The Gift of Thought – Developing a Theology of Thinking

The Gift of Thought - Cultivating a Theology of Thinking

What do you spend your time thinking about?
What is the purpose of thinking?
What ought we think about?

Recently, I was a guest on Shanda Fulbright’s “Her Faith Inspires” podcast. She was doing research for a lesson for her Gen Z children and kids from her community. Shanda wanted to explore the difference between learning ‘how to think’ vs. being taught ‘what to think’. Through the wizardry of Google or some other search engine, she stumbled upon my blog post from 2013 entitled “How to Think vs What to Think” (read my post here…). Shanda reached out to me to discuss the topic on her podcast (listen here…).

After the podcast aired, I decided that it would be good to explore a little further and share some reflections. We will not explore the deep theological implications at this point but I will attempt to cultivate the theological soil a bit.

Addressing the modern problem – What to Think

Let me begin by stating the obvious. In our high-speed, Google, wikipedia, YouTube, social media, soundbite world – we Moderns have lost the art and skill of deep thinking and reflection. We have traded wisdom and understanding for quick information and convenience. We can tell you the what and how of a matter, but we can’t tell you why of the same matter. 

We have delegated our problems (healthcare, political, financial, cultural, educational, ecclesiastical, etc.) to experts to solve them for us. The result? We are now bombarded by technical experts who offer pragmatic (often political) solutions to modern problems. Since we have delegated thinking to technocrats and think tanks, we end up being forced or coerced into accepting their authority, conditions and uniformity – one size fits all solutions. Their solutions rarely solve the problems they claim to be solving. In fact, in most instances the experts we’ve put in charge end up creating more problems. Their excuse is, “Well, this particular problem is very complex. We need more funding or more political power or a little more of your freedoms then, we can come up with a total solution for all problems.” Mind you, this is all being said by experts who were never taught how to think in school or at home – just what to think. They are simply doing what they were trained to do. And they are telling us what to think as well. Our finest universities are producing tens of thousands of these what-to-thinkers every year. Critical thinking, wisdom and discernment have been discarded.

Recovering our ability to think – How to Think

Man is a thinking being because we are created in the image of a thinking God. We have the ability to reflect and go beyond cognitive exercises of remembering, comprehending and understanding. We can think in the abstract or the concrete. We can remember and we can imagine. Our minds can be disordered and chaotic one moment and tranquil and well-ordered the next. We can have disturbing, evil thoughts or contented, beautiful and good thoughts. We share the universal language of logic and reason with all mankind. The human mind is powerful!

Thinking is something we all do all the time. Thought is a very human activity. The ability to think is good.

From the imaginations of men like Tolkien, we enjoy realms of Hobbits, Elves and Wizards on quests to vanquish evil. The mind of Steve Jobs created iPhones that would seem like wizardry to the inhabitants of Middle Earth or the Renaissance. All manner of ideas, solutions, laws, cures, machines, stories and artifacts emerge from the minds of men and women throughout the ages. Thought has created the greatest feats and the worst terrors of men. Our ability to think is fascinating and extraordinary. Let’s consider a few questions for a moment:

  • What do you spend your time thinking about?
  • What is the purpose of thinking?
  • What ought we think about?

Our thoughts shape our lives, relationships, culture and our future.

The gift-nature of thought

Have you ever considered your ability to think as a gift from God? God created the world and infused it with meaning. He then created humans in his own likeness and gave us the ability to apprehend reality – the world as it actually exists. God gave his image-bearers the ability to think and understand His reality (albeit distorted by sin). At the same time, He gave humans imagination and creativity. All of which are housed in the mind.

The Bible speaks about the mind. It also teaches us how to think and how we ought to think. Therefore, there is a purpose (telos) to thinking. That purpose is something worth exploring.

What does the Bible say about how we should think? While I don’t possess the theological knowledge to bring a “theology of thinking” into its fullest grandeur (that may be a task for another), I can simply try to grasp at the basics here. But, a theology of thinking is something every Christian ought to seek to develop.

Together as fellow pilgrims, we can recover and cultivate the wonderful gift of thought. We can center our thought life on God’s Word and ask Him to bring a fuller vision of Himself and the world he created to light – as we glory in Him.

1. Below are some passages to help us think.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise,
And apply your mind to my knowledge…” (Proverbs 22:7)

2. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes help shape the our thoughts and hearts. They are filled with practical wisdom for every day living. They help us develop critical thinking skills and act as a guide to cultivating moral and honorable lives.

3. Books that I’ve found help me think.

  • Knowing God – J.I. Packer
  • The Knowledge of the Holy – A.W. Tozer
  • Why You Think the Way You Do – Glenn Sunshine

“What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”

(J.I. Packer)

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How to think vs. What to think

Yoda

Yoda is right!  Sometimes we must unlearn what we have learned.

  • After four years of prep-school, I had been taught ‘how’ to think.
  • After four years of college, I had been taught ‘what’ to think.
  • In prep-school, I was taught how to engage reality and seek truth.
  • In college, I was taught how to reject reality and redefine truth.

After I left college, I had a problem. What I had learned in college did not correspond with reality and the world as I experienced it. In my mid-20s, I had to unlearn what I had learned in college. I had to rediscover what I had learned in prep-school. I had to go back and learn ‘how’ to think again.

I had three teachers who had huge impacts on my life. All of them took the long road of teaching. This is the road of teaching a student ‘how’ to think. One taught me how to process historical facts and piece together the puzzle of historical events as they really were. Another taught me how to read between the lines to capture the author’s intent. The last taught me how to bring truth, ethics and history to bear in the human process of dying.

All stretched my mind instead of changing my mind. If my mind was changed, it was because I was forced to wrestle with the truth, reality and fight my personal preferences. They basically said;

“Here are the facts, explore and wrestle with them. I’m not here to tell you what to think. I’m here to teach you how to think!”

Currently, most educators teach students ‘what’ to think. This is a very passive process of transferring information where the student is rewarded for regurgitating the information back to the teacher. There is nothing wrong with memorizing facts such as historical events, math tables, formulas, definitions, etc. This is a necessary discipline and foundational.

However, there has been a dramatic shift in teaching methods in the last 60 years.

Today, when we peek into the classroom, this is what we see:

  • Facts and truth are now open for interpretation by the individual.
  • Theories and opinions (preferences) are not open for interpretation by the individual.

Facts vs. Personal Preference
Therefore, we have extremely well-educated children who reject reality and truth based on personal preference. Its like saying, ‘I don’t like the fact that I was born in Fort Worth. So, I’ll reject that fact.’ I’d prefer that there was no crime in my neighborhood. That does not change the reality that there is crime in my neighborhood and locking my doors is a good idea. Preferences don’t change reality.  Whether or not you ‘believe’ something is true does not change reality.

Consequences:
So, when a young adult emerges from a university environment where they have been taught what to think, they must contend with a reality that does not correspond with what they were taught. Many reject truth and reality, embracing an idealized unreality that has been constructed in their minds by teachers telling them ‘what’ to think. They end up living in a false reality that does not correspond with the world as it really is.

It’s a problem, the out-workings of which can be observed in almost every aspect of our lives. At the center of all of the confusion and turmoil in politics, society and culture are highly educated people who have never been taught ‘how’ to think.

“Remember, reality gets to speak last and when it does, it has the final word.”

Perhaps it is time to unlearn what we have learned and train ourselves ‘how’ to think.

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