On Emotionalism and the Gospel

by Joshua Jenkins March 21, 2017

Many Christians have likely experienced emotionalism - the moments at various worship services and events when excessive focus is placed on a person's emotions. Often, you will see it in places where “decisions” or “worship experiences” are elevated above proper worship of God or, quite frankly, above the gospel. In its ugliest forms, the leader attempts to manipulate the congregation’s emotions to meet whatever their end goal is. and emotional atmospheres are dubbed “a move of the Holy Spirit.”

Let me continue to be frank – it is blasphemous to call something that is not the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not “flood the atmosphere” in fuzzy feeling sort of way. The Holy Spirit indwells believers. But that is beside the point.

In its lighter forms, although usually unintentional, pressure is often applied to respond to the music or message in a certain way, whether it be raising hands or coming forward to kneel and pray. Of course, there is nothing wrong with raising hands in worship or kneeling in prayer – so long as there is not emotional pressure applied to do so. Some Christians enjoy those aspects of an event, but others do not and may feel a bit uncomfortable if pressured to participate in that way. One of the problems with this lighter form of emotionalism is that leaders expect everyone to have a preferred outward response.

These environments often make the person who wants to stand with his or her hands in their pockets less spiritual than everyone else. This should not be so. The gospel frees us to stand with our hands in our pockets. The gospel demands repentance of sin and faith in Christ, not a particular emotional response.

In extreme cases, leaders have exchanged the power of the gospel for the deficiency of emotionalism. Leader, the gospel frees you from forcing emotions. The gospel is the power of God to save. You may be able to force an emotional response, but you are utterly incapable of forcing a heart or life change in someone. And that’s freeing. When you trade the gospel for emotionalism you lose the very power of God. Trade in the tricks of the trade for the all-powerful, all-surpassing glory of Jesus Christ in the gospel. The gospel of Jesus does not need that perfect worship atmosphere to be effective; it just needs to be declared. When you try to add your slickness or expertise to the gospel, you lose it altogether. The gospel is the power to change hearts and lives.

As a congregant, you are free from the pressures to act in an unnatural, emotional way. Those outward acts of emotionalism don’t save you. They do not validate your spirituality. The sign of someone who has been transformed by the gospel is obedience to Christ in the routines of everyday life. You’re free from playing games. You are free to stand still in Christ.

The wonder of being free from emotionalism is that the gospel itself actually excites the emotions. There is nothing more thrilling to a sinner’s heart than knowing they stand justified before a just and holy God. There is nothing that makes a sinner more sustainably happy than knowing he has the righteousness of Christ. There is nothing that makes a sinner cry a gospel tear more than knowing that God approves of you. And there is nothing more exhilarating to a sinner than knowing you are Christ’s and He is yours.

“…we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”  Romans 5:11