Thinking Christianity, For the Rest Of Us: Foundation 

Books about thinking Christianly are easy to find--J.P. Moreland, Dallas Willard, Os Guinness, Mark Noll, and others have all written on it. One about all these authors--they're all pros. That's the great thing about them--they know what they're talking about, and they are excellent models of what they're encouraging us to be. But their credentials can also be intimidating. Who can match up to them? It could almost seem that what it takes to qualify as a genuine thinking Christian is beyond most people's reach.

Still, I've found these books very helpful, and if it's your goal to "love your God with all your mind," I highly recommend them. I would also include James Emery White on the same list, and though I haven't read his book on this specific topic, James Sire is always excellent.

None of these authors would want their readers to put them on a pedestal. Still the question remains, do we have to try to become theologians or philosophers to grow as thinking Christians? Obviously not. Then how should the rest of us proceed?

I was a music major as an undergrad, and in graduate school I took up industrial and organizational psychology. I'm an amateur in Christian thinking. I have a long way to go; but I think I've made some progress, and maybe there will be something in the path I followed that will help someone else make some progress too. 

There are only a few principles, really: read, discuss, write (as much as you can), and practice. But where does one start?

I hope the first starting point is obvious: the Bible. To think in a Christian manner, we have to understand what God says, to fully assimilate his word into ourselves. It is our ultimate source, the test for all of our thinking. We need to go often to the primary source.

There are dozens, probably hundreds of excellent Bible study plans. The best one for you is the one that you will use, the one you will follow and learn from. The main thing is to read the Scriptures. Read it all in overview (use a Bible-in-one-year plan); study shorter passages closely; My reading plans have ranged from strictly paced read-throughs of the entire Bible, to long periods of time spent on just one section. (One year I read through the New Testament in German. I don't know the language all that well, but I was able to work through it with the help of a dictionary, and it got me thinking more carefully about passages that were almost too familiar in English.) Recently I've been stuck for a couple of weeks--in a very good way--on the end of John 13 and the first paragraphs of John 14. Every time I've opened up the Bible lately, I've been drawn there again and again for encouragement and insight that remains amazingly fresh.

Beginning with the Bible ought to seem obvious, but it needs to be mentioned anyway. The Bible has lots of competition. I'm not just talking about reality TV, either. There's lots of really healthy competition. Take the authors I mentioned above (or a host of others I won't take time to name). I really love how they challenge me with fresh approaches to apologetics, cultural issues, developing Christian life and witness, and more. They're good reading. If I let them supplant my reading of God's word, though, I'm missing the primary source. I can't let the prospect of some new thought distract me from the timeless basics.

I would not, however, recommend that the Bible be your only reading. That would actually be quite unbiblical advice! There's a reason the Bible emphasizes teaching and preaching--we need to hear others' views and glean from others' understanding. Biblical theology does not spring whole from the pages of Scripture--it has developed over time, with much thought, discussion and even argument behind it. (Read a good history of Christian doctrine like Berkhof if you have any question about that.) The result has been a heritage of Biblical understanding, one that must remain subservient to Scripture, but without which our understanding of Scripture would be impoverished. We need to be in touch with that background as we read.

So bring a guide with you on your path through the Bible. Use a good Study Bible as a starter, and then ask your pastor or Christian bookstore person for advice on a good commentary. For in-depth work, I've found the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series to be just about right (and the OT commentaries are likely as good)--they cover a lot, but they don't assume knowledge of the original languages or specialized theological knowledge. Online, you can refer to readily available sources like the IVP or Matthew Henry Commentaries or Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown.

I mentioned "practice" as one of the keys to being a thinking Christian. I suppose thousands of books have been written, that a person could understand without applying or practicing what's in them; but the Bible is not one of them. We can't understand the Bible without prayer. We need to be yielded to the Holy Spirit's teaching as we read. We can't even approach the main subject of the Bible--God himself--except with prayer, obedience to what he says, and worship. What would be the point even of trying? For if the Bible is not about learning the ways of God, and how to follow him, then it's just another book. We have to live it to know it.

That's the starting point. We never graduate from it. The Bible meets us at whatever depth of questioning, whatever level of wisdom or understanding, we are prepared to bring to it; and it will always take us beyond where we thought we were. It's a basic primer on true religion, and it's a postdoctoral text in living real life. It's the place to base your Christian thinking.

More to come on this topic...

First in a series on Thinking Christianity, For the Rest Of Us
• Foundation 

Posted: Wed - October 3, 2007 at 04:43 PM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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