Jesus Calling: More Thinkers Needed in Today’s Culture
Increasingly, in today’s postmodern culture, we are living by imagination and intuition without regard for reason.
LAEL ARRINGTON — The more the world changes from modern to postmodern the more thinkers (and thinking) are needed. In today’s culture it is going to take more and more courage to stand against the feelings and experiences of other people. If we rely mainly on our own feelings and experiences to base our faith on, how will we have the courage to sacrifice? To go against the cultural flow? How can we grow as thinkers?
We find ourselves in a culture saturated with images — videos, games, selfies, Pinterest, movies, Instagram, TV, even notable quotes are embedded in pictures for heightened impact. And while images capture our attention, we don’t process them the same way we do words.
C.S. Lewis made the case that we are created with two ways of knowing: reason and imagination. We can’t really process words, paragraphs, history and letters without engaging our reason and logic to help us decode and interpret what we read.
God has also given us an imaginative way of knowing that directly absorbs pictures, music, symbols, metaphors and poetry into our souls where we then shape and critique it with our reason. But we don’t always process that way.
We can live by the experience and the emotion we feel in response to the pictures of hungry refugees and illegal immigrants without filtering it through reason. But what happens when we see the pictures of grieving families whose sons and daughters are murdered by illegal immigrants? We need reason to sort through the competing pictures.
Increasingly, in today’s postmodern culture, we are living by imagination and intuition without regard for reason. Why bother? With so many competing truth claims to sort through, postmoderns have lost confidence that Truth (that is true for everyone) even exists. What is left is for each person to create their own truth. And creating it through pictures and music, symbols and metaphor is far easier than employing our reason.
But the dangers are enormous: whoever can manipulate the pictures, music and symbols can steer people into creating what they believe is their own truth. Beyond the dangers of manipulation, how can we know anything with certainty based on feelings? Feelings change with the pictures.
Jesus calls us to believe based on the reliability of his Word — based on logic and reason. Read his responses to the Jewish leaders. In Matthew 22 the Sadducees challenge him about the truth of the resurrection of the dead. The teaching that will be the foundation for the gospel. The Sadducees disbelieve it. How does Jesus try to convince them otherwise?
He makes his argument based on very tight reasoning and logic from the Old Testament Scripture. “But about the resurrection of the dead — have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matt 22:31-32)
“I am the God of Abraham.” Not “I was.” Jesus makes his entire case for the resurrection from the tense of one verb, from this simple, logical contrast.
“Come let us reason together,” our God invites us. We are to live by faith. But that faith is not anchored in feeling or experience alone. It is anchored in reason. The most basic law of logic, the law of non-contradiction. A ≠ non-A. Two opposite ideas cannot both be true.
God said, “I am the God of Abraham.” If “am” is in the present tense — and if only living beings presently exist — then Abraham is living.
But, Abraham died long ago. If a person died — and if that person is now alive — then his death must have been reversed. He must have been resurrected from the dead.
If Abraham was resurrected, then resurrection must be true and real.
This passage always amazes me. It astonished the people listening at the time as well. I’m so grateful that we can have confidence in a faith based on the simplicity and certainty of logic and reason anchored in reality.
Lewis made a powerful case for standing on a foundation of reason and logic: “All possible knowledge depends on the validity of reasoning. If certainty is a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them … then we can have no knowledge.”
Note — We are not limited to knowing God through reason and logic. Jesus also calls us to believe based on our personal relationship with him as a living person, shimmering through the glass darkly. “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) As we walk with him we experience a direct acquaintance that goes beyond logic or sense perception. This is probably another blog post but I wanted to at least mention it here.
Thinkers tend to make decisions based on finding the basic truth or principle to be applied, analyzing pros and cons, and then being consistent and logical in deciding, not letting personal feelings get in the way. Feelers tend to weigh what people care about and the points-of-view of persons involved in a situation; they like to do whatever will establish or maintain harmony.
The question is, how do we see Jesus making his decisions? Do we see him disregard people’s feelings and relentlessly hammer them with the truth? Do we see him reinterpret the truth or soft-peddle it in order to maintain harmony? Again and again I see Jesus making his decisions based on truth enfolded in grace.
Accused before Pilate, he boldly proclaims, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to me.” To the woman caught in adultery he says, “… neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.” The truth is, adultery is sin. This woman has been caught in flagrant violation of God’s law. But under these circumstances, when the Pharisees were using the poor woman to try and entrap Jesus, he extends breathtaking grace.
So — How can we grow as thinkers? When we have a decision to make, we prayerfully step out of the flow of feelings and experience and seek God’s truth on the matter. And trust him to preserve relationships as we try our best to decide with grace and truth.
To anchor ourselves in truth we discipline ourselves to read things that don’t have as many pictures. We don’t break off after a sentence or two that require more effort to decode the logic and meaning. Read the news. But not just USA Today. Or even your local paper. Don’t just listen to FOX News or CNN. Rotate. Include some PBS or BBC. Subscribe to a digital version of America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times. I also enjoy the daily digests from The Stream and Trinity Forum.
We discipline ourselves to pick up a sturdy Bible study this fall, stay at it day after day, look up the verses, analyze, contrast, compare. Or for a devotional book we pick up something by Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias, N. T. Wright or Dallas Willard. Because we know that a steady diet of Jesus Calling will not transform us into the feeling and thinking people we long to be.
I am a part of a CS Lewis/Inklings reading group. This week we’ve been voting on what book to read. The fiction lover in me wanted to read one of his Space Trilogy books, Out Of the Silent Planet. But this time I voted for an essay by Dorothy Sayers, “Creed or Chaos?” I’ve also launched into a Beth Moore Bible study — five days a week, 45 minutes to an hour a day, thumbing through those Scriptures. Thinking deeply.
In these times your thinking is desperately needed. What are you doing this fall to grow as a thinker? Please respond in the comment section below. I really want to know. And grow …
Adapted from Lael Arrington’s Faith and Culture Blog, “Jesus Calling: More Thinkers Needed in Today’s Culture,” originally published September 8, 2015.
Reprinted with permission of the author.