“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 27:32 (NIV, emphasis added)
Who said you need to put your brain in neutral in order to believe in Jesus? Why is there this notion by those who are not yet followers of Christ that faith and thinking are mutually exclusive, or that ours is a blind faith?
To be fair, this idea is somewhat self-inflicted. According to Christian historians, this stereotype became prevalent because of some revivalist movements in America in the early 1800s. For example, J.P. Moreland explained in his book Love God with All Your Mind:
During the middle 1800s, three awakenings broke out in the United States: the Second Great Awakening (1800-1820), the revivals of Charles Finney (1824-1837), and the Layman’s Prayer Revival (1856-1858). Much good came from these movements, but their overall effect was to emphasize immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction; emotional, simple, popular preaching instead of intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons; and personal feelings and relationships to Christ instead of a deep grasp of the nature of Christian teaching and ideas. Sadly, as historian George Marsden notes, ‘anti-intellectualism was a feature of American revivalism.’J.P. Moreland, Love God with All Your Mind, p.23 (emphasis added)
In other words, these preachers pushed for an immediate conversion to Christianity, appealing to people’s emotions rather than their intellects to try to win them over. While there is certainly nothing wrong with an immediate conversion, nor with being in relationship with Christ, we must still over time develop an intellectual understanding of the claims Jesus made. Failure to do so will lead to a shallow faith that is in danger of withering under any sort of scrutiny, either internally or by others.
Jesus emphasized the importance of developing an intellectual understanding of his claims when he explained the Parable of the Seeds to his disciples in Luke 8:
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”Jesus, in Luke 8:11-15 (NIV, emphasis added)
Said another way, we can go back to the quote I started this post with, where Jesus stated it is just as important for us to engage God with our minds as it is for us to connect with him via our hearts and souls.
Ours is a sighted faith, not a blind one.
Does this mean we have to fully understand everything in the Bible before we can become a follower of Christ? Thankfully, no, or else that would be a very small group of people. Maybe just the Apostle Paul and C.S. Lewis. But we should always be investigating the claims made in the Bible to expand and deepen our intellectual understanding of God. This is how we build our faith on bedrock instead of sand. Here’s how Paul put it:
“By the renewing of your mind.” There it is again. And if you’ve spent any time studying and unpacking Paul’s writings–especially his letter to the Romans–you know he’s not kidding around when he says this. You need to have your thinking cap on when you’re wrestling with Paul!
By the way, referring back to my earlier mention of “blind faith”, I think Paul may also be admonishing people here not to have blind faith in the wisdom of the world or the age in which we live, either. In other words, just because a Hollywood celebrity or famous scientist or some random person on social media claims that it’s silly or outdated or superstitious to believe in God, that doesn’t mean we have to believe them. But just as I am saying we should investigate the claims in the Bible, we should approach their assertions with the same level of intellectual curiosity.
Another “by the way”: I recognize that I am using the Bible as a proof point for why we should believe the Bible, which is rather circular logic. I do plan on covering things like the historicity and validity of the Bible itself in an upcoming post. But I want to unpack these “beyond belief” concepts one at a time.
Anyway, there’s one last set of ideas I want to cover today. With this talk about investigating the Bible and intellectual curiosity, what do I mean by that? What does that look like?
Well, whenever you investigate anything to determine whether it is worthy of your faith (recall from last time that we all have faith, it’s just a matter of what we have faith in), you move through these basic stages:
- Evaluation – this is where you’re checking to see if the thing you’re investigating is worthy of your faith. Questions for this stage might include:
- Is this thing well-constructed? Recall the analogy of an airplane that I used last time. If you got onto a plane that was full of holes and generally seemed to be falling apart, would you stay on? Or would you head to the exit as quickly as you could?
- Is the thing you’re investigating logical? Does it make sense in its context? Meaning, does it fit within its operating principles?
- Are there multiple ways to check the validity of the thing you’re investigating?
- Confirmation – assuming you reach the conclusion that the thing you’re investigating is worthy of your faith, the next determination you would make is whether it meets a need for you. If you need to get to Toledo, OH, but don’t live anywhere near there, an airplane would be relevant for you. But if you don’t need to go to Toledo, or if you live nearby, you probably wouldn’t be interested in getting on an airplane to get there no matter how well-constructed it is.
- Acceptance – once you have determined that the thing you’re investigating is worthy of your faith and it meets a current need, you accept it. You demonstrate your faith by submitting to that thing you were investigating. You get on the airplane heading for Toledo.
So that’s it for today. As we move through these posts, we’ll see that Biblical faith is not blind at all. It is based on reason, logic, and evidence. It’s true that to become a follower of Christ requires taking a step of faith, but that step should be taken as much for intellectual reasons as for emotional ones.
Also, if you perform an honest, thorough, and intellectually curious investigation into the claims in the Bible, it would also take a step of faith to be an atheist. So being an atheist is not an absence of faith, it is faith in your ability to explain your belief that God does not exist.
With that, let me leave you with a few great quotes from C.S. Lewis related to this topic.
Although I am not discounting being in the word and discovering more and more of Gods truth, I don’t know if I agree that yoiu can’t have a deep faith based on emotion. Some, particularly men, tend to need more evidence and have things be more logical. Women, myself included, lead life based on emotion. I don’t think you can have one without the other. Feelings go a long way towards belief and faith.
Thank you for the feedback! I definitely agree that both women and men should have a deep emotional connection to God as part of their faith journey. But I also believe it is important to have as much of an intellectual understanding of God and his word as you can to carry you through when the emotions aren’t there. The best example I can think of is when people’s faith get rocked when bad things happen to them. Clearly, the emotions are not good in a situation like that, so if that’s all there is, someone’s relationship with God could be destroyed–you might be tempted to “break up” with God. However, if you can remind yourself intellectually that Jesus himself told us, “in this world you will have trouble” (and you think through the numerous examples in the Bible where bad things happened to good people), that knowledge can carry you through and maybe even provide a little comfort until the emotions come back.
This is one of the best !!! I keep them all but will highlight this one and use it with my mens group… as i have others Accepting Christ is a personal endeavor It may come as a BOLT on the way to Damascas or a slow process like a CS Lewis search But it will be life changing My acceptance was probably a combination of the two .. searching and then HE WAS THERE!! Thanks again for insights that were there but unrecognized bud
Thank you for the feedback! I agree with you that we can experience both types of paths to God in the same Christian journey–I’ve had them both myself!