- Pastor John Smith
A Thinking Faith
To be a thinker and to be a person of faith may seem like a contradiction. However, the use of the mind is an integral part of anyone's belief system, especially the Christian. Truth be told, use of the Evangelical mind is a scandalous thing. Why? Because it so often over-looked and unfortunately, discouraged among so many.
I remember several weeks ago, I was at one of the largest and most prestigious Baptist seminaries in the country, and being a Bibliophile, I found my way to their campus bookstore. Upon entering, I made a B-line to their Theological section (past the souvenir kiosk) and was blown away by the sheer volume of books and reference material. Here before me were row after row of books that were all displaying examples of the rigorous pursuit of the mind. These books were written by Evangelicals at a high academic level and the thought occurred to me "If only people could see this…" then it was followed by the sinking realization that they wouldn't. In reality, most people will not step foot into a seminary bookstore or library, and even if they did, they could easily say that this type of high thinking is to be expected because it is an institution of higher education. This should be a point of concern for us Evangelicals, because of the attitude that deep, demanding and God-honoring thinking only belongs within the walls of higher learning and not in the day to day experience of most people.
At the risk of sounding too critical, it has been my experience in Evangelicalism, that there is a huge emphasis on feeling rather than thinking. This is because there is an almost irrational fear of being "all head and no heart" when it comes to matters of faith. We tailor our music to trigger an emotional experience. We gauge the success or failure of our various ministries with how many people respond emotionally. All the while reinforcing the misconception that faith is primarily an emotional endeavor, not an intellectual one.
This misunderstanding is rooted in the belief that feeling and thinking are at opposite ends of the spectrum. In other words, this form of existentialism pits the head against the heart and asserts that truth is determined by experience, or because it "feels right." Reader, I want you to know how impractical, but also very dangerous that line of thinking is. For example, I might wake up tomorrow and not feel like going to work, therefore because "feeling" is the ultimate source of truth, I should quit my job regardless of the fact that I have a family to support and bills to pay. How this affects people of faith is that when we engage the world, we do not have an objective reason for why we believe, rather our belief is based on a feeling or an experience. Again, feelings and experiences are subjective in nature and do not translate between individuals. Sure, we can be empathetic to one another but in reality, we can both experience the same circumstance and walk away feeling two different things.
Since I am a Christian, I frame everything within a Biblical worldview, and what my worldview tells me is that "head and heart", "thinking and feeling" are not at odds with one another. They exist in a symbiotic relationship, interconnected if you will, so that more I think about God, the more in love with Him I become. The opposite is just as true, the less I employ the use of my mind in knowing God, the less I can love Him, because a neglect of thinking will always undermine the cause of love. To illustrate my point, I have been married to my wife for ten years. Imagine if you were to come to me after I have declared how much I love her and ask me a series of questions about her. Instead of answering them, I reply "I don't know" or "that is not important", you would think that my love for my wife is not genuine, because I have little or no knowledge of her.
Translate that example in the culture we are living in today. We do live in a very pluralistic society, and one of the blessings of being in such, is the engagement of ideas. People are asking questions and since Christians are called to "give an answer for the hope that is within us" (1 Peter 3:15) we have to provide them answers; answers that are intelligible, clear and come from a vigorous use of the mind. Believer you are called to think about your faith, so think well, hard and often.