A second principle behind contagious Christianity is emotional relevance. The European Enlightenment taught that we human beings are unique creatures because we are rational creatures: while we still experience the emotions that we have inherited from our primitive forbears; education has come to lift us into the life of the mind. With the fading of the Enlightenment, and the rise of postmodernity, it is becoming apparent that the Enlightenment was wrong by almost 180 degrees. We are not basically rational creatures who sometimes feel; we are basically emotional creatures who sometimes think. (Even what we think about is influenced by our background emotional state, and how we think about it is influenced by our feelings at the time.)
This discovery is more-or-less a re-discovery. Even in the eighteenth century, when the Enlightenment’s onslaught seemed unstoppable, the romantics found ways to speak to, and awaken, the heart—through poetry, fiction, art, and music. In that same century, Jonathan Edwards reflected upon the indispensable role of “religious affections” in Christian experience, and John Wesley defined Christianity as, substantially, a “religion of the heart.”
Today, we need a fuller recovery of a more holistic understanding of human nature, in part because many people in our communities are fighting an emotional war within, and they are being gradually destroyed by emotional forces—like pride, fear, sadness, anger, hate, jealousy, low self-esteem, and other feelings surging within them that are hijacking their lives. Furthermore, authentic Christian conversion involves emotional healing, as well as deliverance from a destructive emotional world into the new emotional world of the Kingdom of God, in which such emotions as gratitude, love, humility, peace, healthy self-esteem, and joy enter the convert’s experience.
Effective churches begin where people are, including their emotional struggles and their aspirations for emotional freedom. Teaching, counseling, preaching, liturgy, evangelism, and other ministries are expressed with emotional sensitivity and relevance. Today, as the recovery ministries of many churches are learning to engage the emotional baggage that attaches to addiction, they are learning to minister to everyone with emotional relevance.