Friday, November 21, 2008

Why is Thinking so important?

I’ve come across many Christians who have a very negative view of Christian thought. They quickly cite passages from 1 Corinthians or Colossians that declare philosophy and academia as not only vane and empty, but purely human and contrary to God. After all, God calls us to a Gospel that is nonsense to the pagan, desires childlike faith, and is constantly reversing human expectations.

But even more dangerously, thoughts can change people’s minds about core issues like the divinity of Christ or the inspiration of scripture. And certainly we have seen a host of examples through history of this very phenomena taking place. Certain ideas pollute, corrupt, confuse, and sidetrack people from the life of faith that God calls us to.

So instead, many propose that we be more concerned about things like love, faith, and evangelism, and much less concerned about becoming better thinkers and studying the world of thought and ideas.

But if you’ve read any of my blogs, or heard any of my rants, you know that thinking Christians is very important to me. I’ve covered some of this in other blogs (most recent blog especially), but I thought I’d compose a list of reasons why Christians should pursue maturity in their thought life as well as spiritual:

1) How we think affects how we act
The reality is that our actions are not just spontaneous creations. Our worldview, our beliefs, and how we think affect the choices and actions we make. Even the most impulsive person still operates within a set of beliefs and perceptions.

This is more deep than “think right and act right”. We study scripture, it says to do something, and we try and fail. Certainly our own sinful impulses play a roll, but I think a lot of times there are deeper beliefs at play that we refuse to acknowledge. This isn’t just about “self help”, but about deeply analyzing what we believe and why. Becoming better thinkers helps in this process, and it also helps in diagnosing errors and inconsistencies, and hopefully changing them.

2) How we think affects our presentation of the Gospel
Some may believe that God just wants us to sit on street corners and boldly proclaim the Gospel as it was given to us in scripture. But the reality is we don’t see Paul or even Jesus doing this. They are engaging those around them, attempting to refute wrong presuppositions, and attempting to undo and barriers to the truth of the Gospel. I’m certain the Holy Spirit can help here, but I think we are also responsible for becoming better thinkers to actively engage such barriers with our minds.

3) Brings strength to our faith
Faith isn’t just about blindly believing a proposition. Otherwise scripture wouldn’t be full of examples of why God is trustworthy. God is revealed in creation, there is order and rationality to how the world works. There is also merit in secular philosophy when it attempts to understand this order and rationality. The Gospel confronts this in certain assumptions, but this does not mean the two are entirely opposite. Otherwise, the God revealed in creation would be a lie.

This is pretty important for Christians because as we assimilate the God revealed in creation with God’s self revelation in scripture, our faith is strengthened. We begin to approach a holistic truth about God and his world. This does not necessarily mean compromising and arriving at things like theistic evolution, (as an example), but does mean that in some rational way, the God of scripture should fit the God of creation, as long as we begin with the presuppositions and foundation of scripture.

On a practical level, I think this simply means that the better thinkers we become, the more rooted we’ll become in our grasp of truth. We won’t be swayed by arguments from nature which supposedly contradict scripture, because we’ll be able to begin to assimilate the revelation from nature into the revelation of scripture. Christians should not have to live in a world of contradiction. The law of gravity is not contradictory to the Gospel of Christ.

4) Combats error and heresy in the church
Going hand and hand with the last point, becoming better thinkers means we can better avoid mistakes and error in the church. Despite some people’s oversimplifications, the reality is that good, solid, and true Christians have had a number of disagreements on key doctrinal points. I think the all time biggest one for the church (inside the church) is the relationship of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. This issue arose relatively early in the church, and has endured without resolution to this very day (in fact, this relationship of the divine and human resonates even outside of the church in the problem of evil). Becoming better thinkers won’t solve all of the questions of scripture (after all we are finite being attempting to grasp the Infinite), but it will certainly help us stay more centered on the truth revealed in scripture. Error almost always comes from misunderstanding a passage, or over-emphasizing an aspect of a theological truth.

5) Pursues a better knowledge of God
Our concept of “relationship” is primarily defined by “experience” (viz. romantic relationships = sexual experience). There certainly is truth to this, no relationship can be void of experience, but relationship is about something much more than this. A real relationship includes a significant portion of knowledge.

It goes without saying then that the better we can think, the more we can know about God. This means not only the better we can accurately conceive him, but also we can avoid and remove wrong expectations of him. (It is interesting that many of those opposed to Jesus were opposed because their wrong expectations, and certainly this is still true today). This will radically affect how we relate with God, how we pray to him, how we trust him, and how we submit to him.

One common response about becoming better thinkers is that it expects too much of God’s people. It assumes that everyone must “become a scholar” to know God, or to be pleasing to him. But this is not what I am arguing. I’m instead trying to make the case that Christian maturity is not just about spiritual growth, but growth in all our facets of being. Spiritual, emotional, and mental. This means that the farmer who has known nothing but planting and harvesting still can grow in how he thinks. He may never think the thoughts of a scholar like C. S. Lewis, but the point is that he is pursuing a better mind along with a better soul and heart. The Christian walk is not so much about the end as the process towards the end. We know the end will only be achieved when God’s Kingdom comes in its fullness.

6) Glorifies God with all that he has given us
Finally, becoming better thinkers allows us to glorify God with our mind. Glorifying God need not be argued for. It is all over scripture, and an assumed reality of being a Christian. But glorifying God is not just something we do with our actions, with our choices, with our hearts, and with our souls. We can and should glorify God with our minds. Becoming better thinkers can accomplish this. The more we pursue truth about God and his world, the more we can glorify God by understanding this world.

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