To change your mind, you have to change your heart.
Our emotions are much more entangled in our belief system than most of us realize. We like to think that we examine data rationally and make decisions that are logical and reasoned. But in reality, our emotions can make us hold onto a cherished belief even when we know intellectually that our belief is unfounded. We are not emotionless computers.
I was weaned on Calvin and Owen in a Reformed Baptist home. And I was proud of the uniqueness provided by both words of that identity—“Reformed” unlike most Baptists, and “Baptist” unlike most Reformed people. I loved to argue against infant baptism and I was able to win most of the arguments I had with peers. And not once did I ever consider the fact that I might have been wrong.
Then I went to seminary. The straw man in my mind began to fall apart my first year of seminary, but I was scared to study the issue of infant baptism intently. I “knew” I was right but I was afraid I might be wrong. My last year of seminary, a professor who had traveled the trail from being Reformed Baptist to Presbyterian gently but firmly showed me intellectual arguments on a number of issues that I could not in good conscience refute. So suddenly, as I approached graduation, I realized that intellectually I was a Presbyterian, but I could not let go of being a Baptist emotionally. It took another year and another seminary before I was able to admit that I was a Presbyterian.
We must recognize the role our emotions play in our knowledge or we will be held captive by them. Winston Churchill once said, “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.” But therein lies the problem. How do we decide what the right direction is? We believe what we believe because we are convinced that we are right. And some beliefs we hold to with more emotional fervor because they are a part of our identity or because we believe they are important for us to believe for some other reason.
The purpose of much rhetoric in theological debate is not to make people think but to make people react. This emotionally-charged rhetoric prevents people from considering the arguments logically—it prevents us from being Bereans. We are called as Christians to study the Word, to meditate on the Word, to test all things by the Word. But often, our emotional attachments to our beliefs prevent us from hearing the Word we claim to believe.
If we hold to all of our beliefs with the same conviction, we will never change our mind on anything. We will emotionally block out all arguments before they are even considered. Instead, we must hold most firmly to the central doctrines of Christianity and less firmly to doctrines where there is disagreement (especially among those within our own tradition). If we change our hearts in this way, we will see our minds changed theologically by the Scriptures.
Stuart Latimer is senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church of the North Shore in Winnetka, Ill.