critically thought of its implications.

  2. Andy Collins says:

    Who may I ask is the un-named individual that has publically critized a person he has called Pastor?

    I wonder if he brought his concerns to the LORD before he started to sow tares amongst the wheat? before he started to spread disharmony in the church of the Living God? before he willfully allowed the bitterness of his soul infect others with bitterness and strife against a man he calls PASTOR? I think not!

    Before grandstanding on this internet blog did the un-named man first go to the “Pastor” in PRIVATE? I think not!

    Or, may I ask, did the un-named author go to the man, HE calls PASTOR, with 2 or 3 others brining their concerns to the PASTOR; asking the PASTOR to repent and seek the forgiveness of GOD before he went public – before he went before the world with his thoughts? I think not!

    I don’t know Pastor Lon Solomon and I don’t beieve I know the un-named author of rebellious murmurings who seems eager to divide the CHURCH; nor do I even know what Church Pastor Solomon pastors… but I need to. I know, may I say I believe that One best be very careful, very sure, very burdened before criticizing the Man of God. God’s Word tells us how to handle situations where a brother in Christ has done something wrong. I have pointed out what we are to do in my introductory questions.

    As for HEAD KNOWLEDGE vs. HEART KNOWLEDGE it is obvious that the author may have proven the very point he argues against. IT appears as if his head is full of knowledge but his heart appears to be like that of his father, the DEVIL.

    Bitterness, back bitting and back stabbing and bad mouthing a man he calls PASTOR are the works of darkness.

    Why don’t we all just agree that salvation is REPENT! For the Kingdom of GOD is at hand!

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