Renewing your mind is about more than porn

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Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

-Romans 12:1-2, TNIV

These verses show that how we think is intimately connected with who we are and how we act. I don’t wish to suggest that we are simply brains on sticks. Certainly not, we are a complicated interaction of mind, soul, and body. It is important, especially perhaps for evangelicals, to remember that mind is no less a part of our being than soul and body.

Os Guiness has suggested that we have fit bodies and fat minds. He wrote a book by that title, which contains this telling subtitle: Why evangelicals don’t think and what to do about it. We’re naturally concerned that our souls be reconciled to God through Christ. We’re concerned that we take care of our bodies (as evidenced by the proliferation of spiritually-themed exercise and weight loss programs). Google “Christian weight loss programs” and you will get more than 3.6 million responses. There are, however, few intellectual boot camps for Christians. Few resources for training the mind.

Paul’s words to the Roman church suggest that an essential part of faithful living in a fallen world is renewed patterns of thought. Growing up, I would have primarily applied this concept to personal, moral thoughts (i.e., renewing your mind means no longer having impure thoughts about attractive women, no longer thinking that it is acceptable to cheat on a high school quiz, etc.). Granted, the renewing of our minds would certainly entail the transformation of thoughts like this. However, these things are only the tip of the iceburg.

God is interested in our delving into deeper patterns of thought, patterns of thought that extend beyond our own inward and internal thoughts (i.e., what we think). God is also interested in what we think about and how we think (our process or method).

Followers of Christ need places to talk about what we think about important matters and how we go about arriving at the conclusions that inform our being and doing. Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us these things are already being shaped and acted up by forces external to us. Paul refers to, “the pattern of this world” (v. 2). John R W Stott points out in his classic book, The Christian Counter Culture (IVP) that Jesus challenges his followers to chart a course that in informed by the values of the kingdom of God. Jesus outlines these in the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon is a manifesto, a starting place, for the renewing of the mind which is rooted in believing what God has said and done in Jesus Christ. That renewal is extended through the apostolic witness to Christ contained in the rest of the New Testament.

This is our foundation, our starting place. And the work of the Christian is to be so saturated by Scripture that the ways we think and act become profoundly informed by the same values that are expressed in Scripture. We go beyond Scripture such that we form arguments based on revelation to teach us how to act on matters not expressly addressed by Scripture following the lead of those great souls who have gone before us.

And we do this in the context of a community that is perpetually coming to God in prayer, Word, and Sacrament: humbling ourselves before God for the purpose of turning our lives over to him.

This is as much discipleship as receiving Holy Communion, reading Holy Scripture, or praying the Divine Hours. This is the discipleship of the mind that Paul calls us to in chapter twelve of Romans.

Four things I love about international travel

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Tomorrow I’ll be traveling to join my wife who has spent the last week in Oxford, UK. She’s been participating in the Scholarship and Christianity in Oxford program at Wycliffe Hall. I’ll spend the last three days of her program exploring book shops, pubs, and the town. Then, we’ll spend three days together touring C S Lewis’s home, The Kilns, punting the Cherwell, taking high tea, and having as much fun as we can handle.

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I love international travel. I was fortunate to have spent the most formative years of my life outside of the United States. I was born in Cyprus. Spent four years in Germany (Berlin) and then ten years in Great Britain. I’ve lived in the Western, Southern, and Northeastern United States. Additionally, I’ve visited several other countries like France, the Netherlands, Brazil, Greece, and Turkey. By globe-trotter standard, not particularly impressive. However, many people never have the chance to leave their state let alone their country. International travel is a privilege, something accompanies sufficient affluence to be able to afford it and sufficient education so as to value it.

There are five things that I especially love about international travel:

  • 1. The chance to leave my “home” culture behind.
  • 2. The chance to absorb another culture.
  • 3. The chance to observe Christianity in that other culture.
  • 4. The chance to observe views about the USA in that other culture.
  • Don’t get me wrong, I love taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of other cultures. More than that, I always find myself observing, studying, probing the culture I’m in looking for connection between things that I’m familiar with and things that I am experiencing for the first time. That’s why I love international travel.

    The curious case of the praying valedictorian

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    My Facebook feed has recently started to light up with editorial responses to the young man in South Carolina who, as valedictorian of his graduating class, set his prepared remarks aside and elected to recite the Lord’s Prayer in violation of the school district’s prohibition of religious observance.

    Here’s the video.

    Your response to this act of defiance will likely differ based on your religious convictions, your political persuasion, and where you live in the country. Clearly those in the audience at the commencement exercise appreciated the gesture. From the video, it’s hard to tell what the faculty are thinking. Plausibly, “oh crap” is one possibility.

    The decision to do this raises many questions…

    • About the student: is he brave or stupid? Heroic or reckless?
    • About the audience: how would they have responded to a muslim student doing something similar? Is applause a sign of belligerence rather than the appropriate reaction to the worship of God?
    • About us: how is our response conditioned by our prejudice? Against Southerners? Against Christians? Against fundamentalists?
    • About the act itself: is it really an exercise more of devotion to our Constitution and our conception of freedom in a liberal democracy than it is one of devotion to God? How does this relate to the biblical admonition to honor the civil magistrate?

    This young man, I’m sure, intended that his act be one of positive witness to our Lord. I hope that in the lives of many it will be received as just that and that perhaps some will incline themselves to God in a new way. However, many will see this as something akin to an act of defiance by a dwindling majority.

    It may be both.

    What do you think?

    Don’t let this be you

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    I was walking in our backyard over the weekend and came across a curious sight. Several years ago a sapling must tree must have grown in such a way that its leading branch grew through our chain link fence–specifically between the chain links and the metal frame that holds it erect. The tree didn’t stop growing. Instead as it grew the metal cut into the trunk producing a tree with a metal strand embedded in it.

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    This is a powerful image of what happens to many Christians as they face key transitions in life. In my work as a campus minister I often observe the difficulty some students face in making the jump from undergraduate life to graduate study and from graduate school to professional practice.

    The fresh opportunities and, more often, the fresh challenges can cut into a Christian world and life view (borrowing that term from Abraham Kuyper) that is not sufficiently developed to handle them.

     

    Failing to attend to this often leads to significant challenges for Christians:

    • Leaving the church because the connection between Sunday and Monday is too tenuous
    • Leaving law school because the practice of law only ever seems to reach a proximate justice rather than full justice
    • Experiencing life in the absence of any sense that God cares about or values your work
    • Feeling the unrelenting pressure to perform and carrying that view into your relationship with God and gradually losing sight of the hope of the Gospel
    • Growing to resent God because of the great suffering seen in the lives of clients, patients, parishioners, or students

    How are you preparing for the next stage of your personal or professional journey?

    Are you making sure that you’re world and life view is growing, changing, deepening, and developing so that it is sufficient to aid you in faithfully following Christ?

     

     

     

    Five reasons the church should care about the arts

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    The dominant narrative around evangelicals and the arts is one that pits populist evangelicals as standing in opposition to or judgment upon the arts. Think: Thomas Kincade more than Rembrandt; Jenkins and La Haye, Left Behind more than Tolstoy’s, Anna Karenina.

    It’s true that evangelicals have a mixed history when it comes to valuing the arts. Thankfully there is some movement towards engaging and valuing the contribution the arts make to the creation of both a good life and a good society. One example is the organization, Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). CIVA explores the relationship between the arts and the Christian faith. I’m fortunate to know several people associated with this organization including its Executive Director, Cam Anderson.

    The evangelical church must make significant progress in valuing and embracing the arts as well as artists. This is the case both because the arts are inherently valuable (they’re valuable because of what they are) and because the arts play a critical role in the formation of culture.
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    Here are five reasons that why the evangelical movement needs to take seriously God’s call to be stewards and supporters of the arts:

    1. Art is an echo of God’s creativity and an expression of our nature as image-bearers. We create because our creator has endowed us with the ability to do so. We are, as Tolkien pointed out, sub-creators. Our creativity is contingent upon and flow from God’s creativity.
    2. Art engages our imagination, our primary faculty. In a technological age, it’s tempting to believe that rationality is our primary faculty. As G. K. Chesterton observed, “The only truly rational men are all in insane asylums” (that’s a paraphrase). His point is that being human means more than being rational. C. S. Lewis observed, “Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”
    3. Art reflects and interprets our present moment–it helps us to see ourselves. Art is the product of reflection upon our moment. Artists generally create in response to something that they perceive either in their own life or in the life of the community or nation. Reading art can help us to see our collective self through the eyes of another–an immense gift.
    4. Art communicates truth in a way that surpasses rationality. Rationality was king in the modern era. Today it will increasingly be important to communicate truth through forms that are adequate to the task and that also by-pass the epistemological uncertainty of our post-modern society. It’s very difficult–although perhaps not impossible–to argue that a piece of art is “untrue.” 
    5. Art expresses possibilities for the future. The arts can also help us to imagine what the future could be like. The arts often critique, but they are also able to communicate a positive vision for the future.

    Let this be a call to the evangelical movement to value the arts as much, if not more than, we have traditionally valued things like missions–art is, in its own way, an extension both of discipleship and of mission.