For a pdf, see The Head, Heart, and Moral Knowledge.docx
If any knowledge is “just head knowledge,” and not “heart knowledge,
are we accountable for it?
If all knowledge is moral knowledge, can our ignorance ever be any excuse?
Can the head know something the heart cannot?
Can the heart know something the head cannot?
Or, is there a “head and heart” dichotomy?
Can we have “just head knowledge” or just “heart knowledge” about anything?
Is there something to be said for seeking “heart knowledge” in contrast to “head knowledge”?
Illustration of two people with different thoughts and emotions
” . . . intellect and emotion are simply two aspects of human nature that together are fallen and together are regenerated and sanctified. Nothing in Scripture suggests that either is superior to the other. Neither is more fallen than the other, neither is necessarily more sanctified than the other.” John Frame
A common assumption is that the “head” is inferior to the “heart” because feelings are superior (more real or relational) than thoughts or ideas (or beliefs). But if all knowledge can be understood as moral, and that all moral knowledge is by its nature emotive (oriented by the human will), then the head/heart dichotomy does not stand.
In short, if it can be established that all knowledge is moral knowledge, then for everything that we know, we are accountable for it, yes, morally responsible. That is, all knowledge involves moral motions (and emotions). For instance, whenever we ignore the truth of anything in God’s creation, we are trying to think and live contrary to God’s order of creation, regardless of what it is. Indeed, to live contrary to God’s order is to live contrary to God himself; it also creates profound complications in our lives, as in for example when people try to defy the laws of physics and jump off cliffs, knowing that the reality of gravity means that people who jump off cliffs go down, but they do so anyway in the vain hope that they can fly. In this case, the knowledge of gravity is true knowledge, but the foolish “heart” ignores it. This being the case, how could we say that the knowledge of gravity is less significant (inferior), less true, less emotive, or less moral, as in just a lesser “head” knowledge? To be sure, that knowledge of gravity was indeed categorically moral (i.e., “heart”) knowledge, because it is true knowledge of God’s created world that was summarily ignored. It follows then that this knowledge is significant, of great value, true, emotive, and moral. This silly example could be applied to all other knowledge possible about the universe, and I would add to that the knowledge of God himself. There can be no, properly speaking, inferior “head”(intellectual) knowledge in the lower story, and a superior “heart” (moral/emotional) knowledge in the upper story, as follows:
Heart (emotion) – higher, superior (feelings/motions?) faith?
Head/mind (reason) – lower, inferior (thoughts/ideas?) reason?
In response to this dualism, I propose that any knowledge about God is moral knowledge, as even in the case of one who has no proper relationship with God, or one who rejects God as Lord (as also “the demons believe, and tremble” James 2:19). Despite the fact that a person may have a broken relationship with God, the knowledge they have of God is still moral and requires of them a “heart” response (emotive), which is always either towards faith or unbelief. There is no amoral (non-moral, just “head,” or non-emotive) response to God possible. Could it then not be affirmed that all knowledge about all things is moral knowledge and therefore real, true, actual knowledge? And thus, strictly speaking, there can be no lower story (inferior) “just head knowledge” (without the heart) of God, nor of anything in God’s creation. Conversely, there can be no upper story (superior) “just heart knowledge” (without head knowledge) of God, nor of anything in God’s creation. This may be reflected in, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5; Mtt 22:37; Mk 12:30; Lu 10:27). There does not seem to be any duality or dichotomy here between superior heart versus inferior head knowledge, but a moral imperative that governs the whole person, described in heart, soul, mind, and strength. Indivisibly, the thoughts and feelings of the whole person govern the will, perspectives, attitudes, and path of life. We cannot “follow our heart” as we are so often advised, that is, emotively without our head or our reason/rationality.
By extension, we can assert that 2+2 is a moral equation, no less so than to say that God is triune, three Persons in One God. All truth statements and all true knowledge are by definition theological knowledge, since they show to us God himself. This does not mean that such “knowledge of God” itself can save us from our sin or our condemnation by God’s perfect law. Indeed, in Romans 1, Paul describes the accurate knowledge of God and his attributes, that all people have through their observation of nature, in order to say that such knowledge does not save us from darkness nor give us a properly restored (“heart”) relationship with God. In fact, that knowledge of God causes people to suppress the truth they know because of their unrighteousness. Even more, this rejection of a true knowledge (without faith) of God leads people to create false gods out of created things and bow down and worship them! This true knowledge of God that is suppressed is not simply somehow a kind of “head” knowledge unrelated to the “heart” of a person; they are inseparably one motive-function of the whole person (emotive and cognitive). This is a good case in which we can see that the response of a person is most certainly also emotive (or emotional in the heart) and not just intellectual (cognitive in the head). The human head-heart dynamic must include moral-motions that necessarily, and indivisibly, involve both emotive sentiment and cognitive understanding.
Admittedly, standing alone, the abstract equation 2+2=4 does not seem at first glance to be a moral equation, though as a true statement it is. And, the moment you apply it to your grocery tab, or when weighing gold bullion, it is evidently moral. Can it then be concluded, as a case in point, that there is no nonmoral (“head”) knowledge here, but entirely true knowledge that has a moral application in every case. For purposes of discussion, not ontological definitions, the “heart” always integrally interrelates with the “head” because they both reside in the core of the human person as one thing: the soul (or today, the whole person). This being the case, the “heart” may be said to describe the emotive moral-motions of the “head,” but the one can never be said to function independently of the other, since they are not separate entities; that is, if all knowledge is moral knowledge. To be clear, the math equation can never be understood as just a matter of either head or heart knowledge.
The foundational principle of all reality is the law of non-contradiction, that A cannot be non A. This is the irrepressible fact of reality: that all things have unity and diversity. All things are in relation, but all things are necessarily differentiated from all other things. This is the truth of the unity and diversity of all created reality, since all things reveal and reflect the triune nature of God who has unity and distinction, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all knowledge about anything in God’s universe is in this sense moral knowledge for which we are accountable. In other words, to say we know about God, but that we are not responsible for that knowledge (as just “head knowledge”) of God implies a false dichotomy between moral and non-moral knowledge (as in the “head and heart” dichotomy).
To expand on that thought, to reject, deny, or live contrary to the fundamental truth of God’s universe, that A cannot be non A, that 2+4 cannot equal 5, that male cannot be female, that good cannot be evil, that God cannot be not God, that we humans cannot be non-human, is to reject God’s order of reality, since all things are differentiated by their nature. Considering the seriousness of this, it follows that evil originates from those created good with true knowledge of God and his creation, but who have rejected God and his order of creation and reality. They have broken down the unity and distinction principle of the law of non-contradiction, as the evil one asked, “Did God really say . . . ?” in which the first temptation was to deny God’s own declaration of distinctions between good and evil, right and wrong, obedience and disobedience, truth and falsehood. To reject God’s definitions, distinctions, differentiations is a moral rejection of the true knowledge of God and his creation, and this does not happen in some part of the soul, or person, called the “head” as distinct from the “heart”; the rejection of such knowledge involves the whole will of the whole person, the emotive-cognition of the “heart and mind” together, if you will.
The Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek terms give a complete picture of the whole person through the very frequent interconnection of body imagery of the eyes, heart, head, tongue, hands, and feet. These images and motifs are used so frequently in the Bible, we hardly notice them to ask why they are so prevalent, and what they imply. For example, “head” is used many times in the Bible in a literal sense, as referring to one’s physical head, and sometimes in a figurative (symbolic) sense as referring either to authority and leadership, or to rulership (as in military, political, or marital contexts). Paul also expands this in application to the relationship of Christ the Bridegroom to his church the Bride (Col 1:18; 2:19; Eph 4:15; 5:23). But “head” is never used in the Bible in some dichotomous way as pitted against the “heart.” Similarly, the terms for “heart” in the Bible describe figurative aspects of what it means to be a human person (though very little reference to the physical organ of the heart). The biblical heart-terms cover the range of human personality and the intellect/mind, the will and emotions, desire, as well as one’s memory. As a theological metaphor and common motif, heart-terms provide many central themes related to what constitutes a human being and what motivates them. It follows then that usually there is a moral component to the motif of the heart, as related to its corruptions, and thus a connection with the central gospel theme of the universal need for all humans to have a “new heart.” That is, as often described a, “circumcised heart,” one transformed (regenerated) by the Spirit of God; it is one in which the person is transformed towards true faithfulness and true love towards God and neighbor. This heart-aspect of redemption involves the entire function of the whole person: “thinking, remembering, feeling, desiring, and willing.” As in the biblical terms related to the “head,” there is no bifurcation between terms of the “heart” and those related to the “head.” Further, the biblical relation of eyes, ears, head, heart, tongue, hands, and feet presents a holistic picture of the [whole] person integrally related internally and externally, either aligned by truth or misaligned by falsehood. As the internal (head/heart) is aligned with the truth, the work of the hands, direction of the feet, and the words of the tongue show externally the internal integrity, and vice versa.
This is why true knowledge of God must be accompanied by trust and faith and, by extension, submission to God himself through repentance that leads to obedience. True knowledge of God must be accompanied by the power of God’s Spirit to work in us faith and trust in him. This is especially so, since we are so prone to suppress, distort, and pervert the truth of the knowledge of God. To know about God (what some mistakenly call “head” knowledge”), and to reject that knowledge (Rom 1), puts us in a place where we must have his powerful work in us to return us to a full and proper recognition that what we all know of God (through observation of creation) is true knowledge of God that makes us morally responsible (because it is true “heart knowledge”). This deduction stands to reason, since we are unable to receive/accept it properly in our own ability because we have been corrupted in our will, reason, feelings, and indeed in our whole person.
Sometimes the phrase “a saving knowledge” of God/Christ is used to describe this process of accepting and believing the knowledge of God, but this may unwittingly suggest that knowledge itself is what brings conversion or regeneration of the person. This is simply not correct. A so-called “saving knowledge” should not be understood as just more information (head) or more feeling (heart), but rather as a real relationship to the Living God of all truth and knowledge. A real relationship could be more accurately described as a restored relationship, since it can be said that all humans have a “relationship” with God, as made by him and in his image, but that relationship is as a broken one characterized by faithlessness, lovelessness, and alienation. We are born broken-hearted. In light of that, we all need a restored relationship with God himself, and that will lead to a restored relationship to his universe, his creation, and our neighbors. This importantly includes internal reconciliation within our divided, double-minded, broken-hearted, selves. We are reconciled internally, and increasingly, so that our heart-motions and our head-thoughts are realigned into one willing whole, where we are no longer ruled by tyrannical emotions that arise directly from our rebellious and unbelieving thoughts (by our rejection of the knowledge of God). We can know an integration of becoming whole again, and this is evidence of realignment with the truth of God that brings new and true integrity to our whole person, our heart, mind, and soul.
It follows then that true knowledge of God is entirely practical knowing, not just moral(heart/head) knowing, since we know the One who made the worlds, and since he is therefore the key to all reality we are consequently re-enabled to live wisely in his created universe. We move from those whose irrational heart-rejection (emotive-cognitive) of the knowledge of God and his order, that led to complete disintegration and disorientation of heart/mind, to those who live in the knowledge of God through a restored relationship with him and thus to his created universe. Our thoughts and feelings become progressively realigned to the One who made them and to the universe he created us for.
Perhaps, better categories to describe the “head and heart” dilemma could be the biblical concepts of knowledge about versus wisdom in response, since when people use these terms “head” and ‘heart” knowledge I think it is fair to say they are often trying to describe the difference between a wise response to the knowledge of God in faith (the heart) verses one of foolish unbelief (the head). While that may be true in a descriptive sense, I have tried to show that those categories do not do justice to the whole picture in Scripture that is better understood in the categories of wisdom (faith/belief in the true knowledge of God) over against unbelief (rejection of the true knowledge of God), or folly. This conflict is not described in the Bible as one between the head and the heart, but as one between foolish unbelief and wise belief, the latter response depending upon God’s Spirit regenerating a person to believe and follow Christ.
In Christ, the LOGOS/WORD of God, the fullness of the knowledge and understanding of God is made clearly known (to our heart and our mind):
Col 2:2-3 . . . that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Ps 19:1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
Pr 9:10 Knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Prov 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.
In a concluding application then of this assertion that the head and the heart are not distinguished in the Bible, and in fact are not distinguishable in us, there are several implications to consider. If the heart is what defines what we are as persons in our character, our will, being, intentions, thoughts, emotions, and nature, then the “heart” is to be identified with the “head” as the origin of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. The heart/head is thus the “substance” and evidence of our soul, and the source of its spiritual and moral state. This is important in our response to the twin errors of Rationalism and Emotionalism.
Rationalism (often associated exclusively with the “head”) asserts the primacy of human thought/reason at the exclusion of divine revelation and illumination to understand it. The rejection of divine revelation is an absolute error, since it leads to absolute error, since the human mind cannot consistently reason correctly about general revelation unaided by God’s interpretation. This is not to say that the human mind does not understand general revelation enough to theologically know that God is and who he is in his eternal attributes (Rom 1), but in sinful humans this knowledge is twisted and suppressed by unbelief. For believers, the role of the Spirit’s illumination is thus also vital for understanding God’s Special revelation, his revealed Word (it is also related to the sanctifying role of the Spirit of God in our hearts). Rationalism also often excludes the role of emotion in the reasoning process. This is a serious loss of the intrinsic relationship of these two aspects of our reasoning. In rejecting the assumptions of Rationalism, we do not reject the rational aspect of our God-given ability to reason. As made in God’s image, we must of necessity have the irrepressible ability to think, and to think in a properly linear fashion along the principle of the law of non-contradiction. We are innately given the capacity to reason that A is not non-A, and we all have the ability to differentiate unity and diversity in all of God’s creation. This is not obliterated even by the corruption of our minds and their reasoning processes, so it can follow that it is actually impossible for a person to think at all without reason. Even irreason, irrationality, illogicality, and faulty reasoning are all evidence of this inescapable reasoning aspect of our created nature in the image of God. That is to say, even poor and faulty reasoning is still reasoning. In this sense then that rationality is inescapable, and thus irrepressible, even denials of reason as such must of necessity employ reason to deny reason.
Emotionalism (often associated exclusively with the “heart”), on the other extreme, rejects in practice the essential and role of proper reason and rational strategies of thought and action. (It is too easy to use this word to characterize things that seem irrational (or unreasonable) to us, but nevertheless for purposes of discussion we need not reject the term itself.) Emotionalism is found in many forms historically, and is a persistent problem in contemporary Evangelicalism wherever it exalts experience/emotion over propositions, truth, and reason. It tends toward anti-intellectualism, in that it distrusts the claims of rationalism as well as any claims of the necessity of reason/rationality. All the same, we must assert that emotion is a God-given aspect of our being made in his image, but it is to be guided by reason based on divine revelation (the canon of scripture) and illuminated by the Spirit of God. Further, emotion is often greatly perverted due to sin, and is the cause of much of the human misery in the history of world. In light of that, there may be a bit of emotionalism in all that we do, in the sense that our emotions often override our better sense, and reason gets displaced, and we make bad choices based on our distorted, or overpowering, feelings. Sometimes, we even call someone irrational when they are behaving in badly and in inexplicable ways, but what we may be describing are actions based on feelings that override good, rational judgment (hence, “crimes of passion”).
Some contemporary cultural and philosophical movements can be said to have an emotionalist motivation, such as Romanticism (19 century) that has flourished in the twentieth and twenty first centuries in many diverse forms: e.g., utopian Communism, the Marxian revolts of the 1960’s, Existentialism, and Postmodernism. Similarly, much revivalism in Christian circles has been characterized by anti-intellectual emotionalism. Much Evangelicalism in song and form stresses experience (pietism) and emotion (“heart”) over against doctrine, content, reason, knowledge, and propositional truth (“head”) as the foundation for faith.
As demonstrated in this church sign, anti-intellectual, anti-reason ideas are common in American Christianity. What does this mean that reason is the greatest enemy of faith? That faith is reasonless? “Just believe,” do not ask (reasonable) questions? That the heart is superior to the mind/head? That the mind/head is an enemy to the heart? That we believe with the heart, but disbelieve with the head?
We can at least point out that the statement itself is self-contradicting (self-refuting), since the statement depends upon reason and linearity, and the assumption of the law of non-contradiction, as well as the ability of people reading it to rationally comprehend the words. In other words, the (reasoned) creation of the sign’s wording, and reading with understanding (reason) the words of the sentence would contradict the proposed (and irrational) meaning of the sign itself!
. . . There is a widely prevalent theory, that truth may be of the feelings as well as of the intellect; that it may not only come thus from two independent sources, but may be contradictory so that what is true to the feelings may be false to the intellect and visa versa; and that as moral character and so Christian life are rooted in the voluntary nature, of which the feelings are an expression, the Christian life may be developed and, some say, would better be developed, without reference to such intellectual conceptions as doctrinal statements. This theory is radically false. There is no knowledge of the heart. Feeling can give knowledge no more than can excitement. As Prof. Bowen has well said, “Feeling is a state of mind consequent on the reception of some idea.” That is, it does not give knowledge; it presupposes it. There must be knowledge by the head before there can be feeling with the heart. Once more you see the point. The religion of the heart and the theology of the head cannot be divorced. Unless the heart be disposed toward Christ, the head cannot, because it will not, discern the truth of Christ. As our Lord said, “It is only he who wills to obey God, whose heart is right toward Him, who shall know the doctrine whether it be of Him.” On the other hand, zeal in Christ’s cause will be strong and abiding in proportion as the faith from which it springs and by which it is nourished is intelligent. Zeal without knowledge is dangerous and short-lived. William Brenton Greene, Jr. (1906)
 Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 756.
 A more complete accounting of the whole person is needed in this conversation, in that any definitions of knowing should include the various complementary aspects of the human mind: for example, the emotions, reason, the will, intuition, imagination, perception. And, instead of debating which is “primary” we should explore their interrelationships more carefully.
 Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, p. 368. “We associate thought and memory with the brain today, but in the idiom of the Bible, thinking is a function of the heart” (ibid., p. 369).
 Greene, “Broad Churchism and the Christian Life,” Princeton Theological Review, 4 (July 1906), pp. 311-13.
See also my blog on dualism at https://stephenhague.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/dualism-divided-fields-of-knowledge-and-biblical-dichotomies2.pdf