Active Faith

The Christian Mind

What does it mean, then, to think Christianly? What are the distinctives of the Christian mind? There are many, of course, but five are most significant. by Bob Hostetler

A white building stands near my home. Heavy oak doors guard the entrance. Stained glass windows adorn each side. A cross rises from a single bell tower at its front, and the cornerstone still declares the date this particular structure was dedicated, over a hundred years ago, “to the glory of God.”

But it’s not a church. Not anymore. It’s called “The Choir Loft,” and it houses a business that sells fabrics and craft items. The structure looks like a church, but it is no longer Christian because it no longer functions Christianly.

That building symbolizes what has happened among Christians in the past century. Most of us still look, act, and speak like Christians, but inside—in our minds—we function no differently from our non–Christian colleagues and coworkers, acquaintances and antagonists. “There is no longer a Christian mind,” wrote Harry Blamires forty years ago in his classic, The Christian Mind. In other words, we may think as Americans or Canadians, Kenyans or Laotians. We may have a midwestern or southern frame of reference. Our thinking may be colored by our race, ethnicity, or
gender. But with few exceptions, we do not think Christianly; we
approach issues from a thoroughly secular perspective. 

“But we have the mind of Christ,” Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 2:16). Those who have experienced new life through faith in Jesus Christ possess a great and transforming gift: the ability to think differently. “To think secularly,” Blamires wrote, “is to think within a frame of reference bounded by the limits of our life on earth… To think Christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God.” 

The Marks of the Christian Mind

What does it mean, then, to think Christianly? What are the distinctives of the Christian mind? There are many, of course, but five are most significant.

1. An Acknowledgment of the Supernatural

A fundamental characteristic of the Christian mind is the perspective of eternity—not just life after death, but the understanding that there exists a reality beyond this world and this life. As Mr. Blamires states:

“The Christian mind sees human life and human history held in the hands of God. It sees the whole universe sustained by His power and His love. It sees the natural order as dependent upon the supernatural order, time as contained within eternity. It sees this life as an inconclusive experience, preparing us for another; this world as a temporary place of refuge, not our true and final home.”

Thinking Christianly means viewing life and labor, politics and pleasure, from the perspective of the supernatural.

2. A Holistic View of Self and Service

“Most conservative Christians today,” says Gary Sweeten, author of Rational Christian Thinking, “operate with a dualistic view of life and the universe, a view that is rooted in Gnosticism and Eastern thought. They separate their thinking into sacred and secular, spiritual versus material.” But the Christian view is that of Romans 12:1-2, in which Paul urges Christians to offer their bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”—which, he says, is their spiritual worship, and to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. J. P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and author of Love Your God With All Your Mind, adds, “Following Christ is not just a little compartment of my whole life, and as long as that compartment called piety or spirituality is in line, I’m doing a good job; following Christ affects every part of my life, including my mind, my intellect. There is no room for a sacred/secular separation in the life of Jesus’ followers.”

3. An Affirmation of Truth

The secular mind asserts the individual as the judge of truth; “you must decide what’s right for you,” it says, “and I must decide what’s right for me.” The Christian mind affirms the nature and character of God Himself
as the measure of truth; “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus said (John 14:6, NIV). As Mr. Blamires wrote:

“The marks of truth as Christianly conceived, then, are that it is supernaturally grounded, not developed within nature; that it is objective and not subjective; that it is a revelation and not a construction; that it is discovered by inquiry and not elected by a majority vote; that it is authoritative and not a matter of personal choice.”

4. An Awareness of Evil

The Christian mind is aware of evil in the world. The man or woman who is thinking Christianly will consciously acknowledge the fall of the human race, and the continuing battle between good and evil, right and wrong, remembering (in the words of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn) that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”—including ourselves. To quote Mr. Blamires again:

“The Church would have us turn to the world in judgement, with the utmost clarity and power in our identification of evil, yet in full acceptance of our common guilt—and, finally, with a deeply moving message of hope. For the Christian mind cannot separate from its judgment upon the world and its judgment upon the self, its realization that the world and its inhabitants are nevertheless God’s, by Him created and by Him redeemed.”

5. A High Regard for the Person

The person who is thinking Christianly will not fail to consider the human element in every equation. In contrast to the claims of Darwinism, human beings are not animals, to be exploited or engineered. In contrast to secularism, human beings are not cogs in a social machine. They are immortal souls, fashioned in the image of God. This concept, of course, will necessarily influence a thinking Christian’s view of issues regarding life
and death, science and health, and race and ethnicity (among others).

These hallmarks—an acknowledgment of the supernatural, a holistic view of self and service, an awareness of evil, an affirmation of truth and a high regard for the person—are by no means exhaustive. But they do sketch the basic outlines of the Christian mind.

The Making of the Christian Mind

The development of a Christian mind cannot be accomplished merely by reading an article, or even a series of articles. Nor is it accomplished by reading an entire book, or enrolling in a course. “A mind that is learning
to function well,” writes J.P. Moreland, “is both part of and made possible by an overall life that is skillfully lived.… You must order your general lifestyle in such a way that a maturing intellect emerges as part of that lifestyle. If you want to develop a Christian mind, you must intend to order your overall form of life to make this possible.”

The first step in the learning to think Christianly is prayer. Make the development of a Christian mind a matter of regular, focused prayer. Enlist the prayers of others in your efforts, and pray for the development of a Christian mind in those around you—your spouse, your children, your friends, your pastor.

Second, try to approach Scripture with “unfamiliar eyes.” Wade Bradshaw, former director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary, suggests, “pray for a new sense of unfamiliarity whenever you open God’s Word. Ask Him to let you read it, not for what you think is there, but to read it with unfamiliar eyes, to catch the surprising perspective, the new insight that might challenge your worldview.”

Third, acquire the habit of examining your own life. “The life which is unexamined,” said Plato, “is not worth living.” And Paul wrote, “Examine yourselves.… test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NIV). Regularly examine your thought and behavior, your opinions and statements, in the light of Romans 12:1-2, and in the light of the five marks of the Christian mind above.

Fourth, cultivate new habits that encourage the development of a Christian mind. J.P. Moreland suggests the following:

“Often, when our energy is low… we go into a passive mode and turn on the television. I believe that an intellectual life is easier to develop if a person learns to limit television watching and spends more time getting physical exercise… Learn to use low-energy times, or moments like after work or dinner, as occasions to engage in physical exercise. Try something. After dinner go for a walk instead of turning on the TV. When you get back, sit down for thirty minutes to an hour and read an intellectually challenging book. The important thing here is to get out of passive ruts, especially those passive couch potato moments, and replace old habits with new ones that create energy to read, reflect, and be more proactive.”

This will take effort, of course, but it will quickly become energizing, not draining. Active lifestyles encourage active minds.

Finally, set some goals that will encourage the development of a Christian mind, such as reading a book like The Christian Mind or Love Your God With All Your Mind every six months. Team up with a friend from church and hold each other accountable to read and discuss challenging books and periodicals, tackle specific issues, and develop new habits. Be alert for conferences, seminars and classes that will stimulate your intellect and help you to think Christianly on various topics.

Discover some of the recommended resources that accompany this article, and discuss them with your friends and coworkers. 

“If we are going to be wise, spiritual people prepared to meet the crises of our age,” writes J.P. Moreland, “we must be a studying, learning community that values the life of the mind.” We must be transformed by the
renewing of our minds. We must reflect the mind of Christ to our families, our friends, our churches, and our world. And we must pray, in the words of the hymnwriter Francis Ridley Havergal:

 “Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt choose.” 

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