Spiritual Growth, Devotional
Conviction and the Mind
by Ed Vasicek
Some people like to think. I do only when it matters, which is why I never play chess. Some people hate thinking and reduce life to simple solutions and habits. Others reject simplistic and naÔve answers. Perhaps most of us are somewhere in between.
When you personally commit yourself to Jesus Christ and place your loyalty in His camp, a set of convictions are inseparably joined to that commitment. For example, you now embrace the belief that Christ is God, that He died to pay for your sins and rose again. If you do not embrace those convictions, you are not truly in Christ. They are inseparable. You now understand the Scriptures the way Jesus understood them, true down to the smallest strokes of the Hebrew letters, the jot and tittle (Matthew 5:18).
People who thought in deep ways before their conversion continue to think in deep and broad ways afterwards. People who thought in shallow fashion tend to do the same. In both instances, their convictions serve as boundaries of truth, and they often think more reasonably and realistically because of those convictions. For example, because we embrace the conviction that human beings are sinners by nature, we know we cannot create an Utopian society and so we do not even try. Secular intellectuals often have to learn this the hard way. We know homosexual practice is wrong because God says so. We do not have to study laboratory mice to figure this out.
But unexamined convictions and discomfort with thinking broadly and deeply lessen the credibility of our faith and result in a conglomeration of convictions, some of which may have no relationship to the Word of God and may even run contrary to it.
When Josh McDowell was in town in mid February, he emphasized how most evangelical Christians today do not know what they believe and even more they do not know WHY they believe it. He asked the question, "What evidence do you have that the Bible is true?" He ruled out personal testimony (logically so) because Mormons, Buddhists, and Muslims can counter with their testimonies.
I thought to myself, "Vasicek, at least many of our folks at HPC could answer that question." As a matter of fact, just the week before Josh visited Kokomo, I addressed that issue as part of a sermon introduction. I used the existence of the nation of Israel, despite genocide attempts and being without a homeland for 1900 years, as a simple evidence that the Bible is true. Of course no evidence proves the Bible is true; the evidence merely shows that it is reasonable to believe such is the case.
Unfortunately, all too many Christians would defend their belief by saying, "Well, thatís what my parents taught me." Iíd like to respond to such people in this way: "Who in the world are your parents? Did they work miracles? Were they raised bodily from the dead? Why should I listen to your parents anymore than my own?"
Josh then went on to demonstrate how Christians have abandoned absolute truth. For example, in most Bible studies, people ask, "What does this verse mean to you?" Now that is not a bad question if it means, "What do you think the author meant?" In that instance, we are acknowledging that it is the authorís intended meaning that matters. We might disagree as to what he meant, but we know it is only one thing. But if we mean to imply that the verse has an infinite number of legitimate interpretations, we may as well toss the book out. No one can be accountable to a standard that shapes itself to anyoneís whims. The Bible is an inspired book, not a magic book that moulds itself around our lives. It is true that we may find many ways to apply a truth of Scripture, but each verse has only one main meaning, even if it is also a prophetic shadow. It is the authorís intended meaning that counts.
Josh went on to emphasize one of my favorite themes: the importance of believers using and cultivating their minds. If you have ever read the Book of Proverbs, you realize that God places great emphasis upon wisdom. Proverbs inspires us to think things through first and then decide (look before you leap), to make commitments cautiously but to keep the ones we do make, to be receptive to correction, and to be anxious to grow in knowledge. Although wisdom is not emotionless, it is predominantly a mind thing.
So let me assume that you agree with me, that a mindless Christianity is not the best strain. How do we balance keeping our minds open when we embrace some pretty clear-cut convictions that limit our options?
First, be sure you have accurate convictions. What is their basis? As someone who was not reared in an evangelical home, my convictions came partly from the Bible and partly from the instruction of my parents. When I came to Christ, I tried to test my convictions by the Word of God.
If you were fortunate enough to have parents who embraced the faith, you probably received many of your beliefs from them. Thatís greatóIF those convictions are Scripturally demonstrable. God has children, but no grandchildren. Each one of us must personally covenant with God. If we choose to place our loyalties with Christ and His Word, we need to examine whether our inherited beliefs are consistent with His Word so we can make them OUR OWN beliefs.
Second, try to understand where others are coming from. There are intelligent people who hold to all sorts of viewpoints. Behind everyoneís way of thinking is a world view, a set of convictions. All convictions are NOT equally valid, but the behavior of most people is explicable when you understand their underlying beliefs. The 9/11 terrorist attack made perfect sense to me once I understood how the terrorists thought. Because I am convinced that the Bible is true, I can assert that their actions were wrong before God, too. The terrorists did not see it that way (they do now!). Remember Vasicekís law: "People always do what they do for a reason."
Third, we need to embrace logic. Logic is the friend of truth. We need to learn how to reason. Beginning with a Biblical world view, we can now attempt to reason. We find our major premise (for example, "all functional automobiles have wheels"), then our minor premise, ("my Dodge is a functional automobile") and we then draw a valid conclusion ("therefore my Dodge has wheels").
More importantly, we must avoid drawing wrong conclusions. "All functional automobiles have wheels. My Dodge has wheels. Therefore my Dodge is a functioning automobile." Hmm. What if my Dodge had no engine? Would it still be a functioning automobile? Using the reasoning above, we might conclude so.
Although textbooks on logic categorize fallacies in complex ways, the above error can be thwarted if we simply remember this principle: Truth is not necessarily WHOLE truth. It is true that functioning automobiles have wheels, but there is more truth besides that one: they also have engines, steering wheels, etc.
Fourth, letís read. Read your Bible, read good Christian books and even some good secular books. We also need to resurrect a concept that we are losing: the Bible needs to be studied. It is not enough to find a devotional nugget to enrich our day. We need to dig into the Word. Participate in Sunday School and attend services with a spirit eager to learn.
If the trend toward a more shallow evangelicalism continues, it is just a matter of time before our theological base disintegrates. When people divorce their faith from their minds, all sorts of strange filler materials creep in. If goofy doctrines replace Biblical truth, evangelicals will no longer be sharing the true Gospel. In our small way, letís prevent this from happening by activating those gray cells. Only you can prevent truth decay!
For further reading:
Beyond Belief to Conviction by Josh McDowell
Come, Let Us Reason by Norman Geisler
Intellectuals Donít Need God by Alistair McGrath
Lifeviews by R.C. Sproul
More Than A Carpenter by Josh McDowell
The New Evidence that Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell
The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire
Reprinted from the April 2005 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA