April 12, 2007

Renewing the Christian Mind: A Review of Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind

J. P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, has written an absolute must-read in his book, Love Your God with All Your Mind Moreland's basic argument is a simple but profound one: modern evangelicalism in the West has become largely anti-intellectual, and has lost much of its cultural power. The church needs to revive Christian intellectualism in order to engage the world and fulfill its vocation.

Moreland starts out by making the argument that since the Enlightenment and the Awakenings, evangelicalism has become largely anti-intellectual. In response to intellectual and cultural assaults from without (philosophical critiques, higher-critical critiques on the Bible, evolution), the church largely withdrew from the arena of ideas. Instead of engaging at an intellectual level, Christians grew suspicious of the whole idea of science or philosophy, and withdrew from the conversation. This has had a number of implications for the church: the misunderstanding of how faith and reason are related, the separation of secular and sacred, a weakening of missions, a largely irrelevant gospel of felt needs, and a lack of blodness in confronting hostile or wrong ideas.

This is the state of the christian mind into which Moreland comes. And his book is basicaly an argument for and proposal toward the deepening and reawakening of the Christian mind. He starts by making a case that Scripture basically mandates the development of the Christian mind. As his title indicates, we love God with our whole beings, and that especially includes the mind. For God is a God with reason (omniscient, wise, etc.), and God created reason. Truth is highly valued in Christianity, for we believe in a God of Truth. So study should be a natural result.
He closes the first part of the book by arguing that transforming the mind (as Romans 12:2 says) is absolutely fundamental to spiritual transformation. For our understanding of God and the world is directly related to our relationship with God and our attitudes toward God, ourselves, and the world around us. He further argues that the mind is an integraded and fundamental part of the soul, and thus its transformation is necessary to any deepening of the soul-life.

In the second part of the book (chs 4 and 5), Moreland starts to point the way forward toward the transformation of the Christian mind. He first begins by describing what he terms the "empty self," a set of values, thoughts, and behaviors that typifies much of the modern American mind. This empty self is inordinately individualistic, infantile (seeking to avoid boredom with amusement), narcissistic, passive, sensate, without interior life, and hurried and busy. This type of self is common in Western society, and in the church as well. So much of what he asserts as the solution to the problem of the Christian mind could be said to be a solution to precisely this problem of empty selves. He then goes on to begin outlining a solution, involving developing skills, abilities, habits, and attitudes that build the mind and push out the emptiness. This includes things as simple as knowing and using proper grammar and as life-long as developing and excercising philosophical powers of reasoning.

Part three of the book is a developing picture of what this new Christian mind can look like. He focuses on the theme of apologetics, asserting that rational defense for the faith is essential to Christian witness. He also demonstrates how the Christian mind should be intimately tied to our vocations. This includes painting a picture of how our faith and knowledge of God can and should permeate all areas of our lives, not just the "sacred" space on Sunday morning.

The final part of Moreland's book is a straight-forward proposal for how church could look different if it truly tried to foster the Christian intellectual life. This includes things as simple as uplifting and comissioning our Christian university and graduate students and professors, and things as straight-forward as broadening and deepening the church library. He also proposes the need for the church to be an education center. Sunday school is one possible point where this could occur, but churches can be creative in how they offer courses, and serious in their content (including readings, discussions, papers, etc.). The sermon is also another important piece. Sermons should be applicable, but they should also be educational, challenging the congregation to think and learn more as the basis for this new attitude or action. And occasionally, sermons should shoot for the upper third of the audience, instead of weekly dumbing down the message so that everyone can follow all of the points. Sermons could also be accompanied by weekly studies, questions to ponder, detailed outlines or additional reading, and bibliographies for further study. Last, he advocates a change in the way the church thinks about "senior pastors." Moreland asserts that this role has become a detriment to the church, as many people see the pastor as the "minister" (that is, the one doing ministry) in the congregation. Instead, he proposes that no one person should preach more than half of the Sundays in a year, and that a group of elders should be the functional and spiritual leaders of the congregation, jointly going before God and leading the congregation. This models to the church an attitude of discipleship, openness to God, and enabling of others to praticipate in ministry.

Moreland has presented a strong, integrated, and absolutely necessary call for a reinvigoration of the evangelical mind. As a rather intellectual person myself, I continually found myself agreeing with him, but I also found strong encouragement to grow much further in a number of areas. Apologetics will especially be an area of study I renew with fresh vigor. All churches and believers need to take the message of this book seriously. Because if we don't foster the evangelical mind, we are giving over "reality" to those who don't believe in God, instead of claiming all truth as God's truth.


Anonymous said...

I find this to be very true in the christian world today especially at the more fundamental/pentecostal denominations. It is really impotant to be confident that our faith is not just a way of life but that it trully is the reallyty. A it says in second peter, we are not following clevearly told stories, scripture is TRUE. This shoudl radicallly change the way we evangelize adn live our lives.

Anonymous said...

this was an interesting review. Tying our minds and Christianity is a must...atleast thats what i think its saying. I agree with him when he says that the Church needs to find more ways to reach out, instead of the one time on Sundays.


Anonymous said...

Too many times have I talked with my close Christian friends about theological issues and have come away thinking, "How did this person get into college!?" I think that this guy is right on in saying that intellectualism is shied away from in the church. THIS IS BAD! I think that it stems from a lack of faith and of discipline in many areas of our life including studying.

Anonymous said...

Also, it is true when he says that sermons should (and in most cases do) spark up questions and thoughts, challenging the congregation, putting our minds hand in hand with our faith which is a very good way to deepen and educate the Christian mind from what it is/has been lacking or pushing aside.

Anonymous said...

It bothers me when other people put Christians into a catergory of "dumb" a stereotype that shouldn't be true. What bothers me even more is when Christians place themselves into these categories because they have steered away from intellectualism. It is vitally important to understand the tie between the mind, God and the Christian life. I think the author is right on when he says that intellectualism is not encouraged in the church anymore. I completely agree with Stephen about talking to people and seriously wondering how they got into college (or out of college). We should be challenged on a day to day basis to think more and learn more.


--xxgeneralsaudixx-- said...

I think that the author has made some good points. We need to fellowship and worship God more than just on Sunday mornings. We also need to be educated and discreet enough to defend our faith in Christ.