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I was thinking of asking a question about what might be known about Christians' emotions regarding God--whether that is a unitary or trinitary version of God. Specifically, I want to know what sorts of emotions Christians feel when they consider their "relationship" with either Jesus, God the Father, or the Holy Spirit. For example, do they feel the same sort of loving personal relationship with the Father "person" of the trinity as they do with the Son person? Do they feel fear when contemplating God the Father? Do they feel no emotions at all but merely think of God propositionally? Obviously, people will vary greatly, but I am looking for insight into "Christian psychology" generally, if there is such an insight to be gained.

Surely a wrong way to ask this, on an SE site, would be: "How do you feel about it...?".

A better question might be to ask for a a definitive source(s) for psychological studies on Christian emotions in their religious life. For example, asking for a link(s) to a published large-scale survey of American Christians emotions in this regard, along the lines of the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. That would be an answerable question in the way that SE sites want--but my concern is it may still not be right for this site?

My goal in asking this is to better understand the psychology of Christianity.

Thoughts?

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The one hesitation I have is that there can be no one right answer. By that I mean, there's no particular limit to how a Christian ought to feel. As the author of Ecclesiates says:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
...
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
(Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 ESV)

Reading the Psalms, I can't think of any emotional response to God that isn't represented there.

Therefore, the question would come down to: "Is this the appropriate time for such and such an emotion?" And that treads on dangerous ground because we can't know the full circumstances. It takes us into the region of offering pastoral advice.

On the other hand, there is research being done in the field of psychology from a Christian perspective. If you are interested in the topic, I highly recommend picking up a book by Larry Crabb. Personally, I've read Connecting and Soul Talk. Both books approach the question of how Christians can help each other deal with life's difficulties, especially in the emotional realm, via the power God gave us in the Holy Spirit. He actually starts from a theology of the Trinity, so there's tons of grist for an on-topic Christianity question in these books.

I guarantee that his work will prompt questions. Even so, asking them here may prove difficult. Perhaps the best thrust would be to ask about his exegesis of particular passages. Does his interpretation stand up and does his application conform to the traditional practice of the church?

In other words, if you start from a theoretical point of view, you will have an easier time of asking questions that can only be answered in theory. But the experts on this site are more likely to be familiar with theoretical Christianity than theoretical psychology.


N.B.: Survey questions are not treated kindly on SE sites in general. Try to focus down on a particular question as far as you can. Resource requests ("What's the best programming book?", etc.) are a subset of survey questions as there are an unlimited number of reasonable answers.

  • I will edit my question; I didn't mean I wanted to survey the readers here. I meant is there a (or a few) definitive survey study(ies) of Christian emotional psychology, such as the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, but one that focuses on emotional issues. – Chelonian Apr 12 '12 at 17:08
  • I couldn't find a particular book by Larry Crabb that was clearly psychology...could you give a title? – Chelonian Apr 12 '12 at 17:08
  • And I am not interested in how Christians ought to feel; I'm interested in what they actually do feel. This is a question about psychology, but it's explicitly Christian psychology, so I wondered if it would be useful to others who would read this site. I know for me it would go a long way in helping me understand more about Christianity generally, since emotion must be a huge factor in it. And, btw, I would accept sources other than necessarily peer-reviewed psychology, such as perhaps really high quality writing about it from other perspectives. – Chelonian Apr 12 '12 at 17:21
  • @Chelonian: I've updated my answer. Crabb specialized in Clinical Psychology. All of his books are about psychology, but they do tend to get the standard Christian publisher treatment and look like they are devotional or self-help or something. – Jon Ericson Apr 12 '12 at 17:47
  • Thanks, Jon, that's awesome! – Chelonian Apr 12 '12 at 20:04
  • If you're going to throw in Larry Crabb, you might want to add Jay Adams & Dan Allender. (I'd also throw in Robert Kellemen, but that's just me :) Of course, if you want to get historical, Thomas Owens Care of the Soul belongs in the list as well... I'd say that's a pretty good list of Christian counselors in the ascendancy right now... – Affable Geek Apr 13 '12 at 3:11
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Being an academic site, I too would prefer to see something a little more in keeping with the accepted literature around soul care / christian counseling. Larry Crabb, Jay Adams (nouthetic counselling), Dan Allender - there are some really respected names currently active in the field who have theories of how one should counsel - but what people are "supposed to feel" sounds kind of off to me.

Imagine, for example, this were "psychology.se." I wouldn't expect a question like "How should I feel about paranoid schizophrenia," but I would expect "What counsel should be given to a person experiencing paranoid schizophrenia?" or even "What is the diagnosis for someone who hears voices?"

  • I don't think this is an answer to my question. I wrote nothing at all about the question of "supposed to feel". I am entirely uninterested in that. As I wrote, I am interested in what Christians actually do feel, at least inasmuch as that can be investigated with professional surveys or other ways of getting at that knowledge. – Chelonian Apr 13 '12 at 19:27
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I don't see why not. If the psychology / emotional state is off topic, you lose an important aspect of Christianity, which is how it pertains to the feelings and thoughts of man. Lewis himself stated there were proper affections for things; this isn't to mean there is only one proper way to feel about a single thing, but rather that there are in general proper and improper ways to feel about things. His example was that Eliot had written something about the sunset that could only be interpreted as absurd and humorous, simply because it was such an improper reaction to the phenomena.

In Orthodoxy we find talk about the disposition of the soul and mind and body in regards to prayer and other things - this is as much a part of Christianity as is talk about what the bible says or doesn't say or ideas about God or Jesus Christ.

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