The price of free thinking

thThere is a serious tension between how to think and what to think.

Lois wrote us after reading yesterday’s Catch, “As a Christian and an educator, I know how you felt, John. It is heartwarming to find young people who think. Sadly, most schools are teaching information and not critical thinking. Blessedly, I have three homeschoolers who are intelligent thinkers. Praise the Lord!”

Yes, indeed, however there is a price to be paid for teaching any level of critical thinking.  

What do you do when you teach someone how to think, and then you don’t particularly like what they come up with? What if you teach your child to think for his or herself, and then you realize you raised an atheist? What do you do then? You lovingly enter into the discussion. You realize you can’t dictate what your child thinks, you have to enter into your child’s life and win them over with rational arguments and loving support and huge amounts of prayer for the Holy Spirit to grab a hold of their heart.

If you think about it, this isn’t too far from how the Lord must feel about us. He gave us a free will, and then entered into life with us, and we’re coming up with all kinds of crazy theories, religions and conclusions about who we are, how we got here and where this is all going. Don’t you think God knew this would happen? Don’t you think He has somehow worked His will into all of this without violating ours? Don’t you think He struggles with this? How He prayed over the great city of Jerusalem and wanted to gather everyone to Him but they wouldn’t all come (Matthew 23:37). “He came unto His own but His own received Him not” (John 1:11). How’s that feel for a parent? Not very good. Welcome to God’s world.

Here is the amazing thing: God gave us free will and then took the patience to enter into the conversation with us. Remarkable. God created us with minds of our own and then He says, “Come, let us reason together…” (Isaiah 1:18).

People are going to think what they want to think regardless. If we create an environment where they are free to do that, we are creating an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work. If we create an environment where a child is free to only think what we want them to think, we usually end up with either blind acceptance, rebelliousness or hypocrisy. Christian colleges are full of students who are throwing off the things they were taught to think at the first opportunity. This is why I like Christian colleges so much; many students are thinking for themselves for the first time in their lives. Yet as educators, we can enter into the discussion. That’s actually the part I enjoy the most.

Of course it’s easier when it’s someone else’s kid. Much harder when it’s your own. We have taught Chandler to think for himself and I must say, I’m not real happy about all of the conclusions he is coming up with right now. I get the appeal of only teaching what to think. It would be so much easier if we could get our kids to think like us. I often wish I could do that, but honestly, I don’t think you can anyway, unless you want to join a cult and brainwash everybody.

At the same time, when Chandler does come up with something on his own that is full of truth, there is hardly anything quite as energizing or exciting. Then you realize it is the Lord’s doing.

The other Chandler I recently met (see yesterday’s Catch) told me that he was a former atheist. After hearing from his mother, who commented on yesterday’s Catch, it would appear she is a believer. Let’s assume she’s been a believer for a while now and went through her son’s atheist period as well as this one now of belief and commitment. Imagine what that was like. Imagine the pain and the joy, and realize we have to know both if we are going to treat people the way God treats us.

I conclude these thoughts today with what she wrote: “Chandler is at least as excited to meet you, John! He thrives on great minds, deep thinking, and conversations of significance. I’m not so sure of the origin of this lineage….but how grateful we are for this blessing who is our son. I’m certain God has big plans for your Chandler and ours; it is exciting to ponder the possibilities of this journey.”

Yes, Bettina, indeed it is.

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10 Responses to The price of free thinking

  1. Mark Seguin says:

    Jus leaving a smile today 4 my Catch buddies… and i wuv y’all! 🙂

  2. Was pondering whether to comment or not because I am not certain that whatever my brain is processing can be clearly translated. In other words, it makes logic to me but I don’t know if I can relate sufficiently enough for it to make sense to others. Plus, it may be lengthy which will most likely put off some folks. Anyway, here goes…

    In my daily Bible readings this past Friday, the passages included 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Kings 13.
    This year, I’m reading through “The Message” edition and here are the specific verses that connected my thoughts to Johns Catch,”The Price of Free Thinking”:

    1 Corinthians 12:1-2:
    “I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn’t know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It’s different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can.”

    1 Kings 13: 4-6, 33:
    “When the king [Jeroboam, son of Nebat] heard the message the holy man preached against the Altar at Bethel, he reached out to grab him, yelling, “Arrest him!” But his arm was paralyzed and hung useless. At the same time the Altar broke apart and the holy offerings all spilled into the dirt—the very sign the holy man had announced by God’s command.
    The king pleaded with the holy man, “Help me! Pray to your God for the healing of my arm.” The holy man prayed for him and the king’s arm was healed—as good as new!
    After this happened, Jeroboam kept right on doing evil…”

    The New Testament passage is pretty easy to correlate to John’s message regarding independent and critical thinking – and our freedom of will to decide.

    What caught my attention in the Old Testament Scripture was that Jeroboam had (at least) three very personal encounters with God – or His emissaries anyway – and could have been ruler over ten tribes of Israel with the same security, renown, and future blessings as David had. God promised all of that to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:37-39) as long as Jeroboam would be willing to follow God’s guidance and directions.

    This is what gets me every time: Here was a man who knew about and experienced the healing touch of a very real God, was offered a promising future and, yet, decided to ignore all of that and do things his own way – a man whose name ended up being a scorned byword through the ages.

    Both the Bible and history are rife with stories of people who were so close to God – some whom actually witnessed and/or experienced His miracles or intercession in everyday events – and they still decided not to follow or investigate Him or His Truth any further.
    I shudder for those souls that had encountered God and, thus, with the free will He gifted them, thumbed their noses at Him.
    At least, though, Jeroboam, Pharaoh, the Pharisee’s, Pilate and numerous others who encountered the real Truth were actively engaged in their thought processes, wrong conclusions, and (poor) decisions. But, they were active participants nonetheless!

    In today’s technological era and information age – where critical thinking is set aside in favor of cat video’s – I wonder if the actual processing of thought is being subtly taught as too burdensome and the exercise of free will is portrayed as an entitled “right” rather than a valued gift (or blessing).
    Sure, access to teachings about God, Christianity, the Church and pretty much anything else is readily available at our fingertips and we have unrestricted access to most of it but are we really using any of this knowledge for anything truly meaningful or purposeful? Or are we, as a society (and community of believers), being lulled into some sort of stupor where we just accept whatever is displayed in front of our eyes and being trained to accept it all as “truth”… my truth, your truth, their truth, someone else’s truth, there is no truth, etc.

    Are today’s interactions with God – whether written, spoken, physical, or otherwise miraculous – being overshadowed by the seductive lure of the dopamine-inducing delicacies presented to our eyes and egos simply with the touch of a finger?

    Yes, “People are going to think what they want to think” – for today anyway. But it seems that we’re slipping into an era where effortlessness is the ultimate goal and that people will willingly surrender themselves “to think what others want them to think” – as long as those cat video’s keep coming!

    “God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can.”

    If what I wrote makes any sense to anyone, I’m open to whatever thought’s and/or corrections you’d like to express and share – thanks!


    • Chandler R. says:

      It’s so nice to meet you all. Thank you for your warm welcome.

      “Father in heaven! What is a man that you are mindful of him, a child of man that you are concerned for him—and in every way, in every respect! Truly, in nothing do you leave yourself without witness; and finally you gave him your Word. More you could not do. To force him to use it, read it, or to listen to it, to force him to act according to it—that you could not wish. Ah, and yet you do more. You are not like a human being. He rarely does anything for nothing, but if he does, he at least does not wish to be put to inconvenience by it. You, however, O God, you give your Word as a gift—that you do, Infinitely Sublime One, and we humans have nothing to give in return. And if you find only some willingness in the single individual, you are promptly at hand and are, first of all, the one who with more than human—indeed, with divine—patience sits and spells out the Word with the single individual so that he may understand it aright; and then you are the one who, again with more than human—indeed, with divine—patience takes him by the hand, as it were, and helps him when he strives to act according to it—you, our Father in heaven!”
      -S. Kierkegaard, prayer in reflection on Jas. 1:22-28, in For Self-Examination

      • Mark Seguin says:

        You’re welcome Chandler R. – Never read this S. Kierkegaard “prayer” before, yet it moved me and i fond a tear rolling down my cheek – because of the truth I found in it. Especially this part: “…Ah, and yet you do more. You are not like a human being. He rarely does anything for nothing, but if he does, he at least does not wish to be put to inconvenience by it…”

        Thx… 🙂

      • jwfisch says:

        Thanks for sharing this prayer. Sounds a little like grace turned outward.

    • jwfisch says:

      I thought it was brilliant. And who is going to teach critical thinking if no one gets it at home or in school? how abut Christians teaching and enbouraging critical thinking. I like that. That is placing ultimate faith in God who makes people see. If they don’t see, or they don’t want to see like Jeroboam, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway except to bear witness to the truth ourselves.

    • Chandler R. says:

      First, I just want to let you know that the line, “where critical thinking is set aside in favor of cat videos,” had me laughing. Clever comparison!

      Indeed, ‘people are going to think what they are going to think’… but have they been given the tools to think critically? To look beyond the surface and question the values of culture? I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but in any case…

      There is a movement in analytic philosophy, and especially Christian analytic philosophy, which seeks to recover an understanding of “virtue.” This type of philosophy is grounded in the thought of Aristotle, and often in Thomas Aquinas’s appropriation of Aristotle–and it is gradually pushing against the utilitarian approaches to ethics and knowledge in general that have dominated Western thought in the modern period. Much more could be said, but my point is this: in the modern era–an era marked by dependence on the hard sciences as the only viable source of truth, and by reliance upon technology to alleviate the perils of human suffering, especially the perils that nature inflicts–a pragmatic understanding of reality has been gradually percolating from the academy into the various crevices of society. And, of course, the members of the generations that have been raised under the tutelage of modernity have brought this mindset into the church; in my eyes, evangelicalism is suffering from the plague wrought by American pragmatism.

      The Catholic universities in the medieval period–and Oxford and Cambridge beyond this time period–propagated what is now referred to as a “Classical” approach to learning. This approach sees the various branches of study as inseparable and interconnected, and it acknowledges that theology is the trunk that allows all of the branches to thrive as a tree (Cardinal John Henry Newman’s book, The Idea of a University, is especially insightful with regard to the dissolution of the various branches of learning under the auspices of the modern university). This is the type of education I have received through the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola, and it is this type of holistic understanding that I believe analytic philosophers who champion virtue ethics and virtue epistemology are trying to recover through their philosophical work.

      In the last few centuries, members of the American church have been raised in a culture that champions pragmatism, and which propagates a utilitarian approach to reality… and to make matters worse, many evangelical churches have wholeheartedly embraced this pragmatism. In doing so, these churches have not only neglected to give their members the tools that they need to think critically about the cultural assumptions that they’ve inherited and the cultural practices that they participate in… but they have also, in many cases, neglected to give their members the tools to read the Scriptures fruitfully and responsibly.

      In response to the first part of your post: In conjunction with the Kierkegaard quote that I’ve posted below, I have hope for the future of the church because I trust that God is patiently, providentially guiding individuals to interact with him through the Scriptures.

      In response to the latter part of your post: we need to give members of the church the tools to be able to think critically, and we need to provide them with the type of education that enables them to approach reality holistically, seeing the parts in terms of the greater whole, and that enables them to gain the satisfaction that comes with holistic, more-than-merely-utilitarian critical thinking and discovery. This type of thinking will also enable them to read the Scriptures more fruitfully.

      Such a vision is nothing if it has not proceeded from the work of the Spirit. I believe it has, and I trust that he is working in us to help meet the needs of the church, which they may not recognize as needs.

      • jwfisch says:

        Couldn’t agree with you more, Chandler. Back in the nineties I published a book (What On Earth Are We Doing?) in which I had a chapter on pragmatic thinking and how it had permeated our thinking (if it works; it must be true). I’m glad to find out I was on the right track! I think I’m going to go back and read it now!

      • “But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet not withstanding go out to meet it.” – Thucydides

        I can’t dispute a thing you said, Chandler, but as you mentioned: I’m “in the choir”!
        And, I am comfortable knowing that “God is eternally relevant” whether in the past, present, and future regardless of human advances, indulgences, distractions, and atrocities through technological, biologic, or cultural evolution.

        Would like to say, however, my reservations about our westernized mindset, especially within the church, is that we are becoming so heavily-reliant on the EASE of access to virtually “everything” that the fruit of labor, if you will, dies on the vine before maturity. Therefore, any meaningful growth – and subsequent propagation – is thwarted both internally (within our personal lives) and externally (out in the world where we’re expected – and even commanded by Jesus Himself – to physically interact with others).

        To be sure, members of the church need to have access to any and all tools (or education) that will not only help them (us) to think critically but – more importantly, in my opinion – will also motivate them (us) to actually move beyond the domain of mere thought into practical (or pragmatic) action.
        Heck, we’re approaching an age where physical churches (and even pastors?) may soon be considered obsolete because we’ll think everything we need is a keystroke away.

        I am not vilifying social media (entirely) but we have now created and attached ourselves – like remora fish onto a shark – to the World-Wide-Areopagus where, similar to the Athenians, we spend our “time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” (NIV)
        But little or nothing gets accomplished – and real truth (lower case ‘t’) gets diluted, entangled, or lost in the process!

        This, I believe, is a critical juncture for the 21st century church:
        Are we inspired or motivated enough in this brave new world to exercise both our brains AND our bodies in service to God and on behalf of the souls He’s placed in our lives?
        Or, are most of us content to just absorb streamlined eye-candy and ear-tickling palaver that both feeds our egos and makes us feel ‘content’ about what we just learned – yet did nothing with the knowledge?
        We easily “let our fingers do the walking” (an old Yellow-Pages ad) over our wireless keyboards but will our feet follow suit in the messy physical trenches?

        Perhaps, in the grander scheme of things, this is a test that separates sheep from goats.
        We have our modern equivalent (via the internet) of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. The enticement of temptations abound but so does the lure of wisdom, reason, AND pragmatism.
        Will we just munch on the fruit or will we tend to the garden?
        Will we choose more to inhabit the virtual world or the real one?

        I have confidence that God will accomplish His purposes whether we, as individuals and the church, choose to watch cat video’s or actively engage in helping the destitute and others. There is nothing wrong with the former but the latter yields far greater satisfaction to both God and man.

        ~ ~ ~

        My apologies for the length of the above.
        Would, however, like to share a final word from Chuck Swindoll:

        Staying in Step

        Better than any other word I can think of, change describes our world. Vast, sweeping changes, especially in the last 150 years. Simply to survive requires adjusting, and to make any kind of significant dent calls for a willingness to shift in style and to modify methods.

        Consider two of the more pronounced changes in our world.

        Population. It was not until 1850 that the number of people on this globe reached one billion. By 1930 (a mere eighty years later) the number had doubled. Only thirty years later—1960—it had shot up to three billion.

        Speed. Until the early 1800s the fastest any human being could travel was about 20 miles per hour—on the back of a galloping horse. By 1880 the “streamline” passenger train whipped along at 100 miles per hour, an unheard of and fearsome velocity. Today . . . manned space rockets jump the speed to 16,000 miles per hour.

        And I haven’t even mentioned the technological advancements in the last century, or the enormous changes made in military armament and defense, agricultural processes, housing, modes of transportation, medicine, music, architecture and engineering, luxury items and personal conveniences, computers, clothing, and cars.

        Since God is eternally relevant, since none of this blows Him away (omniscience can’t be mind-boggled!), He is still in touch, in control, and fully aware. Why He has caused or allowed this radical reshaping of human history, nobody can say for sure. But we can reasonably surmise that God is up to something.

        Some would suddenly shout, “These are signs predicting Christ’s soon return.” Quite possibly. But what about until then? What is essential? We’re back where we started, aren’t we? Being adaptable, willing to shift and change.

        Take communication. We must hammer out new and fresh styles on the anvil of each generation, always guarding against being dated and institutionalized. This calls for creativity, originality, and sensitivity.

        More than anything else, I’m convinced, the thing that attracted people to Jesus was His fresh, authentic, original style in a world of tired phrases, rigid rules, and empty religion. Remember the report made to the Pharisees? “Nobody ever spoke like this man.” He was in step with the times without ever stepping out of the Father’s will.

        Though times may change, the Lord is constant.

        Excerpted from “Day by Day with Charles Swindoll” – Staying in Step:

  3. Mark Seguin says:

    Sounds like it will be a good book to put on my must read list: “What On Earth Are We Doing?” by John Fisher 🙂

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