John Frame on the interdependence of the intellect, will, and emotions

The intellect, or reason, is our capacity to think. The will is our ability to choose and act. The emotions are our feelings. Greek philosophers taught that the will and emotions should be subject to the intellect, and Reformed theologians have also sometimes advocated the “primacy of the intellect.” But the Bible does not teach that, nor does it exalt the will or the emotions over the others. In Scripture there is no inequality among these. All are fallen, all are equally in need of redemption, and all, as redeemed, are essential to a godly human life. The important thing is not to make them all subordinate to the intellect or another faculty but make intellect, will, and emotions all subject to the Word of God.

The three capacities are mutually dependent. For example, our intellect, our thinking, depends on our choices, our will. We can choose to suppress God’s truth or to embrace it (Rom. 1). If we will fully repress the truth, our thinking will be distorted. Reasoning also depends on emotions, for we would not choose to believe any conclusion did not appear attractive in some way. Similarly, will and emotions depend on intellect and on one another.

To look at the issue more deeply, Scripture does not ascribe human thought and action to three “faculties” bouncing around in our heads, jostling for supremacy. Rather, it is the whole person who thinks, wills, and feels. Intellectwill, and emotion are just words that we use to analyze these activities of the person, but they are not independent of one another. They are three perspectives on a whole person, as he thinks, acts, and feels. These correspond to the three perspectives I discussed in chapter six: thinking is normative, acting situational, and feeling existential.

Different theological traditions tend to focus on one of these more than the others. In the Reformed tradition, the intellect seems often to be valued above the will and the emotions. Although I am part of the Reformed tradition, that emphasis, in my judgment, is not scriptural. Scripture emphasizes joy, peace, delight, in God’s presence, not being anxious, and so on. These emotions, the “religious affections” as Jonathan Edwards called them, are essential to a healthy spiritual life.

John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 93-94

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About cteldridge

A beggar trying to tell other beggars were the Bread is.
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