Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Thinking Theologically (3)

Christians as Thinkers

1. A renewed mind

The work of the Spirit is essential in enabling us to see spiritual things and thereby be converted (1 Cor. 2:14-16) It is subsequently by the renewing of the mind that we are transformed, the process of sanctification. The ultimate goal of the mind is conformity to Christ, a moral transformation not merely an intellectual function. After all, it is his mind that we have (1 Cor 2:16) and which we are commanded to exercise (Phil 2:5).
This renewal is to be reflected in our thinking about all things – work, sport, gardening, politics, – as well as our more specifically spiritual thinking about God, the Bible or our spiritual lives.
This does not mean that unrenewed minds can never think any true thoughts. Unbelievers think true thoughts all the time and have all manner of insights into all things – even theology. A truth in science for example is true whoever discovers it. But their problem is that they cannot be sure why their thoughts are true; nor can they relate their true thoughts to the ultimate purpose of all things.

2. A dependent mind

Faith is the ground of knowledge. We believe and therefore understand. This was how Adam and Eve were to continue to live. The unbelieving mind has asserted its independence of God. The logical intellectual conclusion of this is rationalism which asserts the supremacy of reason over revelation. Christianity asserts the value of reason, indeed its necessity, but subject to the authority of revelation. We are dependent on God for our knowledge of truth and our ability to think truly. True thinking begins with faith.
This will mean that we pray for our thinking to be guided and faithful to truth.

3. A relational mind

Building on the first two points, it is clear that Christian thinking will be done in relation to God. All human knowledge comes back to the question of commitment to God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This will express itself in worship. Listen to John Owen: ‘Let us proclaim it boldly – the man who is not aflame with divine love is an outsider to all theology’. Did a charismatic or ‘emergent’ Christian ever express himself on the emotional life more strongly?

4. An evangelical mind

‘The perspective which the Christian has about everything is founded upon the reality of Jesus Christ in the gospel. The Christian, of all men, sees life not in abstract terms, but in light of the concrete events of Jesus Christ’ (Thomas N. Smith, R&R magazine, 3:3). We do not ‘leave our minds outside the church door’, but we do lay them at Christ’s feet and renounce attempts to construct truth on the assumption of the supremacy of reason.

This is the light in which to see much of the use of the word logizomai, occurring some forty times in the New Testament (thirty four times in Paul). It is a relating of life to faith, a reckoning and deduction; for example, God does not reckon a believer’s sins against him (2 Cor 5:14); we are to think about good things (Phil. 4:8); and evaluate ourselves and others rightly (Phil. 3:13; 2 Cor.10:2; 12:6). Christian thinking is an evaluation of life in the light of the cross. Worldly wisdom rejects the cross which is the wisdom of God, and Christ who is the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18-31).

5. A mind captive to the Word of God

Closely allied to the above, the Christian mind will be thoroughly submitted to Scripture. The first duty of man is to receive and respond to God’s Word. Every thought is to be taken captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:6). The believer will be one who loves and meditates on God’s Word (Pss. 119:97; 1:2). He will submit to Scripture (a) in its necessity as the sole authoritative source of saving knowledge of God; (b) in its authority as the very Word of God; and (c) in its sufficiency in that he will not look anywhere else for God’s Word.

The Christian mind will also be passionate about Truth. ‘All intellectuals are in love with ideas; not all intellectuals are in love with the truth’(James Sire, Habits of the Mind, 77). The pursuit of truth, the defence of truth and the proclamation of truth will be the great concerns of the Christian. The Christian should be ready in principle to say ‘If it were proven to me that the Bible were not true, I would ditch it’. In practice this will not happen to the regenerate person because the Spirit will increasingly witness to the Bible’s truth. The Christian will increasingly be committed and submissive to Scripture as the source of the truth that controls his life.

6. A mind integrated with the whole person and leading to obedience

The mind in biblical thought includes the affections and will. Thinking goes on in the heart. This is particularly true in the Old Testament. ‘For the Israelites, thinking or planning takes place in the heart, where their psychology located the matrix of feelings, thinking and willing’(NIDOTTE, 2:306). In the New Covenant the law is put in the mind and written on the heart (Jer. 31:33). In Phil.2:5 the ‘mind’ of Christ is more of a disposition than an intellectual organ and we could of course use the word ‘mind’ as broadly as that today. Biblically it is clear that thinking is not merely an intellectual activity.

In particular there must be integration not only within the inner man but between the inner and the outer. True thinking will issue in obedience. Truly to hear God’s Word is to do it. Jesus’ parable of the builders (Matt 7:23-27) reveals the disaster which ensues when listening and doing are divorced; see also James 1:22-25. ‘Now whosoever supposes that he can know truth while he is still living iniquitously, is in error’(Augustine, quoted in Sire, 97)

It was the possibility of doing other than we ought, that led to sin in the Garden. Yet that possibility is at the heart of what it is to be a moral creature. The significance of this possibility is suggested by the single prohibition in the Garden. One transgression was enough. The division between ‘want’ and ‘ought’, between God's will and mine, was introduced and man has struggled with it ever since. Paul struggles with it classically in Romans 7:14-24 –the good I would I do not etc. The only relief from the hiatus between what we are and what we know is found in the righteousness of Christ (Romans 7:25).

Meanwhile repeatedly we are taught that the test of true faith and true love for Christ is obedience (John 8:31-2; 13:17; 14:15; James 1:25). The Christian as thinker will never conclude that thinking alone is enough. He will not value the detached academic image. The ‘mind’ that is ‘yours in Christ Jesus’ is a servant mindset and servants do things; the Old Testament values wisdom and wisdom is known by her children, that is, her fruit. It is far more than, and not at all interested in, mere abstract cleverness. Even from a secular background, L. Susan Stebbing says ‘…thinking is primarily for the purpose of action. No-one can avoid the responsibility of acting in accordance with his mode of thinking’ The same author says that ‘to think effectively is to think to some purpose’('Thinking to some Purpose' 15). The great ‘purpose’ is the glory of God and our conformity to his Son (that is, obedience, which was the pulse of Christ’s own life) as the means to that end. All our thinking must be directed to these very practical goals.

7. A confrontational mind

Finally, in a fallen world the Christian mind, the mind that is according to the Spirit and not the flesh, will inevitably be in confrontational mode on a daily basis. We are in a battle and this will be fought with the mind. The renewed mind will be the engine room of transformation and daily sanctification (Romans 12:1,2) which means negatively not being conformed to the world; Paul in 2 Cor 10:1-4 describes his ministry as tearing down strongholds and taking every thought captive, destroying ‘arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God’. This is a daily battle as the new man is daily renewed and the old man, already crucified, is daily put off. The outcome is guaranteed, but the battle still has to be fought. The battle is fought of course not just to destroy strongholds but to establish Christ’s kingdom. It is not just an intellectual battle but a battle of the whole person, and above all a spiritual battle, using weapons which are not of the flesh – the weapons of Word and Spirit.

It is important too that this battle is fought at the point at which the devil is attacking today, not yesterday, and at this point we move from looking at the Christian mind to some particular ‘enemies’ and strongholds which we encounter today.

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