Puzzles can be solved while mysteries cannot. Whether some unknown is a puzzle or a mystery depends on whether that unknown is synchronic, diachronic or achronic. A synchronic unknown is one that is an unknown at one period of history while a diachronic unknown can remain unknown throughout time.
Thus puzzles are synchronic unknowns (can be known at a different time in history with advances in human knowledge, e.g., the speed of sound), or diachronic unknowns (may never be discovered by human knowledge) even though the possibility exists simply because of contingencies of discovery. But mysteries are achronic and remain unknown no matter how much time passes and how much knowledge humans gain – unless God by special revelation unveils them in an apocalypse.
Whether an unknown is synchronic, diachronic or achronic depends on whether the ignorance is ontological or epistemic. Ontological ignorance is the result of achronicity and its essential limitations is due to the essences of creaturely imperfection. It therefore applies to everyone except God. Epistemic ignorance may apply both to God and to creation. In creatures, epistemic ignorance is the result of inadequate knowledge, which may be cured with the passage of time, (hence its synchronicity and diachronicity) coupled with acquisition of learning.
The plasticity of the human brain allows the mind to learn new thoughts that shape our beliefs by forging new synapses, thus allowing protein-syntheses that enable the formation of new memories. However in God, epistemic ignorance is kenotic (voluntary and motivated by love) so that such self-denial by God does not render God less than omnipotent in essence. This is because of the distinction between essential (ontological) omniscience and operational (epistemic) omniscience.
God’s omniscience may be described as consisting of its essence and its operations with regard to knowledge. Thus the divine essential knowledge is undiminished by the self-imposed limitation of divine operational knowledge. This means that God can keep his powers at bay – this is the essence of kenosis, a self-limitation of powers (operational) without diminishing authority (essential).
Thus mysteries are achronic and are mysterious to us for all time because of our ontological ignorance that results from our imperfections of perception. Now when we speak of miracles (or what the Bible calls ‘signs’), we have to be careful if what was reported by the writers of the Bible are synchronic, diachronic or achronic unknowns. Popular accounts of miracles signal the suspension of the natural laws, such as gravity or irreversibility of death and decay (while levitation may be a miracle if no explanation for it can be adduced, resuscitation of a dead person may not be since he is doomed to die again but Lazarus’ decayed body apparently reversed the second law of thermodynamics and became fresh enough to be alive).
But not all miracles/signs are mysteries, since some miracles may be explicable by future learning if they are synchronic or diachronic unknowns, i.e., they are not really suspensions of natural laws. These would be puzzles until later scientific discoveries render them known. Others may be miracles of achronic unknowns and therefore mysterious. We can never know how to explain them without divine revelation. There are in fact, very few miracles and even fewer mysteries since not every miracle is a mystery.
NEUROTHEOLOGY or THEONEUROLOGY?
The Question of finding convergence between science and theology is essentially a philosophical one
To make scientific sense of religious convictions, Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew Newberg attempt a neuroscientific explanation of religious experiences by developing what they call neurotheology. This is a misnomer. If anything, their version of neurotheology is a theological or religious application of neuroscience and not a neuroscientific application of theological reflection, since they seek to explain theology in terms of neuroscience. Neurotheology should properly be a theology that includes neuroscience as a resource for understanding God. The term coined by James Ashbrook, is now used to mean any attempt to explain away theology with neuroscientific vocabulary. However, a postfoundational approach seeks not a merger, but preserves the integrity of both fields of inquiry. The search for neuronal correlates to mystical or religious experiences ought not to a priori imply that one or the other is illusory. D’Aquili and Newberg’s study of the neurological basis of religious experience based on non-invasive imaging of a living brain during meditation and ritual behavior tells us this – during worship, activity in those parts of the brain that distinguish between the self and the outside world is diminished, in a process they call deafferentation. This is a partial or total physiological process by which incoming information (afferents) into the brain structures are “cut off.” D’Aquili and Newberg defined theology as “a rational deduction from a foundational myth” and state that theological cognition can only occur when certain cognitive operators are brought to bear on the foundational myths. The structures of the brain that underlie a given operator have to be deafferentated from the rest of the brain. According to them, this is how theology arises.
One may observe that a correlation appears to exist. Deafferentation can be caused by either functional interruption (such as when inhibitory fibers block the transmission of information) or physical interruption (such as a tumor). The most commonly investigated form of physical deafferentation involves patients with epilepsy, where one part of the brain becomes overexcited. When such excitation spreads across the brain hemispheres, a general seizure results – this is a mark of epilepsy. The surgical solution is commisurotomy, the removal of the connector tracts between the two hemispheres of the brain, so that neither side is aware of what the other side is doing. If both mental illnesses and religious experiences share a common description called altered states of consciousness, it would be tempting to infer that one is in fact, the other. This fuels the current assumption that epilepsy and schizophrenia are the most likely causes of religious ecstasy. The problem is that measuring the activity of the brain undergoing a specific experience does not tell us anything about the directional arrow of time. Did the neurological effects observed cause the religious experience or did the religious experience, armed by a metaphysical cause, manifest in observable effects detected by the neuroimaging? Indeed, at a conference recently, Mithen himself acknowledged that his own presumptions take the naturalistic account as the sole starting point because this is how science works. Hence, any attempt to unify the fields of inquiry is flawed from the start, and the current definition of neurotheology is illusory.
D’Aquili and Newberg postulated that there exists in humans a biological necessity to seek out causality. Hence, our “causal operator” develops myths and religious beliefs to feed this curiosity. In doing so, it automatically generates belief in God, spirits and other metaphysical beings for ultimate explanations, even if we cognitively reject the existence of God. Of the seven named cognitive operators, the holistic operator allows us to apprehend the unity of God or the oneness of the universe. This explains the universal persistence of religious cognition – even among the most modern and scientific of societies. Van Huyssteen cites this as cross-disciplinary evidence supporting our biological predisposition for shamanistic inclinations. But he rejects their claims (Metatheology and Megatheology ) that biology can adequately explain religious experience in toto as both bad science and bad theology. They are either naively reductionist and scientistic or naively modernist and foundationalist.
Van Huyssteen concludes that language is the most distinctive human adaptation and contributed to human moral and spiritual cognitions. It made religious or mystical inclinations a universal trait of human culture. Theology is enriched with the insight that our capacity to respond religiously to ultimate questions through prayer and worship is embedded in our capacity for symbolic behavior made possible by our embodied minds, our brains. Science is also enriched with the insight that the discontinuities between humans and other hominids must include religious and moral cognition. The need to create meaning in order to make sense of reality is part of the Homo sapiens tool kit known as the higher-order consciousness, i.e., being conscious that one is a conscious being. This is characterized by our heightened self-awareness and symbolic memory. These allow us to shape our own identities of selfhood. Our neurological capacity for the altered states of consciousness we call religious experience describe first-person accounts that can neither be explained by nor explained away by scientific methodology. Both skepticism and dogmatic defenses of such reports merely serve to expose the prejudices behind scientism and religiosity, while doing little to advance our understanding of these global phenomena. Mithen’s model relies on fortuity or a rather active agency attributed to natural selection.
Can this view survive increasing evidence for the direction of progress in the evolutionary process?
Can this view survive increasing evidence for the direction of progress in the evolutionary process?
The Christian Mandate of Paideia & the Envy Index
The Spiritual Formation of the Christian Mind - Romans 12:2
In 1996, in my first year at seminary, I took a course with Professor Diogenes Allen. He was and remains widely considered the finest mind on campus and a sharp critic of sloppy thinking. He taught me the importance of using philosophy to achieve precision and clarity in theological reflection as a mark of respect for the Bible and integrity for our witness. On the final day of class, he told us to take down a list of books to read ‘when we ever find the time’ and to ‘make the time to read.’ Among his list was the three volumes simply named Paideia. My admiration for Dick Allen led me to immediately search for the books (difficult to find) and finally buy them at the venerable New York institution Strand, “the largest bookstore in the world, with eight miles of shelves.” Most major cities I know claim to host the largest bookstore in the world, including Foyle’s of London and World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto.
The idea behind the word paideia, a Greek term with various meanings, for Christian theology is its description of spiritual formation, specifically of the mind. This seminar is my first attempt at articulating what is for me, a work-in-progress. Paideia recalls the ancient belief that unless a child is properly educated by a balanced diet of spiritual, mental, and physical resources, the outcome will be a missed opportunity to inculcate an informed citizenry.
At ACT, we are committed to demystifying the unnecessarily mystifying parts of the Bible and make its riches accessible to the laity. We believe that a better-educated congregation enriches the church and is a blessing to the leadership. They will invite more learned sermons, more responsible apologetics and more profound reflection, paving the way for a deeper relationship with the Lord.
There is a residual resistance to the study of the Bible, for fear that it may dampen spiritual enthusiasm. But such enthusiasm is not unique to Christianity. All manner of religions and philosophies can cause spiritual excitement. The difference is whether we know what it is that we ought to be excited about. It is easy to avoid the excesses of dry academic work only to idolize an intellectually lazy approach that can become the fuel for unwitting heresy. We ought not vacillate in guilt between the extremes of ignorance-as-a-badge-of-honor and academic-elitism. While the Bible can bless anyone who reads it at whatever cognitive level of engagement, to ignore its role as a resource of knowledge is a disservice.
We seek to lift the standards expected on understanding the Bible and raise the bar of expectation. This means rather than lower our standards to the lowest common denominator, we will push for the hard work of thinking things through.
Join us as we begin to think about what it means to believe that Jesus is Lord and is God’s fullest expression to the human mind. We start with examining the meaning of paideia for Christianity. We follow this with a consideration of how we cognitively believe in God. Next we ask what forming a Christian mind entails. Then we look at the Christian mandate in the light of using the Christian mind. Finally we explain how the ministry of ACT seeks to respond to this mandate in its programs, teaching and training.
1. PAIDEIA – FORMING THE CHRISTIAN MIND
The ancient Greeks used the word paideia to mean the proper formation of the educated citizen. They were interested in the development of the model citizen of a democracy and believed that philosophy – the love of wisdom – is the key to a strong and durable mind.
Early Christian thought adopted the concept behind paideia. When the gospel writers remembered Jesus’ teachings, they used paideia (those who were properly trained) instead of tekna (offsprings of people) to describe the children whom Jesus invited to himself. He then said that unless we were like paideia, we would not inherit the kingdom of God. It is this notion of what Jesus taught (paideia) that forms the foundation for the spiritual formation of the Christian mind.
At the Academy for Christian Thought (ACT), we seek to create a Theological Safe Space (TSS), a welcome space where believers and their unbelieving friends can find intellectual refuge, a space to ask questions they do not even know how to articulate, and a space where no one ought to be prematurely judged for making inquiries with tentative proposals. In such a safe space, we are all mindful of our spiritual, our emotional and our intellectual frailty. In response, we wish to encourage the Christian in his faith and offer a climate of welcome to the non-Christian who sincerely seeks to know. The call of the Christian message is to be transformed by a renewal of our minds as we consider the teachings of Jesus, the Christ. Explore with us the meaning and implications of what it means to have a transforming relationship with Jesus. This transformation is the result of our quest in the formation of a Christian mind.
The formation of the Christian mind goes beyond intellectual assent: It includes the Confession, Conviction of the confession, and a Commitment to the convictional confession that Jesus is indeed Lord of our lives. To this end, ACT takes as its ministry verse, Romans 12:2 “[B]e transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…” that you may know the will of God.
1.1 BE TRANSFORMED – BY THINKING THINGS THROUGH
The Christian mind engages with the world of ideas through at least 5 cultural spheres of influence – there are plenty of others. We refer to them as CAMPS - commerce, academia, media, politics and sports. In another seminar (CSI), we shall examine them in more detail. Here, we shall explore what it means to develop a Christian mind, to build a foundation of thought so that in matters great and small, we form the habit of thinking things through, theologically. Why theologically? Well, the moment you deem yourself a Christian, your understanding of everything takes on a theological dimension because you believe that God exists and that you have a relationship with God. This means that the things of God are ultimately of great concern to you. Your view of politics, economics, social issues, cultural matters, commercial interests, etc. are all influenced by how you view your relationship with God. Indeed, that relationship both shapes and is shaped by your understanding of the world you live in.
For example, if you say that modern American capitalism is the preferred way to operate in the financial system that we inherit, you are already making important decisions on how you would respond to the theological notion of loving your neighbor as yourself. This teaching demands that we treat another - not as we would have others treat us, but as we would treat ourselves. Ouch! Can it be possible to do just that in a near zero-sum world of economics where scarcity leads to outcomes with distinct classes of winners and losers? I gather that none of us wish to be among the losers. Yet American capitalism celebrates winners precisely because they are not losers. For the record, I believe that American capitalism is the best in the world, but it fails to meet the demands set by Jesus. We are charged to labor our minds to close this gap. We must transform the ways we value treasures and treasure what is truly valuable. Instead of merely asking whether something is beneficial to us, we might also ask if it is the right thing to do. This calls up the notion of a moral circle. How do we do this? By first renewing our minds.
WHAT IS A MORAL CIRCLE: A moral circle is the scope of persons beyond ourselves to whom we extend the courtesy of morality. You may be alarmed to learn that for most of us, our moral circles are rather small. Thus we feel obliged to behave morally to our loved ones and family but not necessarily to others outside our moral circle. Indeed, we often rationalize and construct reasons to justify why we act immorally to those who exist outside our moral circle - our professional competitors at work and school perhaps, the children of our neighbors who may end up competing with our kids for the more desirable schools or jobs, our bosses or subordinates, etc. The power of Jesus’ exposition of the second divine command – Love your neighbor as yourself – is stunning in its enlargement of the moral circle to include all of humanity.
1.2 BY RENEWING YOUR MIND
We shall explore the Pauline injunction to renew our minds. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul called upon the Christians to renew their minds. What was he talking about? Renewal presupposes some existing or extant thing that needs to change. The human mind is unable to respond adequately to God. But the grace of God enables our hearts (emotions) and minds (wills) to receive the gift of faith (belief in things unseen), which justifies us (makes us holy before God). However, once we are justified, we are responsible for the growth of our Christian lives - by the renewing of our minds.
Why the focus on the mind? This is a metaphor to describe the function of the brain. Our minds are in fact, the foundations of our beings. When we are unable to think rationally, we say that we may have ‘lost’ our minds.
The word ‘mind’ here (noos) refers to our intellect, will and emotions. ‘Renewal’ presupposes an existing or extant entity that needs change. The human mind in the sinful condition is unable to respond adequately to God unaided. It is the grace of God that enables our hearts (emotions) and minds (rationality) to receive the gift of faith, which justifies us. Yet, once we are justified, we are responsible for the growth of our Christian lives, by the renewing of our minds. Our minds are the foundations of our beings. The Danish Christian philosopher Danish Kierkegaard asks us to think thought itself. It is this exercise of taking responsibility for how and what we think that marks the essence of paideia.
The renewal of our minds liberates us to think beyond ourselves as individuals and more as persons in a special relationship with God almighty – a courtesy that God has extended to us by dint of making us in His image. This remarkable proclamation of the biblical writers suggest that we have access to, as it were, the thoughts of God in some minimal sense. It would be the height of arrogance to think that we can know God’s mind per se. Rather, we mean that God has given to Homo sapiens sapiens the capacity for emotional intelligence, rational discourse and experiential history aided by memory – which results in our common religiosity and unsettledness until we find rest in God. Our unique capacities to believe in God and to pray in hope means that we may gain insight to the ways of God.
1.3 TO GAIN INSIGHT TO THE WAYS OF GOD
Interestingly, knowing and discerning God’s will is not about mimicking another person. It is about gaining proximate thought to God’s ways by inculcating a habit of thinking about God and understanding the scriptures. No book can give us the magic formula to know God’s will and personal stories from others are at best anecdotal and may be not very helpful beyond lifting our spirits when we are down. It has become common for well-meaning Christians to share how God has apparently worked in their lives – suggesting certain formulae by which God conforms to when the almighty works in the lives of other Christians. Unfortunately, this notion that we can ‘find the will of God’ by praying harder, meditating more (quantitatively) or briefly living a ‘better’ life has infected the Christian consciousness. The noted evangelical biblical scholar, Bruce Waltke, has courageously written of many practices that Christians pass off as divine guidance – following hunches, casting lots, looking for signs, etc. Unfortunately, these attempts actually bear an unsettling resemblance to the ways pagans seek guidance. Waltke argues that the truest course to the will of God is found in faithfully answering the call to walk close to the Lord and be conformed to His likeness. All this sounds nice but here Waltke falls into the Christian habit of using language that become full of unhelpful abstractions.
What he means may be encapsulated by several spiritual habits we may inculcate:
1.3.1 Practice The Bible In Your Life
There is no substitute for reading and understanding the Bible. For most people, this is a hard and boring task. It is the great fortune for anyone to receive instruction from a gifted preacher and teacher. The preacher’s task is to inspire the listener with punch-line applicable expositions that can make specific portions of the Bible come alive. But without a way to understand how the Bible’s teachings become transformed in the mind of the preacher to become a sermon, the listener will always be at the mercy of the preacher and be vulnerable to the vagaries of his effort. The wise Christian seeks to know the mechanics of how a great sermon comes about – not in the sense of the delivery and rhetorical gifts of the preacher, but in terms of how one is to interpret the raw texts of the Bible. This is where a responsible teacher of the Bible makes her contribution. If I may use a common analogy, the preacher feeds the student with fish, but the teacher teaches the student how to fish. Indeed, good Bible teaching makes the student a better listener of a sermon. But learning the Bible is not enough. We have to learn to make its teachings a part of our everyday life. Thus obedience is the final marker of our understanding of what the Bible means.
1.3.2 Make God Your Adoptive Authority
This is a difficult concept to articulate. It refers to finding convergence between what we naturally feel drawn to what we believe God offers. We may do this by seeking out the friendship and guidance of others whom we believe have followed the teachings of God in the Bible in their lives. Of course, we may be fooled or we may fool ourselves in this venture. But nevertheless, our thoughts are more often than not shaped by the thoughts and habits of people we hang out with. We adopt the authorities of others in matters that we do not trust ourselves with. To make God your adoptive authority by being influenced by people who also make God their adoptive authorities is a crucial aspect of forming the community of faith we call the church.
1.3.3 Judge The Circumstances Of Our Lives
If God is interested in us, it is also likely that he is interested in the circumstances of our lives. Whether or not you believe that God continues to perform miracles (by the suspension of the natural laws) today, it is the teaching of the Bible that God created the universe we live in. This means that whatever contours our life takes, it is unlikely to surprise God. In fact, it is more likely the case that God anticipates our decisions, even if sometimes, we are puzzled by the outcomes. So we have to learn to judge rather than predict the circumstances of our lives.
Say, opportunities arise that permit you to take advantage of the weakness of another person in order to advance your own cause – be it at work, at school or at home. The Christian is not to blindly respond to such windows of opportunity without first judging the outcomes of his decision within the framework of God’s universal love for humanity. Will your decision violate the common dignity of humanity? Will you treat this as an opportunity to do good or to do evil. Will you take the high road or consider this merely good luck?
1.3.4 Make Sense Of Things
God made us with a powerful mind fueled by a remarkable brain. Our highly developed senses allow us to make judgments based on our power to process our experiences, recall memorable events, think through hypothetical outcomes and imagine what is not apparent. Thus we can make sense of things. We are expected to use this resource to realize what God means for us to do in many situations. Our capacity to learn and harness the knowledge from the arts and sciences provides us with crucial clues to make educated guesses. While this does not sound particularly impressive, it is in fact, great testimony to the creative power of God to make us as we are.
1.3.5 Divine Intervention?
God does not intervene in response to seeking his will. There is not a single instance of God stepping miraculously into the lives of anyone in the Bible in response to their effort of seeking God’s will – so do not bank on this as a biblically-ordained expectation. Instead, reason within the framework of your circumstances.
Although God is indeed able to perform miracles, we must not rely on miracles to guide us. The Bible itself tells us that in many instances, God did not intervene to save those whom he loved from suffering intolerable situations. Thus, while we pray for healing and the cessation of suffering for our loved ones, we must not make promises that God will respond as we expect – God’s sovereignty means that we cannot command God to act as our servant. However, God may intervene to change our perspective of a situation so that we see it differently.
But before we can even get to methods of Bible study, we ought to acknowledge that we are creatures of habit who operate under certain basic or foundational beliefs that we do not feel obliged to justify. These beliefs that we acquire over our lifetimes control all other beliefs. We call them control beliefs.
1.4 CONTROLLING YOUR CONTROL BELIEFS
What we ultimately believe in is shaped by several ‘control beliefs’ that we hold. These foundational truth-claims that we all have help us judge all other possible beliefs. An example of a control belief is that ‘God exists.’ If this is a control belief of yours, any argument to do away with the existence of God will very likely be dismissed by you because it challenges this control belief. However, if one of your control beliefs is that ‘God does not exist’, then the opposite is the case for you. Some control beliefs arise precisely because we fail to think things through – i.e., when we fail to consider the likelihood of a truth-claim with respect to our knowledge of the world and our experiences in life. The result is that a poorly thought out control belief emerges.
Why do we even have control beliefs at all? For the sake of efficiency. We cannot help but build up control beliefs. They make it easier and quicker for us to make spot decisions without having to assess everything from scratch. Experiences influence our emotional reaction to every truth-claim. Together, they help us make judgments. This means that we make up our minds with the help of at least three elements of our selves: our experiences, our rationality, and our emotions. All three play important roles in how we judge and therefore, how we believe.
For example, if we are told that God made us all and sent Jesus to redeem us of our sinful nature, we assess this claim by judging its merits to establish its veracity. Shall we believe in this claim? Our experiences as sentient beings may cause us to be open to the possibility of the existence of God, or it may not. Next, our rationality weighs the likelihood that a supreme being that created us exists. This may be aided by study, knowledge gained from others, or our ability to postulate. Finally, our emotional makeup at each moment prepares us to be either more or less receptive to the emotional outcome of belief or disbelief. All these are purely human responses. We are unable to comment on the metaphysical responses not because there are none but because we have no access to their workings. Perhaps God supernaturally cause each of us at particular instances in time to posses the specific combination of experiential, rational and emotional characteristics that lead to a specific judgment that renders our belief or disbelief what they are. If so, we are robots of God’s will. I think God really provided us with a level of free will. This means we possess the awful power to reject God. We alone enjoy the power to control our control beliefs. No one can tell us to believe or disbelieve in God as a control belief. Only we can do so.
1.5 KEEP EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE FOR CHRIST
In our desire to learn, our thoughts and judgments are exposed to a variety of thoughts. If we are to make a commitment to our conviction that causes us to confess that Jesus is Lord, then every thought that we think is subject to this commitment. How do we do this? By asking ourselves if what we intentionally spend time thinking about is good, holy, pure and worthy of our call to live a Christian life. This means to have our security and significance linked to our status as children of God rather than humans competitively seeking to win at all costs.
Consider the workplace. We work to make money to pay the bills and enhance the economic quality of our lives. Unfortunately, the secular standards of the world operate under a system of incentivization that rewards us for visible tokens of success, not concerned with how we achieve these marks of achievement. So if, as a sales person, you outsell your fellow sales persons, you get more commissions. But if you do so by cheating or taking unfair advantages, the company rarely cares because its goal is to enhance the bottom line. But the Christian mind cares. For the Christian, her security is based on the fact that she is bound to enter the presence of God when she dies and her significance is based on being loved by her creator. Under these circumstances, the lure of incentives at the workplace takes a different meaning. There is a moral standard and a moral lawgiver that guides her responses to rewards. Now her thoughts about whether to advance in her career by a particular manner is guided by her thoughts, thoughts which are now free to follow the standards set by Christ. Did you say free? Yes, our default position is to be enslaved by the standards of the secular world, which tells us that our security is entirely based on our access to material wealth, and our significance is based on the respect that we gain from others (envy index)
Wait...what's an envy index?
I coined the term envy index to describe what I call the postcard syndrome – we tend to enjoy our vacations more if we can persuade others that we have having a good time (whether or not this is true), hence, then postcard. This leads to a larger theory about the incentives we respond to in our social dealings. There seems to be nothing more satisfying that being informed that others are envious of us because they wish they enjoyed what we enjoy. This is true whether it involves cars, apartments or children.
Our thoughts are what often get us in trouble and they are not neutral. To the extent that we proactively shape what we think, to that extent we are in firm control of our minds. To receive the Lordship of Christ in our lives begin with placing our very minds at the altar of Christ. This simply means that we choose to focus our attention on things that pertain to the calling of the Christian mind. I am well aware that this is an ideal rather than an achievable reality. Like the Ten Commandments, this command to make every thought captive for Christ is a rhetorical device to show that by ourselves, we are weak. It affirms that we are inadequate to meet the demands of God. Each of us needs to turn to the Lord in humility – precisely because on a day-to-day basis, none of us can meet the demands of God. Our minds do turn to quite unholy thoughts and we luxuriate in what we already know to be impure thinking. It is this acknowledgment that marks the starting point of desiring to change the way we think.
2. FORMATION OF BELIEF IN GOD
Do you believe because it is true or is it true for you because you believe?
How did we come to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior? Ask yourself, Why do you believe? For most people, we believe what is most convenient and most accessible – that is, the beliefs of our parents, loved ones, or people we respect.
We begin with our exposure to testimonial witnesses – people tell us about God. Next, we accept some of what we are told as true – we adopt the authority of others.
In time, we realize that what we have adopted have become foundational beliefs that we hold without consciously holding on to them – they have become tacit beliefs. Finally, our beliefs mature as our initial faith in them as true becomes strengthened by deeper understanding.
2.1 TESTIMONIAL WITNESS
As we first learn about the existence of God (or the non-existence of God, as the case may be) from our parents, family members, and teachers, we are exposed to what I call testimonial witnesses. These are propositions from people who claim to know what they speak of because they are part of a long line of knowledge transfer going back to actual knowledge. While your grandfather might not know that Jesus existed, his testimony is that there were witnesses some 2000 years ago who passed on their direct knowledge through testimony. You are now a part of this lineage of testimonial witnesses.
However, you soon come across conflicting claims of testimonial witnesses. Different sources make claims about the truth of reality that cause you to pause and think. In the matter of religion and worship, perhaps your atheist friend strongly believes that God does not exist. Perhaps he can point to important and clever people noted for their knowledge who also disbelieve in God. Now you are in the position of having to make choices. Whose testimony will you believe? Whose testimony ought you to accept?
This brings us next to the notion of adoptive authority (AA).
2.2 ADOPTIVE AUTHORITY
We tend to adopt the beliefs of those whom we trust. But as the cost of such belief rises, i.e., as our belief in God becomes more expensive in terms of time and effort, we begin to weigh the benefits against the advantages. This assessment leads us to reconsider whether we wish to continue to believe, and at what level of integrity we wish to hold on to such belief. The authority you adopt for each belief you hold will eventually become internalized into your own belief system. In time, your adoptive authorities seem like your own tacit beliefs.
2.3 TACIT BELIEF
A tacit belief, a concept that I adapted from Michael Polanyi’s notion of tacit knowledge is a belief that has become a subconscious part of your worldview.
If someone asks whether you believe in God, you no longer consciously imagine that you have adopted the authority of some testimonial witness sometime in your life. You now think that you believe because you have independently assessed the options. In fact, for most of us, this is not the case. Most of us do not really know if another belief about God that is contrary to ours is in fact false. We spend our energy negating what we do not really know. This is a dogmatic posture of belief, and it is no better than a dogmatic posture of atheism.
Tacit belief has the advantage of buying us time. Time for what? Time to understand what we first believe by faith – wait a minute. Where did faith slip in? The Christian mind believes that no human is unaffected by the influence of the Holy Spirit. The decision to adopt the authority of a testimonial witness that leads to the correct assessment that the God of the Christian Bible is indeed the one true God – is guided by the Holy Spirit. With this belief as tacit, you are now able to examine it to understand from scriptures, what it entails and its implications for all other beliefs that you hold. Thus we say that Christian faith is faith seeking understanding, not understanding to gain faith.
2.4 FAITH SEEKING UNDERSTANDING
Unless God spoke to you or appeared to you in a mystical way, like the vast majority of us, you came to believe because of testimonial witness. You learned about Jesus from someone or someone you trusted first told you about Jesus. You thought about it, and figured that it must true. You adopt this teaching as your adoptive authority - and you believe.
But if someone asks you why you believe, you might have difficulty explaining it. You believe more than you can explain. This is normal.
The Christian life is thus one of faith seeking understanding. It is from such understanding of reality that draws from both biblical and extra-biblical sources that we can now better establish and control our control beliefs.
2.5 MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL
But how can we be sure that our belief based on our understanding is correct? What if we believe in error? As in everyday life, we begin to look for evidence, for corroboration, for possible, then, plausible and finally, probable reasons why you ought to maintain your belief.
This is important because there is nothing more dangerous than belief that does not grow. Left by itself, any belief gets weaker over time because it has to compete with doubts that arise as we learn more and more about the world from other sources.
For example, if you believed as a young Christian that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but later you learn more and more about the existence of other religions, soon you might begin to wonder how we can be sure that Jesus is the only way. Would we have believed that the Buddha or the Prophet Muhammad is the only way if we grew up in Thailand or Bangladesh? This was in fact, the main objection to the claims of Christianity (that Jesus alone is the true pathway to God) by no other than perhaps the most influential philosopher of the 20th century, Lord Bertrand Russell. For Russell, our childhood influences based on geography, history and culture, shape our religious leanings. It would be unfair to evangelize people who grew up in non-Christian societies and seek their conversion to Christianity. This critique of Christianity, while not sustainable, nevertheless demands a Christian apologetic to explain why Russell is wrong.
If God made us curious, thinking beings, then we ought to suppose that he wants us to use our minds to make sense of things by acquiring knowledge from various sources. Even the art of interpreting the Bible demands skills from various sciences – archaeology, philology, linguistics, literary analysis, chemistry, physics, anthropology, sociology, history, etc. Each of these fields of inquiry tests our assumptions and provisional conclusions.
No belief can be sustained for long without testing and meeting challenges of the skeptic. For the Christian, our sense of certainty depends on trust in our judgments. This is typically based on three prongs:
Our collective sense of reason, experience and communal accountability keeps us from making disastrous mistakes. The fellowship mentioned above is akin to the emotional responses we give and receive in Christian fellowship. Thus probabilism in our reasoning strategies, spiritual testimonies in our experiences and the emotional engagement within the community of faith, guide our collective understanding.
With this understanding, we are now ready to participate in the Great Commission – to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of all nations. But we begin by equipping ourselves for the task. We begin with a consideration of what it means to form the Christian mind.
3. THE CHRISTIAN MIND
The Christian mind is NOT driven by intellectual assent to the best available explanation of reality but by a confessional commitment to the conviction that the Scriptures bear witness to the truth. From such faith, which seeks understanding, comes a desire to know, because we believe.
In the words of St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Anselm of Canterbury, Christians possess faith that seeks understanding. The Christian Mind seeks to worship God in spirit and in truth, and with its entire mind. We shall survey the principal doctrines of the Christian faith and consider how they should inform the construction of our worldviews. In this seminar, we shall ask what it means to be human and made in the image of God? The opposite of a Christian mind is a mindless Christianity. It was president John Mackay of Princeton Seminary who said
“Commitment without reflection is fanaticism in action,
but reflection without commitment is the paralysis of all action.”
To seek paideia is to be transformed by the renewing of your minds. What does it mean to be a Christian and what does the forming of a Christian mind entail?
In his epistle to the Roman Church, Paul urged them to be transformed by the renewal of their minds so that they may discern the will of God – Romans 12:2. This teaching is relevant today and calls for three assumptions:
Now it is quite possible to live a fruitful life on earth without desiring to be transformed by a renewal of the mind in order to discern the will of God. So we cannot say that unbelievers are doomed to a life of misery. What then is the Christian motivation to live out the Christian life? It is nothing less than the sneaking suspicion that what Jesus taught is true.
In seeking paideia, or the spiritual formation of the Christian mind, we are in fact, seeking to think things through as a Christian.
This transformation involves understanding and acting out the Christian mandate. We are not asked to conquer geographical lands or build great civilizations but to transform the way we think. This cognitive transformation is the legacy of the imago Dei, that gift of God that sets Homo sapiens sapiens apart from all other life forms. Our mandate is a spiritual one, a charge to draw human thoughts away from transitory concerns and onto matters that concern our everlasting lives to come, when we enter into the presence of God. Let us consider the Christian mandate in the light of the natural sciences and the preponderance of the plurality of religions.
Chapter 4: The Christian Mandate
What is the Christian called to do above all else? According to the Great Commission, it is to announce the message that God has been revealed and made known in Jesus Christ. This proclamation may lead to conversion. But it begins with apologetics, which paves the way for evangelism. Those who make the conversion are then discipled to live out the Christian life by shaping the Christian mind.
We have been commanded to proclaim the gospel - and then disciple believers. In order to proclaim the gospel responsibly, each generation of Christians are obliged to understand the great questions of its age. In our time, two major challenges confront our testimonial witness – what is the role of the natural sciences in biblical revelation and how do we relate to the preaching of the other religious faiths?
Removing Unnecessary Obstacles To Evangelism (Pre-Evangelism)
Why are Christian apologetics and the formation of the Christian worldview important? What is the reason why we need to know the reason for our belief? –The answer is because we are taught to do so - 1 Peter 3:15-16. This involves building and developing biblical, Christ-centered worldview with an apologetic that must be able to demonstrate its 3Cs, 3Ds and 3 Rs
All three, testimony of those who experienced the events, philosophical speculation, and scientific investigation, all form the foundations of a belief system from which to forge a Christian worldview. It seeks to answer 4 questions of life by examining 5 fields of inquiry. In the West, these ancient questions have all evolved into specific fields of study called theology, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and anthropology.
Each of the 5 topics above leads us to consider our adoptive authority of truth. Given that none of these questions can be answered with certainty, whose opinion ought we to adopt? The long testimonial witness of the Christian faith provides an option too wonderful to dismiss. This witness is expressed in the act of evangelism.
4.3 MISSIONARY EVANGELISM
Today, there are few places on earth that the Bible has not reached. In many formerly closed countries such as China and Russia, printing presses are actually printing Bibles for export and producing computer software for market in the West.
In the 21st century, the problem is conversion. There is a lot of conversion, but the question is, conversion to what? What exactly is someone converting to when he or she becomes a Christian? In increasingly alarming cases, the conversion is superficial at best and deceptive at worst. Theologians from India have complained that Christianity in their country is a mile wide and an inch thick. They speak of the need for deeper insight into the meaning of the scriptures rather than selective repetitions of favorite verses. In Africa, we receive plaintive calls for help. Some Christian leaders have taken their lack of formal education to be badges of honor. They claim not only that God worked through them despite their dismissal of education but because of it. In China, poor interpretation of the Bible contributed to the greatest destruction of human life in recorded history when up to 30 million Chinese died at the hands of their countrymen after one person claimed that he was God’s Chinese Son and Jesus’ younger brother. Other Christians were either too afraid or too paralyzed to stop this teaching, which culminated in the Taiping Rebellion. Ironically, Taiping means ‘peace’ in Chinese. The challenge in evangelism and missions today involves hermeneutical teaching alongside the distribution of the scriptures.
By far the most significant barrier to today’s evangelistic enterprise is the apparent lack of relevance. As we learn to reason well by submitting to God’s word, we have to also learn to relate honestly to the strangers in our midst. RRR (Reason to make relevant the revelation of the Gospel). When a Christian explains why she believes, she is saying, “This is MY testimonial witness – and you must judge the totality of my life by this.” The Christian Scriptures, understood by the community of confessional believers engaged with the 5 topics above, offer answers to the 4 questions of life. I call them the CASE for Christianity.
The Essence of the Christian Message (CASE) - non-negotiables of the Christian faith?
It is teleological, not an accident, with a linear timeline, and starts with a beginning. God created us. This doctrine is compatible with biological evolution but rejects Darwinian Evolutionism.
Humanity has turned against God by seeking to be God. We are predisposed to seek moral autonomy. This is sin and alienates us from God – This doctrine rejects the sufficiency of humanity.
God, in his inexplicable mercy, invaded human history and reversed his own judgment by taking upon himself the due consequences of our sin. This is the Cross of the Suffering Christ. The illogical absurdity of the salvation plan affirms the moral depravity of humanity.
Only God is able and willing to forgive our sins. This is the Grace that Justifies. God has elected to redeem us. This affirms the free and unmerited salvation of any person through Jesus. It denies any possible claim that we are saved because we have achieved merit or because we have met the moral demands of God.
We often think in terms of conversion, yet we have not been commanded to convert anyone – simply because we are incapable of doing so. Conversion is the exclusive work of the Holy Spirit. Conversion involves the transformation by the renewing of the mind.
Discipleship is at the heart of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). It entails the laborious effort of sharing the burdens of seeking to live holy lives in accordance with God’s will. This is Christian jargon for keeping each other accountable by participating in the lives of others. Who are these others? Jesus taught that we are expected to love our neighbors (and if this is not bad enough, it is to do so …) as we love ourselves. We shall come back to this theme and consider its implications for a competitive world of choice making.
Discipleship must once again be at the core of Church life and the true measure of success. It is by its very nature more difficult to measure but more satisfying to participate in. True discipleship involves coming alongside someone else NOT as a teacher per se but as a fellow student of the Holy Spirit.
Setting discipleship as the primary goal will necessarily include evangelistic and missionary activities – but it is not so the other way round. It is far too easy to be intoxicated by the seduction of numbers that one forgets or minimizes the importance of discipleship altogether.
In today’s economy, time is precious and translates to economic resources. How can we set aside time for discipleship? It all boils down to priorities. We live out what we really believe not what we claim to believe. We also pay for what we value.
To the question, how can I find time to disciple? The answer is, you simply make time. To the concern about not being able to afford the time, we must ask, can we afford not to make the time for discipleship? The willingness to make time for anything we desire in the 24 hours a day we all have tells us what we deem to be important.
What then is Christian discipleship? It is a discipleship of the mind, to open one to be transformed by the Holy Spirit by thinking things through – and rethinking your thoughts. It begins by re-assessing all our assumptions. Learn to worship God with your minds as well as your bodies.
The task of discipleship is to teach others how to understand the Bible to the best of our knowledge. We learn from St. Augustine, who urged his readers to draw from any resource that enhances our understanding of our relationship to God and our apprehension of the world we live in. To this end, the Christian mind learns from the fine arts, the literary arts, the musical arts and sciences, the natural sciences, the social sciences, the historical sciences, the spatial arts and sciences of architecture, design and sports, the economic sciences, the commercial arts, the political sciences, the philosophical and rhetorical arts of argumentation, etc.
5. THE MANDATE OF ACT
At ACT, we seek the ideals of paideia. Our mandate is to Teach, Disciple, & Proclaim the Gospel faithfully according to the Christian Bible handed down through the Church.
5.1 ROMANS 12:2
Be transformed - thinking things through in the cultural spheres of influence: commerce, academia, media, politics and sports (CAMPS). We desire security and significance (SS). Leadership and success must be redefined. Science is a method of knowing while revelation is the content of knowledge. Together, science and revelation lead to better understanding.
By renewing your minds - control your control beliefs, worship God with your mind and cultivate the person as God’s image (imago Dei).
Discern the will of God – seek wisdom from insight & understanding of knowledge.
Romans 12 tell us that we ought to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern the will of God … which is our spiritual worship! This means that all the Christian talk about worshipping God in spirit begins with a new way of thinking.
5.2 DEVELOPING A CHRIST-CENTERED WORLDVIEW
5.2.1 What Is The Christian Philosophy Of Knowledge And Understanding?
How can we use this to engage our minds to worship God as we allow God to educate us? Presuppositions: God is the ultimate teacher and all of reality is used by God to reveal himself to us. God created the world and cares deeply about it. We show our love for God by also caring for what happens to the world. In this, we concern ourselves with every field of human inquiry and every sphere of cultural influence.
5.2.2 Sources of Adoptive Authorities to Develop A Christ-Centered Worldview
• Testimony: CCC (Commitment to Convictional Confession) Experiential relevance
• Science: DDD (Discovery of Divine Disclosure) Empirical adequacy
• Philosophy: RRR (Reason to make Revelation Relevant) Logical coherence.
By far the most significant barrier to today’s evangelistic enterprise is the apparent lack of relevance. As we learn to reason well by submitting to God’s word, we have to also learn to relate honestly to the strangers in our midst. RRR (Reason and Relate to make Relevant the message of the Gospel).
5.3 THE NEW APOLOGETICS - SCIENTISM & RELIGIOUS PLURALISM
5.3.1 Science & Scientism
Discover convergence between science and revelation
1. Science is the most manicured form of rationality known to us - it is God’s gift to us so that we may discover divine disclosure.
2. Scientism is the philosophical presumption that science alone holds the key to understanding all there is to understand. It is often disguised as science.
3. Contemporary issues of true science include Extra-Terrestrial life, animal consciousness & morality, and neuroscientific explanations for free will and sinful behavior.
5.3.2 Religious Pluralism
What About the Other Faiths? Are All Faiths Equally Valid?
Religious pluralism has existed from time immemorial. The philosophy of religious pluralism, which claims that all religions are equally valid and that they all make similar claims - is false. Explore the wisdom of other faiths to enrich your own
1. How do we know that Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and other religions are wrong? The single common difference (scd) between the Christian faith and all other religions is the identity of Jesus.
2. What about those who die in infancy?
3. What about those who die in adulthood and have never heard the gospel?
4. What about those who are born or become, mentally retarded?
The call to live the life of a Christian mind is an achievable goal and begins with acknowledging the remarkable gift of the human mind – which is the cognitive expression of the brain. Is this for really intelligent people? No, you do not have to know a lot to think but you do have to think a lot to know. And yet, knowledge is not our goal, but understanding is.
Jesus himself taught us that understanding what we know is more important than plain knowledge since knowledge alone does not transform our minds.
1. Build a firm foundation with the Word and the Spirit of God. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit - Eph 6:1. Build a worldview by renewing your minds to acquire -
• Confession of Knowledge
• Conviction of Belief
• Commitment to Convictional Confession
2. Be ready in and out of season to explain why you believe God’s word. 2 Tim 4:2-5 - Know what you believe (CASE), Trust God’s word, Obey God’s command and Witness sensitively - effective witnessing is preferable to numerical witnessing.
3. Redeem your mind for Christ: Seek the Biblical world view, adopt it as your own and learn to defend it by submitting your intellect to Christ, 2 Cor. 10:4-5.
4. Fulfill the great commission as an ambassador of Christ. Eph. 6:19-20 & Matt. 28:19-20.
5. Love the stranger in your midst, and know God to make him known. Matt. 25:35 & 40.
People the world over desire Christian values but they do not know it. It is the task of Christians to draw their attention to what has already been established by the teachings of Jesus. This is the Christian mandate of paideia. It is possible for the Christian voice to influence the secular world. We must be fully involved with the every cultural sphere of influence. Indeed, they say that diplomacy is the art of having other people have your way.
The Aim of Christian Education (Paideia): Wisdom
1. Paideia: The ancient Greeks used a term to denote instruction in a course of study for the cultivation of intellect and character to produce an educated citizen. It seeks the ‘formation’ of a person, physical, intellectual, social, moral, and spiritual. By the time of the New Testament, the term was widely used to refer to children in need of good instruction. Both Jesus and Paul referred to the imperative of paideia to describe the maturation of the Christian mind. For what you think, that you are.
2. Christian paideia stresses the renewal and cultivation of the person as God’s image (imago Dei). This life-transforming education was carried out under the divine Teacher, the Logos. The Church adopted paideia for education in the Christian faith. Its objective was the wisdom of God. The pathway to wisdom is insight.
3. Insight is the real knowledge that comes to us (the mechanics of which we are agnostic about) and allows us to ‘see’ more quickly than we are able to articulate. It is a passive form of knowledge, a ‘transient grasp of an intransitory realm’.
4. Wisdom is the full understanding of knowledge and revolves around insight, which confers the gift (is not a fruit of human exertion) of wisdom. Insight does not function in isolation. The equilibria between wisdom (sapientia) and knowledge (scientia) operate in a relational matrix; meditation (passive) and cognitive learning (active) need each other. It is wisdom that no science or arts offers for God alone is wise (see Job). This means the search for wisdom anticipates the search for God in worship.
5. Worship is a response to God’s revelation to humanity. Worship relies on what we know about the reality of nature. Our knowledge relies on the quality of our education. But knowledge is insufficient for understanding, so we seek wisdom. Christian education seeks a curriculum of faith incorporating an understanding of scientific discovery.
6. Christian education as worship aims to discover the hidden orders of reality because it has reasons to consider the claim of Jesus - to overcome annihilation (death). Education becomes the acquisition of wisdom as the tacit and transcendental guide for knowledge.
Worship is inquiry & inquiry is worship
An educational philosophy in a theological framework.
1. Be passionately engaged with the quest for knowledge in a fiduciary context, believing that the universe is intelligible because God created it.
2. Indwell the object of knowledge and tap into the tacit dimension to know the answer before we even know the question. Learn ‘contemplative wondering’, a sort of indwelling with a full awareness of ourselves and our place in God’s kingdom and the object we are studying.
3. Distinguish wisdom from knowledge and exercise imagination that assumes the tacit dimensional integration of things ‘underground’ to create insight.
4. Insight yields the ‘Eureka’ effect. Discover and celebrate the disclosure of the hidden order.
5. A new construction of meaning for a transformation of reason. Learn interpretation and responsible action. Knowledge is power and the bearer of knowledge bears great responsibility.
Development of Human Intelligence
Intelligence arises from interaction between person and the environment.
1. Piaget states that faced with conflict, a person either ‘assimilates’ (plays with) or ‘accommodates’ (imitate) the environment. He predominates over the environment or vice-versa. Interaction is equilibrium between the two, resulting in intelligence through ‘adaptation’.
2. There is a complementarity between consciousness and neurological interaction, the Mind-Body Problem. The structures of intelligence developed by humans will disclose the hidden intelligibility of the universe through all branches of science (learning?)
3. But a third reaction is possible – transformation.
The priority of transformation (creative capacity) over adaptation (intelligence) in Christian education.
1. The Christian mind is called to transform and not to adapt to the world. But first, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our own minds, by the Spirit. Romans 12:2 speaks of a passive transformation, not accomplished by the person, but to submit to another who will do the transforming. This constitutes the process of “being transformed” rather than “transforming yourself”.
2. Our ultimate fear as mortals is death. We can adapt to just about anything but we cannot adapt to escape death. To be spiritually renewed is to seek to overcome ultimate death as well as the fear of death by the transforming power of Jesus on the Cross.
The true teacher asks questions worth living for. Education should advance the discovery of ideas to instigate a desire to learn for the love of knowing, so that the totality of one’s place in the universe may become less and less of a mystery. Education is a vital part of the response to divine revelation we call worship. How we perform the task of education reveals what we really believe about God.
Application for Teachers:
1. Face and embrace conflict expectantly (including exams and papers).
2. Step aside to scan the situation, to indwell, to contemplate.
3. Focus on the image with an idea of the teacher’s own viewpoint.
4. Share the excitement of the course of study.
5. Celebrate the Eureka effect with wonderment and gratitude.
6. Interpret and act responsibly in the community of imagination. Education is worshipping with the mind.
A Christian philosophy of education acknowledges the priority of tacit over explicit knowing. The focus on the relationship between sapientia and scientia informs the axiology grounded in the Christian faith. This determines one’s methodology and the teacher’s expectation of the student. Can we teach art, economics, geography, history, mathematics, languages, literature, politics, and science to know God?