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Sometimes life just gets busy and books get put aside for a spell. That’s what has happened.

I began reading The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience by Jeremy Pierre while I was on vacation/study leave back in July. I didn’t quite finish it and resumed when I got home. Or tried anyway.

Unfortunately I had committed to Congregational Conversations on Women in the Church and Talking Politics which are reflected in my numerous posts on Aimee Byrd and Jonathan Haidt.

Jeremy Pierre teaches counseling at Southern Seminary. This is a book written for biblical counseling. While I do some counseling, I read it to improve my preaching just as much as my personal ministry. As a result, I’m looking at this with slightly different eyes than his intended audience.

This book is structured in 3 sections. My bottom line is that the first two were excellent, and I got mired in the third.

The first section is The Beauty of Human Experience: How the Heart Responds Dynamically. Pierre develops this section reflecting a redemptive historical structure. The first two chapter seem to focus on the heart as created by God, and then we have the heart corrupted and then redeemed. It end with the heart in context.

Pierre develops a biblical understanding of the heart: interaction between thinking, feeling and willing. As he notes in his diagram the functions are interrelated and overlapping. Our heart responses are complex.

We think about what we value. Our feelings reveal what we value. Our choices reveal what we value most. Our heart interacts with the world and our circumstances. All three of these functions are important and often work behind the scenes. He mentions John Frame, and it is hard not to think about this in a triperspectival fashion.

“None of the faculties, so understood, exists or acts apart from the others, each is dependent on the others, and each includes the others.”

He connects worship to our thoughts, feelings and choices. God made us to respond to Him, the world and our circumstances. Similar to Haidt, Pierre notes Antonio Damasio’s work on people with brain injuries affecting emotions. Without emotions people don’t make better decisions but none or worse decisions. Our reactions seem intuitive (like in Haidt) not with reason leading the way. He mentions Haidt on page 33. This doesn’t mean we are thoughtless. We use past experiences and think about how to interpret circumstances. We also have affective and volitional responses to situations.

Due to the corruption of sin, our “experience is fragmented, dysfunctional, incomplete.” We all experience inner conflict as sin “hijacks the dynamic heart’s beautiful design.” Pierre develops this in terms of dynamic unfaithfulness and idolatry.

But thankfully God didn’t leave us all there. In regeneration we have a “renewed” heart, or one that is redeemed. His focus is on faith: a faith that is thinking, desiring and committed. This reflects the Protestant notion of the content, asset and trust comprising faith.

“The dynamic heart is always active, response-able, and therefore responsible.”

The second section entitled The Context of Human Experience: What the Heart Dynamically Responds To. The most obvious answer is God, but also to self, to others and circumstances. This fits well with Relational Wisdom 360 (God, self, others) as well as Frame’s triperspectivalism (God, me & circumstances (people included)).

He begins with God, and worship. One of his illustrations isn’t quite accurate. The temperature of the sun does change, not just the color of our sunsets (the two have nothing to do with one another). But he does get into Van Til’s Creator-creature distinction to differentiate our experience from God’s. God knows Himself perfectly. We not only can’t comprehend God, we don’t know ourselves fully either. He then gets to the similarities: thinking, valuing & choosing.

Faith includes not only believing God exists but “expressing the raw contents of the heart to God.” We see this throughout the Psalms. When we say that God wants our hearts He not only wants our thoughts captive to Him, but emotions shared with Him and wills in submission to Him. This is being God-aware and God-engaging in our circumstances.

He then addresses issues of identity.

“The primary point of this chapter is this: The dynamic heart functions from a personal identity constructed from various sources. Caring for people involves addressing how their constructed identity compares to their given identity.”

He notes that we simultaneously operate with different identities. At the same moment I can operate as friend and pastor, husband and father. Underneath all of this should be my grace-given identity in Christ. He discusses layers of identity reflecting a person’s cultural circles, with Christ at the center. A person’s circumstances, present environment, shapes how they conceive of their role and response to others. When I return home, my role is the youngest and it is like going through a time warp. It is unconscious. I struggle with my role & responses when visiting with my wife’s family: still, after 20 years. But the others around us matter too in how we understand our identities. As noted above, counseling (and preaching) seeks to shift people to their given identities, and to re-shape constructed ones to be more in synch with our given identity. At one point I did write in the margin that our conception of our given identities (Christian, husband, father etc.) can be culturally constructed.

Pierre then shifts to others and influence, particularly the influence of others on our hearts. Our choices on who or what influences us is often unconscious. It happens beneath the surface as something draws us to a person. But they then exert influence on us. And we on them. This influence can be both positive and negative. As we grow in self-awareness we will better understand how we engage with others. He addresses various orbits of influence: culture, family of origin, current family, vocation, social circles, media and then church as an alternate community of influence.

From there he moves into our circumstances and their meaning as they interact with our dynamic hearts. He notes that “People automatically process the events occurring around them according to their established framework of belief.” This is why change requires a renewal of the mind, and frameworks not simply thoughts. Our beliefs are part of a framework, not isolated. Here he gets into control beliefs which “determine how they interpret circumstances; their control values will determine how they feel about circumstances; and their control commitments will determine what choices they make in response to circumstances.” Counseling (and preaching) should address those control beliefs, values & commitments. Often these are shaped by seismic events: a divorce, and injury or illness, sexual assault etc. That means the event needs to be addressed so its power is lessened over time.

The book ends with Counseling from a Theology of Human Experience. He compares counseling to raking, not baking. His counseling process involves reading hearts, reflecting so people can understand their hearts, relate them to Jesus, and renew so they make new responses. This is where I got bogged down. It has less content and more sample questions to get at each of these steps in the raking process. If I were reading with an eye on counseling I probably would have found it more profitable. I did find the first two sections very profitable.

Whether for preaching, counseling or personal ministry of various sorts, this is a helpful book. He has some good illustrations from counseling and history (the story of the Essex as told in The Heart of the Sea). He draws on a variety of sources that might sound odd but actually are more similar than you think. Haidt, as I’ve mentioned in other places, reminds me of Van Til whom Pierre reflects through John Frame. He’s got some helpful sources and influences which enable him to put together a book about how the heart works that enhances understanding and hopefully in the various kinds of heart work we are called to do.

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