Feel – A Book Review
August 19th, 2008 by Sonja

Feel - Image

Feel:  The Power Of Listening To Your Heart by Matthew Elliott

This book was a breath of fresh air for me.  Sort of.  Matthew Elliott wants very badly to believe what he’s writing.  But I never quite got the feeling that he really did.  And I want to believe it too.  Whenever there’s been a dust up in my life, I’ve heard this: “You’re too emotional.  Why can’t you ________?” Fill in the blank with one of the following:

  • get a thicker skin
  • blow it off
  • ignore them/him/her; they’ll get bored and quit
  • just calm down
  • stop being so irrational/emotional/unreasonable

So it was a huge relief to read a book that was devoted to the idea that emotions are not scary.  Emotions are not bad.  Indeed, emotions are a necessary barometer that help us navigate and negotiate through life.

Mr. Elliott’s premise is that, contrary to popular psychology, ancient Greek philosophy and most modern thought, emotions were and are to be trusted.  They are an inner compass to the dance of the Holy Spirit.  It is when we cease to listen to our emotions that we are most at risk for not hearing from God.   He even laid to rest the horrible train visual that has scourged so many of us for so long:

Fact Faith Feeling

The promise of God’s Word, the Bible — not our feelings — is our authority. The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word. This train diagram illustrates the relationship among fact (God and His Word), faith (our trust in God and His Word), and feeling (the result of our faith and obedience) (John 14:21).

The train will run with or without a caboose. However, it would be useless to attempt to pull the train by the caboose. In the same way, as Christians we do not depend on feelings or emotions, but we place our faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God and the promises of His Word.

Thus have thousands been coerced into distrusting their innermost compass.  There is a grain of truth to these statements, but there is also a pound is dishonesty.  Sorting it out takes finesse and maturity.  Neither of which seem to be encouraged in the church of today.

Matthew Elliott takes great pains to prove his premise … but he does so in a very rational, logical manner.  I found this both comforting and paradoxical at the same time.  He makes the fine point that the notion that emotions cannot be trusted dates back to Plato and thus may be traced through Augustine in our church history.  He then traces its path through modern psychology and Darwinian thought to the present.  But the reality in the Bible is that God, His people and our relationship with Her are all rooted in emotion from the very beginning.

For those breaking free of any kind of emotional straight-jacket this is a must read.  Mr. Elliott also has a blog and throughout the book encourages participation on it.   There is also a website with study guide resources for individual and small group study (this book would be fine for both).

9 Responses  
  • brad writes:
    August 19th, 20089:13 amat

    YO! YO!

    Okay, so that was a bad rap to say “I feel therefore I am …” but hey, as an emotional man, I’m tired of the bad rap. After all, EmoMan is not a SuperVillain … he does exercise Self Control now and again, eh?

    Anyway, how many problems of our battlements find their source in our attempted bottlements of emotions? “Stuff it. Cork it. Put a lid on it.” What else have we heard from those uncomfortable with our outbursts, which aren’t always a poutburst.

    Perhaps a key reason that stuffin’ it never works, is, it wasn’t supposed to.

    The past few years I’ve been trying to figure out ways to explain that I suspect we who are “in touch” with emotions are not necessarily only “touchy-feely.” Because we have STRONG or OPEN emotional responses, that doesn’t mean we are OVERREACTING emotionally, which is how it’s usually interpreted. Automatically. So, that puts the non-emotional/low-emotional person as the standard. Might I suggest that’s a mighty low high bar? However will we then deal with the emotionality of Jesus – crying here over someone’s injustice or illness, flinging over templepimper tables over there. Or is He let off the hook because He is both God and man? Umm … still … some fairly strong emo’s going there …


    I ranted! Guess I must be having a strong emotional response to the ponderings on emotions … which means I gotta kick it into high gear and reflect, based on what surfaced, specifically what is buggin’ me and what I can/should do about that. Important barometers – yes!

  • brad writes:
    August 19th, 20089:14 amat

    p.s. thanks for writing your book review and validating emotions, Sonja. you, like, totally rock …

  • Matthew Elliott writes:
    August 19th, 20085:53 pmat

    Sonja, thanks for reading and reviewing my book! I know it is amazing, but theologians actually feel a thing or two every other Thursday. Seriously, although I am not a person that wears my emotions on my shirt all the time, I am deeply passionate. And I am 100% percent convinced that what I write about in FEEL is true. Emotion and reason are together in informing our lives and faith – neither can do it alone. Believe me, we have sacrificed much to get this message out, in all kinds of ways. Just today, I had to take a stand against the traditional ideas – like the train illustration you mention – that is likely to cost me an awfully lot personally and in relationships. It is only in believing that we all need to learn to love God with our hearts as Jesus demanded and that we cannot settle for a dry duty driven religion that gives me the strength to go on proclaiming this in the midst of some great costs. I believe this 100% and if you do too, watch out it will change your life! It has mine. And by the way, there is nothing paradoxical about arguing for emotional fullness in a rational way. That is the point, emotion and reason were created to work together in a unified whole, in a unified us. WARMLY, but want to leave no doubt on how convinced I am of the truth! All the best. Matthew

  • Ken Berggren writes:
    August 20th, 20085:21 pmat

    This is weird. I came to this site because of a post that urged christians to embrace “critical thinking.” Now I come to a review of a book on feelings. The review seems to advocate “critical feeling” without the “critical” part.

    Sure, get “in touch” with your feelings. Sure, listen to your heart. Sure, seek to understand the complicated maze of motivations that make us move. But TRUST emotions? You might as well TRUST a flooding river or TRUST a bolt of lightning.

    Of course we are to be integrated, mind and body, heart and soul, but that means putting them in proper perspective and emotions should never be near the top. Really, is our problem that too many christians try to live like Mr. Spock. Not a lack of emotions but sanctifying those emotions is what we need. This post reminds me of the chorus from a song by Rich Mullins with the unlikely title of Maker of Noses. After describing images of heaven and wondering where and when to find it, he asks the WORLD which tells him:

    Boy, you just follow your heart.
    but my heart just led me down into my chest. (that is, into myself)
    They say, “Follow your nose!”
    but the direction changed everytime I went and turned my head….
    They say, “Boy, you just follow your dreams!”
    but dreams are only misty notions…
    But the Father of hearts,
    and the Maker of noses,
    and the Giver of dreams,
    He’s the One I have chosen and I will follow Him.

    Jeremiah 17:9

  • Sonja writes:
    August 20th, 20086:59 pmat

    LOL … I am really amused by the comments this review has gathered. I never expected this.

    @Brad … yo yo yo dude … you crack me up. I wish I could write rap poetry on the fly, but … well … not so much.

    @Matthew … thanks for dropping by. I think I wasn’t clear enough. I really did like this book quite a bit … probably more than you heard in this review. But do you hear the passion in your comment? I wish there had been more of that and more of genuine “you” in the book. There were glimmers here and there, but sometimes “you” seemed to get edited out by reason and that seemed paradoxical to me. That’s more what I was getting at … if it makes any sense at all?

    @Ken … what can I say? You’re going to have to read the book for yourself to understand how one can both be a critical thinker and trust one’s emotions (does King David ring any bells with you?). Or, you can trust me. It is possible. In either case, I’m not responsible for why you came here or why you keep reading. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that you’re here and I hope you feel welcome. But why you came and why you read is on you. I have been known to change and grow throughout the course of my life. Sometimes that happens in public. So you may be watching that happen here.

  • Ken Berggren writes:
    August 20th, 20088:20 pmat

    @Ken … what can I say?

    A very good question!

    No, I’m not going to read the book. It is probably better than your review indicates since the website does talk about transformation and a NEW heart but it looks too slick for my taste and, as my quote of Rich Mullins might indicate, I’m really leery of New Age navel-gazing repackaged as Christianity.

    I’m sure one can be a critical thinker and a feeler, too. I just have trouble with the term TRUST applied to the human heart (as Jeremiah cautions.)

    King David rings a lot of bells with me. Some make beautiful music. Some are grating, clanging cymbals. That’s the rub, isn’t it?

    I’m glad you’re glad I’m here. I hope and pray that you do change and grow. I hope and pray that I might play some small role in making that happen. Yep, that’s on me.

  • Patrick Oden writes:
    August 23rd, 200810:16 amat

    I probably should read the book now too. :-)

    Couple of random thoughts that come out of the conversation here.

    I’m thinking about that train diagram. I first saw that in my Gen-X church back in the early 90s, when I was an impressionable teenager.

    And honestly, i think it’s true and right.

    That is a diagram, however, for milk drinkers. Facts have a tendency to be static, to be what they are, and as such are a good foundation when our souls may have passion but not transformation. I think that’s a great diagram to show young or new or immature Christians whose feelings are all over the place, without grounding, without experience in the wilderness, without letting go of ‘the passions’.

    But, the problem comes with the fact that facts aren’t the end and goal. The Bible isn’t a book of facts. It has facts, but facts sometimes get in the way. Such as a person dying is a fact. Or an army camped around the city is a fact. Or a big sea on one side and an Egyptian army on another is a fact. And then there are the ‘facts’ that we like to say are in the Bible to comfort us about what God doesn’t say. All the -ologies, and omni-s and such. We distance ourselves using facts and that leads pretty much to one place–the Law. The Law is the facts, and nothing but the Facts.

    Romans 7 says the Law leads to death. There’s no life in facts. There’s life in feelings, in being alive, in feeling passion and depth. There’s life in the mysteries and wonders of Love. What is love?

    How do we understand Jesus? By the facts? How does that explain his grace filled reactions to some and harsh reactions to others? He didn’t lecture. He built friendships, relationships.

    His feelings were sharpened, not let go. And his feelings, his emotions–sadness, fear, anger, joy–animated his ministry.

    For the mature Christian the train is reversed. We trust our Spirit transformed feelings because in those, not in the surface facts, is how we find discernment. How we find creativity. How we dance with the Spirit who doesn’t come with a book of lists and rules but with fire, and water, and wind–experiences of emotion and feeling.

    Christianity has long lost a sense that what characterizes one stage of the faith doesn’t another, and what is good for one type isn’t for another. We’ve made ecclesiology hierarchical while flattening out spiritual growth, which is precisely the opposite that the NT and the early church did.

    Feelings and emotions are vital, but they are only trustworthy if they have been transformed by the Spirit’s work–who seems to never work according to a set schedule.

    As far as ‘new age navel-gazing goes’, Christian spirituality goes so far deeper, farther, more extreme, and more wise than New Age that it’s shocking how people don’t know that. But, by slashing out the ‘navel gazing’ aspects inherent to the faith, they leave such topics the property of New Age and thus lose a whole lot of people who may have become prophets, or teachers, or such. We cannot, any longer, leave self-examination to the wrong spirits, but must continue, as Wesley himself did, throw ourselves even deeper into the navel-gazing so that we are better able to participate in the Spirit’s world-transforming.

    Without the navel-gazing it’s just our insights, our power, or opinions, our static spiritual state. None of which has any real power.

  • Patrick Oden writes:
    August 23rd, 200810:27 amat

    I know, I need to read the book. But a defense of Mr. Elliot’s approach for a second, as I can pick up on it. I’m also a very strong thinker, as in the Myers-Briggs label. But, I’m a huge advocate of emotions as well. In a way, I think that’s the approach that’s needed right now, because a Thinker can approach emotions from the outside looking in, seeing them and analyzing them in a way someone who primarily views life from emotion can’t as well.

    And also, as I was thinking more on this in the last minute, I realized that a lot of problems with emotions is that we are very, very good about teaching rational thought. It’s easy to teach facts. But we are awful about teaching emotions, not least because there are very few who are masters of that craft.

    This is the gift of the early monastic writers, something I’ve seen as so profound for my whole life. They didn’t teach facts as much as controlling the passions, learning discernment, wrestling with fears and hopes and desires. The monastics were masters of the emotions and deployed them in service of God, until monasteries became flooded by sins and lost their arts.

    That’s a worry I have with a lot of neo-monastic movements. They take on the surface stuff but don’t have the emotional teaching that makes a broad difference–something we see in the wild emotional responses of our various church leaders. Most of whom of course emphasize logic, because they are utterly slaves to their emotions, rather than the other way around.

    We need to embrace emotions but with that we need to learn how to teach them, understand them, make them participate with us and for us rather than being storms.

    We need to harness the lightning to power our technology. We need to harness the floods, to make bountiful crops. Learning the waves and movements brings enormous bounty, but also offers enormous danger. We’ve been so afraid of the dangers we’ve lost the art about finding the bounty.

    It sounds like Elliot’s book is a push back to who we really were all called to be. Look forward to reading it.

  • Sonja writes:
    August 25th, 20085:06 pmat

    @Patrick … unfortunately, you wrote your comments just as I hit three really wicked busy days in a row (just back from vacation and all). Hence, my delayed response to your wonderful comments … as always.

    It sounds like Elliot’s book is a push back to who we really were all called to be. Look forward to reading it. I think that really nails it in a very succinct way … you will really like the book and I only wish that Ken would push past his suspicion of it being “New Age,” because it’s really not at all. It’s quite solid and Biblical … not mushy at all.

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