Sending Our Minds to Pasture

At first, it seemed an odd request. But it came again. And again.

“It” in this case was an invitation to speak to a group of residents and guests at a retirement facility. While there may be nothing so unusual about that in itself, the topic requested was postmodernism and truth in contemporary theology. Postmodernism for seniors. Hmmm. Truth and philosophy in generous portion. I’m interested.

After the most recent such event I received an email expressing appreciation. That’s all well and good, and nice to have, even if it can be pro forma. But it was the specifics of some comments that made me think. They referred to the fact that the people who participated, including asking good and relevant questions, had not had opportunity to engage in those philosophical ideas and implications for many years, perhaps not since college. The greater portion of these folks have been in church all of their lives. Thinking about that simply brought home to me the reality and the impact of our divorcing of faith from reason in so much of the church.

The enthusiasm with which the subject was engaged made me think in retrospect that to the extent that we have bought into the separation of mind and heart, we have stunted the development of both individual Christians the church itself. And to that same extent we have failed to present to the world the full riches and possibilities of a God-centered view of the life in this world. For the believer, it is like having a missing or atrophied part of the body–we’re just not able to fully function as designed. For the church, it is as though the message of Jesus is addressed to a world we have not yet seen or experienced, even while people live, grow, and suffer in this world—and we wonder why we’re not heard. For the world, it is nothing less than hiding the key to truth as applied to many areas of life, specifically in philosophy, psychology, sociology, politics, and economics.

One movement in contemporary theology claims to take this seriously. Radical Orthodoxy seeks to view every discipline and dimension of life from a worldview shaped by the biblical narrative. Alas, it hasn’t gotten off the ground, in spite of great minds being involved. For one thing, the major spokesmen say much about the about the Bible, but very little from the Bible. But on the other hand, there has been very little preparatory work done in the churches to receive what they are attempting to do; that is, it is so far from our way of thinking about faith that it has no way of gaining traction.

Have we accepted a mindless faith? Is that the kind the Bible offers? If so, what are we supposed to think about? And what do we think about what we think about, to repeat a phrase from a few days ago? What do we say to my new acquaintances who are surprised and delighted to talk about the life of the mind?

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5 thoughts on “Sending Our Minds to Pasture

  1. I’ve often yearned for a Christian community where it was acceptable to have intellectual conversations face to face. People get annoyed if the answers in Sunday school aren’t “Jesus, God, read the Bible, pray.” Even debates about “grey area” issues often get met with blank stares or even direct “you should ask those questions at home” responses (because I’m a woman, I guess). Some people have responded to our questions and conversations with (I’m not joking) “you’re just too smart for us,” and then they won’t let us talk about those questions anymore.

    But then at the same time, I’ve had some friendships where people always want to discuss spiritual issues in an intellectual way, and they never want to move on to practical application. That’s aggravating, too, but it’s so much rarer than the first situations.

    • Your experience is all too common; we don’t want to think, but when the challenges come from outside we fold–because we don’t know how to think or how to lead the other person to rethink their own assumptions. We just want to feel good and safe.

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