Head, Heart & Hands: Christian Faith and the Heart

“Head, Heart and Hands” Cover

How do you

  • define the “heart”?
  • understand the “heart” working in relationship to the “head” in one’s Christian faith?
  • perceive/articulate the role your “heart” played in your conversion to faith in Christ?

Definitional discussion

Would you agree with the thought that the “heart” is a mystery, i.e., hard to understand and (nearly) impossible to control? As Blaise Pascal writes, “The Heart has its reasons which reason knows little of.”

Dennis Hollinger’s definition for “heart” encompasses a variety of terms used by Scripture including mind, heart, soul and spirit. Other synonyms or references for the heart include: the core, inner being, conscience, character, and moral compass. Scriptural examples of the “heart” include:

  • Exodus 7:13Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said.
  • Psalm 42:1-2As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
  • Psalm 51:10Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
  • Matthew 10:28 – Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Romans 10:9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  • Romans 8:5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
  • Hebrews 8:10This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
  • Isaiah 26:8-9 – Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.

The attempt of this post is not to form or present a Christian view of psychology, or this inner self, but instead to draw attention to the breadth of the words and perspectives involved in our understanding of the “heart.”  There is a need to view the “heart” in balanced fashion as the core of our selves which God works within and through.

Hollinger’s 4 components of the “heart”

  1. Will – volition; choice of action and what we allow ourselves to think
    1. God gives us our heart’s desire
    2. Submitting our will to God; he breaks the bond of a will enslaved by sin
    3. Acceptance … or rejection … of God’s salvation
  2. Affections – inner bent reflecting our attachment and devotion; inclination toward or against
  3. Feelings – emotions, positive or negative internal response or sensation to events.  (anger to bad driving) Also deep-seated pattern of those responses. (all drivers are out to get me)
  4. Understanding – intimate knowing that goes beyond the cognitive part of the mind. Why is this here?  Isn’t this part of the “head?”  This element of our faith addresses what we know – are familiar with – intimately.  It also deals more with right use of knowledge or wisdom.  We may think of it as what the Holy Spirit teaches us, what is written on our hearts both in fact and in course of action.

Together the 4 elements of the “heart” are:

  • Reflective of our Creator God
  • Each in need of redemption, i.e., God’s restorative work in our lives

The role of the heart in our faith:

  • The “heart” must join with the “head” for true conversion/redemption.
  • All men’s “hearts” exhibit spiritual formation.  The Christian “heart” evidences the restorative power of God’s saving grace in our lives.
  • Our personal character reflects God’s work in our “heart.”

Does this conversation agree with or change how you “perceive/articulate the role your ‘heart’ played in your conversion”? While we’re on the topic, what is the role of the “heart” in your current life?

Next in series: Distortions of the Heart :0

*Drawn from an adult elective based upon Dennis Hollinger‘s “Head, Heart & Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion and Action” (InterVarsity Press, 2005). Kevin Milligan facilitated the class at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church. Note: See the first post in the series for more on the genesis of this study guide as part of a local Emerging Scholars Network partnership (South Central Scholars Network PA FB and Christian Scholar Series).

Tom came across the ‘Head-Heart-Hands’ graphic at Gateway Christian Church, http://www.gatewayontheweb.org/index.php?p=1_28. As one of his colleagues shared with him via email, “It rocks.” Amen.

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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  • ralphv2@yahoo.com'
    Ralph V commented on July 2, 2011 Reply

    Very good article about the heart. Gave me alot to think about.

  • yvtf@reho.net'
    zachary blennerhassett commented on August 31, 2016 Reply

    just tell me what head, hands and hearts stand for

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