The Mere Intellectual Assent Fallacy

HeadHeartBalanceResize Ever hear someone say faith is not mere intellectual assent? Ever hear them attempt to argue faith is something you do in both your head and your heart? It was Karl Barth who began pushing Soren Kierkegaard’s existentialism like a drug dealer to the masses. Ever since we have had to counter this ridiculous notion that faith is not mere intellectual assent. The existentialist invented the head/heart dichotomy. While Christ told us the thoughts of the heart proceed from the mouth, the existentialist tells us the heart might know what the head doesn’t, and vice-versa.

The word “heart” is a polysemy.  A polysemy is a word with many different meanings.  The word “light” is a polysemy.  Light can refer to the intensity of brightness, to an object’s weight, to one’s mood, to the act of setting fire, or even to a person’s sanity, such as in “he’s a little light in the head.”   The immediate context determines the meaning.  Consider the following examples from Scripture.

Genesis 1:3  And God said, “Let there be light.”  And there was light.

Ruth 2:3  And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech.

1 Samuel 18:23  And Saul’s servants spake those words in the ears of David. And David said, Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a king’s son in law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed?

2 Samuel 21:17   But Abishai the son of Zeruiah succoured him, and smote the Philistine, and killed him. Then the men of David sware unto him, saying, Thou shalt go no more out with us to battle, that thou quench not the light of Israel.

Exodus 40:4 And thou shalt bring in the table, and set in order the things that are to be set in order upon it; and thou shalt bring in the candlestick, and light the lamps thereof.

1 John 1:5  This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

Light means something different in each of these examples.  Were we to assume the word light always means the same thing, then we would be in a terrible predicament, for we would have to explain how “Let there be light” and “God is light” does not mean God said, “let there be God”.  We see how quite silly the idea is to expect the word light to always mean the same thing.  Unfortunately, not quite nearly enough people think the same about the word “heart”. Consider, for instance, the following uses for the word “heart” in Scripture. In these examples we find a multitude of different uses and meanings for the word heart, none of which affirm a head/heart dichotomy.

Genesis 6:5-6 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And he Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart.

Here we see man’s heart described as having the ability to think. His heart has thoughts. Furthermore, his thoughts themselves are described as having intentions. Obviously a man’s heart cannot literally think, nor can thoughts literally have intentions all their own as though a thought has a will independent of its thinker. The word heart here is indicating man’s will with added emphasis upon his imagination. Man wills to do what he imagines, and what he imagines all the live long day is only evil continually.

We also see God Himself grieved to His heart. Note this. Not grieved in His heart, but rather to His heart. The meaning is the same, whether to or in, but to emphasizes the fact that God’s grief is entire.  Ever hear someone say they were “struck to the core”? Same meaning. God was struck to the core with grief at man’s evil.

Genesis 8:21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

Here we see God’s heart with the ability to speak. Does God have parts, and do each speak? Of course not. The word heart here indicates something else.  Ever hear someone say, “she said it from the heart” or “he meant it from the heart”?  It means they really, really mean it. God really meant it when He said never again will He curse the ground because of man.

Genesis 20:4-5 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.”

Ever hear someone say, “from the bottom of my heart? From the bottom of my heart, Lord, I am innocent in this matter. Abraham really did deceive me. I had not the slightest clue.

Exodus 4:16 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and He said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you , and when he sees you he will be glad in his heart.”

Ever hear someone say, “She warms my heart” or “he touches my heart”? You get the idea Moses and Aaron were not estranged brothers. They were close. This was not Jacob and Esau. This is not Joseph and his brothers.  This is Moses and Aaron, and they are close.

Exodus 7:3-4 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply My signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you.

Ever hear someone say, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin”? The meaning refers to Pharaoh’s resolve. The Lord steeled Pharaoh’s will so that Pharaoh resolved even more that he would not let the Hebrews go.  Not by the hair of my willy-will-will.

Exodus 9:13-14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For this time I will send all My plagues on your heart, and on your servants and your people so that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth.’”

Ever hear someone say, “I will cut you to the bone”? Same meaning. I will send all My plagues on you, buster.  You are personally going to feel them.

Exodus 23:9 You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Ever hear someone say, “You know what it’s like, because you went through it too”?

Exodus 35:5 Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution

Ever hear someone say, “You have a kind heart” or “She’s a kind soul”?

Exodus 35:34 And He has put it in his heart to teach, both him and Oholab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan.

Getting the idea?

Though there is no one concrete definition for the word heart, there is at least one definition the Bible never uses.  The Bible never uses the word heart to indicate a source of knowledge, as though we have a second organ with the ability to think and to know besides the organ in our skull.  Rather, the Bible uses the word heart to indicate many different things, none of which are sources of knowing.   The thoughts of the heart proceed from the mouth. What you believe, not just what you tell people you believe, but what you really deep down inside believe has a way of spilling out through your words. This is what Christ meant. He did not mean you have a literal spiritual organ which knows things your brain may or may not know.

Imagine for a moment we really did have a second, spiritual organ which knows and believes things our brain may or may not know and believe. We would forever be chasing our tail in a search for assurance, because how would we know that what we believe is not just our head believing, rather than our heart also believing? We wouldn’t. We couldn’t. There would be no way to find out if we are really heart believing rather than just head believing. This is where Lordship Salvation spirals down into a tailspin, because it redefines faith as something else in addition to intellectual assent to the gospel’s propositions.  It then tells us we can know whether we have heart belief rather than just head belief by looking to our works. But of course, if we look to our works for assurance of our faith, then the object of our assurance is no longer Christ, but rather our works. “Lord, Lord, did we not do many great works in Your name?”

A lot of Calvinists today attach issues of emotional satisfaction to faith, so they wind up defining faith as some sort of genuinely heartfelt and emotionally satisfying trust. Apparently, the mere act of agreeing 2 + 2 = 4 is not enough to constitute assent. We must now check in with our emotions to make sure our assent with 2 + 2 = 4 is also heart assent rather than just mere head assent. Luther made this same error. He gave us the horrendous analogy of a man with an irrational fear of boats. The man is afraid of the boat, Luther argued, because he doesn’t believe it exists. But this is absurd. Of course the man believes the boat exists. This is why he is afraid! What he doesn’t believe are certain things about the boat, like for instance, that it will carry him safely across the water.

I fear the biggest reason why some people fall for this false head/heart dichotomy is they have never entirely repented of their false religion. I speak as a former Pentecostal-Charismatic. I was in false religion for more than 22 years. I had experiences I thought were from God. I had what I thought was faith. After hearing the gospel though, and believing it, I realized immediately I had to take sides against myself. I had to affirm with God I was lost the entire time I was under the preaching of a Pentecostal-Charismatic gospel. I now count all my experiences and everything I once believed as loss.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

Matthew 18:35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Luke 16:15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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13 Responses to The Mere Intellectual Assent Fallacy

  1. Don Freeman says:

    “Imagine for a moment we really did have a second, spiritual organ which knows and believes things our brain may or may not know and believe. We would forever chase our tail in a search for assurance, because how would we know what we believe is not just our head believing, rather than our heart also believing? We wouldn’t. We couldn’t. There would be no way to find out if we are really heart believing, rather than just head believing.”

    Chasing our tails is a good analogy. That’s what happens. The heart/mind dichotomy is a plague and people who teach it need to stop troubling the church.

  2. Vinicio Cornejo says:

    I too agree that a false dichotomy exist between head and heart. I agree with your article. However, you say “Though there is no one concrete definition for the word heart, there is at least one definition the Bible never uses. The Bible never uses the word heart to indicate a source of knowledge…Rather, the Bible uses the word heart to indicate many different things, none of which are sources of knowing.”

    I would like to present the following verses.

    Deuteronomy 8:5 – “(5) “Thus you are to KNOW in your HEART that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.”
    Deuteronomy 29:4 – “(4) “Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a HEART to KNOW, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.”
    Jeremiah 24:7 – “(7) ‘I will give them a HEART to KNOW Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.”
    Proverbs 2:10 – “(10) For WISDOM will enter your HEART and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;”

    Also, in the following verse, the Word God describes the heart as having the ability for knowledge.

    Matthew 13:15
    John 12:40
    Acts 28:27

    When Scripture speaks of the heart in terms of having knowledge, wisdom, understanding, thoughts and the ability to believe, it is not referring to vital organ required to pump blood through the whole of our bodies, but it is reffering to the seat of all knowledge. The mind and the heart, in this sense, are one.

    • David Bishop says:

      That ellipses gets into trouble, Vinicio.
      You cut out the remaining part of my argument. Here is what comes after the ellipses . .

      “. . .as though we have a second organ with the ability to think and know besides the organ in our skull.”

  3. the plain and simple Arminian good news
    1. Jesus died for all your sins
    2. but you need to do more than assent to this, you need to trust this
    3. trusting this means not only that Jesus died for everybody, but you trusting that Jesus died for you
    4. but if you assent that he died for everybody, and only infer that this means that he died for you, then you have only assented to it and not trusted Him
    5. it’s one thing to say the chair can hold you up, and another thing to sit in the chair
    6. so the chair holds everybody, but if you don’t sit in it, the chair holding you won’t be enough
    7. even the demons assent to the fact that the chair holds everybody, but the chair was not for demons but only for all humans
    8. so if you only assent to the fact that Jesus died for you, then Jesus died for you but that won’t save you unless you trust it
    9. so you can’t trust in your assent, but you can trust in your trust
    10 the death of Jesus for you plus your trust in that (not only assent) will save you
    11. so remember, you don’t need to trust in it in order to know that Jesus died for you, but the death of Jesus for everybody will not save you unless you trust that Jesus died for you
    12 because obviously you could not trust that Jesus died for you unless we told you already that Jesus died for everybody
    13. so you don’t need to wait until you trust it to know already that Jesus died for you
    14. but the death of Jesus still won’t save you unless you trust it to save you
    15 we should not talk about election, and even saying this is talking about election
    16. we should not talk about election, because it might cause people to question if Jesus died for them and the gospel tells everybody that Jesus died for them, and there’s no need to wait to assent to that
    17 but assent to the death of Jesus for everybody is something different from saying that you needed Jesus to die for you and that you trust that Jesus died for you
    18. of course Jesus did die for everybody but only those who know that they needed that will be saved
    19 the death of Jesus for sinners who don’t know their need and don’t trust it is not enough to save them
    20 the death of Jesus for a sinner has nothing to do with causing that sinner to need it and to trust it–some do and some don’t, but Jesus died for everybody

  4. Alien Pebble says:

    “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin”

  5. markmcculley says:

    Fahy—Sandeman felt that if you introduced any element of feeling, holy affection, good dispositions or pious exercises into Gospel preaching, it re-introduced human works • Saw no place for conviction of sin and a broken heart for misdeeds. • Opposed ‘popular preachers’ like Whitefield and the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales because of their emotional pleading in preaching. • Did not call men to repentance (as this introduced works based on feelings)

    Bill Parker, What is a Christian, Reign of Grace, 2016-p 157

    “Many argue that repentance means a mere mental change and not a deep rooted change of heart. But we need to understand that the biblical truth of repentance involves a change of mind that is so powerful that it reaches the whole person. The heart in Scripture involves the mind, the affections, and the will. It is the whole person (the inner man) and not merely the intellect. When God the Holy Spirit brings a sinner to repentance, the change within involves much more than knowing some doctrine he did not know prior to repentance. It is a change of heart that results in a change of life

    p 235—Hebrews 6 describes false professors of faith. They had all the advantages and privileges of being under the preaching of the gospel. But not having been born again by the Holy Spirit, their claim was merely intellectual agreement but without true heart faith and repentance.”

  6. Pingback: The Mere Intellectual Assent Fallacy | Possessing the Treasure

  7. Lavender says:

    I’m still not sure why you’re against existentialism.

  8. Johnny Benson says:

    If your faith is as shallow as mere intellectual assent, you may still be in danger of eternal damnation. Our hearts, yours included, are deceitfully wicked. Intillectual assent alone is belief without repentance, antinomianism. We are saved by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ; but without repentance you do not truly understand what needs to be believed. You may well believe, intellectually, that Jesus died on the cross for your sins but your faith is not enough to be born again. You do not yet have a glimpse at the height of God’s holiness nor at the depth of our depravity. It is my guess that you are willfully living in sin without repentance, therefore needed to write this blog to justify your salvation. Pray that God grants you repentance and faith.

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