Albert Einstein said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Coming from a guy who was 95 times smarter than any of us can dream of being, that sounds like a pretty arrogant thing to say. R. C. Sproul put it another way, “We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization.” Whether stupid or just anti-intellectual, one thing is true: thinking is really, really important. This is a plea for Christians to think more, to think better, or just to think.
The Danger of Not Thinking – How to Be a Dud
Obviously, everyone uses their minds to do things. Some people may even engage in some reflective and a solitary moment now and then as they take a shower or fall asleep at night. But how much real, hard thinking are we actually doing? And I don’t just mean trying to unravel the plot of Inception. Thinking is so much more, so much broader, and so much deeper.
Those who don’t think, don’t change. They become narrow minded, provincial, joyless. They blindly defend broken systems. They become passionate about nothingness. Nonthinkers refuse to take risks, to share their faith, to encounter new people, to cross barriers, to engage the world with the power of the gospel. Failing to think—to truly, passionately, energetically, and brain-achingly think—is to fail to be human. Descarte, whose religious tendencies were dubious at best, said, “I think, therefore I am.” Apart from the humanistic overtones and incipient egocentrism of the quote, the it is bundled with a bit of truth. Biblical thinking is the process of becoming more and more what we, in God’s plan, are meant to be.
What Is Thinking?
When grappling with any concept, we must understand what the Bible says about it. Although the Bible doesn’t have chapter-and-verse statements like an encyclopedia or dictionary, it does provide us with a comprehensive and life-changing information. The Bible informs a worldview that directly or indirectly affects everything we do. Furthermore, the Bible provides concepts, information, and applications that affects everything we do. Does the Bible have anything to say about thinking? James 1:8 speaks of a man who is “double-minded,” having no confidence in what he believes. Paul urges us to destroy wordly thinking by submitting our thinking to the Lordship of Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5). Philippians 4:8 stresses the importance of thinking upon things that are wholesome, and which cultivate the right kind of attitude and actions. Colossians 3:16 teaches us to allow the truths of the Bible—”the word of Christ”—to burrow deep into our souls and change us. Jesus himself said that knowing truth will set us free (John 8:32). Ephesians 4:23 teaches that Christians should be “renewed in the spirit of your minds.” The passage explains that this is about “learn[ing] Christ” and being “taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus.”
Over and over again, the Bible points to God, to the Words of God, or to the Person of Jesus, as the locus of truth and the focus of our thinking. The “mind” in the Bible is closely parallel with the “heart.” As we understand the person in this way, we realize that the Bible teaches that Christians are to be characterized by renewed thinking, changed thinking, and intentional and active thinking. Just think about what the Bible is. It’s a book. Books require reading. Books require understanding. And there are some portions of the Bible that demand intensive and deliberate thought work in order to understand. Since God has revealed Himself in a book, we must thinking and work to understand that book. Thinking is core to Christianity. It is essential to our faith.
In his book Think, John Piper writes, “This…is a plea to embrace serious thinking as a means of loving God and people. It is a plea to reject either-or thinking when it comes to head and heart, thinking and feeling, reason and faith, theology and doxology, mental labor and the ministry of love. It is a plea to see thinking as a necessary, God-ordained means of knowing God.”
Thinking is the process of putting our minds to work—asking questions and answering them biblically. Thinking begins with asking questions. For example, “Who is God? What is He like?” Those are pretty foundational questions. Your questions may be as simple as, “Why are we using church media?” or “Why do we sing in church?” One does not need to be smart or intellectual to think. Thinking is something that anyone and everyone should do, regardless of intellect or education.
How to Think – Thinking about Thinking
Now, let’s take that bit of explanation about thinking, and apply it. What does thinking look like, and how does it play out in everyday life?
- We must think Bible. I have been extolling the virtues of thinking, but I do so with a crucial caution. Never must we allow our “thinking” to assert superiority over biblical truth. This is the height of arrogance and man-worship. When our minds become the benchmark for truth, we have erected an idol that must be smashed to smithereens. The Bible must rule our thinking. I cannot overemphasize this point strongly enough. The Bible is the source of truth. It is God’s revelation. It is the Words of God to us. It reveals Jesus Christ. It shows us the way of salvation. Thus, the Christian’s thinking must take place in a Bible-saturated context. To be educated or highly informed is not nearly as important as keeping our thinking in line with the Bible. To say that our thinking must be biblical does not mean that we should avoid learning about pagan beliefs, secular philosophies, or reading books by unbelievers. On the contrary, it is by reading and studying things outside of Christianity, that we sharpen our own understanding of the Christian faith, and are better-equipped to proclaim it to others. Obviously, it is important to be cautious in the manner, selection, and quantity of such material, but it is important nonetheless. Read and think widely, but always apply biblical truth to your thought. Merely because some information originates with an unbelieving author, philosopher, speaker, or authority does not mean that that information is wrong. In fact, it may be right. In order to better think, you should become familiar with the Bible and other sources of information.
- Thinking is not skepticism. Some people shun thinking because they fear the slippery slope of skepticism. However, as long as our thinking is thoroughly biblical, skepticism takes wings and flies. The skeptic is one whose thinking is so skewed that he doubts all truth. Such thinking is not just antithetical to the Bible, but it is antithetical to the overwhelming evidence of science, philosophy, reason, and the empirical evidence of the outside world. Skeptics are thinkers who are cocooned within the walls of self-consumption, yet are deluded into thinking that their ‘thinking’ is incisive and intelligent. True thinking begins with questions, but it ends up with answers. Skepticism does not.
- Thinking is hard work. Just this morning, I worked out. Even now, my arms and legs ache from the grueling experience. It wasn’t fun, but it was rewarding. Why? Because I am becoming stronger and healthier. The brain is a muscle, and really working it out is tough stuff. That’s why we gravitate toward mental pablum— watching T.V., reading pop novels, and talking about the Final Four—rather than engaging in the hard and serious work of thinking, taking classes, and reading deep books. Thinking is hard work, and that’s just something we need to learn to accept. Despite its sometimes difficult process, thinking is a rewarding experience. The more you do it, the better you become at it. And the more you do it, the more you enjoy it.
- Thinking means asking “why,” not “how.” As stated above, thinking is about asking questions. But it’s not just asking random questions; it’s about asking the right kind of questions. Have you ever noticed that so much of our thinking revolves around the question “how.” Even if the interrogative “how” isn’t actually verbalized, it underlies much of education, training, books, conferences, seminars, and information. Seminarians learn how to parse Greek verbs, how to preach, how to exposit a Bible passage, and how to counsel someone. Pastors grapple with how to grow their church, how to improve their worship, how to help their people understand, or just how to get the offerings to grow. How, how, how? It’s a rare event when someone asks the simple question, why? No one really knows how to answer it. It’s kind of a weird question. Usually the answer to the why question is, “Well, just because, that’s why!” which is, of course, an inane non-answer. The question why is a thinking question, a powerful question, a question that should drive us to the Bible for answers and for the framework to adequately answer the question. I’m reminded of a statement by Joel Salatin. Salatin, a self-described “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer” was talking about food, but the statement has potency for our discussion: “We’ve become a nation of technicians. We’re infatuated with the ‘how’ so much that we forget to ask ‘why’ or ‘should we be doing this at all?'” I challenge you to ask a why question. See where it takes you.
- Thinking will scare you. There are two reasons why thinking is a scary pursuit. First, thinking is scary because thinking requires that you dig in and understand or challenge your presuppositions, worldviews, and opinions that you may have cherished for a long time. That can be jarring. It can provoke a sense of insecurity—intellectually and emotionally. Second, thinking can be scary because of the reaction of other people. Humans tend to group together with people who think like we do. There’s nothing inherently wrong with gravitating toward likeminded people, as long as we accept others who may be different from us. However, when your thinking causes you to challenge the entrenched mindset of your group, they may react…unpleasantly. Let me illustrate this. Some religious groups are built around staunchly-defended minutiae of biblical interpretation. To be fair, those in the enclave may cherish those interpretations because they believe that they are as important as core doctrine. However, if those interpretations or distinguishing features are challenged or questioned, ever so slightly, by a member of said group, that member may fall into disrepute. In some cases, the group may actually eject the member, either by ostracism, persecution, or some form of discipline. If you are to be honest with God, yourself, and His Word, you have no choice but to maintain your biblical thinking regardless of how your erstwhile peers may criticize or malign you. Martin Luther, a courageous reformer of the 1500s took his outside-the-box-but-within-the-Bible thinking, and flew in the face of hundreds of years of religious tradition and decay. Powerful religious leaders demanded that Luther recant his so-called heretical writings. Luther responded, “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” I’m glad he held his ground, because, even half a millennium later, we ride the wave of a massive religious awakening that swept the globe. Praise God for biblical thinking.
- Thinking will change you. The work of thinking is not an end in itself. It is a process that changes us, helps us to change the world, and enables us to better glorify God—which is the whole point of everything anyway. As Piper states in his book, thinking is about knowing God: “The main reason God has given us minds is that we might seek out and find all the reasons that exist for treasuring him in all things and above all things.”