Why Thinking is a Vital Part of Christian Growth

"Part of the problem in contemporary Christianity, I believe, is that talk about freedom of the Spirit, about the grace which sweeps us off our feet and heals and transforms our lives, has been taken over surreptitiously by a kind of low-grade romanticism, colluding with an anti-intellectual streak in our culture, generating the assumption that the more spiritual you are, the less you need to think.

"I cannot stress too strongly that this is a mistake. The more genuinely spiritual you are, according to Romans 12 and Philippians 1, the more clearly and accurately and carefully you will think, particularly about what the completed goal of your Christian journey will be and hence what steps you should be taking, what habits you should be acquiring, as part of the journey toward that goals, right now. Thinking clearly and Christianly is thus both a key element within the total rehumanizing process (you won't be fully human if you leave your thinking and reasoning behind) and a vital part of the motor which drives the rest of that process."
N.T. Wright in After You Believe

When Wright refers to "low-grade romanticism", he means the sort of magical idea that we will effortlessly and spontaneously do the right thing…or the notion that if we simply are "true to ourselves" we will be on the right path. The truth that Paul stresses repeatedly is that to grow in Christ, we must change our thinking.

I must also add, that for Wright, Paul's goal (the telos) is not a ticket to heaven; it is the we become complete (teleios), a thing Christ says ("Be complete as the Father is complete"), and Paul repeats frequently. God's goal for us in the end is like it was in the beginning: to have us be in His image, reigning with Him over His new creation.

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9 thoughts on “Why Thinking is a Vital Part of Christian Growth

  1. Glenn, I love your writing and the way you think. (You don’t know me, but I attended ORU when you were leading worship.)
    Paul said he toiled in his proclamation of the gospel, “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). There is the struggle, to be sure, but our struggle is powered by God’s grace. Grace supplants our desire to sin with a desire to follow Christ. That part of the work is shamelessly effortless, spontaneous, and “magical.”

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  2. I’m reading and enjoying this book as well.
    “Walking in the Spirit” doesn’t have to be mystical and allusive. Romans 12:1-2 makes me think that God wants to shift our patterns of thinking, so that we can shift our patterns of living.

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  3. Gabe…nice to “meet you.” I fully agree that our growth in Christ is driven by grace and empowered by the Spirit but that still doesn’t mean “effortless and spontaneous.” Paul–and Jesus in te Setmon on the Mount– teach us that we co-operate with the Holy Spirit by learning new habits of living. That’s what Paul means by telling us in Ephesians 4 and in Colossians to put off certain behaviors and put on other behaviors. I don’t mean that we are to do this on our own– it’s all grace…grace thy justifies us and grace that sanctifies us…the first involves the person an work of Christ, the second involves th person and work of the Holy Spirit. We co-operate by faith in the first, and by new thinking and new habits in the second. I imagine you would agree. No change happens automatically or effortlessly or else much of the New Tesament is wasting space on instructions. This is not about works or about becoming God’s people…this is about learning to live as God’s people now that we have been invited in.

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  4. Is it possible to have an encounter with the Maker of heaven and earth and not begin immediately to engage your mind in pursuing Him? It would be like falling in love with a girl and taking no interest to know about her intellectually. Of course, some do fall in “love” with girls without the care to know them intellectually. This usually happens when one sees a girl from a distance and her physical appearance, and the way she makes you feel, is what you’re really in love with. In short, if you lust after her, “effortless and spontaneous” “magic” indeed take over ones entire being. This shouldn’t be how a true child of God relates to Him. If you love how God’s presence makes you feel, rather than loving Him, magic is probably all you need. His “disciples” have a much more intense road to travel.
    This is a great post, Glenn. Keep em coming!

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  5. “The more genuinely spiritual you are, according to Romans 12 and Philippians 1, the more clearly and accurately and carefully you will think” Great thought Glenn!
    Wright hit it right (no pun intended) with his idea of ‘low-grade romanticism.’ I believe this type of thinking is due, in part, to the misinterpretation of Paul’s words in 1 Cor 2:1, “but we have the mind of Christ”, which are often assumed to be applicable to all believers but in the context of his letter were made regarding himself and those who ministered with him as ministers of the gospel, though not limited to just those who are called as ministers of the gospel. To have the mind of Christ requires us to renew our minds which is something that is acquired over time.

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  6. Eric…LOVE the analogy to a relationship with a girl. I fear too much of our worship is sentimentalized emotion that we confuse for love. Real relationships– like a healthy marriage!– require lots of mental engagement…so I’ve discovered after about 9 years of marriage! I know you agree!
    Steve….fabulous job tracing it to a misinterpretation of “having the mind of Christ”…Having the mind of Christ is indeed the goal of renewing our minds…not an automatic, instantaneous result of conversion.

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  7. Word! Thinking is important, but our thoughts do not bring salvation, neither does mental assent bring faith. Our thoughts can indeed be a roadblock, preventing God’s word from taking root. The story we believe is foolishness. We have to embrace the apparent folly.
    Thinking is not necessary for our union with God. All are not called to think. Many, maybe even most are called to just believe and trust others. We live in an intellectual time where people have the free time and the resources to think. More people think today than have ever thought in the history of the world. Do we have more faith in the world? All this thinking has brought other options. Once confronted with these other options, the person thinking needs to make a decision about what to believe. How does one decide that? On his own? With his own brain power?
    NT wrote that we need to think Christianly. What is that? How do we know if we are thinking Christianly?
    I would go farther in saying that our goal is not merely the return to the Garden (image and reign), but rather our goal is complete union with him. If we stop at our return to the garden, then there was no purpose or goal when (wo)man was sin-free standing between two trees . Did (wo)man’s purpose develop after sin? Did the Author write the ending first? The Garden will pass away again.
    Sorry to write so much Glenn, but you awaken my mind and my heart with your posts.

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