Think: Part One AND Two

The following is an excerpt from Dick’s book: Too Christian, Too Pagan.
To order Too Christian, Too Pagan


I am an aging man of ordinary intelligence who loves books, ideas and concepts. I live in a culture that often devalues these, preferring rather to bestow worth on amusement and commerce. I’ve spent over a decade in broadcasting, an industry that generally and begrudgingly accepts displays of on-air intelligence only if they are subservient to humor or moderated by outrageous profits. In Christian broadcasting one manager expressed concern that I was delivering a show “too intelligent for Christian radio.

Over thirty years ago Harry Blamires sounded the alarm about the deterioration of the Christian Mind, saying. “the mental secularization of Christians means that nowadays we meet only as worshipping beings and as moral beings, not as thinking beings. His warning was updated by Ambassador Charles Malik who said in a 1980 lecture at Wheaton College, “I must be frank with you; the greatest danger besetting American Evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind, as to its greatest and deepest reaches, is not cared for enough.” (1980 IVP, The Two Tasks, p33).

Then in the 1990’s Dr. Mark Noll issued a clarion call on behalf of a more thoughtful Christian, concluding that the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is so little of it.

These comments could be set aside as the rants of an elite crew of stuffed shirts were it not for the fact that Jesus commands us to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind. It is not sufficient to love God with your heart, leaving the “mind” part to “smarter people. Loving God with your mind is not just an optional choice, or just for people who listen to classical music and wear tweed with leather elbow patches, or for those with time left over after watching baseball or Oprah. Today’s abandonment of the mind is disobedience to God. Os Guiness concludes, “anti-intellectualism is truly the refusal to love the Lord our God with our minds as required by the first of Jesus commandments.” But I am warning you, in what is generally an anti-intellectual culture and Christian sib-culture, your commitment to thinking will make you counter-cultural.

Why is the witness of God’s presence in the world of our minds so important?

1) Our minds reflect our status as the only species created in God’s image. Our human ability to possess, develop and express our thoughts in complex language differentiates us from the animals and is evidence of our unique place in God’s created order.

2) We are commanded to love the Lord our God with body, heart and mind because each is important to God. This holistic view of human potential would was very familiar to the Jewish, Roman and Greek contemporaries of Jesus. As a matter of fact the Greek Olympics celebrated “arete,” a word meaning the complete, well-balanced person training to develop body, mind and spirit. The Greeks would not revere an illiterate athlete or a sedentary academic.

3) Ideas have consequences. Karl Marx’s political and economic theories ruined millions of lives in the twentieth century. Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory has dominated 20th century life in overt and subtle ways. As each generation faces the onslaught of novel ideas, Christians in that generation need discerning minds to defend and advance the faith. The Apostle Paul says we are not to be conformed to the world’s ideas, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). This discerning mind enables us to weigh the essence and implications of thoughts and ideas gaining contemporary acceptance.

4) People need to hear a reasonable faith. Today we communicate and defend the gospel in an age dominated by scientific naturalism, intellectual and moral relativism and theological pluralism. A thoughtful approach to each of these is essential if you desire to influence intellectually curious seekers or even to parent your children. Thirty years ago, Francis Schaeffer observed what happens when this work goes undone.
“I find that everywhere I go-children of Christians are being lost to historic Christianity…They are being lost because their parents are unable to understand their children and therefore cannot help them in their time of need…We have left the next generation naked in the face of twentieth century thought by which they are surrounded.”

5) Some people will come to the faith through their minds. We’ve already demonstrated that Aristotle showed the importance of both emotion (pathos) and reason (logos) in persuasion. While some spiritually restless people will feel their way into the kingdom of God, others will think their way there. Fredericka Matthewes-Green’s tells the wonderful story of the Genoveses finding God. (National Review February 24, 2997, p55) Eugene Genovese has enjoyed a brilliant career as a historian and his wife Elizabeth, also an academic, helped launch the feminist movement. Together they founded the magazine Marxist Perspectives which was one of many reasons they were dubbed “the royal couple of the radical academic.” But their intellectual curiosity and honesty led them down an unexpected path. Eugene tells the story this way.
In the Southern Front I spoke as an atheist; one reviewer said that I protest too much. When the book came off the press and I had to reread it, I started wrestling with the problem philosophically, and I lost.

In the meantime, Betsey was going through her process, and one day announced she’d had a conversion. Now, she and I talk about religion a lot, but for six months we hadn’t. So we were doing it separately.

On a philosophical level what I came to decide was that being an atheist involves as great a leap of faith as being a theist. Deep down I think I knew that; it was just my preferred leap of faith. But I was troubled by this even as an undergraduate, when I read the Brothers Karamazov and encountered Ivan’s question; “If there is no God, is not everything permissible?”

There are limits to what we can do to convince and persuade others through sheer intellect. I was reminded of this after Carl Sagan died. Many Christians, leading scientists among them, shared the gospel with Carl Sagan. After his death his widow wanted to reassure everyone that Sagan had no death bed conversion, that he held firm to his agnosticism to the very end. A letter to the editor in the next issue of NEWSWEEK commented on this:
“I was not surprised to read of Carl Sagan’s frustrating intellectual battle over the existence of God. In a culture like ours that deifies intellect and celebrates only that which we can submit to empirical study, there are many who intellectually struggle with the idea of a power greater than ourselves, as if we could prove God is out there and bring him down to our level of human understanding. As marvelous as our brains are, it is my belief that there are bigger and better things than the human intellect. I for one, am pleased to be amazed by miracles, reduced to tears by unexpected glory and shaken by the power of God. Kathy Smith. (Letter to the editor Newsweek 2, 21, 97)

A.W. Tozer rightly pointed out that we should not “convince” people into the kingdom, because all it will take to change their mind is someone smarter than us to “convince them back out” of the kingdom. He was not diminishing the importance of mounting a satisfactory apologetic in appealing to peoples minds, but was rather identifying the importance of the Holy Spirit dealing with people’s wills. Highly intelligent people often reject God, not because they have not heard a reasonable and compelling case for the gospel, but because the following Jesus requires them to yield the governance of their life to God.

To be effective in the world, Jesus disciples will love God with their minds. Our goal will be the demonstration of our love for God through the engagement of our mind in a rigorous program of mental exercises leading to cultural and biblical literacy.

What might such an exercise program look like?

I suggest you start by beginning the process of identifying, facing and resolving your own ideological fears. Are there issues being presented in film, music, TV or water-fountain conversations that trouble you, because you believe they pose a serious threat to your belief system? Identify those issues and seek out answers by reading the Bible and other books and periodicals that address the issue. Expand your intellectual comfort zone by entertaining a broader theological perspective in order to defend or amend your own. Discuss your question with someone who is thoughtful and farther down the spiritual road than you. Pray. Think. And having run the issue through a thorough evaluation, reach conclusions that satisfy your mind.

Apply your faith to everyday life. Read newspapers and periodicals and ask yourself how being Christian influences or should influence your thinking on the subject or issue. Read your Bible regularly and slowly and ask how it relates to life and worldviews you faced yesterday or expect to face today. Read beyond your usual fare. Read contemporary fiction as a way of gauging where today’s seeker is and what questions they are asking. Ask how the gospel satisfactorily addresses the novelists concerns.

When you attend films, listen to music or read a book, ask some basic questions about its “theology” and worldview. What does it teach or imply about–who God is? Who humans are and what our purpose is? What our biggest human problem is? What the solution to our problem is? What will the future hold for humans? Then ask how the worldview you’ve identified compares and contrasts with a Christian worldview.

If you disagree with what your pastor or teacher says at church or a Bible Study, review your own stance, make sure you can defend it, then graciously confront them and ask them to defend their position! On occasion I’ve asked listeners to call anonymously and tell me what they know they’re supposed to believe but don’t believe. Many people passively listen to sermons or teaching they disagree with, but never raise their objections or wrestle the issue through to a reasonable conclusion

Join a book club or one of the discussion groups popping up at local bookstores. Listen, think express your views, Get comfortable with the give and take. Go back to school or talk with your kids about what they’re studying in school. Volunteer to teach a class of teenagers and get them to raise their real questions. It will drive you to thinking and praying. Take an extension course from a Christian university or seminary and expand your understanding of your own faith.

Be a life long learner. Love God with your mind. Prepare to give a reason for the hope that lives within you.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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