A Recovery of the Mind
Most Christians seem to struggle through their sanctification - what is often referred to as spiritual growth. That does not mean they never grow, but what growth they have is sporadic. During “mountaintop experiences” like youth camps and conferences there may be great leaps forward, but in life’s normal rhythms the growth can feel like molasses. It would never have occurred to most that the problem might not be an issue of the heart, but the mind. One of the most neglected aspects of Christianity is the stewardship of the mind in spiritual formation.
In my first semester of seminary, as I began to think more deeply about my faith, I quickly learned how much of God I didn’t know. Now, mind you, I knew a lot ABOUT the Bible: I could quote it and had memorized facts related to it, yet what my classes revealed was that I had yet to challenge myself to truly learn.
It is an odd struggle, considering how much importance the Bible places on the mind: “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37 ESV), “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2b ESV). What plagued me, and I submit I am not alone in this, was not a problem of belief; it was a problem of discipleship. I believed the truth of the Bible. I even believed that I was a sinner. My commitment to the truth, however, was built on a shallow foundation. I was content to claim Christ without understanding what love for Him should look like intellectually. I had failed to love God with my mind.
But why? Why do we tend to be so content with basic knowledge, when there is so much more for us to discover about our Savior? Because we have been trained more by our culture than our Bible. Many people’s lives are encapsulated in pragmatic thinking: how does _____ help ME? We tend to incorporate this kind of thinking into our spiritual lives unknowingly, settling for the bare bones Christianity that can dwell for decades with little growth. C.S. Lewis once wrote in his book The Weight of Glory that humans are “half-hearted creatures” who are “far too easily pleased.” What Lewis was getting at is that the problem of humans is that the God of the universe has offered Himself to them to pursue, love, and understand, but they have convinced themselves that all they need are cheap substitutes. While Lewis was primarily writing about the idols we hold, his point could also be applied to our love of learning about God. Instead of pursuing truth for its own good, many of us have leveraged the truth for the benefits it offers, and then called that “enough.”
For many Christians, we have been conditioned to depend on our feelings about the truth more so than the understanding of the truth itself. The problem with that is that feelings are a poor reflection of reality. What we feel about God must be grounded in the truth of who God has revealed Himself to be. It is not that we seek to know more of God for the sake of mere knowledge or to lord it over those around us. Instead, our increasing knowledge of God fuels our love for Him. As our knowledge of Him grows, so too our affections; we learn to love God WITH our minds. Just like a marriage: you may start with the basics, but the lifetime of learning brings about an intimacy that only comes with time. Our affections for God are strongly shaped by what we know of Him. The question is: how do we grow in that knowledge?
We must start with the fundamentals of our walk in Christ. That means regular time in His Word, a healthy prayer life, and walking in fellowship within a community of believers through His church. Without these in place, we will undercut any attempts at substantial growth. However, there are additional steps we can take to love God with our minds and grow in our knowledge of Him.
Ask More Questions
The most basic and helpful way to learn the art of loving God with our minds is by asking more questions. When we approach a passage of Scripture that seems difficult to understand, we should ask clarifying questions. What often results is understanding the context: Who’s the author? What’s the time period? Who’s the audience? What are the themes? How does it fit within the book, the testament, and salvation history? These simple steps can greatly enhance our understanding of the Bible, which is the main source of revelation God has given us.
But more than that, we should ask deeper questions about concepts as a whole: atonement, redemption, idolatry, covenant, holiness, faith, love. We should ask the in-between questions: How does this help us understand God’s sovereignty, human dignity, family roles, or church leadership? The more questions we ask, the more it will fuel our pursuit of the truth.
Read More Broadly
The great news is that there is a plethora of resources available for us to begin our quest of developing the Christian mind, both at the popular and academic levels. Start small, then test out something stronger.
Read on various subjects: ethics, theology, church ministry, fiction, etc. Learn to read more carefully, take your time, and assess arguments. Find authors who you resonate with and use that to balance them with others that seem “drier”. Avoid consuming easier mediums (podcasts and blogs) as your MAIN sources of learning. They can be helpful but use them sparingly.
It’s most critical to read authors and sources you know to be sound, but it can be helpful to include some with whom you expect to disagree. It may seem frustrating, but it helps you to become better at both recognizing false teachings and rounding out your own beliefs. The more we read, the easier it will become to discern (with the Holy Spirit’s guidance) sound doctrine and solid arguments.
Remember Our Hope
Stretching ourselves can get uncomfortable, especially if it is not an ingrained habit, but it is worth it. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s hope for the church at Ephesus: “...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…” (Eph. 1:17-20 ESV). That is the glorious inheritance of Christ: that we may KNOW what only God can reveal. Our minds are a gift for the pursuit of that glorious truth. May we never take it for granted.
Joseph Bradley is married to his wife, Ashley, and is the Student Pastor at Second Baptist Church in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He has contributed to Youth Pastor Theologian and has a passion for philosophy and apologetics.
- Abiding: Moving From Simple Belief To Walking In Communion With Christ, Learning: Moving From The Shallow End To The Deep Waters Of Theology