Stylos is the blog of Jeff Riddle, a Reformed Baptist Pastor in North Garden, Virginia. The title "Stylos" is the Greek word for pillar. In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul urges his readers to consider "how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar (stylos) and ground of the truth."
Friday, February 22, 2013
The Vision (2/21/13): Are you passionate?
Note:This article appeared as a blog post back on
January 5, 2013 on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog.Theologian James Renihan points out that the
modern broad-evangelical call for “passion” may be misguided.Perhaps we ought to call instead for
faithfulness. –Pastor Jeff Riddle
It seems that
evangelical preachers and writers have become passionate about being
passionate. This might be one of the most common buzzwords of the day. We are
urged to have a passion for God, to be passionate about winning souls, to be
passionate in worship etc. ad nauseum. If you aren’t passionate, you
probably are not really living as a Christian should-or so it would seem to be
implied. But it seems to me that there is a problem with the use of this
language, and it ought to cause us to reconsider our terms.
Today, ‘passion’ is
generally thought to be good. It is used to describe powerful emotions, or deep
and profound commitment. These things may be very good in themselves. The
problem is, however, that we Christians inherit an older sense of the term that
is utterly contradictory to anything good.
If you look at most
conservative translations of the Bible-for example the New American Standard
Version or the New King James Version-you will find that when ‘passion(s)’ is
used in the New Testament, it always has a sinful connotation: Romans 1:26 “God
gave them up to vile passions;” 1 Cor. 7:9 “It is better to marry than to burn
with passion;” Gal. 5:24 “Those who are Christ’s have
crucified the flesh with its passions and desires;” we are even told in Col.
3:5 “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication,
uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
Isn’t it confusing to
preach to people, telling them to be passionate about something good, when all
that they read about passion(s) in the Bible is evil? What do they think when
they read the scriptures?
And making matters even
more confusing for serious minded believers, our Confession tells us that God
is “without body, parts, or passions.” This is an important theological point,
often misunderstood. While we speak somewhat simplistically of emotions, our
tradition spoke more specifically, not about emotions, but about affections and
passions. Affections are righteous attributes which have their source within
God; passions are unrighteous attributes which have their source outside of
God. Our Triune Lord has true affections, but he has no passions. Preachers who
understand and subscribe to our Confession should comprehend this point and
think through its implications for their communication with their people. Isn’t
it confusing to urge people to strive to be passionate about imitating God when
we rightly confess that God has no passions?
Language changes over
time, this is certain. And it may be that we are witnessing a change in the use
of ‘passion’ and its derivatives. But it seems to me that Confessional
Christians who are serious about the Scriptures ought to be careful in their
use of language. We need to avoid confusion or confusing terms. It might be
better for us to refrain from using this term in a positive sense, finding
another to replace it. This would avoid the difficulty of telling our people to
be passionate even when the Scriptures tell us to mortify our passion.