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Confessions of an unthinking

WHY so many questions? You don’t need to know so much, just know God. Will answering all these questions strengthen your faith? Some questions just cannot be answered!”

These were some of the common responses given when I first started my Christian walk. I was divided – torn between the questions in my minds and the sense that from henceforth, I should learn to ask less and trust more.

It was strange. Before I received Christ, my Christian friends took the time and effort to reply to my questions and work through some of the issues. After I received Christ and went to church, it seemed that asking too many questions was not going to be helpful to my Christian life.

Although the rebellious streak in me meant that I never gave up asking “awkward and difficult” questions, I also developed an artificial divide between what I believed and what I knew.

This divide grew deeper in my undergraduate days when I was also involved in a Bible study group. Whatever I learnt in the lecture halls had no relevance to my Christian faith and whatever I learnt in my weekly Bible study sessions remained in a separate universe.

It was only later when I was pursuing my Masters and met two friends who challenged me to surrender to Christ in every area of my life that I started to think more seriously about what it meant to be a Christian and to integrate my faith and my studies.

The challenge itself came as a surprise. One of my Christian friends confronted me after a class, “How can you be a Christian and yet believe in the post-modern line of argument?”

Somewhat startled, I replied defensively, “But I don’t believe in it. I’m just using the argument to answer the question the way I know my lecturer wants it to be answered. It’s no big deal.”

Yet deep down, I knew that it was a big deal. If Christianity was merely a set of moral teachings or a set of subjective spiritual experience, then it had nothing to say to my topic of international political economy or
international history, only in my private spiritual life. Yet, if Christianity was true or the Truth (with the capital “T”), then surely, there must be something Christianity has got to say to my field of international political economy or even the sociology of the state.

LOVING GOD WITH OUR MIND
‘We all know the commandments that Jesus summarised in Matthew 22: 37-39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Yet how many of us have taken the effort to love our God with our mind?’

Gradually, I started reading more serious Christian books and having discussions with other Christians who were also trying to integrate their Christian faith with their academic studies. Where previously I exercised my mind only on my academic work, I started to take God more seriously and strive towards a coherent Christian worldview – that is working out the implications of Christianity in every aspect of my life.

We all know the commandments that Jesus summarised in Matthew 22: 37-39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Yet how many of us have taken the effort to love our God with our mind?

Common misunderstood texts

Perhaps one of the objections some might raise after reading the above article would be to quote two biblical passages. 1 and 2 Corinthians as well as Colossians 2: 8 are two texts commonly taken to suggest that the mind can be disregarded.

For instance, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1: 20, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

There are some objections to such a reading of the passage. First, we have to read this 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 as part of 1 Corinthians. Paul is not discarding all necessity to reason. In fact, in the same letter, Paul appeals to various arguments and evidence on the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). He himself does it throughout Acts, reasoning with the various Jews and philosophers.

Second, Paul here might be condemning the practice of Greek rhetoric which had become a means to convince others not rationally but on speaking ability. That is, too much emphasis had been spent on honing one’s own technique but not on the substance of the speech itself (Augustine later came to the same conclusion on the often lack of substantive truth in the Greek rhetoric).

Third, if we look at Romans 1: 18- 24, we would see the similarities of the two passages. Interestingly, people are guilty before God not first because they are immoral but because they erred in their thinking – imaging animals to be God. From a sinful human perspective, the Gospel is foolishness but objectively speaking (that is, from God’s perspective), it is the other philosophies that are foolishness.

Colossians 2: 8

This leads on well to the second common objection some Christians raise, “What about Colossians 2: 8?

Doesn’t it teach us that we should not study philosophy or even that secular studies itself are useless for our Christian walk?”

However, if we were to look at the passage itself closely, the objection is not on philosophy itself but on a particular type of philosophy – those that are hollow and deceptive.

Paul was warning the Christians not to fall for the false teachings (especially the Gnostics who claimed special hidden knowledge). Throughout Colossians, we can see that Paul himself was familiar with the teachings of the Gnostics and was able to recognise the falsehood in them. In Acts, Paul was also familiar with the pagan philosophers (Acts 17: 28). How many of us can truly say we are like Paul?

C. S. Lewis once said that good philosophy must exist, if for nothing else, because bad philosophy exists.

In the next few months, I will offer some practical suggestions on what we can do. In the meantime, it will be good if you could get the four books listed here, especially the one by J. P. Moreland.

FOR FURTHER READING

◆ Moreland, James Porter. 1997. Love your God with All Your Mind. Navpress. This should be essential reading for all Christians. Moreland has been largely responsible for challenging me out of my complacent slumber.

◆ Macaulay, Ranald and Jerram Barrs. 1998. Being Human. Inter-Varsity Press. A warm book that is careful to show the balance in our Christian lives. See especially chapter 7 on the “Mind”.

◆ Stott, John. 1973. Your Mind Matters. Inter-Varsity Press. A small readable book.

◆ Monroe, Kelly. 1997. Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians. Zondervan. This should serve as an inspiration to many of the spiritual journeys of some of the alumni of Harvard.

Goh Mui Pong, a member of Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church, is pursuing his PhD in Politics at the University of Cambridge.

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