The Gift of Thought – Developing 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?”
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