In Southern California—the birthplace of the Calvary Chapel movement and home to multiple “burned-over” districts, where the fire of evangelical zeal consumed (and disappointed) many a newly converted soul—the reformational church has long been having a PR crisis. Small, straitlaced, and unsexy, it lives on the outskirts of the Protestant world, too confessional to be accessible and too small to be visible. We’re frustrated by openly emotional and expressive worship that almost excludes biblical orthodoxy; and I’ve sometimes wondered if we haven’t swung to the other side of the spectrum by formulating an orthodox liturgy that leaves no room for emotional expression, as if emotion itself (and not the abuse of emotion) was the problem. Are we so driven by the negative examples of worship that we’ve overshadowed the beauty of true worship? Are overwhelming joy and exuberant gladness incompatible with reverence and awe? Where exactly do emotions fit in the grander scope of individual and corporate Christian life?
The Protestant Church (reformational and nondenominational) seems to be somewhat schizophrenic when it comes to this question. Our nondenominational brothers and sisters tend to focus on the joy of the Christian life so much that those who are suffering or struggling are sometimes marginalized, and fellow reformational believers so emphasize the sobriety and gravity of the God we worship that those who wear their faith and piety easily (or worse, have a sense of humor about it) are suspected of not being truly faithful. In this issue, we try to find the balance. First, Rev. Brian Borgman sets the stage with a biblical theology of emotion, helping us contextualize our feelings in light of our natures as image-bearers. EPC minister Matthew Everhard then introduces us to the permeating theme of joy in the work of the Puritan revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards. Through the Gospel story of Lazarus’s resurrection, Editor-in-Chief Michael Horton shows how Jesus walked with his disciples in their grief and suffering—not steamrolling over their pain with verses, not wallowing with them in sorrow, but comforting them with his presence as the Living Word. Teacher/writer Joe Smith concludes by tackling the practical question of our emotional reaction to art.
To quote the late great B. J. Thomas: We’re not “hooked on a feeling,” but our feelings are part of who we are as humans, and we can take them seriously without being overcome by them. We may not be “high on believing,” but we can (and should) be excited for the day when our faith becomes sight, and joyful in our assurance that the same Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is the same Spirit who lives in us now, blessing our troubles and sanctifying us even in our deepest distress.
Brooke Ventura associate editor