Integrating Intellect and Emotions for the Sake of the Church: A Conversation with Joseph Byamukama

Joseph Byamukama
Tuesday, April 16th 2024
A quotation in the style of an old medieval manuscript.
Mar/Apr 2024

Joseph Byamukama is founder and team leader of Veracity Fount, who resides in Kampala, Uganda. Mr. Byamukama earned his MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently working on a PhD in New Testament intertextuality from Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. He was a participant and presenter at Theo Global East Africa in 2023.

Joseph, as a churchman and a scholar who has studied on three continents, have you observed any differences in the church in the United States and in Uganda when it comes to prioritizing either thinking or feeling?

At the risk of overgeneralization, let me say that Ugandan Christians who are passionate about their faith tend to stress emotions over the life of the mind. It is not uncommon to hear a faithful Ugandan preacher or lay Christian say, “The things of God are to be believed, not reasoned.” Reason, many feel, puts God in a box. Our Sunday services in Uganda tend to display a level of emotional engagement absent from typical faithful American church gatherings.

Faithful, gospel-centered churches in America, perhaps overly influenced by rationalism, tend to focus more on reason and explanatory power than on the affections. Churches with excellent three-point sermons and solid doctrinal statements can feel cold and distant. In many places, raising your hands can raise eyebrows; saying a hearty amen to the preacher’s words might draw unwanted attention to you instead.

As I said, this might be an oversimplification—and there are certainly faithful, beautiful communities of faith in both contexts. But the tendencies in either direction are there. We all know that, biologically speaking, we cannot remove our hearts or our heads and remain alive. God has made us integral beings, and death ensues whenever we sever what God has united. I propose that this biological fact should point us to a similarly vital unity between our intellect and our affections for spiritual flourishing.

What are the practical results in life, faith, or worship from placing an improper emphasis on feeling or thinking?

In the Ugandan context (and the African church at large), a focus on the emotions tends to bear the consequences of a lack of discipleship and an inadequate response to challenges to the Christian faith in our cultural context. First, this disregard for the life of the mind explains why close to 90 percent of Ugandan pastors have no formal theological training and why they don’t think they need any. I remember a conversation with a well-meaning friend when I was preparing to start my Master of Divinity training at Gordon-Conwell. This friend (now gone to be with the Lord) expressed his “worry [that] the text will overcome the Spirit.” He felt that theological training is a case of the “letter that kills” versus “the Spirit that gives life,” as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3:6. For my friend and many others like him in Uganda, developing the life of the mind represents the dead letter—even for Christians studying theology—while the living Spirit is found in (emotive) experience.

Second, poorly equipped church leaders and pastors fail to equip their congregations, leaving them prey to cults, false teachings, and postmodern notions undermining the reality of truth and the meaningfulness of life. Young believers find it challenging to respond to objections posed to their floundering faith in this fast-changing world because they don’t reflect on the reasons for the hope that is in them (1 Pet. 3:15). Meanwhile, competing theories about life’s origins, morality, destiny, and truth invade our thoughts through pocket-sized screens at fast wireless speeds. In the days between two Sundays, many young Ugandans and Africans listen to countless influences of which their pastors are unaware. Under these pastors without theological training, believers become malnourished, religiously filling pews Sunday after Sunday but starved of the rich nutrients that come from gospel clarity. Without the theological calcium that strengthens spiritual bones, many Ugandans and other Africans are too weak to distinguish the gospel from the various forms of Gnosticism, prosperity messages, New Age spirituality, or baptized forms of African traditional religion that run rampant in our communities. Without intending or knowing it, the pastor who neglects the life of the mind positions his people as prey to pouncing wolves—and pounce they do!

On the other hand, a purely intellectual faith without transformed affections lacks power for obedience and makes one’s heart cold toward God and neighbor. This is how, as the adage goes, a seminary can become a cemetery for living faith. Our affections must be aligned to and transformed by the gospel because our affections shape our choices. The theology of sixteenth-century Anglican archbishop Thomas Cranmer is so helpful here, because he recognized how deeply our hearts direct our choices and thoughts. As Dr. Ashley Null notes,

According to Cranmer’s anthropology, what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.

This means that we should strive for the transformation of our affections as the gospel constantly renews our minds and guides our choices. A cold heart employs a sharp mind to produce cynical choices that destroy the soul. I have studied with students (in the West) whose minds are so surgically sharp that they split biblical texts with precision, but their hearts are as cold as steel toward God. They study the text, not as those in submission to its authority, but as a scientist dissects a cockroach on a laboratory tray. Such scenarios are what scared my friend when he thought about theology as the letter that kills. An appropriate biblical emphasis on the integration of the intellect and emotions would go a long way in persuading my Ugandan and other African friends that the life of the mind doesn’t necessarily have to be cultivated at the expense of affectionate devotion to God.

What biblical passages and themes help guide your understanding of the integration between these thinking and feeling aspects of who we are as human beings and as Christians?

I could cite a couple of texts, but let me focus on Matthew 22:34–40. In this passage, a Pharisaic lawyer sought to test Jesus by asking him to identify the greatest commandment. Jesus, citing Deuteronomy 6:5, said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” There are a couple of things to observe from Jesus’ response.

First, the greatest commandment is to love God with everything we are, implying that failing to do so with any part of ourselves is the greatest sin. Second, Jesus does not separate the heart from the mind or prioritize one over the other. The two go together (more on this in a moment). Third, for Jesus, the law’s demand for a holistic love for God is not new. By citing Deuteronomy 6:5, Jesus insists that devotion to God has always been a call to love him with everything we are—heart and mind and soul. To not love God with all our being amounts to rejecting God. Indeed, Deuteronomy 6:5 comes in a section of Scripture warning Israel against idolatry.

The previous verse asserts the Lord’s uniqueness as exclusively the one true God, who is therefore exclusively worthy of our devotion in worship. In contrast, verses 10–15 insist that Israel’s impending prosperity will tempt God’s people to misdirect their affections to worthless things. The antidote to idolatry, the Lord says, lies in desires directed by the life of the mind devoted to learning and to teaching his life-giving and life-preserving word. Refusing to dwell on God reflectively and affectionately—in all his truth and beauty and redemptive goodness—amounts to breaking the greatest commandment.

It’s also important to note that the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:5 does not include two words for heart and mind. It has one word that stands for both. The Old Testament does not separate the mind from the heart but sees the two as inextricably intertwined. The heart “denotes a person’s center for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities.” The heart is the source of human agency as regards affections, thinking, and willing or choosing, which is why we use expressions like “get to the heart of the matter.”

In biblical language, the intellect and the emotions are inseparable. Hence, for both the New and Old Testaments, we cannot properly love God with what we call our hearts without loving him with what we call our minds. Neither can we appropriately love the Lord with our minds without the affections that guide our choices. Deuteronomy 6 warns us that if we are to follow the Lord with sincerity and escape the idolatrous pursuit of earthly pleasures that lure our affections away from God, we must recover the Hebraic concept of the unity of heart and mind, which reorients our desires, thoughts, and choices to God who alone is wise and supremely beautiful. Only then can we heed the appeal to keep our “heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).

As you think about reaching Africans with the gospel, what opportunities and needs do you see pertaining to addressing people as integrated thinking and feeling beings?

I can think of several opportunities. First, Ugandans and Africans are still spiritually conscious and open to conversations about faith and salvation. We do not need much convincing about the supernatural world. We live in it; we are aware of it. The beauty of this is that there is a foundation we can easily build on as we help them appreciate that the Christian faith is not a blind faith. Faith in Christ not only fulfills the longings of the African heart for communion with God, victory over death, community, and identity, but it is also an intellectually robust and defensible faith that can stand up to arguments and doubts. Second, many Ugandans are young. Our median age in 2020 was 15.7 years, consistent with trends in many parts of Africa. This means we have an excellent opportunity to disciple this generation and the next at the same time—if we are strategic and well resourced. What is more, the literacy levels in Uganda and many parts of Africa are increasing, meaning that people can more easily read and write, making it easier to foster foundational and much-needed theological training. The advance of technology means that we can access resources more easily than we used to, especially digital resources.

Having said that, let me mention the two significant challenges we must meet as gospel ministers in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. Due in large part to the lack of trained pastors who can faithfully disciple their congregations, many of our churches are affected by the health-and-wealth message and deliverance theology, which is little more than a Christianized form of our African traditional worldview. There are many occasions when I have been unable to recommend a single healthy local church to those who asked me.

This lack of discipleship and the prevalence of the prosperity messages means that many Ugandans, despite identifying as Christians, have not been introduced to the gospel—indeed, they may be inoculated against it. I remember a chat I had with someone online who reached out to me in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic saying that he had given up on Christianity. When I asked him what sort of Christianity he was leaving, his explanation made it clear that he had become disillusioned with health-and-wealth teaching. In Uganda and other parts of Africa, many people have become atheists or agnostics after rejecting the manipulative stunts and greed of prosperity preachers, which they tend to mistake for Christianity because they have never encountered the preaching and teaching of the true gospel.

Our second obstacle concerns resources—human and material. Indeed, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, and those few are under-resourced. Despite the challenge that atheism or ambivalence to Christianity might pose, our problem as gospel workers in Uganda or Africa is often not whether we will have people to equip and disciple but whether we have the resources to sustain such efforts. I imagine most Christians in the Western world might not appreciate this reality until they are on the ground in Africa and far away from the five-star hotels in our major cities. Theologically sound ministries confront the arduous task of fighting false teachings while building theological foundations for the church, and they have to do so mainly with part-time staff and volunteers. It is like Nehemiah’s call to rebuild the ruined walls of Jerusalem: It is an overwhelming and sometimes lonely task.

How would you encourage churches and believers in other parts of the world to pray for Uganda in this regard?

Jesus’ statement in Matthew 9:37–38 is apt for the Ugandan church: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Pray for more laborers—especially for well-equipped indigenous laborers who can prepare others to resource and revitalize existing local churches and raise theologically trained planters of churches who then go on to plant more churches. Pray that theological institutions may flourish both in enrollment and in their equipping of those enrolled. Pray that these laborers are well resourced, spiritually and physically. Pray for endurance, too, that those in the trenches planting healthy churches and participating in theological and pastoral training overcome the discouragement of being in the minority and feeling the weight of responsibility.

What would be your encouragement to believers and churches in the United States as they consider the integration of our thinking and feelings as Christians? How would you pray for us?

My encouragement is that the West has historically done more fruitful theological reflection than most of the world. Though not without its challenges, there are good foundations on which the West can still build. You have done many things right, even though some of those foundations are being destroyed. My prayer is the recovery of those Christian foundations that shaped most of Western societal values. You have also been fruitful in seeking to see the gospel spread throughout the world. Mission-mindedness is something I admire about my brothers and sisters in the West. Long may your heart for world missions endure and even grow! Finally, I pray that theological institutions will grow closer to local churches in order to foster spiritual formation and discipleship rather than mere scholarly credentials or academic placement and tenure. May it be practically evident to those who train and those who study that the whole purpose of theological learning is not fame or self-actualization, but deeper trust in and conformity to Christ our faithful Savior.


  • “Dr. Ashley Null on Thomas Cranmer,” ACL News, September 2001,

  • See Bruce Waltke’s entry for “Heart” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996),

Photo of Joseph Byamukama
Joseph Byamukama
Joseph Byamukama is founder and team leader of Veracity Fount, who resides in Kampala, Uganda. Mr. Byamukama earned his MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently working on a PhD in New Testament inter-textuality from Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. He was a participant and presenter at Theo Global East Africa in 2023.
Tuesday, April 16th 2024

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