It is day 26 of Lent. We are more than half-way through our journey to Easter. During this Lenten season I have done a lot of thinking. In a curious sort of way, I have been thinking about thinking or the lack thereof in many pockets of evangelical Christianity. Perhaps my thinking about thinking was sparked by Mark Noll’s scandalous opening to The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, where he writes: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Or maybe it was Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible (I have added this book to my Lenten reading list) that has been challenging me to think about how I view Scripture. Maybe this thinking about thinking has come from N.T. Wright who is causing me to think about Jesus in his historical context in Simply Jesus. Or maybe it is because Lent is a time to reflect (thinking backwards) on the suffering of Jesus.
Maybe it is just me.
I admit that I have an intellectual bent. It is the sacred pathway I feel most comfortable walking down. Loving God with my mind stands out in the command to love God with all of our heart, soul, MIND, and strength. I have a bias towards an intellectual approach to the Christian faith; I admit it. I like books. I like books with footnotes. I like books with footnotes and big words that I have to look up in the dictionary. I like being challenged with thoughts that undermine my assumptions. I like connecting ideas in a new way. Engaging the faith with intellectual fervor is natural for me, but it is also a necessary component in following Jesus Christ. We are challenged in Romans 12 to allow our minds to be renewed:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Paul was not a detached, professional theologian disconnected from the life of the church or the life of the Spirit. He experienced spiritual gifts such as the ability to speak in tongues, but he said he would rather speak five intelligible words in the church so those who worship Jesus could mature in their ability to think:
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20)
All of this talk about thinking is not simply to make people smarter or more educated, but to make people more devoted to Jesus Christ:
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)
So here are my somewhat disconnected, somewhat related, thoughts about thinking.
• Thinking about God is the Christian art of meditation, an ancient Christian practice.
• Thinking about our own soul is subordinate to thinking about God. When we think about ourselves we do so with a lowly mind. We think of others as more important than ourselves. We call that “humility.” And humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.
• As our minds are renewed by the Spirit, we begin to change our way of thinking. The Spirit enables us to set our minds on things above where Christ is seated.
• The 17th century German astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”
• Thinking good thoughts about God is not worship; worship is something we do. However worship proceeds from and leads to fruitful thinking.
• Thinking is an internal monologue, a way we talk things out within ourselves. Is this a reflection of God’s inner dialogue within himself, the eternal conversation between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Maybe.
• Our ways of thinking form a worldview, a lens by which we interpret the world around us. When we awake to our thought life we can begin to understand the difference between perception and fact, and begin to see things from another person’s point of view.
• “The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” – Wendell Berry
• When we think in reverse we tap into our memories. When we think forward we tap into our hopes.
• When listening to others we can choose to accept the information we are receiving, but this requires little thinking. We activate our thinking when we ask questions, when we challenge assumptions behind what they are saying, when we weigh the merits of the evidence they offer to make their point.
• Jesus challenged us to think with his oft-quoted phrase: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. He very easily could have said: He who has a mind to think, let him think.
• Thinking allows us to sort out truth from rhetoric, that is the “way things are” from the “way we would like things to be.”
• To grow in your capacity to think requires you to expand your vocabulary. Learning new words increases your ability to think and understand. This is hard work.
• “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness is giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu
• There are limits to our thinking, no doubt about. We are finite beings dependent upon the Infinite One to reveal truth to us. Our thinking can only take us so far, but it can take us much farther than self-assured ignorance.