Faith isn’t opposed to thinking, nor is our formation.
I’ve always been interested in how the way we think is connected to what we are becoming on this journey with Jesus. Whether it is the way our brain uses curiosity to teach us about the world, or the way we archive memories, the tiny masses of tissue between our ears matters.
Please understand, this isn’t some appeal for a more intellectual kind of faith. While I do find my best connection to God through via the intellectual pathway, I know that not everyone connects with God that way.
However, we have to pay attention to the fact that part of the Greatest Commandment is loving God with our minds. (Matthew 22:38-40)
To be formed well in Jesus is to be attentive to how we order our thinking towards loving God.
Part of that order is how we think, what we think about, and the habits of thought that characterize our lives. While there are many different ways to mold and shape our brains, one of the primary ways is through reading. Note that when I say “reading” that can be everything from a printed book to a digital book to an audio book.
There are so many different ways to read these days.
I want to recommend two books that have been helpful to me in developing the intellectual side – loving God with the brain. These are by no means the ONLY books, but they are the ones that immediately come to mind for me.
The point of reading these books isn’t to become smarter about the Christian faith, though that is important. Instead, I want to emphasize the following:
Reading challenging things is a discipline that shapes us to love God with our mind.
Here are my suggestions:
N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus
After a marathon conversation (19+ hours) with a friend who came in from Ohio, I knew something was shifting in the way I read the Gospels.Picking up Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus was a first step on a path to trying to understand what Jesus meant when he said “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven.” Also, what did it mean for Jesus to be the “Messiah”? Why did people react so strongly to what appears to be the most gracious, beautiful human life ever lived?
With scholarly skill and winsome narrative, Wright brings the reader into the 1stCentury world of Jesus. Once there, he helps us understand the implications both on the culture around Jesus as well as the world in which we live.
The takeaway for me was that our focus on a heaven after we die obscures some of the most beautiful things that Jesus brings to God’s story of redemption and re-creation of all things.
John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One
As a pastor and now “theologian in residence” at my church, I find that the questions surrounding Creation (detailed in Genesis 1 & 2) are still some of the most contentious. Two little chapters (though they aren’t small in content) create ripples in the discussions of biology, theology, and by default public education.
I have the privilege of having met John Walton, and his personality comes through in this book. He is a serious scholar of the Ancient Near Eastern world, the Scriptures, and the contemporary debate on how we read texts like Genesis 1.
In this book, Walton works from the premise that the point of Genesis 1 was not to detail a highly scientific process. The early audiences would not have known a microscope from a field mouse, plus the way they envisioned the structure of their world was vastly different from how we see it today.
The point of Genesis 1, then, is not to confirm modern science but to display the integrated presence of God in the created order. This books creates interesting questions for us: What was God actually doing when the Bible says he “created heaven and earth”? Did time pass between that first “creation” and the moment when God began to deal with the formless and void reality in front of him?
A strong takeaway from this book is a strong reminder to read the Bible in a way that respects the culture and worldview of the Ancient Hebrew audience.
Again, with these readings (and others that you might suggest) the point is to shape our minds around the idea and reality of God. In shaping our minds through this practice the goal is to be able to understand God, self, and others.