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Serious Times -- Making Your Life Matter In An Urgent Day

Greetings All,

     This week's "thought" comes from a book entitled: "Serious Times -- Making Your Life Matter In An Urgent Day."  It's by James Emery White, an adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell's Charlotte, N.C. campus.
     It's a book that encourages us to press on in earnest faith and directed purpose as we see the huge and seemingly unstoppable grinding gears of our secularized culture seeking to crush, as they turn, many time-honored (and we believe) God-given Judeo-Christian concepts and virtues. It's a powerful force that can make Christians pessimistic about even being able to stop that very intentional onslaught.
     Yet it's nowhere near as powerful as the sovereign God who's influences in society it seeks to eradicate. God remains in control despite what things may seem to us -- the God who laughs at the kings and nations who conspire against Him and shake their fist at Him (Psalm. 2:4-5).  He has not vacated His throne, nor will He ever abandon His people, despite growing opposition to those who seek to faithfully adhere to His Word.
     In that light White's book is a much needed reminder of what God's people can do, and need to do, to live each day with a more single-minded purpose and regain the confidence to believe that our prayers, input, and contributions can make a difference for the better.  Enjoy.

Developing Our Minds
"Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well [that] the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life, Jn. 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning."

Founding Mission Statement of Harvard University, 1643

     "Forty-two percent of American adults can't locate Japan on a world map. Nearly 15 percent can't locate the United States. Seventy million Americans do not know that Germany was our enemy in World War II.  A U.S. Department of Education survey found that 50 percent of all American students were unaware of the Cold War; 60 percent had no idea of how the United States came into existence. Roughly 60 percent of the adult population of the United States has never [voluntarily] read a book of any kind, and only 6 percent reads as much as one book a year -- even when "book" is defined as a Harlequin romance or self-help manual. Only 41 percent of American teenagers can name the three branches of government, but 59 percent can name the Three Stooges (Statistics found in "The Twilight of American Culture," Morris Berman, Norton, pages 33-36).
     The life of the mind comes easier to some than others, but the "closing" of the American mind, as Allan Bloom pointedly described it, has become legendary. Yet it goes without question that our minds form a critical part of our life, particularly for Christ followers. Jesus made it clear (Mark 12:30) that our minds are integral to the life lived with God; when summarizing human devotion to God (Deut. 6:5) as involving heart, soul, and strength, Jesus added mind.  He wanted there to be no doubt that when contemplating the comprehensive nature of commitment, our intellect would not be overlooked.
     Yet as Harry Blamires reminds us, "There is no longer a Christian mind."  A Christian ethic, a Christian practice, a Christian spirituality, yes -- but not a Christian mind.  "As a thinking being," Blamires writes, "the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization." Or as Mark Noll had dryly noted, the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.  Worse, there is even a bias against the intellect...
     Yet it is precisely a cultivated mind that is needed for our day.  John Stott writes, "We may talk of 'conquering' the world for Christ. But what sort of 'conquest' do we mean? Not a victory by force of arms... This is a battle of ideas." This was the concern of the Apostle Paul who reminded the Corinthian church that, "we do not wage war as the world does... We demolish arguments and every pretense [mindset/worldview/understanding of reality] that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (II Cor. 10:3-5).
     The devaluation of the intellect is a recent development within the annals of Christian history. While Christians have long struggled with the role and place of reason, that the mind itself mattered has been without question. Even the early church father Tertullian (c. 160-220), who had little use for philosophy, would have held in disdain any anti-intellectualism that celebrated an undeveloped mind. Throughout Christian history knowledge has been celebrated for the key role it plays in spiritual development.  Knowledge invites contemplation through preparatory reading and Scriptural meditation. (Jean Leclercq, "The Love of Learning and the Desire for God.")
     The "two constants of western monastic culture," writes Leclercq, are "the study of letters" and "the exclusive search for God."  The very foundation of the liberal arts as an education can be traced back to the monastic education developed during the Middle Ages.  There was sacred learning through the Bible and secular learning through the seven liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) ... [These were seen as]... the way to the wisdom contained in the Word of God.  In other words, to the development of a Christian mind.
     Mark Noll puts it bluntly: "If evangelicals do not take seriously the larger world of the intellect, we say, in effect, that we want our minds to be shaped by the conventions of our modern universities and the assumptions of Madison Avenue, instead of by God and the servants of God."  And even if we do not lose our own minds, we will certainly lose the minds of others. This is the double-edged threat of our day: apart from a Christian mind, we will either be taken captive by the myriad worldviews contending for our attention, or we will fail to make the Christian voice heard above the din.  Either we begin to think, or we lose the fight." 

     The statistics he states at the beginning are shocking to say the least.  Yet we can see a little bit of how this process of "losing our minds" is gaining momentum when we look around at our dwindling attention span, news-snippet culture, and the social media. The old cartoon of a husband and wife sitting at the breakfast table diligently reading newspapers (or in a more negative way, a husband reading the newspaper while the wife seeks to get his attention away from local and world events, to her needs) has been replaced by both spouses checking their emails and Facebook accounts.
     That is, we tend to read only of our friends personal and family issues, look at some jokes, little quips, various pictures, or one liners. And if we do read about national or world issues, they are usually one or two paragraph summaries (usually from a very slanted or one-sided viewpoint). It helps us know how everyone "feels" about certain stories or trends in general, but in no way helps us to be able to speak intelligently about them. One person responds or reacts to how the other feels in an affirming or disputing way -- without ever researching the all the facts or seeking to know the whole truth. The greater picture of what God is up to in the world is lost amid a plethora of trivialities that will be forgotten before lunch time, or by the time the day ends.

    To put it in other words, we know what we feel about many things, without knowing much about those things. The statistics White quotes at the beginning display how we have given up seeking to be well-informed, and have accepted (in many cases) very partial, stunted and biased views on many issues. Very often we become "side-takers" instead of informed participators in ongoing discussions, forgetting what J. I. Packer wisely pointed out: "A half-truth, when presented as the whole truth, is an untruth."
      As Christians we should seek to avoid that.  For as Jesus tells us, we are to be those who, "love the Lord our God with...  all our mind."   All our heart, soul, and strength as well?  Yes.  But never to the exclusion of our minds.  For Jesus commands us to use all the powers of our God-given intellect in seeking to love Him and bring Him glory.  That calls us to think and research, instead of simply react emotionally. To get the whole story, and not just little biased snippets we agree with even if not totally true.  We are to honor Jesus with the gift of a well-researched, well-reasoned, well-thought-through and wise response, instead of an uniformed emotional reaction. To be able to speak the truth in love, we must first engage our minds in seeking it (as best we can) realizing the whole truth is sometimes purposely hidden from us.
Just some food for thought -- Pastor Jeff