This post is part of a series of posts about what it means to love God with our minds. In the process, I touch on a number of issues that are sure to raise questions. If you have questions for me regarding any of this, you can post them in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through this site or my Facebook Page.
In my previous posts, I’ve mostly addressed the reasons why Christians are often anti-intellectual, and I’ve discussed the proper way to understand passages like 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul seems to prefer spiritual wisdom over earthly wisdom.
In this post, I’m offering up seven specific recommendations for how you can do a better job of loving God with your mind.
1. Know what the Word of God actually teaches and not just what you’ve been told.
Often, the conflict between Christian thought and secular thought boils down to the Christian thinking things that aren’t actually taught in the Bible.
- Some Christians disagree with scientists over the age of the earth, but the Bible never actually tells us how old the earth is.
- Some Christians disagree with science over the process of evolution, but the Bible actually allows for the process of evolution to play a part in God’s overall work of creation.
- Some Christians think that God made three or four specific races of people and desires them to remain separate, but the Bible never teaches that.
- Some Christians think the earth is flat, but the Bible doesn’t actually teach that.
- Some Christians reject the science of Neanderthals and other proto-human species, but the Bible actually describes multiple human-like species on the planet before the time of Noah.
- Some Christians think “secular” scholarship can’t be trusted, but the Bible is filled with examples of godly people accepting information from non-godly sources.
- Some Christians think their job is to aggressively and publicly oppose “human wisdom” and the “forces of evil” in the world, but the Bible teaches Christians to judge themselves only and not pass judgment on the world around them.
- Some Christians use the story of Satan’s origin to guide current behaviors, but the Bible never actually gives us an origin story for Satan.
- Some Christians think that “natural” remedies are better than modern medicine, but the Bible never teaches that.
- Some Christians think that modern day Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy, but Paul teaches that Christians are the fulfillment of those prophecies.
There are so many ways Christian teaching has gone beyond the actual teaching of the Bible. In times past, this false teaching wasn’t worth debating, but in our current day, belief in these myths leads to real dangers.
2. Know the real dangers of some Biblical myths.
You can’t love God with your mind if your mind is stuck believing myths and falsehoods, but beyond that, some of these mythical beliefs lead to real dangers.
- The belief that the earth is young and that evolutionary forces don’t play a role in creation leads to the conclusion that different skin tones indicate truly different races of people. Moreover, it leads to the conclusion that God chose to create distinct races and therefore wanted them to remain distinct. Belief in this falsehood leads directly to evils of segregation and white supremacy on both small and large scales.
- The belief that Satan was the greatest angel who was cast down to earth leads to the belief that Satan’s power somehow rivals God’s power and that Satan has almost unhindered power over the earth. This makes Christians paranoid thinking that the entire world is against them because Satan and his minions are around every corner. Yes, the Bible teaches Satan is the enemy of believers, but it doesn’t encourage paranoia. Such paranoia breeds antagonism rather than love.
- The mythical belief that modern day Israel is synonymous with ancient Israel and that God is fulfilling prophecy through them leads to Christians supporting modern day, national Israel without any empathy for the plight of the Palestinians or other Arab peoples in the Middle East.
- The belief that only Christians can be trusted leads to a feedback loop of Christians increasingly supporting conspiracy theories that feed greater paranoia and hostility.
- Many of these false beliefs come together in the rejection of modern medicine which leads directly to more infant and maternal mortality, and greater suffering and death at the hands of preventable diseases like cervical cancer, measles, polio, COVID-19 and more.
A belief in these myths is not benign. These myths have direct and dangerous consequences. They hurt our witness in the world, they lead to greater suffering, they make us people of antagonism rather than love, but most of all, they fail to love God with our minds.
3. Learn the fundamental principles of historical study, scientific inquiry and journalism.
Sadly, many Christians, by being raised in anti-intellectual environments with skepticism of the secular world, have no real understanding of the fundamental principles of history, journalism, science, or even proper biblical study. Specifically, many Christians don’t understand that the best principles of biblical study are the same principles employed by history, science and journalism!
The fundamental principles of Bible study are closely aligned with the fundamental principles of any historical study:
- Start with the primary sources in their own languages.
- Understand the historical, and literary context of those sources (who wrote them, why, what genres and idioms are employed).
- Understand the transmission process of the texts (who copied them, what was their motivation).
- Compare textual variants to reconstruct the original if needed.
- Employing grammatical linguistic analysis to the text in the context of the text, discern the author’s intent.
- Consider secondary sources to discern the original understanding and effect of the original text.
- Share your conclusions with others to invite feedback.
The fundamental principles of science are almost exactly the same, but the goal of science is not to understand someone else’s work as much as it is to replicate, confirm and extend someone else’s work.
- Start with something someone else claims to have discovered.
- Following their methods, attempt to replicate their results.
- If successful, attempt to improve the methods or extend the results.
- If not, attempt to identify the error.
- In either case, attempt means to follow the experimental method.
- make a guess about what went wrong or what might work better
- devise a test that changes only one thing from the original method
- perform the test and record the results
- repeat until a single guess is confirmed by repeated tests.
- Write up your process, your results, and ask others to do this whole process with your work too.
Many Christians don’t know this, but the fundamental power of science comes from the humility of the scientists. All scientific achievement comes through this process of learning from others, trying hard to take that learning to new places, reporting your work in detail, and inviting criticism from others. Even when a scientist is abundantly confident (or even arrogant) about their work, other scientists will only accept it if that work gets repeated and confirmed by others. This is what is meant when people refer to the scientific community, and this is the true scientific method.
Much the same can be said for journalism. Sadly, the modern Christian has been taught to be skeptical of “mainstream media” because of its “secular agenda.” However, the people who are actually in journalism are merely trying to apply the principles of journalistic integrity, principle designed to accurately communicate important information to people who don’t have the time to research something themselves.
According to the Ethical Journalism Network, there are five core principles of ethical journalism:
- Truth & Accuracy — all relevant facts should be communicated and if information cannot be corroborated, that lack should be stated.
- Independence — The voice of the journalist must not represent a particular special interest, and where biases or conflicts of interest exist they should be declared.
- Fairness and Impartiality — Stories should always recognize competing viewpoints and provide context, but impartial doesn’t mean only objective. The goal of impartiality doesn’t require treating brutality or inhumanity with dignity.
- Humanity — Journalists should consider the impact of their words on the lives of others.
- Accountability — Journalists should own up to errors, offer corrections and expressions of regret.
In other words, journalists usually care about being both accurate and ethical. Consider this article for even more examples, especially this line:
Quality journalism that scrutinizes and criticizes social, political and economic authority – is in a constant state of vulnerability to manipulation and censorship, particularly from those with money and power.
Honestly, one of the power structures in the world today is Christianity itself, and therefore, one of the forces that can potentially corrupt journalism is Christianity itself. Simply put, when a work of journalism seems to resonate with my own worldview, that’s a moment to question the work itself. When a work of journalism challenges my worldview, that’s a moment for learning and investigation.
So, for Christians, when it comes to understanding journalism and evaluating works of journalism, ask the following questions.
- What in this article is the result of reporting, that is, the process of research, reading original sources and performing interviews? Does the article reveal those sources so others can double-check them?
- What is this organization’s policy regarding anonymous sources, and has this organization proved in the past to act with integrity regarding anonymous sources?
- What in this article is the result of speculation or opinion? Does the author have enough personal humility and experience with the subject matter to reliably draw such a conclusion?
- What in this article is designed to make me angry or afraid? Does the article focus on asking speculative emotional questions or on providing impartial facts and conclusions?
- What are the motivations behind this organization, this journalist, and this article? Do they make their money by making me mad? Or does their success depend on their own integrity?
Loving God with all our mind means having a basic ability to interact with the truth claims in the world around us.
4. Be humble enough to accept the words of specialists and experts.
It seems there are always some people who think it’s cool to doubt the experts and specialists. We all used to be those people when we were in school and it felt cool to challenge our teachers or professors, but truthfully, that’s not being cool; it’s being arrogant.
Also, depending on your perspective, you might really value the voices of those who “challenge the predominant narrative.” To be sure, every community needs the contrarian voice to be a check against our preconceived ideas, but too often, we simply embrace the contrarian view when it aligns with our own preferred view. Once again, this is not noble; it’s arrogant.
Finally, it’s also true that some people pretend to be experts and specialists when they really aren’t. There’s always someone who has a platform they don’t deserve saying things they shouldn’t and claiming evidence they don’t really have. Uncovering the scammers is noble, but falsely accusing honest experts is not.
Here’s how you can determine who is an expert and who is not. People who devote their lives to the study and understanding of a thing whether they ever get mass recognition for it or not are likely to be experts in their field of study. People who do what they do to benefit others more than to receive benefit from others are more likely to be experts. On the other hand, People who do what they do primarily to build an audience that benefits them are more likely to be scammers.
Questions to ask:
- Has this person put in the time and effort to understand their topic with depth and breadth?
- Did this person do this thing before they developed this audience?
- Has this person demonstrated a commitment to their convictions in spite of how it affected their audience?
- Does this person walk in step with other similarly experienced experts in this field?
If these things are true, then listening to them is the wise and humble thing for you to do.
In most cases, you should take the advice of your doctor.
In most cases, you should heed the words of your pastor.
In most cases, you should listen to the counsel of your therapist.
In most cases, you should receive the conclusions of the scientific community.
If infectious disease experts say to wear a mask or take a vaccine during a global pandemic, just do it. If your pastor says your loyalty to a public figure is getting in the way of your loyalty to Christ, just stop it. If the journalistic community offers evidence that some public figure is dishonest, trust it.
The wise and humble thing to do is listening to those smarter and more experienced than you.
5. Be humble enough to change your mind when you learn something new.
We are always upset when a public figure, politician, or other leader “flip-flops” on some issue. For some reason, we have determined that having integrity means always believing and acting the same way your whole life long. Of course, that’s naive and sometimes dangerous. New information should lead to new conclusions, and humble people are willing to change their minds in the face of new information.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US people were regularly upset with the CDC and other scientific agencies for “changing their minds” on mask recommendations and so forth. Before that, people were discrediting climate science because the models from the experts were all slightly different from each other. In general, non-science people get upset with scientists when they change their mind on an issue, but that’s simply the way science is done. One of the bedrock principles of science is the willingness to change conclusions whenever new information is collected.
Simply put, humble people change their minds when they get new information.
6. Connect the truths of the Bible to the truths of the world.
This is now the time we can bring Romans 12:2 back into the picture:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 NIV
Some people use this verse to teach that Christians should reject the wisdom of the world, but as we have seen in our previous posts, that’s a misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching. In fact, this verse is clear about it’s own aims. Paul doesn’t tell us to avoid the knowledge of the world. Paul tells us to avoid the way the world applies its knowledge. Christians should not conform to the pattern of this world. When Paul tells us to have a renewed mind, he doesn’t want us to reject secular knowledge. He’s telling us to reject secular applications.
A renewed mind means that Christians can know God’s will for responding to the realities of the world. Christians can know what to do with what they know.
This doesn’t mean Christians will know how to do taxation better than secular economists or that Christians will know how to mitigate climate change better than secular scientists. This means that Christians will know what the goals need to be. By knowing Jesus, his teaching, and the broader teaching of God’s Word; by being transformed by that knowledge; and by developing practical maturity through living out those things, Christians can know what values are on God’s heart.
For example, Christians can know that a tax policy that benefits the rich at the expense of the poor is an immoral tax policy. The Christian will need to rely on economic experts to know which tax policies benefit the rich, but when those conclusions are drawn, the Christian will have a moral foundation for evaluating them.
The same can be said for many issues, but hopefully I have made my point. Christians with renewed minds can know how to apply the things they are learning. It doesn’t mean they always already know the right answers.
7. Be prepared to do something.
Finally, there’s a powerful verse in Hebrews that is worth our deep attention:
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:12-14 NIV
When it comes to the life of the Christian mind, we have three kinds of knowledge: secular knowledge (knowledge that anyone may obtain regardless of their spiritual condition), spiritual milk (knowledge of the fundamental basics of the things of God, understood by many, but accepted only by those who have been led to do so by the Spirit of God), and spiritual solid food.
Many Christians make the assumption that “solid food” refers to the deep truths of God; the mystical things that can only be discerned through moments of meditation, through visions and revelation, or through decoding the hidden meaning of sacred texts; however, the writer of Hebrews tells us what solid food really is. Solid food is a deep understanding of righteousness that comes only when a person has diligently lived out what they already know.
Solid food is what happens when mature people, by constant use and training, have developed the ability to distinguish good from evil and the commitment to do the good.
Loving God with your mind means being ready and willing to love God with your strength.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. For too many Christians, loving God with all of our mind is a difficult task indeed. It’s far too easy to love God in the obviously spiritual ways while ignoring the other things Jesus said.
Furthermore, in our world today, it has become increasingly evident that some Christians are loving God, but are using their minds improperly. Either they are rejecting the knowledge in the world around them, or they are blindly accepting falsehoods because they have come from another believer claiming to have the answers.
Let us not be those people.
Let us be the people who love God through a robust and rich mental life that loves the God who created truth, that loves the truth he has placed in the world, and that loves to walk in that truth by blessing others.
Let us be the people who love God with all our mind.