(This is the second chapter from a ebook I recently released called “Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope.” It is available here, and an ebook version is available on Kindle, Apple Books, and Kobo.)
Can a thinking person be a Christian? Can a Christian be a thinking person? Is thinking discouraged within Christianity? I, for one, think that any religion that requires us to stop thinking is ugly. Is the Christian vision for thinking and thought beautiful, or ugly?
There is a lot of thinking going on in the Bible. We often find the Psalmists in deep thought:
“I remember the days of old, I think about all your deeds, I meditate on the works of your hands.”Psalms 143:5 (NRSV)
“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.”Psalms 145:5 (NRSV)
There is also a whole portion of the Bible known as “Wisdom Literature” which is devoted to deep thinking. As examples, we find wisdom applied to life in Proverbs and deep contemplation in Ecclesiastes:
I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven . . .Ecclesiastes 1:12-13 (NRSV)
Thinking continues into the the New Testament:
As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.Acts 17:2-4 (NIV)
Paul spent up to three years in Arabia following his conversion. Some Bible scholars believe this time was devoted to thinking through the results of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and how that event impacted religious thinking. With his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament, the startling revelation of the crucified, yet now alive, Jesus would have given him a lot to think about.
Second, there is a rich tradition of thinking throughout the history of Christianity. Some great thinkers throughout history include Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, and Descartes to name a few. There are many great Christian thinkers in theology, but also in every other field of study including science, literature, and philosophy.
Many people come to a faith in Jesus through thinking. We can think, for example, of C.S. Lewis whose journey to Jesus was very thoughtful. We can think of Lee Strobel, who as a journalist came to Jesus through his journalistic enquiry into the truth about Christianity. We can also think about J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case detective who realised in reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that there was a ring of authenticity about these writings as witness accounts. He used his skills as a cold-case detective and that led him to faith in Jesus. In his podcasts Wallace has often lamented that people say they are Christians because they are raised in it, have some sort of experience through it, or find it helpful. Instead, he says that becoming a Christian is a reasonable step of following the evidence. Thinking can be the means God uses to draw us to him.
Many people come to a stronger faith through thinking. When I first expressed my sense of calling to be a pastor, one of the leaders of our Convention strongly encouraged me to not go to Bible College before my seminary training. Rather I was encouraged to earn a Bachelor of Arts or Science and be sure to take some philosophy and psychology. This turned out to be great advice.
While pursuing a Bachelor of Arts at Trent University my thinking about my faith was challenged. I came to the conclusion that if Christianity were true, it would also be reasonable. My faith in, and understanding of, God, has only deepened thanks to the exercise of thought. Indeed a church can be a place where people are encouraged to be thinking and thoughtful.
Yes, a thinking person can be a Christian, and a Christian can be, in fact ought to be, a thinking person. As we saw earlier, Christianity does not require us to leave our brains at the door of the church. Neither does Christianity require us to leave our faith in the university parking lot. A worldview or religion that asks us to do either would be ugly. The Christian vision for thought is beautiful.