Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dumbed-Down Doctrinal Dyslexia

The Sights, Sounds, and Spectacles of Spurious Spirituality

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

A Tall Tale of Two Brains

There has arisen a two-brained theory/myth that persons dominated by their left brain are characterized by “logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy,” while those in touch with their right brain are into “aesthetics, feeling, and creativity.”[15] Illustrating the distinction, a blogger explained why he had not written any devotionals lately. “At long last,” he wrote, “I’ve decided to restart my (online) devotional time. I think the reason I didn’t feel ‘released’ to do this is that my prior attempt was very Left Brain and I needed to do something from the Heart.”

In his book The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren wrote that feelings are a key to spiritual maturity. Seemingly, if believers get their feelings right they will get their faith right. In addressing “Maturity Myth #6: All you need is Bible study to grow,” Warren buys into the left-brain-right-brain theory. He wrote:

Many evangelical churches have been built on this myth. I call them “classroom churches.” Classroom churches tend to be left-brain oriented and cognitive focused. They stress the teaching of Bible content and doctrine, but give little, if any, emphasis to believers’ emotional, experiential, and relational development. All you need to be spiritually mature, says one well-known classroom church, is to have ‘doctrine’ in your frontal lobe. [16]

Obviously, a right-brained ministry favors ministering to the subjective feelings within as opposed to the objective faith without. This approach is but a variation of fideism in which knowledge of God rest on feelings, “to the exclusion of any rational considerations.” [17]

If you are left-brained in your approach to faith, are you beginning to feel discriminated against? When subjected to the scrutiny of Scripture, is this right-brained emphasis right? For several reasons, as has already been shown from 2 Timothy 4:3-4, desires can be deceiving.

True, spiritual maturity is more than just being exposed to biblical teaching. But spiritual maturity is not less than understanding Bible doctrine. As the reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) wrote,

For feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God,
Naught else is worth believing. [18]

So let’s proceed with a Scriptural explanation as to why the right-brained approach to Christian maturity is deficient. Amidst a sensate church, it may come as a surprise to some that the Bible is a left-brained book!

First, the greatest commandment Moses gave to that nation—“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might”—states that Israel was to “teach . . . diligently” their children (Emphasis Mine, Deuteronomy 6:4-7). Unger and White note that the verb lays stress on, “Judaism’s traditional emphasis on teaching and thus preserving its faith . . . found in the Old Testament, specifically Deut. 6:4-9.”[19] They go on to note that the later Jewish term Talmud, meaning “instruction,” is derived from the verb to teach.[20] The word “teach” is common in the Psalms indicating that one purpose of singing hymns was to—left brain—teach (See Psalm 60 superscription, “A Mikhtam of David, to teach”). So in the greatest of all commandments, the emphasis is on the left brain!

Second, to teach the nation of Israel, the Lord appointed first the priests, and then the prophets to that responsibility. In contrast to Levi, the first priest in whose mouth was “the law of truth,” succeeding generations of priests failed to teach people the Law. The prophet Malachi indicted the priests of his era stating, “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Emphasis mine, Malachi 2:7). To compensate for the failure of the priests, God raised up the prophets. But having been desensitized to God’s word by the derelict-from-duty priests and false prophets, Jeremiah described the response of the people to his prophetic ministry, “And they have turned unto me the back, and not the face: though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction” (Jeremiah 32:33, KJV).

In the same way, God gives pastor-teachers to the church to instruct so that the people may seek instruction from them. But it appears this whole teaching ministry has been preempted by a generation of pastors who, having been taken captive by a “touchy-feely” culture, and bypassing sound doctrinal preaching in order to meet the “felt needs” of their audiences who want what they want, no longer preach the Word. They may preach about the Bible, but they do not preach the Bible.

Third, Jesus referred to Himself and was called “Teacher” by others, even by His enemies (Matthew 10:24-25; Mark 10:17; Matthew 12:38). One cannot read the words of Jesus in the Gospels without noticing that He engaged the minds—the left brain—of His audience, and that He commissioned His disciples to do the same in His absence.

Fourth, Jesus ordered His disciples to make disciples by “teaching.” Jesus told them, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Emphasis mine, Matthew 28:19-20). If a church is not a teaching church, then it is not a disciple making church. Personally, I believe this is why so many young people defect from the faith when they go off to college. Their churches have never really taught them God's cognitive truth. All they have offered them is emotional experiences.

Fourth, the apostle Paul was a teacher. One cannot read the book of Romans without noticing the great theology of the letter. In it, there’s some heady truth! With its emphasis upon right-brain spirituality, is the user-friendly church missing Paul’s message?

Fifth, the central gifts for the church’s edification are those of “teacher” and “pastor-teacher.” The risen and ascended Christ gave these gifts to the body of Christ so that it might come to, “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . [and] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine (i.e., ‘teaching’)(Ephesians 4:11-14). The exercise of these gifts is consistent with the example of Jesus. Too, the exercise of these gifts is consistent not only with Paul’s example of ministry, but also with his exhortation to teach to Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2).

Right Ain’t Right

This two-brained approach to spiritual maturity has led to doctrinal dyslexia. Many Christians can no longer discern left from right, truth from error. For example, many no longer believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to get to heaven, and this in spite of His upfront statement, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:4).[21] How can such a defection from plain truth be accounted for? One pastor, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, observes that the number of churches “who teach a clear doctrinal message are a minority today,” while another professor remarks that while overall people claim to be religious, “they have no command of theology, doctrine, or history.”[22]

Clearly, right-brained based spirituality has led to a dumbed-down version of the Christian faith. By way of contrast, Luke records that the early Christians “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). When looked at in both testaments, the Bible appears to appeal to the left brain, doesn’t it?

By ignoring the Word the Holy Spirit inspired (2 Peter 1:21), and those He has gifted to minister that Word (1 Corinthians 12:11, 28), the right-brain emphasis short circuits the whole process of Christian growth. In the journey to spiritual maturity, there can be no growing where there is no knowing (Romans 6:3, 6, 9, 11). To put it bluntly, spirituality stinks when it doesn’t think!

After stating that the primary appeal of the gospel is not to the emotions (that would be sentimentalism), or to the will (that would be legalism), D. Marytn Lloyd-Jones counseled,

The emotions and the will should always be influenced through the mind. Truth is intended to come through the mind. The normal course is for the emotions and the will to be affected by the truth after it has first entered and gripped the mind . . . this is a principle of Holy Scripture. The approach to the emotions and the will should be indirect. Still less should we ever bring any pressure to bear upon either the emotions or the will.[23]

Regardless whether it might feel good to us or not, the Bible is balanced. On the one hand the Psalms reflect the experience and emotion of those who probe the meaning of believing amidst the trials and struggles of life. But those feelings are invariably reigned in when the psalmist reflects upon the rock solid truth regarding who the Lord is and what He has said. As a one poet expressed it,

Three men were walking on a wall—
Faith, Feeling and Fact.
When Feeling got an awful fall
Faith was taken back.
So close was Faith to Feeling,
He stumbled and fell too.
But Fact remained and pulled up Faith,
And Faith brought Feeling too.

(Unknown Author)


Lamentably, for reason of their having been entertained by feelings, majorities of professing Christians are not edified, seemingly for reason that they, because of the sympathetic passions aroused in them, “consider themselves in a high and certain state of grace.”[24] The sensate church has been seduced by sights, sounds, and spectacles of spurious spirituality. The are so-called evangelical churches in which the majority of members do not believe that one, the Bible is the Word of God, and two, Jesus is the only way of salvation. Yet their celebrations continue unabated.

Presumptuously, we may in worship offer to God so-called sacrifices of praise, but the overriding question is . . . does God accept them? As Carradine noted, we cannot “dodge behind some corporeal service and call that an offering.”[25] It should not be supposed that He does if the celebrations are really for us, and not Him. As the Lord told Israel through Amos, “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (Emphasis mine, Amos 5:21-23, KJV). Clearly for Israel of old, happiness did not translate into holiness, and neither does it for us.

The Truth:

"Blessed art Thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes. . . . Teach me, O LORD, the way of Thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end." (Psalm 119:12, 33)

15. On Purpose Associates, “Right Brain vs. Left Brain,” Funderstanding (
16. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 340.
17. Alan Cairns, “Fideism,” Dictionary of Theological Terms, Expanded Third Edition (Greenville, South Carolina: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002) 178.Norman L. Geisler, “Foreword” to Arthur L. Johnson, Faith Misguided, Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1988) 10.
18. Norman L. Geisler, “Foreword” to Arthur L. Johnson, Faith Misguided, Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1988) 10.
19. Merrill F. Unger and William White, “To Teach,” An Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984) 419.
20. Ibid.
21. “Survey: My Way Isn’t the Only Way to Earn Salvation,” The Indianapolis Star, June 24, 2008, A1, A6.
22. Ibid.
23. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Conversions, Psychological and Spiritual (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1959) 39. Lloyd-Jones wrote this booklet to address issues raised by Dr. William Sargant (1907-1988) in his book, Battle for the Mind. Son of a Methodist minister, psychologist Sargant dismissed all conversions to be mechanically induced as experiments with Pavlov’s dog showed. As expected, Lloyd-Jones argues that such is not the case, but notes that Christians ought to avoid revival methods that invite the accusation that conversion can be accounted for reason of psychological inducements that are engineered below (Contra John 3:3, “a man must be born from above”). Nevertheless, as Dabney observed, “Doubtless, many ministers are unconsciously swayed by the natural love of excitement.” See Dabney, “Spurious Religious Excitements,” 471. And, like Aaron, many pastors will pragmatically stoop to any carnal means to stimulate excitement in the camp/church.
24. Dabney, “Spurious Religious Excitements,” 468.
25. Rev. Mr. Beverly Carradine, “Church Entertainments,” Master Christian Library (Ages Software Version 8, Albany, Oregon, 1997) 60.

NOTE: This 4-part article series is appearing in print in the May/June Discernment Ministries newsletter. A special thank you to Pastor DeBruyn for this well-honed, urgently needed message for our time. For more devotionals and commentary by Pastor DeBruyn, visit and his church homepage

For more articles on this topic of the sensate church, see the 2007 Herescope series beginning with "The Dopamine-Driven Church."