Externalism is a sneaky error in which we insist that the outward appearance reveals the heart. Or, another way of saying it is that inward, heart realities will show themselves outwardly.
Conservatives are often charged with externalism by progressives. The progressives claim (sometimes rightly) that conservatives place too much emphasis on outward appearance, forms, rituals, duties, and traditions instead of the heart. The heart is really what matters, they insist, not all of these externals. By implication, the progressives believe that they are rightly emphasizing the heart by diminishing a focus on outward appearances.
But the charge works both ways.
I have been struck more and more lately with how folks with a more progressive philosophy of worship insist that true, mature worshipers will respond to the Lord externally. Here are some examples:
- In an interview with Tim Smith of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Bob Kauflin insisted that a mature Christian will have some kind of physical response if he is truly responding with his affections. If he is not responding physically, Kauflin argued, he is probably not “engaged” in worship.
- In a panel discussion at T4G08, C.J. Mahaney said, “Doctrine creates joy. Explain to me, because I don’t get it; how can one be an unhappy Calvinist?” All on the panel agreed that sin would cause someone to not connect doctrine with joy, but both Mark Dever and Al Mohler rightly insisted that differences and personality affect the way someone externally expresses internal joy, and so there is such a thing as someone who may be joyful, but not externally “happy.”
- In panel discussion at WorshipGod09, Bob Kauflin said, “I’m going to be prone to use someone who naturally expresses their love for God in a way that’s visible to others,” and C.J. Mahaney said, “We want clearly discernible affection and expression [in a worship leader].”
In each of these cases, it seems clear that those speaking are inexorably tying externals to inward realities of the heart. They are insisting that someone who has joy in his heart will (or should) externalize that inward affection. Now, just to be clear, these men are also very insistent that externals do not prove inward spiritual reality. For example, in Worship Matters, Kaufln writes, “However, physical expressiveness alone is no sure sign that biblical worship is happening.” But they do insist that a mark of spiritual maturity is external, physical expressiveness.
Now, I’m not necessarily trying to pick on Mahaney or Kauflin or Sovereign Grace Ministries here, but it is notable that these men are charismatics; their theology links externals to internal reality.
But probably even more foundational than their continuationism, these men are naturally extroverted. Their personalities lend themselves to externalizing their affections. For example, in the T4G discussion, Mark Dever said,
Because, brother [speaking to Mahaney], I remember conversations we’ve had where I’ve asked you, “Were you happy before you were saved?” And you said, “Yes.” So this is a personality God’s given you; if we knew you when you were living for the world . . . you were a happy guy; and enthusiastic sinner.
I am not saying that external expressions of affection are wrong. What I’m saying is that they are not necessary, and to insist on that is externalism.