Friday, March 24, 2006

“Love your God with all your mind” - JP Moreland

Tim over at posted a review of a book Phil at 16:16 recommended to me years ago. It was "Love your God with all your mind" by JP Moreland. I really enjoyed it then. Later Matt Brennan who chips in at Irish Reformation suggested that a group of Irish pastors read it and discuss it via email. Here's my comments of chapter five - for those who havent read the book - it might make you want to read it; for those who have - it might serve to make you think about what you read. I don't think you'll need to have read the book to find some of this useful.

All in all its a good book.

Summary and Comment on Chapter 5 of “Love your God with all your mind”

This is the second chapter in the second section on developing a mature Christian mind, and falls into two main sections:
  • Forming habits of the mind
  • Principles of reasoning
Forming habits of the mind

Good points

  • The need for discipline in order to think Christianly. “To develop a Christian mind skilfully, you must want to be a certain sort of person badly enough that you are willing to pay the price of ordering your lifestyle appropriately” – p105 I think this is something amongst Irish Christians that we need to encourage. We need to be setting before them the need to spend time reading and thinking over their Bibles, to the extent that sacrifices need to be made in other areas – such as entertainment.
  • His section on the virtues to be cultivated in Christian thinking had much useful material. Five sections of virtues – Wisdom/honesty – trust – nondefensiveness – fortitude/zeal – commitment to God’s glory not our own.
  • The first section on honesty made an excellent point “God is not honoured when his people use bad arguments for what may be correct conclusions.” This is something we can help people with in our preaching, by being rigorous in what illustrations, examples we use. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell people that there is no proof that Darwin recanted, that NASA haven’t found the missing day of Joshua, etc.
  • The second section on trust seemed slightly out of place, yet the point is a necessary one. We need to have a complete trust in God and trust that his truth is complete and perfect and thoroughly equips the man of God for every good work. Our people need to see that we are happy to face the hard questions, that we have a supreme confidence in the word of God. When we answer such questions, or counsel on the basis of the Bible and not popular psychology, and when we take a stand on ethical/moral issues on the basis of what God says – then our congregations will be encouraged to see the Bible has being complete, and that they have nothing to fear in trusting the Bible.
  • The third virtue of nondefensiveness – great point. We need to learn to dispassionately dissect the oppositions arguments and highlight their weaknesses. Also we need to be able to see the good in what someone is saying so that we can, if possible agree on some issues, before launching an attack.
  • Fifth virtue of not caring what the world thinks of us is a useful one too, especially when many of our decisions will be at odds even with other ‘christian’ church leaders.
I would have added love and humility to the lists of virtues to be cultivated. It is easy to become proud in what we have learned, or in our intellectual ability. It is easy to wheel out the big guns of our arguments and blow someone out of the water – it might make us feel good, but it doesn’t win the soul.

Application to Ireland
  • I really think we need to do all we can to encourage and equip people to ‘gird up the loins of their mind’. Perhaps more one-to-one discipling would be useful – for if we can equip them to think and to use the resources God has given them, then they will grow more, be better equipped for standing for Christ.
  • Encouraging our people to read good Christian books, perhaps meeting with a few people to show them how to study their Bibles, rather than just assuming that they know how. One to one Bible studies on a weekly basis with a few people.
  • Great comment - “If all you do is read simple books or those that over emphasize stories or practical application, you’ll never learn to think for yourself as a Christian” (p112). Perhaps we could do more to encourage our congregations to read. Or perhaps it requires a more particular approach – recommending specific books to specific people.
  • Challenging sloppy thinking in our discussion and Bible studies. Too often perhaps we allow someone to say, “To me, the passage says…”followed by a comment utterly removed from the context. If we love people we have to help them (gently) to think biblically. I sometimes think that the failure of Christians to be able to see what a passage says stems from a style of preaching where the minister took a text and used it as a spring board to launch into a hundred other topics, and people think “Wow I could never have got that out of the verse”. And hence they think that when we look at verses we are to look for something that isn’t there! The corrective for this is to explain the text in such a way so that people can see that everything we say comes out of the passage.

Principles of reasoning

Weak points

  • Ok, so I like argument, and logic, but I wasn’t completely sold on the whole presentation of syllogisms etc. You can think clearly without necessarily being able to divide your arguments into their component parts, just like you can drive a car well without being able to dismantle the engine.
I wasn’t sure how much use this section would be to our congregations/fellowships. We’re not going to stand up and teach a logic class. Perhaps too much emphasis on the intellect – Christianity isn’t just for clever people.
  • Emphasising logic has its place, but logic taken beyond the bounds of scripture is heresy. Sometimes people can get so caught up in logical thinking that they reach unbiblical conclusions. Moreland doesn’t emphasize the need to allow scripture to govern logic at every stage
  • I think that this is one weakness overall of the book (which I still think is an great book) – Moreland doesn’t pay enough credence to the impact of sin on the intellect. He seems to think that if only we could present things clearly enough people would be persuaded. But sin leaves us radically damaged in our mind as well as our heart.
Good points
The most useful aspect of this section was the part dealing with fallacies. These are much easier to grasp and explain than all the syllogism diagrams, and people use them all the time in argument. Once pointed out, they can be seen over and over again. Many conversations contain a good number of these fallacies, and so becoming familiar with them will help Christians in conversation and witnessing.

It also will help believers to base their own arguments on a more factual basis rather than false arguments.

Applications to Ireland
I suppose we need to watch that our preaching is well argued and reasoned, rather than emotional hype. Also that our argument is based on the text and not on emotional or fallacious reasoning.

I wonder whether taking an evening at the midweek meeting and using it to share what we’ve read in this section, especially the fallacies, would be helpful.

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