You have heard the distinction as often as I have—the distinction between head knowledge and heart knowledge. We learn facts about God, about his character, about his Word, but it is not until those facts reach the heart that they become spiritually beneficial. They say the journey from the head to the heart is the longest journey of all.
I’ve never been too comfortable with this distinction between head knowledge and heart knowledge, and recently Andrew Davis helped me sharpen my thinking a little bit. In his book An Infinite Journey (see my review) he tells about a testimony he once heard.
“I grew up in a Christian home, said the young lady who was sharing her testimony at an evening church service, “and I learned a lot about the Bible. But it was all head knowledge, not heart knowledge. It wasn’t until all that head knowledge moved down to my heart that my life began to change.” I watched as she pointed from her head to the center of her chest, to represent the movement of this knowledge, almost like the journey food travels through the esophagus to the stomach.
We have all heard people speak like this and we know what they are getting at. Yet here’s my concern: When we speak in this way, we pit the two kinds of knowledge against one another, with head being the enemy and heart being the friend. It’s like we need to battle the head in order to reach the heart, or like head knowledge is the necessarily evil we need to endure to reach the heart.
Now obviously there is a genuine concern that is being addressed in language like this. I was once much like this young lady. I grew up in a Christian home and knew facts about God and the Bible and the Christian faith, but without actually being saved. I think of a man like Bart Ehrman who, though an ardent enemy of Christianity, has a vast knowledge of the Bible. In God’s Word we encounter demons who know that God exists. We encounter apostates who once professed the Christian faith and knew a great deal about it before they wandered away and eventually revoked the faith.
I believe we need to affirm the importance of believing what is true without disparaging the facts and knowledge necessary to even know what is true. Head knowledge is good; heart knowledge is good. More head knowledge is better than less head knowledge and more heart knowledge is better than less heart knowledge. Head knowledge is good because heart knowledge is impossible without it. Christianity is and must be a faith that involves the mind just as it is and must be a faith that involves the heart. The problem comes when there is a radical disconnect between the two.
Davis says it well:
We must keep growing in knowledge or we will cease making progress in the Christian life. All of that knowledge begins as head knowledge, concepts understood by the mind, before anything else can occur. And we must have as much of that head knowledge as possible. But woe to us, if through unbelief, we do not allow that knowledge to transform us into the image of Christ and change the way we live our lives.