Monday, February 01, 2016

“Love the Lord with All Your Mind”: A Call to Pursue the Enrichment of Christian Intellect

One of the aspects of modern Christianity that I lament about is the seemingly lack of focus on developing intellect.  It’s as if there’s an unwritten, tacit paradigm that the intellect is irrelevant and irreconcilable with the spiritual.  Thus, many Christians tend to undermine or neglect or even reject the sharpening of the mind, which result to distressingly widespread gullibility, paranoia, and shallow – or, worse, false – theology.

Such Christians have no solid belief foundations, thus, they are easily swayed on what to believe in.  They easily embrace false doctrines (i.e. prosperity gospel, universalism) which they derive a feel-good feeling from, and eagerly adopt and switch to the current hot “Christian” fads – books, preachers, music, teachings – without thoroughly discerning if they are indeed supported by Scriptures.

Such Christians would rather waste time and effort on pursuing and promoting ridiculous conspiracy theories (e.g. “research” that “prove” that the world’s celebrities and elite are Illuminati) and sensationalized, unbiblical prophecies (e.g. the world will end at a particular date) instead of sharing the objective truths of the Gospel.  They burn Harry Potter books because they believe that these encourage children to practice witchcraft.  They share absurd “facts” or links on Facebook without verifying its authenticity (e.g. LOL means Lucifer is Lord).

A common practice among Christians these days is to take a minimalist stand when it comes to theology.  They say, “All that is necessary for me to know as a Christian is that Jesus loves me, I love him, and I want to tell others about him.  That should be enough.”  It sounds noble and humble, but in fact, it’s pretty dangerous.  Such approach eventually leads Christians to be exactly as what I’ve described in the past two paragraphs.  I also have to disagree that that “should be enough” for a Christian.  If we truly love Jesus, we want to represent him and his teachings with thorough Biblical accuracy – cautious and apprehensive that we might dishonor Him in painting our picture of Him to others.  Furthermore, according to the so-called “love chapter”, i.e. 1 Corinthians 13, an aspect of love is that it rejoices with the truth (v.6).  Hence, if we truly love Jesus, we should then sincerely pursue having a deeper understanding of His Truth and upholding it.

Furthermore, the Greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:37-38) says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  It means that it’s essential for us Christians to love God with the utmost full extent of our being, and this includes utilizing the best of our minds.

Thus, I believe that the development of intellect is something important for Christians.  Now, I’m not saying it’s the most integral thing.  Of course, no matter how intelligent one is, without the Holy Spirit’s active revelation, discovering truth and obtaining wisdom are impossible.  But it’s nevertheless important for a Christian to make the effort of thinking with the best of his or her capability, and to be consistent and logical in his or her beliefs.

Logic and Faith Goes Hand in Hand

I’ve always believed that logic and faith are not at all contradictory.  To have faith doesn’t mean to suspend thinking.  Intellectual practices – thinking, reflecting, discerning, analyzing, evaluating – will actually help enhance faith, for they help concretize and reinforce its foundations.  A Christian’s faith-based beliefs should be in turn based on iron-clad premises that he or she understands – he or she knows to answer why he or she believes.

“Blind faith” is a concept I strongly disagree on – and which I think genuine Christians should either.  Christ makes the blind see after all.  Christians doesn’t make “leaps of faith” because of irrational, robotic impulses; they willingly jump to the unknown because they have the thorough understanding that God’s arms are strong and big and will catch them.  Though God didn’t reveal to Abraham why He asked him to offer Isaac as sacrifice, he obeyed out of faith, which is supplemented by his understanding that God is capable of raising Isaac from the dead.

Those who refuse to exercise their minds in their Christian lives oftentimes mistake being emphatically moved by emotional experiences with spiritual breakthroughs – which will eventually turn out being fake faith-encounters.  Christians who believe “just because”, without ever doing any careful thinking at all, are no different from fiercely indoctrinated zealots of other religions, or atheists who assert that “science” proves there’s no God and yet don’t really understand and couldn’t personally explain how.  If we are to win over these foolish souls to the truth of the Gospel by challenging and discrediting their belief systems, we must first be certain that we understand quite clearly why and how we’ve come to believe on the things we believe in that we may not end up being hypocrites.

Don’t Swallow What Others Have Already Chewed; Adhere Only to the Absolute Authority of Scripture

The Bible is the Word of God.  For us Christians, it is – should be – our ultimate Authority.  Non-Christians might refuse to acknowledge the Bible’s authority, and that can’t be helped.  However, as Christians, our main presupposition is the authenticity of the Bible as God’s Word and Final Authority, and we are logical if our beliefs and convictions are the results of proper reasoning based on the parameters of that main presupposition.  If we maintain beliefs and convictions that can’t be traced back to the main presupposition, then we are guilty of not only illogic, but more seriously, spiritual pretense.

Thus, it’s imperative that we examine every Christian-labeled thought, message, thesis, sermon, book, article, quote, or idea we encounter with sincere and thorough scrutiny, verifying if they are indeed “Christian”, founded on Scripture.  For though preachers and teachers are accountable to what they preach and teach, Christians are nevertheless responsible as individuals to what they accept to believe.  Thus, whatever human-presented insight that genuinely jives with the Bible should be received wholeheartedly, and whatever human-presented insight that is fundamentally contradictory to it should be rejected.

In all situations, it’s not preferable to passively allow others to do our thinking for us – to immediately believe what they interpret or define as “truth” without any verification and evaluation of raw data in our part.  And this is much more critical and relevant when it comes to theology.  Christians should never instantly believe whatever they hear or read from Christian preachers and authors without confirming it with the Bible.  In his book When God Whispers Your Name, Max Lucado points out how essential it is for a Christian to personally study the Bible and not be content of acquiescently receiving its interpretation from others:
Imagine you are selecting your food from a cafeteria line. You pick your salad, you choose our entrée, but when you get to the vegetables, you see a pan of something that turns your stomach.
“Yuck! What’s this?” you ask, pointing.
“Oh, you don’t want to know,” replies a slightly embarrassed server.
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, if you must.  It’s a pan of pre-chewed food.”
“Pre-chewed food.  Some people prefer to swallow what others have chewed.”
Repulsive?  You bet.  But widespread.  More so than you might imagine.  Not with cafeteria food, but with God’s Word.
Such Christians mean well.  They even listen well. But they discern little.  They are content to swallow whatever they are told.  No wonder they’ve stopped growing.
We should be revolted by preachers that force their “pre-chewed food” down their listeners’ throats.  Instead, we should favor those preachers that are keen of pointing their listeners to the deliciousness of the Word.  For God’s Word isn’t something that Christians should receive second-hand from a preacher, but something meant to have a direct, first-hand experience with.  Thus, it’s every Christian’s duty to take it upon himself or herself to personally taste, consume, and be directly nurtured by the Bread of Life.

It’s so easy for a preacher to claim that he’s “Bible-centered” and even present the verses that seemingly “support” his teachings.  Now, if we don’t make the effort to personally look upon ourselves if these “supporting verses” are indeed used in its correct context and meaning, we might be easily impressed and convinced of the said teachings’ validity.  Many false teachers are awfully clever in manipulating Scripture texts and relegating them to seemingly support their teachings of self-help, positive thinking, prosperity, and other humanistic doctrines.  There are even times when a false doctrine is anchored on a Scripture passage taken out of context but actually opposes it (e.g. Hebrews 6).  Indeed, it’s very vital that we strictly verify every teaching we receive if it truly adheres with the Bible (Acts 17:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 1 John 4:1).

Exert Effort in Studying the Bible and Have Absolute Reliance on the Holy Spirit

In studying the Bible, the first step is always to pray for and submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We must humbly and happily acknowledge the very important reality that wisdom and revelation are inaccessible apart from Him.  Happily, since it means that genuine understanding of the Bible’s truths aren’t dependent on how smart we are but exclusively through God’s grace.  In spite of our intellectual limitations, comprehending truth becomes possible since the prerogative lies with the Holy Spirit.  Thus, we must have absolute reliance on the Holy Spirit – fully putting our trust in Him.

However, we must not mistake “reliance” and “trust” with “idleness” or “inactivity.”   To say that we rely on the Holy Spirit but without exerting any effort is a false confession of reliance.  Faith without work is dead (James 2:14-26).  We must then exercise our faith on the Holy Spirit’s revelation by investing as much of the mental energies and time and effort we can muster from ourselves to perseveringly study and seek the precise purpose and meaning behind Scripture.

The Role of Secular Education: Sharpening Our Intellect for Scripture

Like muscles, the mind needs to be exercised to be strengthened.  Hence, since we desire to have a “stronger” mind for studying Scripture, the tasks that require us to practice thinking will now be serving a more significant purpose.  When we realize this, we will now be more willing to engage with mental activities, especially reading and studying.

With this paradigm, Christians – especially those still in school – will have this new perspective on secular education.  During our schooling, we gain important skills such as reading, memorization, and organization – all relevant and vital in dealing with Scripture – and we become more and more intellectually capable with the different values we might obtain from the varied school subjects.  Math and Science introduce and develop precision, prudence, logic, and a methodical and inquiring attitude.  English develops reading and comprehension skills, literary tastes, and vocabulary.  History implies purpose and teaches morals regarding the human state.  And so on.

Secular education is an opportunity for Christians.  Though secular knowledge might be what’s primarily and directly gained through years of schooling, insights on eternal matters can also be acquired along the way.  Most importantly, the whole process equips and sharpens the mind for deeper, more complex study of the Scriptures.

Therefore, Christian students should love school and education.  (Personally, this is a realization that came too late to me, as education’s deeper application only dawned on me years after graduating from college.)

Be Motivated by Love

As we become more familiar with and appreciative of Scripture, we became more sensitive to identify falsehood in others’ teachings.  However, this could prove to be a problem since we would be less tolerant for pretentious preaching and faulty exegesis.  And our impulse to argue against false teachings becomes too strong.

Now, I believe that well-meaning Christians should not shy away from debates, particularly when it comes to upholding the truths of the Scriptures (Acts 19:9, 2 Timothy 3:16).  Sad to say, debating has gained a negative connotation through the years that is somewhat warranted.  Many Christians nowadays believe that debating is always about sowing discord or division in the church.  But I would like to strongly stress that debate doesn’t necessarily mean discord or division.  Yes, Christians are called to be united in mind (1 Cor. 1:10), but it doesn’t mean to accept something false and be united in that.  Whatever unity Christians have should be on what is true according to correct interpretation of Scripture.  Ideally, debates should lead to the discovery of these truths, and if Christians are sincere in seeking truth and holding to what is true, the process won’t create bitter divisions at all.  Unfortunately, as we know from reality, this won’t be the case.

Nevertheless, Christians should debate for truth when circumstance calls for it.  But it should be done with Scripture-guided, Christ-exalting motivations and attitude.  First, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are representing Christ, and we might actually dishonor Him in our attempt to uphold His honor if our behavior is obnoxious and acid.  Yes, we should be firm, but be careful of not being harsh and nasty.  Second, we must be careful when or where or in whose presence we debate, as we might be the cause of a new believer to stumble in his or her fragile, young faith.   Third, love must drive us.

After all, the first commandment is to love God, and the second is to love the people around us (Matt. 22:36-40).  Thus, our motives to debate against false teachings should be founded in these principles and in that same order of importance:
1.) We love God and His Word.  Therefore, it should bothers us when He’s being misrepresented by others and His Word is being twisted to fit their concepts.
2.) We love the people around us that we don’t want them to have false beliefs.  We don’t want to have non-Christians walk to their destructions due to their false worldviews, hence, we have to argue against these.  We don’t want our pastors to fail in their accountability in leading their flock in walking in truth, hence, when they make assertions that we know are contradictory to the Bible, we have to humbly point this to them.  Love rejoices in truth.  Hence, love can’t be lenient in the face of untruth.

When we decide to debate because of bruised egos or the want to be proven right – not out of love – we dishonor God.  Returning to the Love Chapter, it said that even if we “can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge” we are nonetheless “nothing” if we have no love (v.2).   What’s the use of knowing truth if we don’t exalt God through it?

Indeed, my call is this: we Christians must make effort to develop our intellect for the primary purpose of understanding Scripture more deeply, that we might uphold its truths more faithfully and demolish the false beliefs around us.  But in doing so, we must be motivated by love, and this should apparent to the people we wish to correct and be glorifying to God whom we love above all things.

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