It is how people think, respond, react and outline a case that often marks them out as either Christian or sub-Christian and at times even non-Christian. When an idea provokes response the marks of a consistently Christian mind becomes manifest.
I see this at times when three different words come into play, three words that are profoundly Christian but which can be loaded up with MY convictions so much the words no longer have profoundly Christian meanings. These three words are grace, love, and justice. Sometimes grace is so large there is no repentance or holiness or transformation. Sometimes love is so fuzzy that it means tolerance of well-nigh everything, except a progressive’s pet peeves or a fundamentalist’s deep concerns. Sometimes justice is so central the church and evangelism are shelved and the gospel becomes anti-abortion or anti-whatever-the-GOP believes.
In our day, when everything important to Christians has become politicized, both on the Left and the Right, the manifestation of a Christian mind becomes A#1 Christian Virtue. Rich Mouw, in Uncommon Decency and Adventures in Christian Civility, speaks of civility and this essay today supports his valiant summons.
What then are the marks of a Christian’s mind, and what I mean What does the Christian mind look like when it is as consistent as it can be with the gospel itself?
First, it is capable of being challenged and confronted by the gospel itself. That is, whatever issue arises and no matter how long someone has held firmly to a conviction, that conviction must be challenge-able and confront-able by the gospel itself.
New issues demand such. Those who think, for instance, that Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch or science and faith or political platform postures or which denomination gets baptism right or the gifts of the Spirit or church order — I could go on but I’m done listing — those who think these issues are settled may simply be revealing that their minds are no longer challengeable.
There are issues that we may have worked on, say, in our twenties and resolved for ourselves. I get that and have that as part of my own approach to some issues. But a Christian’s mind is open to being challenged by truths, by new discoveries, and by fresh examinations by other thinkers. If you despise a challenge you may well be closed to the truth of the gospel’s challenges to your convictions.
Second, a Christian’s mind does not turn disagreements into a situation where those who disagree with you have become your enemies or you demonize them. We all have some thinkers who get under our skin or on our nerves. (Let me tell you something: if you don’t believe that you’re not honest or you’re just very very filled with goodness.) I want to assume the accuracy of my claim so we can get to this:
It’s how we respond to such persons that matters. I disagree with Tim Keller on some matters that are important to me, but I try to read each of his books because I learn from him each time. I agree with lots of what NT Wright and JDG Dunn and L Hurtado write so I read them, too. I disagree with Douglas Campbell and Beverly Gaventa on some central ways of framing Paul’s theology but I’ve never read a paragraph of either that isn’t informed, judicious and worthy of attention.
When we think all of our enemies are God’s enemies — didn’t Anne Lamott say something like this? — then we’ve demonized others.
So the Christian’s mind says, “She’s my sister, he’s my brother, we disagree, but siblings we are. Siblings grant one another the leniency of genuine listening.”
Third, I contend that a Christian’s mind is always ready for adjustments to one’s convictions. My contention, and I say this on the basis of how a wisdom culture works, is that adjustments are organically connected to the rock solid convictions of the sages of our Christian theological tradition.
Revolution is neither humble nor wise. Revolution throws aside the hard-fought wisdom of our sages, the faith of our fathers, and asks, when it is ready to render revolutionary judgments on intellectual topics of substance, “What would Grandma and Grandpa Sage think and what will our grandchildren think?”
Revolution is arrogance. It assumes everybody got it wrong. Wisdom permits organic developments.
But wisdom is ready for adjustments, for discernments, and for change. It just knows there are good ways to change and bad ways to change. My friend Ben Witherington wrote about the coming storm among Methodists, and he points his finger at progressives who are ready to chuck the guidelines for pastors. Ben sees this as a revolution, not a wise adjustment. Ben’s right.
Wisdom can adjust and adapt and adopt. Why? Because it is honest before truth and humble enough to admit it may be wrong and humble enough to say those before us got it right.
Fourth, and finally — and you may have others to add and please do so in the Comment Box, a Christian’s mind is transparent about the Bible. What does this mean?
A Christian mind is soaked in Scripture and its Story has engulfed the Christian and her mind. Consequently, a Christian’s mind openly confesses a window on the mind, and through that window we see a Christian studying the Bible, the whole Bible, contemplating what the Bible says and what the whole Bible says.
I like Greg Boyd’s book because I think the man tells us exactly what he thinks and how he explains all that nasty stuff about the warrior God. I don’t trust those who think they can explain some of that stuff away, and some of the references Greg cites are references one does not find in his opponents.
I despise political answers to tough Christian topics. I’ve seen it in emergers, in the Reformed, in the holiness crowd, in the Arminians… there’s enough politics to spread all around. Tell us what you think, I say to them, tell the truth. OK, you’re afraid of getting in trouble. Why?
Four marks, and surely there are more, but these are my four for today: A Christian’s mind is capable of being confronted by the gospel, does not turn disagreements into enemies, is capable of adjustment and eschews revolution, and is transparent about the Bible.