It is commonly assumed that there are two kinds of knowledge when it comes to the Christian faith: head knowledge and heart knowledge. “Head knowledge” is often associated with knowledge limited to the level of information, without any practical implications or impact in someone’s life. On the other hand, “heart knowledge” is associated with that information that results in transformation in someone life. It may also refer to the emotional impact that results from information, such as joy that results from the knowledge of God’s love. Head knowledge is usually considered pejorative; heart knowledge, conversely, is generally favorable.
While I understand the intent behind this bifurcation and certainly believe that knowledge just at the information level is limited (in many, but not all, contexts), and while I share the sentiment of those who espouse these terms (whether intentional or unintentional), I don’t think the bifurcation is necessary helpful and sometimes can even be misleading. I propose two main reasons why. First, “head” and “heart” today does not mean the same thing it does today as it does in the Bible. “Head” today symbolizes the decision-making aspect of a person, while in Scripture has a variety of metaphors, one being “authority” (or “source”). “Heart” today refers to the emotions of a person, but in Scripture refers to the center of a person, including the mind, affections, and will. So to categorize knowledge into the two distinctions of heart and head seems to (intentionally or unintentionally) ignore the biblical uses of these words.
Second, when knowledge is referred to in Scripture, there is no taxonomy of knowledge, but it is usually synonymous to wisdom, and in many contexts is seen as a good thing. Solomon begins his book of Wisdom by stating “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7), implying a close relationship between knowledge, wisdom, and instruction. Furthermore, Paul refers to his fellow Israelites as having “a zeal for God but not according to knowledge” (Rom 10:2). Their zeal is based on ignorance. While I don’t have the space here to survey all the ways “knowledge” is used in the Bible, it’s probably safe to say that it is seen as a positive characteristic that one is to strive for. But the modern dichotomy of head and heart knowledge seems to indicate that there may be a type of knowledge that is bad, some actually even scoffing at those who have lots of it.
As an alternative, I would suggest that instead of using these misleading terms, we use preferable words like ignorance or hypocrisy. In fact, I would suggest that what some refer to when they refer to “head knowledge” is actually hypocrisy: their life does not reflect what they know. So instead of saying something like, “He has a lot of head knowledge but no heart knowledge,” I suggest that person really means is, “He is hypocritical: he knows a lot about the Bible, but his knowledge is not reflected in his own life.” The latter may get a few more frowns than the former and is probably more offensive to say out loud (and also highly judgmental), but that’s what we really mean, don’t we?
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).