Saturday, May 28, 2011

Faithful Thinking, Thoughtful Believing

I don’t want to dance around this today, so let me just put it out there and see what you think: There is a deep, abiding, anti-intellectualism present among evangelicals in general and Baptists in particular that regards thinking itself as an act of unbelief. There, I said it. I feel better…I think. Some, eager to champion Christian orthodoxy, have smuggled in the notion that because critical thinking (which just means asking questions about your subject) has been the locus of liberalism’s attack on orthodoxy, they're determined never to be caught doing it! It’s as though Paul said: “We walk by faith, not by thought,” rather than, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). To “blind faith” we’ve added “dumb faith.” Faith doesn’t ask questions. Faith doesn’t think; it believes. Never mind that it was Jesus who commanded us to “love the Lord our God with our minds,” and not just our hearts.

I’ve struggled with this my whole life, feeling guilty, even “faithless,” when I asked questions or thought deeply about my Christian faith. It came to crisis in college when my adolescent, largely emotional, faith was challenged by professors who made me think about my faith. As I matured as a person and a Christian, I found that the feelings by which I had first come to know Christ were now competing with thoughts also trying to find their way to Christ. At first, I mistook them for enemies.

Then, a professor of English gently corrected me, and helped me to make peace between my head and my heart. She said: “Wayne, I’m a Christian for two reasons – because it makes sense and feels right. I wouldn’t be a Christian if it just felt right but didn’t make sense. Nor would I be a Christian if it just made sense and didn’t feel right. You see, in my Christian faith, my head and my heart have become friends.” That conversation was grace to me. For the first time in my life, I no longer regarded thinking as unbelief.

That was forty years ago now, forty years of hard, rigorous, disciplined thinking about my faith. My commitment to Christian orthodoxy is undiminished by all that thinking. I believe the same things I believed as a child of ten when my heart moved me to faith in Christ. It’s just that now I have thoughts as well as feelings that draw me to Him.

I think it’s called “growing up,” and we do that spiritually as well as physically. I often say to people: “Give as much of yourself as you can to as much of God as you can understand, knowing that both will change as you mature and discover more about both yourself and God.”

Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve got it all “figured out.” Does a snail ever “figure out” the cosmos? I just mean that joined to my credo (“I believe”) is my cogito (“I think”), and both inevitably, relentlessly, faithfully, thoughtfully lead me to God and to His Son, Jesus the Christ in Whom “I believe.”


J. Barry Watts said...

A wise English teacher.

I once had a seminary prof much like her.

Unknown said...

Thank you Dr. Stacy for this excellent post. This anti-intellectualism has bumped into me too but I continue "Faithful Thinking" and "Thoughtful Believing."

You reminded me of my three favorite quotes on this topic:
(1) "An unexamined faith is not worth having." (Incidentally, I learned this adapted one from Dr. Gregg while at GWU in 1995-6)
(2) "I had rather debate an issue without settling it than to settle an issue without debating it." (Joseph Joubert)
(3) "Faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum) (Anselm)." (I also learned this classic concept while in college)

May God help us all to have the right balance between "head" and "heart" that leads to active "hands."

Soli Deo Gloria!

TracyL said...

I am having troubles and do not know what to do next. My faith is costantly being shaking i think because i have convenced myself im doing the best i can but i have not been walking by faith its by sight i make my decisions. I have alot of growing to do spiratualy maybe this is the reasons for my troubles gods plan to help his child grow. Your post gave me something think about in the term of faith. Thanks