Wednesday, December 13

Learning how to think

I think that one of the places where the church has done a disservice to the followers of Christ is that it tends to teach them what to think, rather than teaching them how to think. This is particularly true with regards to younger people in the church. What I mean is that the focus is often on telling people what they should do (like read the Bible, pray, and go to church) and what they shouldn't do (like drink, do drugs, or have sex before marriage). Hand-in-hand with that comes the discouragement of asking questions, particularly hard questions, about God and the church. These hard questions are often dismissed as a demonstration of lack of faith.

I think that this approach leads to a number of problems. First, it turns our spiritual life into something that is performance based. If we don't do the things were supposed to do, and if we do the things we're not supposed to do, then others see us and we see ourselves as "bad Christians." Our spiritual identity stops being determined by God's love and Jesus' sacrifice for us, and starts being determined by our performance.

I'm certainly not trying to say that we shouldn't read the Bible or pray, or that we should do things that are sinful. Rather, we need to change the focus. In my marriage, there are things that I do for my wife that build our relationship - like talking and hanging out together. And there are things that I don't do because I know that they will hurt our relationship. I don't choose to do or not do those things because there are rules that need to be followed or boxes that need to be checked. The relationship with my wife is the most important thing. I make choices based on that relationship. The same should hold true with God. If I am serious about my relationship with Jesus, then I need to do the things that will strengthen that relationship, and I need to avoid the things that will hurt that relationship.

If we want to really grow in our relationship with God, we need to get past the dos and don'ts. We need to teach ourselves how to think, not just what to think. We need to start thinking about the whys. Why is it important to read the Bible? Why is it important not to sin? It's important to ask ourselves questions about God. One of the things that I have learned over the years, and that I see all the time now that I'm teaching some college classes, is that as people learn and understand more, the questions don't go away. Instead, the questions they ask get better and deeper. If that is true in the academic world, it is even more true in the spiritual one. God is so much bigger than I am. The more I learn about him, the more I realize how much I don't know yet. As my faith grows, it doesn't eliminate questions. As some get answered, new ones appear. That, in turn, drives me to try to learn more about who God is.

I strongly recommend that as part of your spiritual life you include reading things that make you think about God - who he is, what he wants from us, what he wants for us, etc. There are so many choices to pick from. You might try a daily devotional book, like My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. Or you might try reading some of the authors from ages past, like Thomas a Kempis or St. Augustine. Or you might find that contemporary authors expand your thinking. I particularly like Erwin McManus, Rob Bell, Donald Miller, Tony Campolo, or Brian McLaren. I don't necessarily agree with everything that they say, but they consistently make me think through what I believe and why I believe it. Books by any of these authors (or countless others) certainly shouldn't replace reading the Bible, but they can challenge and expand your thinking about God every bit as much as the Bible does. If you don't do it already, I strongly encourage you to add to your spiritual life reading some things that make you think about God, in addition to reading things written by God.


Brian said...

I have actually been hearing talks about just this topic recently. I checked your blog, duh, and saw it here, then I forget where I heard it, but recently I have been hearing it more and more. I think the next Sunday School message I give will be on this subject. Try to get my kids to really participate, hahahaha. I should have fun with that one!

TheBGRT said...

Post anew!