Head, Heart, Feet?

When I was new in the faith I was taught this concerning receiving the truth of God's word: When you hear it, it first affects your head, as you listen to it and understand it. Then, as you meditate on it, it works its way down to your heart and gets a grip on you. Finally it reaches your feet as you put it into practice and outwork it.

I don't know if this head->heart->feet teaching is still doing the rounds out there anywhere, but the more I have studied the scriptures and the more I have learned from them, the more I have become convinced that this description of teaching is totally at odds to the New Testament pattern.

In fact I would say that, at least in the west, we have distorted the concept of Biblical teaching to fit with our own post-enlightenment world view. We have reduced it to a cerebral activity, a mere exchange of thoughts and ideas from the mind of the teacher to the minds of those receiving instruction. I have even read a description of the ascension ministry of teacher as "a lover of books." Some it would seem have this idea of the teacher as a wise bookish person who gets wheeled out to teach doctrine now and again.

Where do we get this idea? Surely this is a concept of teaching that comes from our experience in the modern world, rather than from the pages of Scripture. What was Christ's own teaching ministry like? What was the teaching ministry of the Apostles like? Were they bookish academics?

Ephesians 4 says we have all been given grace "according to the measure of Christ's gift." So surely it is Christ's own teaching gift that we should use as an example in these matters:

And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mk 1:22)

If we read the gospel accounts we discover that the crowds were as astonished with Jesus' teaching as they were with this miracles. This was because he did not merely "teach" to convey information, but his words carried authority. Authority comes to bring obedience.

Obviously Jesus had not heard about the head->heart->feet process, as his words cut straight to the end result. He did not give people nice ideas to go away and think about; he brought the plumb-line of the word with authority that men had to line themselves up with. In fact we find that the reason Jesus often taught in parables, was not to make himself easier to understand, quite the opposite, it was so that his teaching could not just be received as nice intellectual ideas:

He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ (Lk 8:10)

In fact when Jesus was taken into heaven, when he revealed his ultimate authority over all things and gave the great commission, he spelt out what teaching should do:

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Mt 28:18-20)

The Jesus-kind-of-teaching is not teaching aimed at the head, but directly for the feet. We can receive it and obey it, put it into practice and see it produce fruit, even before we fully understand it.

What about the head->heart stage? Well, consider Paul's words to the Ephesians:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18)

Again the process is reversed! They received it in their hearts in order that they might know with their heads. Spiritual truth is received first by the spirit, not by the mind. We need to be those who have a mind controlled by the Spirit (Ro 8:6) not a spirit controlled by the mind.

Head, heart, feet? I'm sorry, I don't buy it any more! In my Bible the process is feet, heart, head!


Matthew said...

Absolutely Chris: as Mary said to the servents at the wedding in Cana, "whatever he says to you, do it."

I have learnt the most profound laws of the Spirit by doing first and then seeing the results in my life.

SLW said...

Superb Chris! I've grown frustrated with folk trying to spin Jesus' parable technique as pedagogical brilliance. It was brilliant in the sense it was inspired, but it wasn't a technique employed to create well-received instruction. For that to occur (and it's debatable that it ever did before Pentecost) the give and take of a close relationship with the disciples was necessary.

Mark H said...

Couldn't agree more!

I love hearing old addages picked apart. So often I haven't heard the old addages and so I don't immediately understand where people are coming from when they're struggling. This is really helpful.

What would you say in this regard to someone who quoted to you that we are to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds"?

Chris HH said...

What would you say in this regard to someone who quoted to you that we are to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds"?

I would say that the mind is important, and that God is very concerned about how we think... but the fact that our minds are in a process of renewal should give us extra caution when we try to rely on them over-much! We do not yet understand in full, so if I only obey what I understand then the implications are that I only have a partial obedience too!

The renewal of the mind is not achieved by intellectual endeavour, but though a walk of obedience to the Spirit.

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Heb 5:14

Mark H said...

Solid. Thanks :-)

Chris HH said...

Here's another great example that turns the head-to-feet mentality on its... um... head:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (Philemon 1:6)

It's feet before head again!

Mark H said...

THAT'S the scripture I was looking for! Thanks :-)

I couldn't even remember sufficient words to search for it, but I knew the principle of doing in order to understand was clearly and succinctly stated somewhere!

Thanks :-)