Summary: Your mind is a gift of God, and like everything else entrusted to you, it should be offered to God in stewardship, devoted to God in discipleship, useful to God in service, and focused on God in worship. We may be tempted to neglect the right exercise of our minds, perhaps thinking it’s less important than practical acts of service, devotional experiences, or relating with God, but those aspects of Christian living could be strengthened if we are willing to exercise our Christian mind in each of them. God has called all believers to cultivate and exercise their mind to the glory of God, and so my positive aim in these posts is to inspire you to claim your own part in redeeming the Christian mind.
“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there’s not much of an evangelical mind.”
Mark Noll, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1998), pg. 1
Scriptural Starting Points
The Bible has a lot to say about the mind. Each of these verses below could be a biblical starting point for discussing the role of our intellect in Christian living. Considered together, the overall witness of Scripture is that we have been gifted with the ability to learn, understand, remember, inquire, meditate, infer, discuss, create, imagine, believe, desire, discern, and distinguish. God has made us in His image with a vast array of intellectual gifts granted to us by His grace. It would be shame on us and an insult to God if we were to waste his gifts, or worse, to scorn them. Instead, these intellectual gifts are all the more opportunity to glorify God. Consider the affirmations and warnings about the mind
- Mark 12:30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (NIV; all references are NIV unless otherwise noted)
- Matthew 22:37 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind
- Romans 8:6 “The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
- Romans 7:25 “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin”
- Romans 12:2 “[D]o not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:16 “We have the mind of Christ”
- 2 Corinthians 10:5 “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
- Ephesians 3:15-16 “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (ESV)
- Ephesians 4:23 “Be made new in the attitude of your minds”
- Philippians 4:6-7 “present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
- Philippians 4:8 “[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
- Colossians 3:2-5 “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
- 1 Timothy 1:6-8 “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. Now we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully”(ESV)
- 1 Peter 1:13 “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.”
- Revelation 17:9 “[T]his calls for a mind with wisdom”
On top of these verses, we can add the entire genre of “wisdom literature” (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon). These books witness to the importance of honing our intellect with wisdom and mindfulness instead of thoughtless obedience or blind legalism.
Additionally, the biblical support for Christian mind grows deeper and richer when we consider that the Hebrews generally incorporated the “mind” within the concept of “heart” (i.e., it’s your “inner self” including mind, will, emotions). In this way, a treasure trove of Scriptures surface and talk about the critical role of the mind within the broader work of a Godward heart-life (Proverbs 3:5-6; 4:23; Psalm 51:10; 1 Samuel 16:7; et al.)
Clearly, the Bible has a lot of affirmation and instruction about the role of our intellect in Christian living. It seems patently obvious, within a broadly biblical worldview, that we should be thoughtful, intelligent, curious, studious people who are searching out answers, thinking about God, dwelling on wisdom, discovering solutions, discerning truth from error, and exploring the many and wondrous ways God can be glorified within every field of learning, whether the sciences, the arts, philosophy, theology, or any other field across the academy.
So what’s the Problem?
At a preliminary level, there does not seem to be any big problem with affirming the dignity and importance of the Christian mind. How could anyone have a problem affirming a strong and vibrant intellectual life for Christians? One would think Christians would overwhelmingly support academic pursuits, with rich and critical discussions into the hard truths and tough subjects, and a collective effort from believers to make sure we explore the many ways that God can be glorified in different fields of study.
If our Scriptural starting points suggest a high place for the Christian mind, why then does Mark Noll say in his historical survey of Christian intellect:
“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there’s not much of an evangelical mind?” (Noll 1994, 1)?
What is Noll so bent-out-of-shape about? Aren’t we already affirming the importance of Christian intellect by our normal Church activities like reading the Bible, sending our ministers to seminary, endorsing Bible colleges, and so on? Aren’t we doing our Christian duty, intellectually, by supporting and utilizing Christian schools and colleges?
I’d like to argue that our Christian intellect, which I’m just calling “the Christian mind,” is typically undermined by anti-intellectualism resulting in Churches that are often shallow, under-informed, and intellectually dull, with huge holes in our perimeter defenses where teens, young adults, intellectuals, and all manner of curious people are abandoning the church in droves. Meanwhile, those who stick around are often treated to heavy doses of emotionalism, experientialism, and pragmatism, all without the balance influence of a vibrant intelligent Christian faith. In this context, when we should be strategically transforming our culture, instead, we are being transformed by anti-Christian influences. Our evangelistic efforts are typically flipped inside out so that instead of redeeming the surrounding culture we are more often conforming to that very culture.
The Christian mind is not the whole solution, but it is an indispensable part of our Christian commissioning to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Unless we do our part to hone our intellect to the glory of God, we diminish our positive influence in society – we become dim lights and salt that isn’t salty. Only with a redeemed Christian intellect can we cannot realistically expect to transform the intellectual features of the university system, local government, major media, healthcare system, k-12 school system, the judicial system, or any other institution that is shaping the landscape of society.
***Forthcoming Part 4 – Why Does It Matter and How do we Do this?***
All Scripture references refer to the New International Versio (NIV) unless otherwise noted.
Mark Noll, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.