Good morning! I am honored to be able to speak to you this morning. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Josh and I’m the Online Community Pastor here at Crossway Church. So last Sunday we began a new series called Catalyst. And our Family Life Pastor Colton kicked us off with a message on the importance of being disciplined. Particularly, the importance of making spiritual disciplines a priority in our lives, over other, less important disciplines. And I encourage you, if you missed the kickoff to this series, go watch it on our YouTube channel or our Facebook page. But this morning I want to sort of hone in on something a little more specific that, I think, we as a church can ignore, really to our own detriment. (and I don’t necessarily mean just Crossway Church) but rather we, the church at large and more specifically the church in America. An area of discipline that the large majority of Christians seem to neglect or think is unimportant and so consequently have laid down one of the most important tools for spiritual growth, deeper understanding of God, and strength in the face of opposition. The discipline that I’m referring to is the development and the care of the Christian mind.
Now before we unpack that and really look harder at this issue, I want to read a passage of scripture that many of us may already be familiar with. A passage that has been and will probably be read from this stage many times. And in Matthew Chapter 22, Jesus is talking to the Jewish religious leaders, as He did very frequently. And the Pharisees, who were a sect of Jews that considered themselves to be the most obedient and the most virtuous Jews…they had just heard that Jesus was able to answer some tough questions from a different group, and now the Pharisees wanted a go at it. And so one of them, who was a lawyer went to Jesus, and in verse 36 he asked,
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
~ Matthew 22:36-37 – NIV ~
Now let’s stop right here and really break down what Jesus is saying, because sometimes I think we gloss over this, and we actually miss something important that’s being communicated. Jesus is saying that the highest priority in our lives should be to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind. He’s teaching that above all, we are to love God in this whole and complete way. With every feature of our personhood. And the features that he mentions specifically are our hearts, which is more literally understood as the part of us that houses our affections or emotions, our soul, which is what gives us life and what animates us, and our minds, which is what houses our intellect or, more literally in this verse, our deepest thoughts.
And it’s this third trait that I want to really want to focus on, because I think too often, Christians completely overlook the importance and the connection between their minds and the rest of who they are. In the verse we’ve just read, Jesus calls us to love God, not just emotionally, not just in being and in spirit, but also, with our intellect, with our deepest thoughts.
In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote and encouraged the church to take this idea seriously. He says in 1 Corinthians 14:20:
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking.
Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
~ 1 Corinthians 14:20 – ESV ~
Likewise, the writer of Hebrews, confronts a group of Christians who had neglected to care for their minds, he says in Chapter 5 verses 12-14:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.
~ Hebrews 5:12-14 – RSV ~
We can see this relationship over and over in scripture between the way that we as Christians think and the depth of our spiritual development. And just like Jesus’ commandment implies, the maturity of our intellect is directly connected to our ability to love God more completely. Our response to God and the maturity of our thinking are linked up.
The Philosopher J.P. Moreland writes in his book “Love God With All Your Mind” that,
“Beliefs are the rails upon which our lives run. We almost always act according to what we really believe. It doesn’t matter much what we say we believe or what we want others to think we believe. When the rubber meets the road, we act out our actual beliefs most of the time. That is why behavior is such a good indicator of a person’s beliefs.”
~ J.P. Moreland ~
The way that we think, the ideas that we have about God, about Jesus, and about the entire Christian worldview, will ultimately be connected to how we feel and how we act. This is why it is important that we are careful and disciplined with our thoughts. How deeply do we think about the character of God, His power, His holiness, His sovereignty? How well can we explain and defend the conclusions we come to about Him? How much do we know about the history of the church and the work that God has been accomplishing over the millennia? Do the ideas that we have about science and morality and society conflict with our Christian ideas or are we able to unify all of our beliefs into a cohesive worldview? Our capacity to grow in the understanding of our faith is practically limitless.
But if I’m honest, I’m afraid, that indifference towards caring for our minds and caring for our intellect has already found its way into many Christian’s lives, and into the church. And this has become one of the primary causes of a lot of problems in our individual spiritual growth, in our church ministry effectiveness, and in reaching others with the gospel message. Because for many Christians, the mind has just been completely left out of the equation, and affections and emotions have become the entire story. And this expresses itself in how we interact with God and how we interact with other people and share the gospel message.
Some of us are stuck in our walk with God because the depth of our understanding is limiting our capacity to grow. Some of us may be afraid to share the gospel with others because our limited understanding hinders us.
And the failure of Christians and of the church to regularly encourage and participate in a robust, intellectual faith (to the same degree that we encourage a richly emotional and vulnerable one), has ultimately led to the general cultural perception that Christianity is shallow, anti-intellectual, useless for gaining real knowledge, and it’s essentially a personal and psychological tool.
An article in the Washington Post came out at the end of last year about a new study on the decline of religion and church membership in the US. The article was titled: One nation under God? More and more Americans don’t think so. And in this article the author reviewed the data on people who were leaving the church, and when reflecting on the reason for this trend, he writes, “Social and economic development renders human survival less precarious, human suffering less dramatic–and human beings less needful of existential comfort or guidance from age-old traditions.” In other words, he says, society keeps advancing, and so there’s no need for Christianity and its emotional comfort. He goes on to say that as more third-world countries develop and modernize, they will give up religion altogether. Now maybe those idea are correct, or not, but what’s really bothersome is that hidden in these conclusions is the general idea that the church and that Christianity have nothing more to offer than a way to cope with the world. Christians don’t have anything serious to say about the way the world is, they simply have a mechanism for pressing on in hard times.
And this is the sentiment that society has taken. That Christianity doesn’t have anything true to say and that it doesn’t have anything to contribute to the development of your understanding
And much of the mainstream hasn’t even been as generous as this article. The popular Biologist Richard Dawkins has called belief in God a delusion, He’s written a whole book titled The God Delusion. And talk-show hosts like Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais have called religion and Christianity a neurological disorder. Something like an intellectual defect.
Christians in movies are portrayed as communities of backward, outdated thinkers that need to give up the idea that they have any real knowledge.
The line of attack from modern culture against the Christian worldview has been primarily an intellectual one. And mainstream society has tended to view believing in Christianity as basically committing intellectual suicide. It’s looked at as some collective, emotional preference that is completely devoid of anything that a sensible, rational, person should accept. Faith, according to this perception, is just another word for indefensible, irrational, and unjustifiable personal belief.
And the reality is that many Christians themselves have started to believe this rhetoric, and so have given in to the lie that the decision to have faith in Jesus is equal to a blind and unthoughtful choice, and they’ve just become ok with that.
Now you might wonder why any of that matters. Why does it matter what people think about Christians? Why care what someone like Bill Maher thinks about Christians, or why does it matter if the media or universities portray Christians as unintellectual? Why does it matter if our faith as Christians is intellectually simple, as long as we love God and love others?
Well, as we saw from the very passage those commands come from, to love God and to love others implies the development of our intellect. And if Jesus’ command is to be taken seriously then I don’t think we can truly disconnect developing our faith intellectually from growing spiritually and loving God more truly and more deeply. And of course knowing things about God and about Christianity isn’t everything. We are to be committed, relationally to Jesus, to have his heart for people, and to be a follower in our obedience to Him. But the point is that knowledge is not disconnected from those things.
For example, think about when you need to go to see a doctor, let’s say for a simple checkup. You have some basic knowledge about that doctor right? He had to go to med school, he has other patients that he’s most certainly done this checkup on before. And that knowledge sort of establishes this baseline of trust that you have for him. But if you were to visit that same doctor for a very serious surgery, you might want some more info, right? You might want to know His history of performing this surgery, you might want to hear him explain the process, and you may even do a bunch of research about that particular kind of surgery yourself. And (assuming that he checks out), this new knowledge that you gain is going to help enable you to form a deeper trust in this doctor, to the point of allowing him to cut you open.
This is the sort of depth that we as Christians can miss out on if we become ok with a limited understanding of our faith.
But even besides that, I think there are actually two really severe consequences, that the Christian withdrawal from intellectual life has already resulted in:
The first is that people are abandoning the Christian faith because they think it is unintellectual
At the end of 2019, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and came across a post from a prominent Hillsong songwriter and worship leader. And it was kind of a long post and I noticed it had an unusually large amount of interactions so I decided to read it, and it was really sort of jarring what I read in his post. It said these words: “I am not in anymore. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I’m keeping it real.”
Now for those of you who are unaware, Hillsong is one of the most famous worship bands in the world. The music they put out is usually pretty amazing and we actually play a lot of their stuff here on Sunday mornings. We’ve even played songs written by the person who made this post.
So here we have someone, who is a fairly integral part of one of the most emotionally provocative, emotionally satisfying worship experiences in the world, communicating that he needs more. Who basically says that his head was completely disconnected from his heart and that tension needed to be resolved, but he thinks it can’t be done in his Christian context. I think this just emphasizes the importance that we as Christians must not neglect to care for the mind as deeply as we do the heart.
And sadly, there are a lot more stories like this, and what’s even more saddening to see, is that since around that time, an entire deconversion-from-Christianity movement has been happening among young adults. People all over have been coming out as no longer believing in the Christian worldview under the claim of intellectual dissatisfaction. And they’re making their own testimony videos and encouraging others who follow them to be bold enough to do the same.
And on top of this, the most serious issue of this retreat away from Christianity can really be seen in the faith of our younger students. Recent research conducted by Barna Group, Gallup Polls, and Lifeway suggests that about 40% (not far from half) of young students are walking away from their faith when they leave high school and most have already given up their Christian beliefs while still at home with their parents. According to Barna’s research, the perception that GEN Zrs (15 – 20yr olds) the perceptions they were found to have about Christianity and the church included the following statements: “I believe science refutes too much of the Bible” | “I don’t believe in fairy tales” | “The church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world” | “The faith and teaching I encounter at church seem rather shallow”
There’s no doubt that the failure of Christians to seriously engage in an intellectual way with their faith, particularly for the sake of our younger students, has had devastating effects. And these are just the effects we can see.
John Steingard who was the lead vocalist of another Christian band, Hawk Nelson, also recently walked away from his faith. And he made a statement on social media that seems to indicate that this problem is probably a lot bigger than we even realize. He said, and I quote, “I am now finding that I no longer believe in God…I have had private conversations with trusted friends about my doubts, and discovered to my absolute shock that they are shared by nearly every close friend my age who also grew up in the church. l am stunned by the number of people in visible positions within Christian circles that feel the same way as I do. Like me, they fear losing everything if they’re open about it.”
And it’s no wonder that these students and young adults, by the time they get in or through college and have been frankly, intellectually assaulted with all sorts of anti-christian philosophies, having never been taught to think deeply about their faith, it’s no wonder that many are so easily giving it up.
This perception that Christianity can’t provide people with real knowledge and truth, should concern us greatly.
For the sake of the resiliency of those who decide to follow Jesus. For the sake of our young students who are increasingly walking away from the faith, we need to get a handle on this issue. We need to engage in and take seriously the disciplining of our minds and to kill the cultural perception that to be a Christian means you need to throw away your brain.
But there’s a second reason why this whole issue matters, and that is that the culture thinks that believing in the gospel message comes at an intellectual cost.
The culture and what it thinks about Christians is our arena for sharing the gospel message. How much more difficult are we making acceptance of the life-changing power of Jesus if we are communicating to people (whether unknowingly or not) that it comes at a cost to their rationality. Most people don’t want to commit themselves to something they find unreasonable, and if for some reason they do, how long will they actually live that way? The cultural perception of Christianity is the ground laid for our reaching people for Jesus. And we as Christians play a part in cultivating that ground. We should not be ok with our immature thinking playing a role in closing someone off to the gospel. And If we are only presenting the gospel as a solution for some need that is primarily felt, then we are excluding or excusing people who are either out of touch with their feelings or don’t feel a need. In other words, we are potentially ignoring entire groups of people with the gospel if it is presented only as a way to satisfy an emotional void and not also as intellectually defensible truth.
The importance of making this a part of who you are as a Christian, a thoughtful, reflective, and intellectually developing follower of Jesus, matters to your own spiritual growth, it matters for the strength of those of us who claim to follow Jesus, and it matters for helping to shape a culture that can be open to believing the gospel message.
Now please don’t misunderstand anything I have said so far. I am not saying that emotional satisfaction, felt needs, creative worship services designed to cultivate a spirit of vulnerability, I’m not saying any of that is bad, or even bad practice. In fact, I think those are all very good and very necessary parts of our spiritual development and health. But what I am saying is that they aren’t enough. They aren’t the whole picture. Our love for God, as Jesus reminds us, should be holistic. It should flow from every part of who we are as persons, and that includes our intellect.
Now even though I’ve sort of just painted this picture of bad news about American Christianity, there’s also some good news. Some Christians have been ahead of the game in picking up on this perception that culture has of the church, and over the past really, like 15 years or so, there has been a new wave of influential Christian thinkers, scholars, philosophers, and theologians that have been doing everything they can to start pushing back, to engage in conversation with some of these public figures, and to create amazing resources that people like you and I can easily access and take advantage of in our own spiritual life.
So I want to talk about a couple of steps that we can take be participate in this movement and start to get more hands-on in being more intentional about taking care of our faith intellectually and start to take back some of the ground that I think we’ve lost in the culture.
The first is (if you haven’t) Commit to learning what we believe as Christians, and why we believe it.
Commit to understanding what it is that Christians say about reality, about God and Jesus and the purpose of our lives, and also the reasons as to why we think that those views are correct. The measure of understanding in our faith can go so much deeper than just “because the Bible says so.” Yes, Christians trust the bible as the word of God, but if it really does contain truth and genuine revealed knowledge of the world, then we can expect to be able to explore that knowledge in deep ways and give well-thought-out reasons for its truth. Of course, we’ll never be able to understand or explain everything, but we can always understand and explain more. In fact, I think it’s one of the joys of being made in the image of God to be able to continually grow in knowledge.
Now, If you don’t know where to begin in this area, I have a few recommendations for books that you can pick up, that are easy, short reads, and yet have really good content on Christian doctrine and arguments in their support. There are two books by the author Paul Little, one called “Know What You Believe” and the other called “Know Why You Believe.” In addition, I would recommend picking up Lee Strobel’s book “The Case for Christ” which is a look at the evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Make it a commitment to include deeper understanding of who God is, what he’s done, and how to defend those conclusions, as a part of your individual spiritual habits.
But the second thing you can do is to get signed up for Growth Track starting in the fall. Now, you might be wondering what this, what is Growth Track? Well over the past year or so, especially during the COVID lockdowns, our staff sat down and we sort of took a hard look at the things we’ve got going on here at Crossway, and thought about where we could improve, how we can better resource and enable people to grow closer to God and feel confident about sharing their faith with others. And something that our Family Life Pastor Colton actually came up with is this idea of Growth Track. So Growth Track will be a series of classes on different subjects like spiritual disciplines, deeper theological understanding, interpreting the bible, defending and sharing your faith with others… And these classes are gonna be offered twice in the fall, twice in the spring, and possibly once over the summer and will happen Sunday mornings during our 9:00 & 10:30 hours. And we really want to make the entire morning on Sundays, from 9 – 11:30 open for you to take advantage of extended and deeper learning opportunities on a regular basis.
And I’m really excited about what Colton has put together, he has got a lineup of some amazing classes and amazing teachers that I know you will benefit from. Signups for the first fall semester are actually opening today. So you can go to crossway.news, click on the Growth Track button, and browse through the available classes. And all of this is really designed with progress in mind, so you can complete a class and move into another. I want to encourage you, take advantage of this opportunity. I think it will really serve you in accomplishing some of the things we’ve talked about this morning.
I know a lot of what is going on and what I’ve described in American Christianity right now can feel discouraging and maybe even convicting, but I am optimistic that we can effect change even in our own city if we make top priority the command that Jesus gave us to love God wholly, with all of our hearts, with our souls and also with all of our minds.