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Showing posts with label life of the mind. Show all posts
Showing posts with label life of the mind. Show all posts

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Evangelism Needs to Become More Intellectual


There exists a fairly popular instruction for pastors that when they prepare their sermons, they should strive to "put the cookies on the lower shelf." In other words, the sermon needs to be simple with points easy to grasp by all.

I agree that it is important to communicate clearly. Part of that is to help parishioners by approaching take complex ideas and breaking them up in such a way that they can be apprehended by most of the congregation. However, I fear that the drive to "put the cookies on the lower shelf" has been over emphasized. I've seen many Bible teachers who are afraid of being "too intellectual" or presenting difficult concepts because their congregants may not "get it." As a result, much of the preaching on Sunday mornings have been dumbed-down from what the average church goer would have experienced a century or two ago.

Of course, not all ideas given in the Scriptures are able to be easily digested. God's orchestration of the conquest of Canaan is one example. The role that women play in New Testament churches is another. Concepts such as believers being predestined yet having the freedom to choose to follow Jesus is a third. All of these are directly taken from the scriptures and if one is to take in the whole counsel of God, these ideas must be addressed.

The Intellectual Needs Jesus

My concern is not simply liturgical; it is also evangelical. There is real danger in not demonstrating an intellectually robust faith for the intellectuals who are influential in shaping the ideas of a culture. James Davison Hunter makes a salient point:
Imagine, in this regard, a genuine "third great awakening" occurring in America, where half of the population is converted to a deep Christian faith. Unless this awakening extended to envelop the cultural gatekeepers, it would have little effect on the character of the symbols that are produced and prevail in public and private culture. And, without a fundamental restructuring of the institutions of culture formation and transmission in our society-the market, government-sponsored cultural institutions, education at all levels, advertising, entertainment, publishing, and the news media, not to mention church-revival would have a negligible long-term effect on the reconstitution of the culture. Imagine further several social reform movements surrounding, say, educational reform and family policy, becoming very well organized and funded, and on top of this, serious Christians being voted into every major office and appointed to a majority of judgeships. Legislation may be passed and judicial rulings may be properly handed down, but legal and political victories will be short-lived or pyrrhic without the broad-based legitimacy that makes the alternatives seem unthinkable.1
To support his claim, Hunter points to one of the biggest victories of Evangelicals in the last century – the temperance movement. Christians had both political representation and a significant portion of the voting public behind them to pass a constitutional amendment. However, it proved a miserable failure.

The church must reach out to the intellectual in the academy as well as the builder on the job site. Both need saving. But if we only present Christianity in the most basic idioms, what will be their assumption about the faith? Instead of seeing the robust, historic Christian tradition that birthed the writings of the likes of Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Pascal, and many others, they see a feeble and childish view of the world.

I don't believe every sermon must feel like a college lecture. But offering one sermon a month that stretches the congregation and tackles some of the more complex ideas within Christendom wouldn't be a bad idea.

In the book of Hebrews, the church is rebuked by the writer for not being able to handle more difficult matters of theology. "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Heb. 5:13-14). Paul also rebukes the Corinthian church similarly: "But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh" ( Cor. 3:1-3).

How are we reaching the intellectual with the Gospel? How are we growing our church members into mature believers who can digest solid food? Keeping the cookies on the lower shelf may be fun for the congregation, but it might simply mean we're short-changing their intellectual nutrition.

References

1. Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.46.
Image courtesy Jelllserrine - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30609111

Thursday, January 21, 2016

350 Year Old Frenchman Talks About Facebook


I love history. I love to look at ancient edifices or read about past civilizations and try to really get into the minds of those who have come before us. It can seem we're so very different from the Romans or Greeks or Egyptians. We're so much smarter today, after all look at how much our advancements have given us! Such a view is really superficial. Those people were people and their motivations were by and large the same ones we have today. Certainly, they are packaged differently, but it's striking just how much humanity doesn't change from age to age.

Take the issue of self-perception. All people are worried how others perceive them and a significant number elevate the perceptions of others over everything else. Perhaps it was whispers between friends in ages past; today, it's counting comments on Facebook. The drive is the same, though. We want people to think more of us.

As a case in point, look at the writings of Blaise Pascal. His Pensées, or Reflections, was written over 350 year ago, before his death in 1662. Yet, one line neatly sums up the very modern drive of young people fishing for Instagram likes or YouTube fame. He writes, "We are so presumptuous that we would like to be known throughout the world, even by people who shall come when we are no more. And we are so vain that the esteem of five or six people close to us pleases and satisfies us." (#152)1

Pascal even expanded on this to say how much the views of others matter more to us than our own reality. Tell me if these sounds like how so many treat their social media posts today:
We are not satisfied with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being; we want to live an imaginary life in the mind of others, and for this purpose we endeavor to make an impression. We labor constantly to embellish and preserve this imaginary being, and neglect the real one. And if we are calm, or generous, or faithful, we are eager to make it known, so as to attach these virtues to our other being. (#653)
Of course, cultivating the imaginary being online means being something other than honest; making the division more pronounced:
We would rather separate them from ourselves to unite them to the other. We would willingly be cowards to acquire the reputation for being brave. This is a great sign of our own being's nothingness, of not being satisfied with the one without the other, and of renouncing the one for the other! For whoever would not die to save his honor would be infamous. (#653)2
That sounds pretty modern, doesn't it?

We Still Abdicate Our Need for Right-Thinking

Pascal was very aware of the human condition. He knew that while people worried about how other perceives them, such worries are vanity. They don't mean a lot. More important is for one to think well. A strong thinker will examine him or herself as well as the ideas with which he comes in contact:
Man is obviously made to think. It is his whole dignity and his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now, the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and its end.

Now, of what does the world think? Never of this, but of dancing, playing the lute, singing, making verses, running at the ring, etc., fighting, making oneself king, without thinking what it is to be a king and what to be a man. (#513)3

… Just as we corrupt our minds, we corrupt our feelings also.

…Our minds and feelings are improved by conversation; our minds and feelings are corrupted by conversation. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them. But we cannot make this choice if we have not already improved and not corrupted them. Thus a circle is formed, and they are fortunate who escape it. (#659)4
I use social media a lot and I think its great in its place. However, I also try to set aside a certain amount of time every day to be off social media and read or engage others with ideas that will stimulate me to think better. I want to grow better personally, and I'm really not that interested in posting how well I'm doing so others may see. That doesn't mean there's no place for social media. If you're using GoodReads or something similar to spur conversation with others or hold one another accountable for your book reading, that's a great thing. But I hope you would be encouraged to be a little bit intentional in mental self-improvement, as intentional as you may be in the pictures and posts you share.

Proper thinking starts not with how others think of you but an honest self-examination. If you can identify your own biases and predispositions you are in much better shape to understand others' points of view. You can see things like sources are not necessarily less credible simply because they lived centuries or even a couple of millennia before us. You will be more open to an honest exchange of ideas. You won't be as susceptible to being led by feelings that can be manipulated and false.

References

1. Pascal, Blaise, and Roger Ariew. Pensées. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 2005. Print.
2. Pascal, 2005. 199.
3. Pascal, 2005. 162.
4. Pascal, 2005. 200.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Romancing the Mind: Why Apologetics is Crucial for Women (video)



Women are crucial in service to the body of Christ. Women tend to pray more than men, tend to volunteer more, and attend service more, too.Most churches offer different ministries aimed at women, from Bible studies to cooking and craft workshops. Yet, there are very few  women's classes aimed at teaching them how to develop their minds and thoughtfully engage the culture with the reasons for their faith. This is a glaring omission for both Christian women and the churches that serve them,

In this full length video, Lenny had the chance to present to a women's home bible study group and explain why women need to develop a not only a strong spiritual relationship with God, but also a strong intellectual one as well.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

J.P. Moreland: Why the Church Must Overcome Its Aversion to Intellectual Development

One job of the church is to be salty to the world in which it finds itself, so if that world grows saltless, we should look first to the church herself to glean what we can about her contribution to the situation. ... A major cause of our current cultural crisis consists of a worldview shift from a Judeo-Christian understanding of reality to a post-Christian one. Moreover, this shift itself expresses a growing anti-intellectualism in the church, resulting in the marginalization of Christianity in society—its lack of saltiness, if you will—and the emergence of the most secular culture the world has ever seen. That secular culture is now simply playing out the implications of ideas that have come to be widely accepted in a social context in which the church is no longer a major participant in the war of ideas.1 In the rest of this book, then, I’ll try to demonstrate how the church must overcome the neglect of this critical area of the development of the Christian mind, perhaps the most integral component of the believers’ sanctification. The role of intellectual development is primary in evangelical Christianity, but you might not know that from a cursory look at the church today. In spite of this, if we are to have Christ formed in us (Galatians 4:19), we must realize the work of God in our minds and pay attention to what a Christlike mind might look like. As our Savior has said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). To do this, we cannot neglect the soulful development of a Christian mind.
 J. P.Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. 2nd Ed. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012. Print.
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