Hollinger Sees Faith as Holistic

Hollinger_review__20200203Dennis P. Hollinger.[1] 2005. Head, Heart, and Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion, and Action. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My latest writing project, Living in Christ, focuses on ethics, which focuses on what do in response to our faith. This project could be seen as my life’s finally being written down, but in fact today’s church finds ethics unusually hard to cope with. Some church specialize in great worship with great musicians making a regular appearance; others are way out there on social action being involved in every demonstration at the local seat of government; still others have are deep into theology and invite notable speakers are on a regular basis. Relatively few churches have a lot of young people in attendance or conduct a lot of baptisms, suggesting that the division of labor among the churches is not aiding the evangelistic mission of the church (Matthew 28) and may actually be a hinderance.


 In his book, Head, Heart, and Hands, Dennis Hollinger observes:

“Taken alone, thought, passion, and action render a fragmented faith that only further engenders a fragmented self and a fragmented church.” (16)

“The problem is that most believers and Christian organizations or movements have accentuated one dimension to the neglect of the others.” (9)

A fragmented self lacks direction; a fragmented church cannot reflect the image of God in a society wounded by record suicides, drug overdoses, and declining fertility rates and life expectancy.

Holistic Faith in Tension with the Times

The idea that Christian faith is a holistic faith that can transcend the circumstances of society seems today to be a remote possibility in a society conditioned to believe that anything can be achieved through a proper division of labor. In the modern period, economists have taught that dividing up a problem and allocated the different parts to specialists (professions) is the most efficient way to organize research, administration, production, and distribution. Thus, any enterprise that requires a holistic approach—as Hollnger sees faith—runs contrary to the spirit of the times. Is it any wonder that megachurch pastors, thinking like good CEOs, have no trouble with online, radio,/ and television ministries, but routinely have trouble with engendering discipleship?

Interestingly, the same problem afflicted the protestant churches after the Reformation as the balance between theology, spirituality, and action promoted by the reformers melted away in contests over doctrinal purity among the different denominations that evolved in later years (19). The megachurches today share much in common with the cathedrals established before the modern period.

Background and Organization

Hollinger is a past-president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he also taught ethics. He graduated from Elizabethtown College, received a Master’s of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a doctorate from Drew University. He did post-doctoral work at Oxford University.[2]

Hollinger writes in ten chapters:

  1. Fragmented Faith and Fragmented People
  2. Christian Faith and the Head
  3. Distortions of the Head
  4. Christian Faith and the Heart
  5. Distortions of the Heart
  6. Christian Faith and the Hands
  7. Distortions of the Hands
  8. Head, Heart, and Hands Together: The Biblical Case
  9. Head, Heart, and Hands Together: An Interdisciplinary Perspective
  10. Head, Heart, and Hands Together: Implications and Challenges (xii)

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by notes.

The Biblical Case for Holistic Faith

Hollinger spills a lot of ink documenting weaknesses in the faith caused by fragmentary theology, spirituality, and practice, as he should. What is interesting to me, however, is how the Bible does not make these same errors in neither the Old or New Testaments. This struggle with fragmentation is nothing new. Consider the first passage that Hollinger cites—the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5 ESV)

Nothing here is left out—heart, mind, and hands—as Hollinger notes (145-146). The most basic prayer in Judaism is holistic and is underscored by Christ himself (Matt 22:37) Combining this holistic passage with neighbor love, as Jesus does, does not subtract from its holistic nature. Hollinger cites a half dozen other passages from the Old and New Testaments, but one other stands out: Romans 1:20-32. He writes:

“If ever there was a passage that brings head, heart, and hands together, this is it. It is somewhat typical to read this text as a chronological movement from false thinking, to wayward heart, to debased moral actions.”(151)

Hollinger sees the ordering as less important than the realization that head, heart, and hands are inter-related and affect one another. In other words, when we sin (hands), we often turn around to justify what we have done (head) and start to believe that our sin is also actually good (heart). How many parents, politicians, and pastors have not opposed homosexuality only to change their views after a child or other close relative has announced that they were gay. This is an obvious example of the interaction between head, heart, and hands in practice.


Dennis Hollinger’s Head, Heart, and Hands focuses on the need for the church to engender a holistic faith by linking good theology and heart filled worship with practical acts of service. Hollinger effectively argues this point biblically with supporting arguments from other academic fields, such as education and psychology. This is a very practical, deeply theological text of interest to pastors, lay people, and theologians written in an accessible style.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Hollinger. [2] https://www.gordonconwell.edu/faculty/senior/dennis-hollinger

Hollinger Sees Faith as Holistic

Also see:

Elliott: God’s Emotions Inform Our Emotions, Part 1

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Corner_2020  

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