The problem with being taught what to think (instead of how to think)

HowtoThinkOne curious thing to me is that we tend to prefer to be told what to think instead of be taught how to think. This is unfortunate. Especially, in matters of faith.

And I’m not talking about being combative or contrarian for the sake of being different. But if you do know how to think, you’ll certainly be an unusual person in your circle of influence.

It’s unlikely I’ll be able to address what I want to say in one post. But, for now, let’s see just how far we can go down this rabbit hole. Don’t worry, I promise to bring you back out…eventually. Come along now… 🙂

Would you like a little Bible with your commentary?

We see this “how vs. what” thinking on controversial topics in the body of Christ–like current grace debate, are the gifts of the Spirit for today, is it God’s will that all be healed, etc. What we tend to do is find out what everyone else thinks–what our church thinks, what our pastor thinks, what our friends think, what our study Bible thinks, what the Internet thinks, how it all lines up with what we were taught in Sunday school, Bible college or seminary–everything and everyone, it seems, except…what God thinks.

Why? Because we can’t even imagine being able to know what God thinks!

It’s systemic in nature because we weren’t taught how to think about things. We were taught what to think about them. Instead of knowing something, or someone, we’ve been taught to answer questions.

But more than that, we (in the West) were taught to trust in logic and reason to find out if something is true. But did we really find the truth?

Here’s my question…if logic and reason will get us to the truth, how do we find out something outside of ourselves–especially, God?

With this “logic,” if you will, we end up making God in our own image.

To say it another way, it’s like Hamlet trying to figure out Shakespeare (thank you, C.S. Lewis!). There’s an infinite gulf fixed between us. We don’t have a mental grid for what we cannot possibly imagine.  I wrote about this in more detail here….

So, how do we traverse this gulf between our finite mind and an infinite God using our inadequate tools of logic and reason for knowing things? I will keep you in suspense on that point for now… 🙂

Let’s go down this rabbit hole further, shall we?

Fear vs. Love 

The motive behind what we hold to be true in church tends to be driven by fear instead of love. How this shows up is in our fear of disagreement or false doctrine. We’re afraid of being wrong more than finding truth.

Cults are an extreme example of this fear containment. But even in the most orthodox Christian settings, we’re warned against dissenting views. After all, we haven’t been taught how to think so there’s a danger we will be mislead like dumb sheep.

The end result is, our proverbial ostrich head is firmly stuck in the sand. We dare not challenge the sacred deeply entrenched beliefs. So our faith remains superficial, on the safe shoreline with God, never walking out on the water where there may be wind and waves, but also where the deepest truest life lays hidden.

The opposite reaction due to fear is that we wholesale reject the “faith of our fathers” and follow the current popular dissent. Why? Because it’s popular and makes us feel like we have something significant to say. Of course, we applaud ourselves for not following the crowd. But we’re just following another crowd. We’re still not knowing how to think.

So we have many young people exiting the “Christian faith” today. But, as I asked before, are they really leaving Jesus or just our current tightly-held version of religion? Maybe they haven’t even heard the good news yet. I really think that our Western paradigm about Christianity has failed us here. And it’s good that it failed us if it will lead us to find the truth that actually makes us free. 🙂

But when love is the anchor to what we believe, fear goes away. We can embrace those with different views than us without the fear of “being wrong.” After all, even knowledge will cease, but love never fails (1 Cor.13:8-13). More on that another time.

Okay, I will tease you with one more thing here.

Will our hermeneutics save us?

Now, we may know how to think but will our “method of knowing” get us to the truth? You see, the problem with our Western glasses is that we think we can see the truth through correct interpretation or hermeneutic disciplines.

But this is fallacious because no one can see with total objectivity so no one has an absolutely flawless interpretation of Scripture. We all have assumptions that we bring into our interpretation.

To use my analogy, Hamlet’s interpretation is forged through his scripting.

And if this naked reality makes us nervous, it shows we’re still more driven by fear than love. The truth is, we ALL view Scripture through a biased lens.

But the rabbit hole goes deeper…We have dozens of translations that often don’t agree with each other in many places. Let me say at this point, the original manuscripts in the original language are the inerrant and inspired word of God. But the many paraphrased and translated copies aren’t (yes, including the beloved King James Version). They have discrepancies and even errors in translation. And this is also mostly due to preconceived bias, political wranglings, or just plain old limited revelation.

And the inspired Word of God read by an uninspired mind is still just words. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Therefore, it’s naïve, even the height of arrogance, to think you have a 100% correct view of Scripture that doesn’t need improvement. It creates a very subtle “I have arrived” mentality.

We can’t imagine God being anything other than what we can imagine. Then we become divisive by saying absurd things like we’re defending the truth. Really?

As I’ve said before, the Word of God never changes but our understanding of it definitely should. But even if we admit the obvious, it creates a challenge for us. Especially, when talking to non-believers and those antagonistic to the Bible. Again, this is where our Western thinking has failed us.

Learning how to think like Jesus is the very essence of discipleship (Eph.4:13), not learning what we should think about Jesus! There’s a big difference.

Okay, this post is getting long. Hopefully, I’ve left you with more questions than answers.  But I do promise to continue and work us back out of this theological rabbit hole. 🙂

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 40 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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9 Responses to The problem with being taught what to think (instead of how to think)

  1. TK says:

    I have met so many people who have tried to tell me that their interpretation of the bible is the correct wrong. I’ve actually even been told I’m going to hell because of my interpretations of God and the bible. As a 24-year-old who fits into the group leaving Christianity but not leaving faith in God, I can say that kind of attitude is what makes me think twice before stepping into a new church. It makes me hesitant to participate. If I go to a bible study here, will they have a discussion, or will they tell me the answer I’m supposed to find and accept no other?

    I do like the community of a church, so I still try now and then. I have seen some change, so I’m sure there’s still hope.

    I have one more story to share. Last year, I was walking down a street where two of those corner preachers were. As I walked pasted, they asked if they could tell me about Jesus. “I already know Jesus,” I said, hoping to just continue on. I am not joking when I say I saw these two stick their noses in the air and say “oh, really?” That made me more mad than anything. Who are they to judge me on whether or not I know Jesus correctly? I rarely have patience for those kinds of people.

    • Mel Wild says:

      You’re right, TK. This is where our Western brand of evangelical Christianity has really failed us. It’s broken and we don’t even realize it. But so have the mainline churches, and even some of the attempts of the so-called post-modern emergent movement. It’s just different versions of the same orphan mindset. It’s still a lot of lost souls (yet saved by faith) naval-gazing, adrift from any anchor of Truth, or it’s a legalistic Christianized performance trip. But I say, praise God! We NEED to see this as broken so we can move forward into the Kingdom purposes of God in Christ.

      Christianity is not a philosophy, or principles to live by, following rules, escaping punishment, trying to get to heaven, or even being doctrinally correct. That can all still be manufactured by man’s imagination, made into another version of religion. In fact, other religions promise all of that too. That is NOT Christianity. And it won’t touch the life that Jesus came to give us–HIS life, HIS fellowship with the Father that He’s had from eternity. Doctrine, as important as it is, does not trump relationship. This is why it can never be the basis of our fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s first being brought into a real and even tangible intimacy within the Godhead through Christ (2 Cor.13:14; 1 John 1:3-4), then out of that fellowship, learning how to love and encourage one another in Christ. That’s the church according to Jesus and the NT writers. And through this union with Christ, the world around us finds out what God is really like (John 17:21-26).

      But what we have been given to us in the West (for the last 1,600 years) is something else. It’s a mixture of Greek philosophy and the authentic life in Christ, This is what I mean when I say our Western paradigm has failed us. And I’m not saying it didn’t serve a purpose in that time in history, but now it’s time to move on. There’s a lot of good we should keep, but some of it was faulty at its core because of the mixture with human philosophy. I will talk more about that another time. We’ve made Christianity no better than a club (in more ways that one!). Not much different in power and demonstration of the Spirit, the fruit of Christ, than what unbelievers can do in their natural abilities. But I’m truly excited. God is waking us up. I’m just explaining what I’m seeing. 🙂

  2. Heidi Viars says:

    … and if the “how” and “what” never influence the doing, then all the thinking (and talking) is in vain.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen. Learning how to think is only a means to an end. But until we find out how we’re to be doing it, we still haven’t come to the place Jesus is leading us. It will be out of duty or obligation, or worse, a Christianized version of coercion. On the other hand, when we walk in the overflowing love of Christ, we will always do! You cannot have one without the other. It’s an impossibility. I think it was Heidi Baker who said that lovers always get more done than workers. She’s a supreme example of that fact.

  3. bullroarin says:

    Wow Mel…so much good stuff here!

    Rabbit holes? I feel like Alice in wonderland, well, er…maybe Allan in wonderland, haha!

    Eons ago, I was a King’s Kids youth leader working at the University of the Nations in Cambridge. My motto was an old cliche (my paraphrase); “Give a kid a fish and he will be fed for a day. Teach a kid to fish for himself and he will never go hungry.” Back in those days I just had an inkling that the status quo of church life was a dead end, a kind of mind control to keep everyone in check.

    Some time later I was at YWAM leadership conference in Dunham Quebec and we were discussing the decline of youth attendance in church in the province of Quebec. After three days of prayer and discussion we came to the conclusion that; the church is trying answering questions that no one is asking. (the church as it was was irreverent to people seeking truth)
    That revelation was the beginning of a search for answers. People, and youth in particular, want true relationship with God over farinaceous religion. I remember one particular youth telling me that he had no more interest in church, Sunday school stories , the ten commandments or whatever…. “I’ve read it all before and I know it all…” he told me. In essence he was telling me that he was sick of people telling him how to think…give me something more than dogma.
    I was flabbergasted because that youth was my son! The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so I shouldn’t have been surprised by his statement because I had always been a free thinker. I wasn’t saved in a church and for my first six months as a Christian I read and understood the Bible without the help of a pastor or clergy. My only teacher was the Holy Spirit. Later I settled into a church and became a pew warmer and I pretty much passed that lifeless, unanimated existence on to my son. Its taken me a decade to shake the stigma of religion and to begin to understand and live the life that Jesus bought for us…the life you are talking about!!!

    Thanks Mel…keep up the good work. People need to hear this message…I need to hear it!

    ~ dave

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Dave. You’ve said a lot here and it stirs up so much in me! LOL! My sons have taught me a lot about this too. You are so right about the church trying to answer the wrong questions. As C. Baxter Kruger put it, “The difference between searching for forgiveness and the quest for life in all its fullness is the difference between 1500 AD and 2000 AD.” The questions Luther and the Reformers rightfully answered 500 years ago aren’t being asked today. And it’s not the Bible’s fault. We haven’t moved on. Imagine if technology stayed stuck in the sixteenth century! But we think that’s okay with our theology.

      I really think popular Western evangelical version of Christianity is imploding, and we refuse to see it. So we’re fighting to the death to keep our “good ol’ time religion” on life support when we should be putting a fork in it and finding out where God is taking us.

      My point is, and will be in the next post, our way of learning is fundamentally flawed. Especially with spiritual things, but it even effects how we see the world, which is something Christianity has to offer the world, like a Daniel or Joseph. And I am convinced that what our kid’s generation is rejecting is not Jesus, or even the gospel, but the philosophical facsimile we’ve called Christianity. It’s not that it’s wrong or false, but it’s not the same quality of Christian living as the early church fathers, and certainly not the same as Jesus and the New Testament writers. They didn’t see their relationship to God or seek to understand spiritual things the way we do at all. There is much of the Greek way of learning handed down to us from the likes of Augustine and, later, Thomas Aquinas and others. We know how to build schools but we don’t know how to represent the Father’s heart and do what we see Him do. I don’t think we fully realize what a devastating effect this philosophy has had on our ability to know spiritual things.

      But many are starting to see this and it’s actually exciting because the result is a reformation level shift in our relationship with God (life and joy) and that resonates with everyone. Everyone is actually looking for what we have living in us! We’re truly living in exciting times. And that’s not just hopeful hyperbole. 🙂

  4. Pingback: How do we know truth? | In My Father's House

  5. Mel, there is so much rich discussion here – this is what I want in a church! I don’t want to be preached at while I sit out in an audience. I want to sit on sofas or pillows and discuss the Gospels, or Paul’s letters, or Peter’s and talk about what they meant and their meaning today! I want to walk neck deep in those red letter Scriptures and truly understand what Jesus meant, what his intent was and is for us, with a group of people who are hungry to move into a more meaningful relationship with him. I want to invite the Spirit into every discussion to guide and help us, and have faith that whenever we meet, he will take us into those deep waters.

    That, to me, is real church, and I crave it.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen, Susan. I think that’s where the church is headed–becoming more organic and less institutionalized, as Frank Viola would put it. Not that there isn’t a time for preaching or teaching, but that there should be equal time for assimilation and wrestling with matters of faith. Asking questions and letting people discover the truth for themselves. That’s true discipleship.

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