“Pastor Keith, what do you think about _______________?”
This is a question I receive on a pretty regular basis, with all sorts of issues and concerns filling in the blank at the end of the question. The topics range from current hot-button political and social issues to questions about biblical interpretations and applications.
I have to confess that most often my default mechanism is to not answer the question directly. A couple of weeks ago, during our bible study with some students from URI I think I frustrated them all by refusing to directly answer a couple of their questions. Instead I prefer to help people think for themselves, a skill that seems to be in remarkable decline these days. We’re used to seeing something that we agree with on FaceBook or Twitter and having the extent of our critical thinking be to decide whether or not we should simply “like” the post, “retweet” it, or add some kind of comment when we do.
As a follower of Jesus, one of the most important things I think I can do is to engage my own mind in critically thinking about the questions we face in an increasingly complex world every single day. As a pastor with a responsibility for teaching others, it seems to be part of my job to help others do the same. I don’t want you to just regurgitate what I’ve said – I want you to have thought it through for yourself. So for the next few weeks I decided to write a series of posts on how to think for yourself as a follower of Jesus.
The best place to start would be here:
If you want to think about issues as a follower of Jesus, you need to know what he knew.
By that I don’t mean that you need to be all-knowing, but that you need to be familiar with the Scriptures as a whole in order to know what Jesus knew. This is not a matter of simply reading your Bible and then asking “What would Jesus do?”, but reading your Bible and asking something like, “What did Jesus know about his Father that led to his actions or words in this moment?” The Scriptures are not necessarily meant to be an answer book for every possible situation we face or issue we need to address. They do show us the character and nature of God, and in showing us that, shape the way we view the world in relationship to God.
When we pick and choose a couple of texts here and there to make our argument, or worse yet, take a verse totally out of its context and use it to make our point, we are really doing violence to the Scriptures, and often end up reinforcing the perception of Christians as having checked their brains at the doors of faith. Instead, take a bigger view of what is going on throughout the whole scope of the Bible. The best way to understand a particular situation is not always to find its direct equivalent in Scripture, but to think through how a person committed to the mission of God in the world would act in that moment. That’s where the ability to think critically comes into play. I wish that it was always as easy as picking a story from the Bible and mimicking the actions of the characters on those pages, but I don’t think that’s how God intended for us to interact with the Scriptures.
Instead God seems to have revealed something about himself through those pages, and invited us to interact with him through those stories, letters, and even poems. This means that when I read Scripture God pushes back on some of my assumptions, experiences, expectations and even things I have learned. In other words, it’s not a comfortable book. As God speaks through those words, he doesn’t often acquiesce to my understanding. In fact, he frequently challenges both my thinking and my actions. As a committed disciple, I really do long for that challenge, because it is the only way I have ever deepened my thinking about him and the world.
This is the same process we apply to anything that we have ever learned. Everything I have ever learned has happened through that process of challenge, questioning, and subsequent growth. Our learning about the Scripture will not be an exception to that rule. You will have to come to its pages with your questions, allow your expectations to be challenged, and then let your understanding develop out of what you read there. As your understanding grows you will be more prepared to think with a solid Biblical base.
I don’t think this means we will always agree on every answer to every question, but I do think that it will help us to think more deeply about the questions we both have about how to best engage a complicated, sometimes confusing world for followers of Jesus.
And, don’t be surprised if the next time you ask me a question, I don’t give you a direct answer.