Friday, September 27, 2013
The Mind of the Christian
Διὸ ἀναζωσάμενοι τὰς ὀσφύας τῆς διανοίας ὑμῶν νήφοντες τελείως ἐλπίσατε ἐπὶ τὴν φερομένην ὑμῖν χάριν ἐν ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. (1 Peter 1:13)
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, be self-controlled, fix your hope on the grace being brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (My translation)
The letter of the Apostle Peter is one of the most fascinating works among the NT documents. IT garnered serious attention among early church fathers but did not quite receive the same attention as the Pauline corpus. “In the sixteenth century, however, the letter of 1 Peter as a whole suddenly rose to special prominence among the NT writings under the power influence of Martin Luther. In his “Preface to the New Testament” 1522, Luther ranked 1 Peter among “the true and noblest books of the New Testament” containing “the true kernel and marrow of all the books.” [Elliot, 1 Peter]
The letter, which contains more OT relative to its size than any other NT document, except perhaps Revelation, may have much to contribute at a time of renewed interest in the theological interpretation of Scripture. [Peter R. Rogers, Theological Interpretation of the New Testament, Vanhoozer] Indeed, Peter’s prolific use of the OT should, at a minimum cause one to pause and contemplate how and why he uses it as often as he does. Clearly he is employing a pinpointed and strategic approach in his project of edification and encouragement to the Asian Christians.
Persecution was not an abstract notion for believers in Asia Minor; they were undergoing fierce repercussions for their faith. Peter encouraged believers to endure in the face of difficult times. He did this by promoting a biblical worldview among the believers. [Kostenberger, Kellum, Quarles: The Cradle, The Cross, And The Crown] Foreign, but becoming more a little familiar to those of us in the West and especially in the Americas, is the concept of being persecuted for Christian beliefs. Peter’s audience was all too familiar with a culture that was clearly hostile to the gospel and to the Christian community specifically. The worldly group among which the Christians lived was constantly pressing the believers to abandon their faith, their newfound value system, their new group of Christian brothers and sisters, and return to the group of their tradition, of their childhood, of their culture. This pressure was constant and it was evidently in the process of increasing. It was to Christians living in this environment that Peter addresses in his letter.
Peter addresses his audience as aliens, scatter about, who are chosen by God. He gives God glory that He has caused both himself and these Christians to be born again to a living hope, to an inheritance which is imperishable. He reassures them that they are being kept, not by their own power or their own will, but by the power of God. He points out that their various trials are nothing more than God working in them to strengthen and further purify their faith. He rejoices that God sent the Holy Spirit into those by whom the gospel has reached these Asian Christians. It is because of everything I just mentioned that Peter makes the statement I quoted at the top of this post.
Therefore, or for this reason, gird up the loins of your mind, says Peter. The NAS translates this phrase as the common Greek idiom that it is: prepare your minds for action. The undefined aspect of the participle with the present tense of the controlling verb is why I translate the participle as preparing rather than having prepared. The idea is that since your mind has now entered a state or preparation for action, you must be self-controlled. That is, not controlled by contrary forces or competitors. These forces come from within and without. The internal sins of lust and anger are examples. The external force of persecution and pressure are also good examples. These two are not neatly disconnected in this letter however. After all, it is the external pressure to pursue the internal lusts that is creating the hostile environment for the Christians to begin with.
The phrase ἀναζωσάμενοι τὰς ὀσφύας τῆς διανοίας, according to Lowe-Nida means, (an idiom, literally ‘to bind up the loins of the mind’) to prepare oneself for learning and thinking—‘to get one’s mind ready for action, to be ready to learn and to think, to be alert.’ The word was used to facilitate the lifting of long garments and binding their tails so that one could walk. The girding up of the robe is a sign that one is ready for departure. It is interesting that Peter uses it so close to the coming of Christ and in the context of referring to these Christians as aliens scattered about. A coming departure from the way things are certainly seems to be in the air.
Sociologist Richard Arum released a study a couple of years ago that found that large numbers (of college students) didn’t learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education. In fact, Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called “higher order” thinking skills. Link here: Critical Thinking Study
The practice of exercising one’s critical thinking skills is no less problematic among Christians than it is among secular society. However, the problem for Christians is that it is an egregious sin for us to engage in the cultural behavior of intellectual slothfulness. The proclivity to avoid deep, serious, thought-provoking ideas and discussion is foreign to Christian praxis and detrimental to Christian discipleship. It violates God’s design for Christian behavior.
Peter tells us to prepare our minds for action. But to what kind of action does Peter allude? He tells the Asian believers that they are to not be conformed to the former lusts, which were in ignorance. The human mind is an interesting thing. Jonathan Edwards believed “That the Will is always determined by the strongest motive,” or by that view of the mind which has the greatest degree of previous tendency to excite volition.” [Edwards, On Freedom of The Will] Our minds determine our behavior. Whatever controls the human mind controls human behavior. Is it any wonder that Peter told the Asian Christians to prepare their minds for action? The Christian husband that sees a beautiful young woman taking an interest in him first runs the scenario through his mind. Is his mind prepared for the battle that is about to be thrust upon it? Paul told the Romans they were to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. He told the Corinthians that Christians are continuously engaged in destroying speculations. These weapons of our warfare are evidently intellectual as well as spiritual in nature. The battle seems to be, to a large degree, a battle of the mind. A sanctified and holy mind produces a sanctified and holy will. Observe the acts of sin in our own lives and we are sure to see the connection those acts have with how we think about such behavior. The mind is indeed an extremely significant part of the human being.
Later in his letter, Peter points another area where the mind plays a significant role. Specifically, he informs us that we are to set Christ apart as Lord in our hearts and prepare to give an answer for the reason of the hope that is in us. While modern westerners make a sharp distinction between the heart and the mind, this is not the case in Scripture. The two can be and often are interchanged and serve as a reference to the whole person as opposed to distinct parts. To set Christ apart as Lord in one’s heart is to set Christ apart as Lord in one’s mind. To say that Christ is Lord of my mind is to say that you have fully surrendered your entire intellect to think the thoughts of God after Him. That is to say, your pattern of thinking is modelled after God’s pattern of thinking. Paul said, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” We are to be of the same mind that Christ was. That is an astounding truth: one that is not easy to get grasp.
This has significant implications on the enterprise of Christian apologetics. There are a number of web sites claiming to be Christian apologetic sites. There are more books than one could possibly imagine talking about the subject. Some of these books are well written, and serve the body of Christ very well. Unfortunately, most apologetic ministries focus on Peter’s command in 1 Peter 3:15 and twist that text to say that Christians are commanded to provide a reasoned or rational defense of theism. This is not at all what Peter commanded the Asian believers to do. Peter’s language specifically tells us to be prepared to give an answer for the reason that we have hope. What is the reason for our hope, or the cause for our hope? It is exegetical folly to contend that ‘reason’ in this text means human logic, or rational thought, or formal argumentation. We could just as well exchange the word ‘reason’ with ‘cause’ in this text. That is the simple meaning of what Peter commands.
In addition, Peter nowhere commands the Asian Christians to defend a ‘general theism.’ His order is really quite specific. In commanding us to give an answer for the reason of cause of our hope, he is commanding us to share the gospel. Moreover, the gospel is not the gospel unless the triune God, as described in Scripture, is the God that Christians set out specifically to proclaim. If we are to defend the hope that is in us, we must defend Christian theism. We must defend that God revealed in Scripture. In addition, we must defend Scripture and all that it reveals about the person and work of Jesus Christ who is Himself the very center of God’s plan of redemption. It is through Christ that we catch our clearest glimpse of the glory of God revealed to us in all of God’s revelation.
The life of the believer is a life that seeks humble obedience before the God who created us. If we accomplish the intellectual ability to construct the most sound, forceful arguments the world over and fail to show love and respect to the outsiders, we have accomplished nothing. Without love, the best apologetic in the world is nothing more than an impotent argument produced by a godless and empty shell of a false Christian. On the other hand, love dictates that we bring our intellect and other skills to bear in service of our great King. Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all our minds. That means we purify our thought process, purging worldly lusts and shallow, vain pursuits. It also means that we exercise our ability to discern and make judgments about claims that refute or serve to contradict Christian truth. This requires serious effort. We are commanded to refute those who contradict. The Christian apologist is one who balances his rebuke and correction of the godless with a sincere and humble heart that is apparent in the words he uses and the way in which he treats his opponents. To ask which one is most important is a false disjunctive. It’s like asking if oxygen to the brain is more important than blood to the brain. The answer is both!