Reflections of a Broken Man

On Grace, Gratitude, Guilt and Grey Areas by StephenMac
August 27, 2009, 9:29 am
Filed under: Reflections

**Currently listening to Rust (The Short Story Of Mary Agnosia) – anchor&braille… Why isn’t it released in Aus yet?!? And why can’t I buy from the US iTunes store?!?**

I’m new to ministry. I’m actually quite easily swayed by the opinions of those around me who have been in ministry longer than I. And so I am quite confused at the moment by the role of guilt and emotions in ministry and particularly youth ministry. How can we be affective (relating to emotions) without being manipulative? Here are some lines which can’t be crossed.

a) Emotional manipulation is wrong. Always.
b) Rational manipulation can be a form of emotional manipulation and is likewise wrong (You would be stupid to ignore the evidence…).

I think I’m convinced by the approach to pastoral theology that was raised recently in our annual lectures:

Grace –> Gratitude –> Love of God –> Repentance –> Moral Change (Good Works)

I think I’m also convinced that guilt can have a limited role in this theology, i.e. guilt leads us to recognise the grace shown to us, but does not replace the grace –> gratitude step. I think that I would hold that the “big stick” approach to motivate people to repent (you are guilty of sin, you’re a failure, you need to repent) is less effective than the “carrot” approach (God has shown you grace even when you were a sinner, we repent because we want to serve the God we love). The latter approach will involve guilt, in that it is the result of understand why we need grace in the first place, but it does not drive the need to repent. That is driven by love of and gratitude to God.

With these things in mind, here is my question: When does preaching to the emotions or ministering to the emotions to affect someone start becoming emotional manipulation?

question mark

Emotional manipulation, after a conversation yesterday, could possibly be the point where the effect of the preaching is beyond what could be defined by rationality. If we are on board with Jonathan Edwards and his perspective on religious affectation, then our emotional response must be in line with our rational response. In other words, if the emotional response is beyond what we would expect from, say the text we were preaching from, this we would call emotional manipulation… maybe…

Secondly, while emotional manipulation is more associated with guilt (and possibly easier to do), I wonder whether the same can be said for gratitude/thanksgiving…

Thirdly, is our theology of emotions influenced by our theology of God’s sovereignty? In other words, do we feel a drive to be affective to the point of manipulation because we don’t trust God’s sovereignty to save people?


I’m not exactly sure where I want to go with this, as I’m not exactly sure what I’m asking.

I think, though, that our ministry should involve the emotions, particularly guilt and gratitude, but must remain limited. Gratitude is the emotion to cultivate, however, as guilt I feel is less effective in producing a godly response.

Some thoughts for further elaboration…



2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

wow. this is some really interesting stuff.

I think you’re dead on with the idea that guilt can sort of guide us to grace, but will never (ever) replace it. And I think this is a valid, albeit tough, question to consider–especially if you’re focused on youth ministry. Youth (thinking: teenage girls, in particular) tend to operate a lot out of emotion. And when we’re young, what else do we have to go on? Not much experience, generally.

I definitely think touching the emotional is key, though, because emotions are a valid part of our lives. It should probably be balanced with sound teaching on the frailty and fickleness of our emotions. We cannot live on emotion alone. There must be points when we recognize that even if we don’t “feel” like it, God’s grace is still enough for us.

I also think that people slip over into manipulation out of a once-pure motive to see others live Godly lives. When you see someone falling into sin again and again, it seems like the better idea to use guilt to help them cross that line back to “correct” behavior. Yet, as so many things in the Christian worldview, what seems like it should work (theoretically), often is the exact opposite of what will work. Only a true revelation of grace will allow a person to be FULLY thankful for what Christ has done for us.

I’m sure you’re enjoying a rocking good time at a sweet Anberlin concert tonight. I’ll admit–I’m jealous. It just didn’t work out this time around.

Comment by daniellephilippi

thanks danielle, your thoughts have been very helpful for me as I think this through… sorry that I didn’t reply earlier, has been a very full weekend… Anberlin were sweet, but overly loud at points. I have their albums, and so I should know their songs, but the first four were so loud they were indistinguishable… sadly disappointing. On the whole though, they were awesome to see live – such energy…

I would love your input on this: Youth (thinking: teenage girls, in particular) tend to operate a lot out of emotion. And when we’re young, what else do we have to go on? Not much experience, generally.
What does this mean for our role as teachers? Especially because we do have the experience they do not. Even though they work on emotion, how should this change the way we do ministry?

You’re absolutely right, emotions are a valid part of our lives. They are what make us human in one sense. I think the point about the frailty and fickleness of our emotions is important, especially because our emotions can be wrong. I remember one point in my life in particular where emotions of guilt and failure had me doubting my faith. This doesn’t change the fact that Christ died for me – I was still saved even when I didn’t feel like it.

Just on your last point about manipulation and guilt to help a Christian who has fallen away. It’s interesting that we do use that method. In our annual lectures at college, we had a speaker talk about repentance in the early reformed english church. He said that Cranmer, the pioneer for the English reformation, believed that encouragement (i.e. gratitude) was a more effective motivator than guilt. As you point out, guilt often has the exact opposite effect. I wonder if we use guilt rather than gratitude because its an easier emotion to manipulate…

Thanks again Danielle, sorry you couldn’t make Anberlin, but it looks like Dee Why was a suitable substitute… 😛

Comment by StephenMac

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: