The Need for Christian Thinking

December 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: Wednesday Morning I set out to write a blog on the need for Christian thinking.  After about 4000 words, I realized no one would want to read a 4000 word blog.  So, I turned this blog into a lecture for our Wednesday Night Class in which you can listen to it above by clicking the link provided.  Below, you will find my manuscript with the scriptures and quotations.  While the manuscript may not be word for word, it is pretty close.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

- Jason

 

The Need for Christian Thinking

 

A couple of weeks ago, I was assigned a book by my professor in my doctoral program.  As I began to read the book, I realized that I was reading a book on evolution and humanism.  The book was written in a conversational tone and was well written.  It was basically a modern version of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, but had a greater focus on man.  About midway through the book, I emailed my professor privately to vent my disgust.  After all, this is a Christian Seminary and a distinguished one at that.  He emailed me back and said, “It's a book I do not like for lots of reasons - but it is vital to understand how people are seeing the world today - look under your emotion.”  The implication of his email was simple.  He was telling me to think. 

My initial gut reaction was to close my ears and embrace those feelings I had for the book, but I couldn’t.  As I researched this book, Sapiens by Yuval Harari, I realized that this book is a best seller.  It is accepted by many who lead in our society.  While I could turn a blind eye to the book, I would be confronted with it in the culture, so I better have an understanding of how people think.

Often as Christians, we prefer to not deal with the messy business of thinking.  We embrace feelings, and we should.  After all, God is a God of love.  By doing this however, we turn off our brains.  We no longer think, know how to form opinions, or have a meaningful conversation with people who may think so differently from us.  It almost seems that Christian thinking is dead.  In his book, The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires states:

 

There is no longer a Christian mind…the Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history.  It is difficult to do justice in words to the complete loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century church.

 

He goes further by saying:

 

The bland assumption that the Church's life will continue to be fruitful so long as we go on praying and cultivating our souls, irrespective of whether we trouble to think and talk Christianly, and therefore theologically, about anything we or others may do or say, may turn out to have dire results.

 

With these things in mind, I wanted to give you a few reasons why we need more thinking in the Christian world.

 

1: How we think is connected to our love for God.

 

In Mark 12, Jesus is confronted by a scribe who wants to know what the most important commandment was.  Jesus answered by saying, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:29-30, ESV).’”[1]

Jesus sees the mind as crucial.  It was something that could not be separated from one’s actions.  Furthermore, the mind played a role in loving God.

 

2: How we think brings transformation.

 

After the Apostle Paul tells us that God has gloriously justified us through Christ, he informs us of our Christian worship.  Part of that Christian worship deals with the mind. He tells us Romans 12:2 that we are to be transformed by the “renewal of our minds.”  The idea is simple.  As the Spirit continues to transforms the way I think, the more my life begins to transform.  If someone’s mind changes, then their life changes.  If you never think about God, his works or his wonders, then how will your life ever change?

 

3: How we think lays down the ground work for others.

 

In Acts 17, Paul is in Athens and he is, “reasoning” with devout men in the synagogue.  Philosophers and stoics overhear the conversation and invite him to speak them.  Paul willingly accepts the offer and look what he says:

 

"So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,  for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.  The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”  Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”  So Paul went out from their midst.  But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them (Acts 17:22-34)." [2]

 

Notice the few things Paul knows in this passage. 

 

- Paul knew their culture.

 

As he is in Athens, he sees the religious artifacts, the idols, and the temples.  Paul was a student of culture.  He did not put his head in the sand and ignore the world, but he was actively engaged within the world.  The same is true with Jesus.  Jesus walked from village to village observing culture.  He was not blind to it, but he studied it intently.  I think this verse will help us in this understanding:

 

"I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (Jn. 17:14-11, ESV)." [3]

 

Jesus prays that we will be protected while we are in the world.  Furthermore, Jesus is sending us into this hostile environment for a purpose. Let’s get back to Paul and what he knew in Acts 17.

 

- Paul knew how to communicate culture.

 

Paul’s entry point was not offensive, but rather it was flattery.  He tells the people that he sees that they are very religious.  He never doubts their sincerity.  Not only that, but Paul is trying to find common ground. 

 

Often times in talking with people who do not believe the way we do, we try not to find common ground, but rather we try to vilify the person for the way they think.  There is no better illustration than this than the election.  Both sides are working hard to dig in on their beliefs instead of trying to find common ground. 

 

In our culture, where can we agree?  Everyone wants success.  Everyone wants respect.  Everyone wants the best for their kids.  Everyone wants to be safe.  While there may be different definitions, these are potential areas of agreement. 

 

I have been reading some theological books from Old Testament scholars and Hebrew scholars on Creation.  Many of them argue that the language of Genesis and ancient cultural context points to the idea that Genesis 1 deals with functional creation and not material creation.  In other words, Genesis 1 tells us how God put function and order to a world for human flourishing and does not necessarily deals with God creating matter or substance in seven days.  Prominent scholar from Wheaton College, John H. Walton, says that this does not take away from the fact that God created the material.  According to these scholars, he did.  However, it does remove us from the obligation from having to defend a young earth.

 

Now, while I am not sure I buy into all their reason.  I do however see the functional elements of Genesis in many regards.  I am reading these books in order to be able to provide an apologetic for those who thinks the Bible, Creation in particular, is a fairy tale.  The whole point of the exercise for me is to be able to know how to communicate to a culture that believes less and less in a creator God.  My goal is how can I point to a creator God without being dismissed immediately?  The answer is to offer some thoughtful analysis as to what Genesis may mean.

 

I could bury my head in the sand and pretend that everyone believes the way I do, or I can study culture and learn how to communicate to them on their level.

 

- Paul knew how to confront culture.

 

Notice the order.  Paul studied the culture, he communicated with and to the culture, but he did not stop there.  He also confronted the culture. You are given a mind in order to reason with people about Christ’s offer for the forgiveness of their sins.  You do not have to knock people out with the Bible or scream and yell.  Look at how Paul confronted:

 

"What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,  that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,  for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”  Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.”  So Paul went out from their midst.  But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them (Acts 17:23-34, ESV). [4]"

 

We must never be afraid to confront.  Let’s look at Harry Blamires’ book The Christian Mind.  This is a long quote, but I think an important quote:

 

“An important contributory factor to the loss of mental morale in the church has been a misguided conception of Christian charity. It has been assumed that the charitable man suppresses his views in the same way that he subordinates his personal interests. A wild fantasy has taken hold of many Christians. They have come to imagine that just as an unselfish man restrains himself from snatching another piece of cake, so too, he restrains himself from putting forward his point of view. And just as it is bad form to boast about your private possessions or loudly recapitulate your personal achievements, so too it is bad form announce what your convictions are. By analogy with that charity of the spirit which never asks or claims but always gives and gives again, we have manufactured a false "charity" of the mind, which never takes a stand, but continually yields ground. It is proper to give way to other people's interests: therefore it is proper to give way to other people's ideas. The damage done by this false deduction has been enormous. It is urgently necessary to clear the air on this matter. A man's religious convictions and understanding of the truth are not private possessions, in the sense that his suit and the contents of his brief case are private possessions. Your beliefs as a Christian are not yours in the sense that you have rights over them, either to tamper with them or to throw them away. Of course, the very fact that we view convictions as personal possessions is a symptom of the disappearance of the Christian mind. One of the crucial tasks in reconstituting the Christian mind will be to reestablish the status of objective truth as distinct from personal opinions. The sphere of the intellectual, the sphere of knowledge and understanding, is not a sphere in which the Christian gives ground, or even tolerates vagueness and confusion. There is no charity without clarity and firmness.” 

 

We live in a world where we are told that love does not confront.  It is quite the opposite. 

 

We have talked about how we should think, I now want us to shift gears and talk about how we can train our minds as Christians.  This will serve as a practical guide on the above points.  The Apostle Paul says:

 

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete (2 Cor.10:3-6)." [5]

 

Paul in this verse is dealing with confrontation.  He is confronting people within the church, but the application can extend to outside of the church.  We as Christians should take every thought captive.  Now, when you are a captive, you are not free to do as you please.  A captive would have been trained into the way it should live.  Think of it in terms of slavery.  This would have been the context for the Corinthians.  If they were taken captive, it would have been for servanthood or slavery.  They would have been trained to serve the master who took them captive.  This is Paul’s point here with thoughts.  Christ is our master and our mind in which thoughts exists must be trained.  So, how do we train our thinking?

The first and most obvious point is to:

 

1: Understand your thoughts and mind.

 

Paul is saying that thoughts and opinions in a sinful state want to destroy the knowledge of God.  Therefore, you have to train.  However, here is the point I am trying to make, you must know where you are.

Every person is at a different level.  For some of you, it may be as simple as saying that you need God to take the bad thoughts: lust, depression, anxiety, and many others out of your mind and replace it with Him.  Well, that is step one.  Recognizing where you are.  Notice that Paul did when he says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh (2 Cor. 10:3).”   But, it does not stop there. 

 

2: Understand where you want to go.

 

Paul understood this too.  He is going to take these thoughts and make them obey Christ.  This is where he wanted to go and wanted the Corinthians to go there as well.

As I said, everyone is different.  Let me get back to the previous illustration.  Maybe you have identified that all you think about is lust, or you are constantly depressed.   You have identified those things.  But, just finding where on a map gets you nowhere.

It’s the holiday season, so probably you will find yourself in a shopping center at some point.  In many malls, there are those maps.  Often, I have stood at the map to see the big star that says, “You are here.”  If you are like me, you have probably been around one of those with your family and stared.  That map does no good unless you know where you want to go. 

 

So, you know you are at point A and you want to get to point B.  What must you do?

 

3: Understand the plan.

 

Here is how they were going to get there, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,(2 Cor. 10:5)”

I am a planner.  I have not always been a planner, but it is something that I had to do with discipline.  If I wanted to be a pastor, a theologian, a preacher, a writer and I doctor, I had to put a plan together.  It did not happen by mistake.  It has been intentional. 

 

This week I shared my plan for 2017 with the staff.  I shared my book list with them.  My list includes research on my dissertation and I am in school, so it is a tad long. Not only that, I have books on their about parenting, some theological concepts, some historical concepts, all of them point to where I want to go. 

 

4: Understand how to put the plan into action.

 

This is really the essence of discipleship.  You cannot train your thinking until you put your plan into action.  Notice Paul’s action he is telling the Corinthians, “being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete (2 Cor.10:3-6).”[6]

 

His approach to this particular confrontation in Corinth was twofold. But for our sake tonight the first purpose will do, it was necessary that the Corinthian church express their subjection to Christ by demonstrating loyalty to His representative Paul (5:20; cf. 7:15). In this way their obedience would be complete.[7]

 

Paul was not interested in mere words or goals.  Rather, he was in action.  It was only in the action that would bring change.  (Note: this is not a salvific issue, but rather an issue of discipleship)

 

So, how do you put your plan in action?  Let me give you an illustration on my circumstance.  My book list right now is at about 70 books for 2017.  Now, this is not normal for me.  I am usually around 24-36 books a year.  About 40 books this year are dealing with my research topic for my doctorate.

 

My list is simply daunting.  What is my attack plan? 

 

Last year when I started my doctoral process, our first book to read was entitled, “How to Read a Book.”  I am going to be a little professorial right now, so excuse me.  The first lecture from our professor of record was also on “How to Read a Book.”  Our professor started the lecture by saying, “If you read every book from cover to cover in this class then you are an imbecile.”  He said it with a British accent, so it sounded much more polite.  Then, he went on to break down reading (which we all thought was patently absurd). 

 

Just to help you, here is what he said:

 

Read the introduction.  Read critical reviews on Amazon or other places.  Spend 20 minutes a day in each chapter by reading the introduction and conclusion and other bits, and you will know what the book says and how to apply it. 

 

Now, this may not work on all research books for me, but it comes in handy.  I also shared with the staff that I rarely read the illustrations or stories in the books unless the book is about the story like in Killing Christians or if I am not getting the concept. 

 

When you do this you can really fly through the books and you would be surprised by how much you grow through this process. 

 

Just one more note on my 70.  Whenever I can, I listen to the books.  Kindle allows you to download the book and then typically (if the book is on audible) it gives you the option to listen to it.  I do this quite often as well.  Someone asked me if I thought this was cheating.  I only think it is cheating if you turn it on in your sleep and do not retain any of it.

 

Now, I know that these points: understand your thoughts (or where you are); understand where you want to go; understand the plan, and understand how to put it into action are pretty basic.  I dare say that many of you already employ them in so many areas of your life.  However, when it comes to thinking and growing in your thinking, Christians usually switch the off switch. 

 

We typically think that the role of Christian thinking is the job for the pastor only.  While it is my major role (thus the reason why I research and read), the reality is there is simply not enough of us in the world to make a dent in the rise of secularism or in laying out an apologetic.  We need more and more men and women dedicated to the process of engaging their minds for the sake of the Gospel. 

 

Our whole mission statement here is: We exist to equip the generations to engage the culture with the Gospel. 

 

This is why I preach the way I preach.  This is why I write the way I write.  This is why I spend time during the week putting resources together for my “Pastor’s Pick” blog post.  It is all to equip you to engage.  I want to equip your body, soul and mind for the sake of his kingdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mk 12:28–30.

 

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ac 17:22–34.

 

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 17:14–18.

 

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ac 17:22–34.

 

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Co 10:3–6.

 

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Co 10:3–6.

 

[7] David K. Lowery, “2 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 576–577.

 

 

Please reload

 RECENT POSTS: 

March 25, 2020

June 4, 2017

Please reload

 SEARCH BY TAGS: 
Please reload

jasonkennedy.tv