Christian Theology as a Guide for the Emotions

Speaker(s): Ellen Charry
Date: February 19-20 2014
Length: 4h20min
Product ID: RGDL4409S

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As theology began to lose its grip on the modern mind in the wake of the Enlightenment, Christian theologians embarked on a mission to persuade their secularizing audience that Christianity was intellectually defensible - it could be presented as rational. Works like John Locke's The Reasonableness of Christianity and Immanuel Kant's Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone illustrate this strong appeal to reason. The idea was that even though Christianity could not appeal to hard evidence to support its strange and paradoxical claims, it could at least argue that its ideas were internally consistent.

The appeal to reason meant that scant attention was paid to the emotions. Clarifying the ideas was presented as an end in itself. What appeared to be a clear-cut distinction between reason and faith led to rationalist and pietist factions that divided a church already in retreat. Further, the heavy Stoic overlay on Christian theology inherited from classical culture caused the emotions to be considered suspect and pushed thinking about them off the table, although Pietism encouraged feelings - for example, John Wesley's Aldersgate experience of a 'heart strangely warmed' and Friedrich Schleiermacher's description of Christian theology as a feeling of 'absolute dependence.' The division pitted heart religion against head religion.

Christian doctrine, however, cannot finally separate ideas from the emotions they intend to arouse or control. Theologians throughout history have sought to use and shape specific emotions toward pious ends in order to support well-functioning societies. Perhaps the most notorious example is the use of hell to promote fear that would encourage good behaviour. Similarly, teaching salvation as a free gift has been used to arouse gratitude and so shape the personality for virtuous living; the resurrection of Christ has been used to create hope that sustains energy through hardship; and teaching on sin has been used to create guilt to promote self-restraint. That is, believing Christian doctrines to be true, in whatever sense of 'true' is intended, usually has effects on the emotions of those who believe them, and such doctrines and emotions are inculcated in order to form people in certain ways for socially salutary purposes. These lectures will explore the interface between Christian doctrine and emotional formation.

Moderated by Patricia Towler. Responses given by Bruce Hindmarsh and Ross Hastings. Lectures include:

  • Beliefs and Emotions
  • Augustine on Love
  • Luther on Anxiety

    See All Audio by Ellen Charry

    Ellen Charry is Margaret W. Harmon Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the author of By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine, nquiring after God: Classic and Contemporary Readings, and God and the Art of Happiness.

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