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Avoiding Both Cold Intellectualism and Shallow Emotionalism


The Christian life is like a road with two ditches on either side, and it’s very easy for us to fall into either one of those ditches.

The first ditch is what we’ll call “cold intellectualism.” Someone who’s fallen into cold intellectualism knows a lot about the Bible and is quite proud of what they know, but their supposed knowledge hasn’t translated into daily life.

They cross all their theological T’s and dot all their theological I’s. They read book after book about Bible doctrine. They can tell you what Spurgeon said about this and about what Calvin said about that. However, those truths don’t appear to affect them very much other than puffing them up.

They profess to believe in a great God, and yet they’re arrogant, acting as if they’re someone great. They profess to believe in a loving God, but they don’t demonstrate much love for others. They have the beliefs God wants them to have, but they don’t live the life God wants them to live.

Please: don’t be that person. The more you learn about Jesus, the more like Jesus you should be. And the more it should humble you.

So that’s the ditch on one side of the road: cold intellectualism. The ditch on the other side of the road is what we’ll call “shallow emotionalism.”

This is where someone tries to live the Christian life without making much of an effort to grasp biblical truth. They get their inspiration from a Facebook post here and a Christian song there, neither one of which have much theological substance.

They listen to preachers who preach what I’ll call “cotton candy sermons”—sermons that sound good while you’re listening to them, but then they end. And when they end, you realize there wasn’t really much substance to them. It was just the fluff and the sweetness of inspirational clichés but no real substantive truth—nothing that could bring lasting transformation to your life. Of course, they’re exciting to listen to in the moment, but then you walk away and you wonder, “Now why was I excited again?”

In Ephesians 4:1, Paul helps us steer clear of both of those ditches: cold intellectualism on one side and shallow emotionalism on the other. He writes, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

What does that mean? Well, they’ve been called to the blessings of the gospel—the blessings Paul described in Ephesians 1-3. And now, Paul says, they need to live out those blessings. They need to live out the realities of the gospel. And Paul then spends the rest of the letter, chapters 4-6, describing how to do that.

This reminds us of the need avoid both cold intellectualism and shallow emotionalism. We do this by pursuing both a solid understanding of biblical truth as well as that truth showing up in our lives. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and.