Friday, July 15, 2011

The Christian and Intellect

“Anti-intellectualism is a disposition to discount the importance of truth and the life of the mind. Living in a sensuous culture and an increasingly emotional democracy, American evangelicals in the last generation have simultaneously toned up their bodies and dumbed down their minds. The result? Many suffer from a modern form of what the ancient stoics called “metal-hedonism” – having fit bodies but fat minds.” [Guinness, Os. Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Habits of the Mind, 24)]

There is hardly a challenge in the Christian community these days that cannot be solved by right thinking. We have sank to new lows when a politician can ask, “How many gays does God have to create before we realize He wants them around?” and receive accolades as if he said something brilliant when in fact it was one of the most absurd statements ever made in public by someone in his position. Not only is it sad that this “leader” could not see his own folly, it is an indictment that everyone who heard it thought it was brilliant! What ever happened to thinking?

The word for mind in the NT is fronhsiV. Its derivatives mean, “think, judge, give one’s mind to, set one’s mind on, be minded; way of thinking, mentality; way of thinking, frame of mind, intelligence, good sense; intelligent, discerning, sensible, thoughtful, prudent.” [NIDNTT, Goetzmann, J. 616-620] The thing about thinking is that it is like every other behavior we engage in. There is no neutrality in thinking. Goetzmann says, “It follows that, although the vb. as such has no particular content, there can nevertheless be no such thing as neutral thinking. Man is always aiming at something. Striving and endeavor are part of his nature.”

Matthew tells us that Jesus used this word in his famous rebuke of Peter in Matt. 16:23: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Literally, Jesus is saying to Peter that he thinks like Satan! How many of us could Jesus say this to? Could he say to me, Ed, the way you form your thoughts, the way you frame your thinking is exactly how Satan frames his thinking? What an indictment. Sadly, I have to admit that Jesus could say this to me every day. The plea for grace and the power of the Spirit is continuous and His supply never ending. What does it mean for us to think like the devil? What does “thinking like the devil” look like? The best way to understand this is to examine the Matthew’s record to understand where Peter went wrong. There are a few clues.

It all began with Jesus unfolding the plan of God for the redemption of man. Jesus foretells how He will be handed over to the religious leaders. These religious leaders will torture Christ and eventually put Him to death. In addition, He will rise from the dead on the third day. This is the plan of God. This is the word of God. This is the will of God. Enter the boisterous Peter. He actually Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. Can you imagine taking Jesus by the hand, away from the others a few feet and whispering God forbid, this will never happen to you? This is exactly what Peter did.

In other words, Peter found himself diametrically opposed to the will of God for the plan of redemption. Now, it was not just contradicting the will of God for the plan of redemption that Peter landed himself in hot water. It was any contradiction of the revealed will of God. By thinking in a way contrary to the will and plan of God, Jesus informed Peter he had adopted the same framework of thinking that Satan has. I cannot imagine any greater rebuke than this. Can Christians do this? Not only do we have the ability, we actually engage in this sin more times than we realize. The question is how do we manage it? Peter had a choice. He could have accepted Christ’s words at face value and submitted to the will of God. However, he found the will of God to be too uncomfortable, too unpleasant. The problem was that God’s will placed Peter in a set of circumstances that were highly undesirable for Peter. Peter had other plans for Jesus. Peter had other hopes for Jesus. The idea that Jesus would die was not something Peter found acceptable. Peter imposed his will on the situation and used the strong double negative, ou mh, which means, no way will this happen! What was the real problem? The real problem was found in Peter’s mind.

Peter’s thinking was Satanic. He was using his intellect in a way that promoted the agenda of the Devil himself. There is no neutrality in the mind. Either our frame of mind promotes God or it is antagonistic to God. It cannot be neutral. Scripture could not be clearer on this. No man can serve two masters. With the mind, every human serves a master. For most humans, they serve Satan through serving self. The intellect serves as the center for our desires, actions, will, etc. Edwards held that the will always does what the mind thinks is best.

Christians must become better thinkers. We should be the best thinkers the world knows. However, in order for that to happen, we must think rightly. We are not free to entertain any kind of thinking we please. Moreover, we cannot think just any thought we like. Since it is true that intellect guides life, we should diligently bring discipline to bear on its use. Had Peter done this, perhaps he would not have received the stinging rebuke he received from our Lord. More than this, the intellect can also provide great insight into the genuineness of a person’s faith. The unregenerate mind does not consider the things of God for the glory of God. The unregenerate mind is hopelessly selfish. Even when it shows an interest in the things of God, it does so for selfish reasons. The human mind is like a wild animal. That animal must be placed in the cage of God’s word if it is to honor God in its function.

Scripture informs us how we ought to think. First, we are to fix our minds on the things of the Spirit. (Rom. 8:5) We are to think humbly of ourselves and to think like we have sound judgment. (Rom. 12:3) We are to be of the same mind with one another in Christ. (Rom. 15:5) We are to think like the Apostle Paul. (Gal. 5:10) We are to have the same frame of mind that Jesus Christ had. (Phil. 2:5) We are not to set our mind on earthly things. (Phil. 3:19) We must set out mind of things above, not on things on the earth. (Col. 3:2)

II Cor. 10:4-6 tells us that as Christians, when we are rightly using our intellect, we are destroying every speculation that sets itself against the knowledge of God. Anything that is contrary to godly knowledge, we destroy. This includes evil thoughts about others. It includes any frame of mind that would lead us to make decisions that contradict God’s will as expressed in Scripture. It includes an ability to recognize and answer intellectual attacks against the gospel. Moreover, Paul says when we are rightly using our intellect, we are taking captive, like a prisoner of war, every thought to the obedience of Christ. When we are tempted to think about cheating on our spouse, we take that thought captive. When we are tempted to abandon Scripture’s teaching on abortion, we take that thought captive. When we find ourselves looking for a way out of an unhappy marriage, we take that thought captive. When we want to avoid teaching a certain subject because of the potential it has to offend, we take that thought captive. When we are tempted to hate others and think evil of them and find ill-motives for their actions, we take that thought captive. When someone cuts us off in traffic and we want to yell at them, we take that thought captive. When we are tempted to be so self-absorbed with our own life that we want to forget about everyone else in the Christian community, we take that thought captive. When we are tempted to have a lazy mind and desire only to live in wanton pleasure, taking the easy way out, we take that thought captive.


“One ought to make good use of one’s intellect in order to live a morally good life. State another way, one ought to lead an intellectual life. But many of us do not lead intellectual lives. Many of us are anti-intellectual. Many do not use their intellects beyond those uses they cannot avoid – its cooperation with the sensory powers in acts or perception, memory, and imagination.” [Adler, Mortimer. Intellect: Mind over Matter]

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