Maybe the Thought Police Aren’t Such a Bad Idea?

Base of a human brain, from Vesalius' Fabrica, courtesy Wikipedia.
Base of a human brain, from Vesalius’ Fabrica, courtesy Wikipedia.

Human beings are thinking creatures.  To be sure, we are embodied, and our flesh-and-blood living matters, too.  But while our capacity to think is a quality that separates us from the beasts, this too often goes unused.  This is tragic for all people, but especially those who claim to be followers of Jesus.  Christian faith is not about the abandonment of critical thought but about its enlivening, about its highest end.  N.T. Wright argues that the Church – the body of people, alongside Israel, called to be and to bear God’s message to the world – cannot be herself without thinking:

“If the ekklesia of God in Jesus the Messiah, in its unity and holiness, is to constitute as it were its own worldview, to be its own central symbol, it needs to think: to be ‘transformed by the renewal of of the mind’, to think as age-to-come people rather than present-age people, to understand who this God is, who this Messiah jesus is, who this strange powerful spirit is, and what it means to be, and to live as, the renewed people of God, the renewed humanity.  This is a worldview, in other words, which will only function if it is held by humans with transformed minds, and who use those transformed minds constantly to wrestle with the biggest questions of all, those of God and the world.” (Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 567)

If you spend too much time in the wrong internet haunts, you quickly get the impression that Christians today have no capacity for or interest in critical thinking.  Oh, to be sure, there are a lot of rhetorical grenades tossed about, many blogs and articles written, read, and shared, but most of this takes place within very defined and uninteresting echo chambers.  The conservatives quote Witherington, Piper, or Al Mohler, and the progressives quote Borg, McLaren, or Rachel Held Evans and likely post 15 articles from HuffPo Religion, AKA theology’s Mos Eisley.  It’s all quite dull, really.

Christianity cannot be sustained absent renewed minds that come about by prayer through the gift of the Spirit.  This is a non-negotiable part of our faith, though many seem to want to make it option  (just look at my previous post’s comment section).

noll scandalI suggest the church needs thought police.  Not, mind you, to police what is thought – but simply that thought occurs at all.  While I don’t count myself a progressive or conservative Christian, I can appreciate such Christians when they engage their own and others’ faith traditions with depth and sincerity.  Unfortunately, too much of our conversation in the church turns on surface-level ranting that makes MSNBC and Fox News look academic.  Two decades ago, Mark Noll charged that The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was that there wasn’t much of one.  Unfortunately, rather than rising above that, many progressive evangelicals and other populist Christian voices have continued this trend.

As Wright notes, there is no church without renewed minds marked by Spirit-imbued intellectual effort.  There is much more, of course, to being God’s people.  But when lived out truly, our vocation to the church will always include, treasure, and encourage the life of the mind.

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3 thoughts on “Maybe the Thought Police Aren’t Such a Bad Idea?”

  1. “HuffPo Religion, AKA theology’s Mos Eisley.” I’m still laughing at this…

    Good thoughts, Drew! It puzzles me how quickly Christians (myself included) seem to forget the imperative of Romans 12:1-2. Of course, we know that “the mind” meant more to Greeks and Hebrews than it does to us, but it still conveys that Spirit-guided thoughtfulness that leads to holy hearts and actions. This doesn’t mean every Christian must be a scholar, but that every Christian should become spiritually, thoughtfully engaged.

    We are of no service to one another or the world if we do not take care to allow God first to shape our understanding, and then our actions. Intellectual engagement is critical to the life lived with Christ in God.

    I have to admit, I was already feeling a conviction that I do not spend enough time in contemplation. This just drove another nail in the coffin of my intellectual laziness. Thank you!

    1. Isaac, thanks so much for you kind words. And don’t worry – these words were convicting for me as well! Like most of my sermons, I am implicated in these reflections as well. Peace, brother.

  2. In my experience, it’s not that people don’t want renewed minds as much as they don’t really know what that means. You wrote, “Christianity cannot be sustained absent renewed minds that come about by prayer through the gift of the Spirit,” and I completely agree. But what do you think this looks like? What are some of the ways you do this?

    Dallas Willard has a really good break down of this if you’ve got the time to watch:

    Dallas Willard: Transformed by the Renewing of th…: http://youtu.be/VwIsp67Lg1E

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