Conference on the Heart in Pella

A. Craig Troxel
A. Craig Troxel

The annual fall conference at Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA (November, 2014), explored the crucial question, “Where’s Your Heart?”

Speaker A. Craig Troxel, pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Wheaton, IL, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, shared wisdom from his upcoming book on the subject.

“My book is a biblical and practical exposition of Scripture’s most used word (“heart”), which conveys the unity and complexity of our inner nature, and particularly what we know (our mind), love (our desires) and choose (our will). It explores the significance of this complexity for how we understand our sin, and ultimately, how we understand the renewal of our hearts by Christ in his work as a prophet, priest and king.”

The conference included meetings on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening (with a soup supper between those two lectures), and during the church school hour on Sunday morning. Dr. Troxel also preached at Sunday morning’s worship service.

Barb V. and Dr. Troxel
Barb V. and Dr. Troxel

Dr. Troxel began his presentations by showing how the Bible describes the integrity of the inner person through the comprehensive term “heart,” which is used over 900 times in scripture.

“When you see the word ‘heart’ in Scripture, think ‘all the heart’ and keep the totality in view,” he said. “Our use should be grounded in Scripture.”

Troxel’s lecture on knowing discussed the mind of the heart, the sin of “knowing better,” and Christ as the prophet of the mind. He noted that the word ‘heart’ is not only the most popular, but also the most misused when “pitting head against heart.”

“The heart is very cognitive,” he said. He cited multiple biblical texts about how the heart “comprehends mind” and encouraged hearers not to put “heart and mind in tension” or feel as if they must “choose between heart and mind.”

The session on loving explored the desires of the heart, the iniquity of “perverted love,” and Christ as priest who corrects and consecrates our desires.

“What do we hunger and thirst for?” asked Dr. Troxel. “What receives the best of our thinking and energy?” Referring to Matthew 5:8, he defined “pure in heart” as a heart without mixture, not divided or distracted by other loyalties, evidenced in “undivided devotion to each other” and “dedicated to serve God with singular purpose.”

He said, “Christ wants his song to be so beautiful in our hearts that we won’t want to hear anything else.”

His talk on choosing described the will of the heart, our rebel choices, and Christ as king who enables us to make obedient choices.

“Even a decision to sit it out is an act of the will,” he said. In contrast to the hardened heart (fat, layered, calloused, insensitive, stubborn, proud) of a stiff-necked person, God desires the broken and contrite heart (tender hearted, sensitive, bending to God’s will) of a humble person. The submissive heart finds courage and is strong in the Lord.

Dr. Troxel with his daughter and her husband
Dr. Troxel with his daughter and her husband

His final presentation touched on keeping the heart by the power of our Lord-Protector through what you see and hear.

“Orchestras all begin concerts the same way, by tuning. Cars need tuning. Our hearts fall out of tune,” he said. “We need to open God’s word, asking, ‘Search me and know my heart. Show me. Where’s my heart?’ The smallest sin can cause big trouble. It all starts in the heart.”

In a later interview, he explained that his interest in the comprehensive character of the heart was piqued by his preaching on Psalm 51, when he noticed the “cluster of words” used for sin (sin, iniquity, and transgression). That experience coupled with his concerns about “anti-intellectualism in the church” and an “ongoing interest in the Puritans” fueled his intense study regarding the biblical concept of heart.

“Last of all, I think also my feeble and disingenuous efforts at self-examination moved me to drill down further into this area,” he said. “In one sense, I regret doing so because the results have been painful.”

“The significance of this study is that only by knowing the heart can we get at our real motives, or pursue sincerity and avoid the pitfalls of hypocrisy, or learn how to grow in sincere repentance, faith and renewal, or encourage our fellow believers with greater clarity, or become more honest and helpful in our communication in marriage, or improve in our shepherding insights as leaders in the church,” he said. “These are the benefits of knowing and watching our hearts with greater insight.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 17 & 21 of the December 17, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.

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