Life of the Mind 2: 4 Solutions

In a previous post, I described how education and study can actually be a form of worship, a pursuit of God through the admiration of his work. The modern American Church, however, has let the mental life fall by the wayside in exchange for out-of-context Bible quoting, political ranting, and Instagram platitudes. I suggested four things will change this embarrassing situation.

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First, Christians on the whole need to repudiate the religiously-driven conflict between academic work and faith, between Athens and Jerusalem, especially when it comes to the sciences. With humility and common sense, everyone ought to acknowledge that reading the Bible does not qualify one to comment on the finer points of microbiology. One isn’t, by virtue of being an expert in the holy texts, an expert in everything else to boot. Scientific discoveries of all stripes ought to make Christians ask, “Have we perhaps read the biblical texts wrongly?” rather than moving to close the lens on Galileo’s telescope.

Second, the individual Christian is responsible for cultivating her own mental life. For all of the hours lost in this generation to pot, porn, and video games, we owe the Maker of Life repentance. Teen-agers didn’t invent the vices they consume; we’ve handed those down to them. We live in the information age, and all one need do is pick a topic of interest or a person worth emulating and pursue it with curiosity. If books aren’t your favored vehicle for learning, listen to podcasts, watch debates, or work through online classes, all for free.

Third, let kids ask questions. I had horrible religious influences in my childhood who told me, wrongly, “Sometimes you need to stop doubting and just believe.” Ceasing questions to believe doesn’t lead you to Jesus. Ceasing the pursuit of truth doesn’t lead you to the one who said, “I am the truth.” And churches need to be places that are known for encouraging the intellectual curiosity of children.

Fourth, keep the Sabbath. The loss of this discipline has wrought destruction in Western civilization that is devastating while it is undocumented. A day of peace and reflection was not too much for the creator of the universe, I’m not sure how it’s too much for us. Keeping the Sabbath is the way to acknowledge that God can do more in six days than we can do in seven. So take a day to be at peace, reflect, think, and pray. Whatever the link between neurons and the soul, both of them are nourished by the Sabbath.

“I am not absent-minded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” – GK Chesterton

Life of the Mind

Telescopic Thinking

There’s a little event that happened in 1633 which is an important conversation piece in Christianity today.  There was a guy named Galileo who studied the stars and who wanted the world to look through his new telescope.  Apparently, he said, we’ve got it wrong.  The earth goes around the sun and not vice versa.

The Catholic Church of his day was doing a little investigation of its own now called The Spanish Inquisition, in which they were forcing people to accept Christian doctrine or face torture.  They read the passage in the Bible, Joshua 10:13, that says that the sun stopped in the sky.  Well, the sun can’t very well stop if the sun isn’t the one that’s moving.  So they told Galileo to take back his doctrine, which he did.

bookTo this day, that story is told to high school students to emphasize the fact that religious legends can be destructive tools that oppose the pursuit of truth.

One of the most destructive things a Christian can do is make decisions out of fear.  Fear doesn’t help you determine facts.  And fear-based decisions will make your worldview look ridiculous to thoughtful people. We should have let Galileo’s telescope enlarge our view of the biblical text.

I want to address what I think is one of the most grave ills of the Church in this generation. And that is – that the Church is filled with educated people who don’t know what learning is for.

Education is Worship

The standard American church is filled with people whose decisions about education have been informed by their socio-economic standing and not by their theology. We learn because it pays – through qualifications, jobs, and the consequent salaries. We don’t learn as a form of worship. I would suggest that education is not a means to a material end – it is an expression of worship.

Did God give you your brain to make money, or did God give you your brain to explore the creation that he has made, to marvel at its beauty, to mold it into works of art, engineering, and medicine, and to find him in it, because, indeed, he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27)? The mental life is designed for reflection and contemplation, not to be used as a tool for material gain. It’s more like an incubator than a hammer; it allows things to grow within it rather than pounding out the world around it.

I was in a two-week long retreat with Dallas Willard and twenty other pastors at the Sierra Madre retreat center. Dallas began the conversation by saying, “You often think of Jesus as loving, as holy, and as powerful. But do you ever think of him as smart? Because Jesus was smart.”

What would society look like if people saw the Christian church and immediately thought – “They really know their stuff!”? “They are truth seekers, and they are not lazy. They read. They study. They write. They teach. Their people are at the heads of every department in academia.” If it came to a debate between a Christian and an atheist, you could trust that the Christian was well-studied and not just quoting the Bible at people.

I hold out to you that that’s not just how it could be, it’s how it should be, and it could be so in a single generation, if we will take this message seriously. There are four things we can do to turn the tides on this failure, and I’ll lay those out in a next blog, but for now, I just want to impress upon you one thing: education is a form of worship.

What Will The Kids Think?kid

I remember going to a church camp when I was in high school, a fiery Baptist camp held in deep in the woods in the Texas hills, so that no one could get away. And I remember asking a guest preacher a string of questions about faith and science. Midway through my questions he got tired, and just scolded me, “Jim, sometimes you just need to stop asking questions and believe.”

That’s a bunch of trash.

Pursuit of truth leads to Jesus, and if you stop asking questions, you won’t end up at Jesus, you’ll end up with an idol.

Don’t be afraid of where the pursuit of truth will lead you if you believe in the guy who said, “I am the truth.” To pursue truth is to pursue Jesus.

If you want something to wring your parental anxieties out of you, try this. If you raise your kids with a kind of fundamentalism that requires them to hide their heads in the sand, one day your kids will get out in the world, and they will listen to the news, they will talk to their peers, they may go to college, and they will realize that brilliant minds have come to believe in things that are different than what they’ve heard from you.  If you tell them that the Christian faith hangs on their rejection of the findings of science, you will put them in the position of holding onto ideas so rigidly that their ideas will one day break them.  Kids aren’t leaving the faith because of Darwinism.  They’re leaving the faith because parents, churches, and pastors are telling them that Christianity and science are opposed to one another, and they have to choose either science or Christianity.  They’re going to choose the one that is most serious about the pursuit of truth.

Shouldn’t that be the Church? Shouldn’t we be the ones to love truth more than our secular friends?

Let’s recall a teaching of Jesus that he said was more important than all the rest – Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

The End of the M.Div.?

Christianity Today’s Out of Ur published an article I wrote about the future of the Masters of Divinity degree and the future of seminary education. 

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Long the gold standard of seminary education, the Masters of Divinity degree is a requirement for ordination in many denominations. It requires students to make a serious commitment—usually three years, long study hours, and thousands of tuition dollars. They immerse themselves in biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek—some eagerly, some begrudgingly. The result has been a trusted and standardized course of theological study.

But things are changing.

Four significant influences have shifted students, and consequently schools, away from the M.Div. and into alternative learning tracks. The rise of non-denominational churches that no longer require seminary education, significant financial debt incurred by students who are headed into a profession that will not necessarily empower them to pay it off, the rising possibility and acceptability of online education, and the decline of mainline Protestant denominations have all raised questions about the viability of the M.Div.

“We’re in a huge paradigm shift….”

Read the article here.