Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace
In his book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the1730s to the 1980s, British historian David Bebbington provided a definition of evangelicalism that has become the standard boilerplate understanding for academics and journalists on both sides of the Atlantic.1 He described evangelicalism in terms of four distinctives: biblicism (a confidence that the Bible is the Word of God), conversionism (a belief that persons must come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ), crucicentrism (a belief that the cross and theresurrection are the central acts whereby God saves sinners), and activism (evangelicals are people who hold crusades, build colleges and seminaries, go on mission trips, organize conferences, and create periodicals and publishing houses).
Noticeably absent from Bebbington’s list, however, is the idea that evangelicals are defined by their thinking. This is to our shame. Christ’s people are to be active in the “renewing of [the] mind,” for “as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Rom. 12:1–2 KJV; Prov. 23:7 KJV; Matt. 15:10–20). There is a necessary distinction between thinking and action, but if activism happens without an adequate foundation of thinking, then our activism will be separated from the gospel and from the demands of Christ on our lives. Therefore, without apology, Christians must think about thinking.
Children do not often think about thinking. Within the developmental stage of early adolescence, there comes a sudden acknowledgment that there are other minds. “People think differently than I, or even my parents, think,” a young teen will exclaim. By adolescence, we perceive ourselves thinking and begin to think about that process. Most human beings, however, never attempt to think deeply about thinking.
By contrast, a Christian understands that he or she was made to bring God glory, to point persons to Christ, to exalt in the things of Christ, and to meditate upon God’s Word. Because of the biblical imperative to be transformed by the renewing of our minds,
Christians must perpetually think about thinking. Philosophers call this a “second-order discipline.” Thinking is a first-order discipline, but thinking about thinking is a second-order discipline. This complex thinking is required if we are to measure and contrast faithful thinking over against unfaithful thinking.
One of the first steps in thinking about thinking is the realization that we could think in ways different than we do. This is the recognition that there are other peoples, worldviews, philosophies of life, and belief systems at work in the world. An essential part of our Christian faithfulness is the recognition of difference. Christians must also recognize the crucial distinction between the regenerate mind and the unregenerate mind. Those who have come to know salvation through Jesus Christ, who by God’s grace have been united with Christ and seek to be faithful to the gospel, understand the difference between the before and after.
Part of one’s maturing in Christ is an intellectual growth away from former ways and patterns of thinking. There are beliefs, principles of thought, and axioms that must be left behind in order to be faithful to Christ.
Our faithfulness, however, is only part of the equation. We also seek to understand the mind of the age and the way that persons around us in the world are thinking, because we desperately want to communicate the gospel to them. Much like entering into a foreign culture, entering into our own culture requires us to step back and think carefully about how people think, discerning the operational rules, principles, and worldviews of the prevailing thought systems around us.
-thinking Loving Doing