The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life

May 16, 2017

A question I always want to ask of a book before I spend my time and currency on it is, “Why do you exist?” In a world of expansive publishing, why should I read this particular book on a given subject and not a different book that covers much of the same ground? While much has been written on topics frequently addressed by biblical counselors, Jeremy Pierre’s The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life treads upon ground that has remained relatively undisturbed by the heels of those in the biblical counseling movement. This book is not aimed at a popular level but rather serves as a call to counselors to think in a more nuanced manner about the composition of people made in God’s image. In sum, Pierre intends to help us to think more carefully about anthropology so that we may more faithfully care for the entirety of the person before us.

Towards a Nuanced Anthropology

Foundational to Pierre’s system of thought is the principle that every human being shares a common core. He indicates, “Every human being on the green earth is made to image the same God, and therefore they share the same framework for inner experience” (p. 12). This image is expressed in unity because God himself is a unity. Human beings do not consist of emotional, spiritual, and psychological parts that stand monolithically distant, but rather each component is wound together within the same biblical term: heart. Pierre insists, “Spiritual problems are not a category alongside mental, emotional, or behavior problems. Yes, these categories allow for helpful distinctions in how the heart is expressing itself, but all human responses are by nature spiritual” (p. 16).

Understanding the human heart to be a unified object greatly simplifies the task of counseling as counselors work to help people worship Christ as spiritual beings.  However, that unification should not be thought to render the heart as a static object. Pierre understands the unified heart to operate three dimensionally – it is constantly operating along cognitive (thinking), affective (desiring), and volitional (willing) axes. Pierre clarifies, “People are thinking beings, desiring beings, and choosing beings simultaneously” (p. 19). These three aspects can never be fully separated, for each interacts with and drives one another.

Towards Nuanced Faith

The greatest commandment for believers is to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. A fundamental implication of this teaching is that perfect love consists of every function of our being aligning itself to love God for who He is. Therefore, Christ-centered counseling “should be directed to the breadth of the heart’s functions – thinking, feeling, and choosing” (p. 27).

When we seek to help people act from a unified heart we avoid the danger of commanding them to act without transformed desires or to believe without a corresponding love for truth. Pierre insists, “If unification of the heart is a methodological principle for counselors, then they will perceive that the problem lies not just in an errant or inordinate desire in itself, but in that desire’s failure to line up with the other functions of the heart” (p. 27). Such unification is critical because faith in Christ always involves all three functions of the heart. Our hearts believe Christ’s truth, desire to please him, and act in such a manner as he commands. Whenever one facet is out of step, conflict and distress always ensues.

Towards Nuanced Counseling

Having established his foundational paradigm, Pierre turns to understanding the nature of idolatry and redemption through the grid of the three-dimensional heart. Biblical counseling quickly devolves into sub-biblical behaviorism when counselors seek to address the presenting problem without also diving deeply into the unique motives and desires that drive sinful and destructive actions. Pierre insightfully reflects, “Idolatry is not simple but dynamic. Alcoholics are not bowing before a bottle. Alcohol is merely a means for them… Every alcoholic is an individual, with individual beliefs, values, and commitments that are being expressed in the pursuit of alcohol” (p. 66). Counselors cannot approach individuals in a one-size-fits-all methodology because the contours of each individual’s cognitive-affective-volitional commitments need to be addressed in nuanced ways.

Whatever complexities exist within the counselee’s dynamic heart, the solution is ultimately found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Garden of Gethsemane affords us a glimpse into Jesus’ dynamic heart interacting with the Father. In the depths of agonizing struggle, Christ believed that it was his duty to fulfill the Father’s will (cognition). This belief was met with a supreme desire to drink the cup (affection) because submission to the Father’s will through dying on the cross (volition) was his greatest commitment. Believers are transformed into Christ’s image through repentance and faith as the heart is restored “to its native design to find delight in God above all things” (p. 79).

Pierre concludes his book by offering multiple chapters of questions and discussion points through which a counselor can draw out information pertaining to each function of the counselee’s heart. These suggestions lay forth practical ways that a counselor can translate the theology and methodology of the book into actual care for people stuck in multifaceted difficulties.

Conclusion

Understanding The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life requires a commitment to thinking deeply about the connection between theology and counseling methodology. Pierre is calling counselors to think more deeply about how they can best care for hurting and stuck individuals. The model he advocates takes effort. Yet that effort yields a more effective form of counseling as individuals see their beliefs, desires, and actions brought into alignment with God’s revealed will through the power of the Holy Spirit.