Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

We close the week with a question from Erin, a podcast listener in Sherburn, New York. “Pastor John, I just listened to the APJ episode #634: ‘Is My Bible Reading Too Academic?’ It is wonderfully instructive. I’m the academic type. I’m no genius, but I enjoy the exercise of thinking. It’s almost athletic to me. It is food. But, here is my question: When I am being academic to the glory of God, discovering his word rigorously, systematically, in detail in a regular, disciplined manner, and that study is raising my affections for God, and when I rejoice in God when I am done, when I want to bow down, or lift up my voice in a hymn, as a result, when I am more in love with him, if all that is true, how do I help the people for whom thinking is a turnoff? That for whom dividing things too closely leaves them feeling cold, as you say?”

The first thing I would say is that you should make clear to those folks, the so-called non-thinkers that we are going to talk about, that you believe, you know that some non-thinkers may be far better lovers of people than many thinkers are. Make sure they know that you don’t think thinking is the one criterion by which a person’s worth or effectiveness or virtue is determined. So they need to get that.

Then I think the challenge is to find ways of motivating them to think as clearly and logically and biblically as they can. And my assumption here is that, all things being equal, a person who thinks clearly and logically and biblically will be more fruitful and more effective than a person who doesn’t. And, of course, I know all things are never equal. And so less gifted thinkers may be far more fruitful, far more effective in life and ministry than some thinkers are. But that doesn’t change the fact that any given person who has many wonderful personal gifts will be more fruitful and more effective if they grow in their ability to think clearly, logically, and biblically.

So how might we motivate everyone to grow in this skill? Now since non-thinkers are unlikely to be motivated by thinking, the most fruitful approach for Erin, the thinker, is to show the kind of fruits of her own thinking which non-thinkers really get excited about. And it sounds like Erin is really good at this. She talks about her affections for God being raised, about rejoicing in God, loving him, wanting to lift up her voice and sing a hymn because of her thinking. And all of that, it seems to me, is exactly what would awaken an emotionally hungry non-thinker to be curious. “How do you keep the fires of your emotions stoked like that?” And then you would be able to give some illustrations of how thinking provides the kindling that you throw on the fires of your heart.

But it may be that some of the non-thinkers that Erin knows would, indeed, be inspired to push the envelope of their own thinking habits if they saw biblical reasons for doing so. Not everybody, perhaps, but some might be. So let me mention a few. These are helpful for everybody to consider, especially young people who are just getting started as they discover what their brains are for:

First, the Bible repeatedly shows that God has given us the power of thinking as a servant to the power of feeling or vigorous proper emotions. First Peter 1:13 says, “Gird up the loins of your mind” (KJV). The ESV translates this: “preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” So what is the connection between setting your hope — that is an emotion — fully on God? Answer: The loins of the mind have been girded up so that the mind can be active and effective in the use of the promises of God to throw the kindling of the Word on the fires of hope. That is the way the Bible thinks about the relationship between thinking or the mind and hoping or the heart.

Second, I would point out to people that God commands us to think about what he has revealed in Scripture and shows us that this thinking is the means by which he gives understanding. Second Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” God’s giving of understanding happens through our thinking.

Third, the apostle Paul thinks that it is fundamental to the way we are spiritually transformed in life that our minds are renewed. Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” So if we are going to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, Paul assumes it comes through a renewed mind. And what minds do is think.

Fourth, I would point out that when Paul wrestled with whether he would pray or sing in a rational way, or a less rational way, he insisted that the best solution was both. First Corinthians 14:15, “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” He is probably talking about tongues, and that means his mind is not fully engaged. He might not even know fully what he is saying. When Paul has to choose between the emotional overflow of inarticulateness and the emotional overflow of mental clarity, he says: Why should I surrender either?! I love it.

Fifth, the Bible treats some kinds of thinking as childish. There is a kind of thinking that we should leave behind in childhood and move along to mature thinking. First Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” He is making an analogy, but the analogy is valid to refer to the premise that children think differently than adults. Let’s move on. First Corinthians 14:20, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” Philippians 3:15, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

So if the so-called non-thinkers that we know are moved by the Scriptures, maybe these kinds of passages would stir them up to apply themselves in ways they never have.

But I am going to end like this. I am going to circle back for Erin and simply say to her: You should keep on enjoying the fruits of the emotions and affections that your biblical thinking is awakening, because those kinds of fruits, those robust, proper, Bible-saturated, truth-based emotions are the most compelling argument you could give to non-thinkers for why they should want to stretch their minds more than they have.