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.
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 (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.
[This has been adapted from chater 1 of the manual from the ACT seminar - Paideia. Visit www.actministry.org for details]
1. PAIDEIA - FORMING THE CHRISTIAN MIND
1.1 Be Transformed – By Thinking Things Through
1.2 By Renewing Your Mind
1.3 To Gain Insight To The Ways Of God
1.4 Controlling Your Control Beliefs
1.5 Keep Every Thought Captive For Christ
2. FORMATION OF BELIEF IN GOD
2.1 Testimonial Witness
2.2 Adoptive Authority
2.3 Tacit Belief
2.4 Faith Seeking Understanding
2.5 Making Sense Of It All
3. THE CHRISTIAN MIND
4. THE CHRISTIAN MANDATE
4.3 Missionary Evangelism
5. THE MANDATE OF ACT
5.1. Romans 12:2
5.2. Developing A Christ-Centered Worldview
5.3 The New Christian Apologetics - Scientism & Religious Pluralism