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This paper was written by W.Simpson.

Mr. Simpson runs the LogosWord Website. He reminds his readers that he is not a theologian, 'just a layman with a laptop and a growing bookshelf'.

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Articles > Charismatic Theology > Maker of the Mind

Maker of the Mind

 

"I am not raving mad, most excellent Festus, but

I boldly declare words of truth and of soundness of mind."

 

(The Apostle Paul, Acts 26:25, Analytical-Literal Translation)

 

* * *

 

Over the last two centuries, the confidence of Christians in the reasonableness and credibility of their faith has met significant challenges from the sciences. With the almost wholesale acceptance of Darwinian evolution as a rational account of the origin of species, ridicule of a global flood and a host of similar assaults on the historicity of the Bible, disciples of Christ have found themselves forced to choose between two different positions in dealing with both established and emerging controversies. Of the two, the most comfortable is the ‘liberal’ choice: compromise. ‘We have placed too much stock on the plain reading and inerrancy of scripture - better go along with popular wisdom on matters of history, geology, biology, and reinterpret the Bible to fit.’ The other alternative is not so snug - the so-called ‘fundamentalist’ position: stand out and disagree! ‘Conventional wisdom is not God’s wisdom. It is in error.’[1]

 

  With both groups of Christians there have been two rationales offered for taking these different approaches to faith and the Bible. Among the compromisers are those who would argue that it is ‘anti-intellectual’ to go against the majority opinion. They are prepared to adjust their faith accordingly to accommodate the changes that popular ‘scientific’ opinion requires. Of course, that means re-adjusting their faith when the popular opinions change suddenly, even drastically![2] On the fundamentalist side, there are also those who appeal to reason to justify their stand. ‘The arguments of the evolutionists are flawed and irrational. This can be demonstrated. God’s Word has always suffered attacks on its reliability and has invariably arisen triumphant’[3].

 

  But perhaps the greater majority of Christians are those who have given up thinking about these issues at all. Whether or not they believe amoebas turned into men over millions of years[4], they are basically in agreement about one thing: reason and spiritual truth occupy two separate zones.[5] ‘Just believe in Jesus’ sums up their apologetic, whether or not they add, even under their breath, ‘that other stuff is just a lie.’ It is easier to deny logic or our ability to use it in matters of faith than to contend with those who do make some use of it (however poorly) in their assaults on the Church.

 

  The denigration of the mind and the ensuing slide into subjectivism is a sad loss for adherents to a belief system that actually validates our powers of reasoning, unlike its worst enemies in the academic world today, which have used naturalism as a construct and inherited what C.S. Lewis called its ‘cardinal difficulty’ in the process[6]. Although there are few Christians who would ask us to check our brains out at the Church door in so many words, one cannot help noticing something similar to this sentiment at work among various contemporary expressions of Christianity, including movements within the Charismatic Renewal[7].

  An example of this struck me recently on hearing one teacher exhorting us to ‘listen to our spirits’ to discover God’s voice and direction, because apparently ‘God doesn’t speak to our minds’. Although I believe the desire to encourage spiritual sensitivity in Christians is commendable (there are too many ‘practical deists’ in the Church), there is a problem with this counsel that needs addressing. To begin with, the formulation of the advice seems rather artificial. We do not meet with any command to ‘listen to our spirits’ in scripture. It seems the biblical writers did not believe the voice of God was confined to the pneuma. Rather, the whole person is involved in listening to the Spirit (cf. Ps. 143:7-8; Heb. 3:15; 4:12; 1Jo. 4:1-3). And this leads us to our second and most important point: This widespread tendency to divide the spiritual and mental faculties into separate boxes (not to mention the even commoner antithesis between physical and spiritual life) is entirely foreign to Hebrew thought, which is much more holistic.

 

  To illustrate, in the Old Testament there is no word for ‘body’ that is distinct from ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’. Apparently the biblical scribes did not think of the body as having an independent status or reality. The Hebrew word basar, which is the closest approximation to ‘body’, refers to the total life of a person[8]. The New Testament, although less concrete in its terminology, does not depart from this essential emphasis either. God created the whole man, spirit, soul and body, and considers them a unity together capable of response to its Creator’s touch; Paul significantly speaks of all three as an ‘it’ (which is ‘you’), not a ‘they’[9] (1Th. 5:23). The faculties of ‘mind’ and ‘spirit’, often vastly separated today in popular preaching, are both united in the Bible by their identification with the ‘inner man’ (or ‘the hidden man of the heart’. Rom. 7:22,23,25; 1Pet. 3:4)[10]. Likewise the terms ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’, whilst occasionally differentiated (1Thes. 5:23; Heb. 4:12[11]), are more often used synonymously in scripture (compare Matt 10:28 with Jas 2:26; Luke 1:46 with v47; John 12:27 with 13:21 etc).

 

  However, ‘Holism need not entail the denial that wholes contain distinguishable parts’[12]. Although terms like ‘spirit’, ‘soul’ and ‘mind’ are each used interchangeably in contrast with ‘body’ or ‘flesh’ in summing up man’s basic composition (Matt. 10:28; Rom 12:1-2; 1Cor. 7:34), demonstrating their close relations, they need not be viewed as exactly synonymous (cf. 1Cor. 14:14). If we picture man’s spirit as God’s channel into man, then the mind of the believer is waiting at the mouth of the river with outstretched arms to receive whatever God has to give him. In fact, whenever there is consciousness of an intelligible message from God, the mind is present and active (1Cor. 14:14). And of course, where the mind is active, the body also, for everything we think and do is done with corresponding physicochemical activity in the body. The mind, distinguishing God's voice from the background noise of our frail humanity, and even from demonic interference (1Jo. 4:1-3), is where God’s reasonable words are received and ‘heard’ in the flesh by the discerning Christian, even if we should allow that, technically speaking, the communication is passed through the spirit[13].

 

  Our primary concern here is not to write an anthropology, but to draw attention to an important aspect of Hebrew thought which will guard us from forming unbiblical, compartmentalised views of spirituality and life in general. The evils of this mindset can hardly be underestimated. It is through ‘partitioned thinking’ that people divide up their daily activities into the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’, instead of inviting God into their whole lives, that some suppose God only cares about healthy souls, but not healthy bodies, and that others imagine that religious truth belongs to another sphere, where rigorous intellectual endeavour is somehow out of place. To a greater or lesser extent, these unwarranted divisions, based more on inherited Greek philosophical assumptions than on careful, systematic study of the scriptures, work to fragment and dissolve our Christian devotion. The person who accepts, in whatever form, that God speaks to the ‘heart’[14], not to the ‘head’, will find it hard to resist the tacit suggestion that the mind – even the renewed mind – is therefore unimportant or obstructive in matters of revelation and can be (or even should be) sidestepped. He is subconsciously presented with an idea that will come into play time and again in his approach to his faith, and, if left unattended, will do its best to trip him up. For where an unwarranted divorce is made between that which God has joined together, the effects are invariably harmful and destructive: The anthropological dualism of the Greeks with its ‘soul versus body’ dichotomy led Christians into the practice of asceticism with its ‘harsh treatment of the body’ (Col. 2:23). The spirit-mind dichotomy of the Gnostics spawned a dualistic conception of knowledge that effectively shut down the intellectual discernment of many Christians during the early centuries of the Church.

  In contradistinction with the subjective illumination of Gnosticism, Paul presented his gospel as ‘true and reasonable’ (Acts 26:25). It was the disciples minds which Jesus opened ‘to understand the scriptures’ (Luke 24:43), giving the lie to the ‘spirit not mind’ dichotomy which has led some to conclude that we shouldn’t expect God’s word to make sense to our intellects. The better-informed believer is correct to assert that, on the contrary, God’s word when accurately understood ‘brings relief to the mind as well as a prick or prod to the heart’[15]. God made them both. Anything approaching fideism (the belief that faith doesn’t need a rational basis) finds no support in scripture. The Bible is the message of the God of truth, a God of reason and logic and order (Is. 1:18) who created and governs both the spiritual and the material realms. Greek philosophy posited a dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual, but ‘To the Hebrew mind a human being was a dynamic body-soul unity, called to serve God his Creator passionately, with his whole being, within the physical world.’[16]

 

  That we live in a fallen world is plain to see. Suffering and the separation of body and soul at death is not ‘normal’* (1Cor. 15:26), as far as God’s original design is concerned. However, the Bible proclaims a unifying salvation through Christ that restores the integrated wholeness of creation. The ultimate goal of the redemption our Father effects through His Son is ‘to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth’ (Eph. 1:10). Everything God has made finds its ultimate peace, harmony and fulfilment in Christ, including the human intellect, for we were made to love and enjoy our Maker with all our minds, just as much as any other aspect of our being (Mk. 12:30). The God of the Bible is not the deity of Islam, inscrutable to believer’s minds, nor the god of the Buddhist, who teaches his followers to abandon them, but a God who actually calls us to reason (Is. 1:18), to think maturely about spiritual things (1Cor. 14:20), and effect our very spiritual transformation by the renewing of our intellects (Rom. 12:2). This ubiquitous desire to dissociate mind from spirit, faith from reason, and spiritual truth from ‘the real world’ is as incompatible with God’s holistic plan of redemption as the Hellenistic longing to escape life in the body!

 

* * *

 

  The Martin Luthers and John Wesleys of the past did not seek a separation between the realm of the spirit and the realm of the intellect, and it is well that they did not. These educated students of the Scriptures have been described as ‘men of expert learning, skilled at wielding the sword of truth against the attack of agnostic or heretical contemporaries’. They ‘never questioned the relationship between their faith and their capacity to reason, because they believed God embraces both.’[17] Had they ever entertained the idea that spiritual things could contradict reason, and by extrapolation decided that the Bible was a matter of private interpretation, they would have found no objective basis from which to ‘earnestly contend for the faith’ (Jude 3) against the false teachings and philosophies of their time. The common ground of reason would have been barred from them.

 

  And what about Paul and Barnabus, who were frequently on the debating floor challenging Jews and Greeks and defending the faith (Acts 17:2; 18:4,27-28,19)? If you cannot understand the scriptures with your mind, why waste time reasoning with people? Why indeed should Paul connect the Corinthians abuse of congregational tongues with childish thinking (1Cor. 14:20), if the mental and the spiritual have barely a nodding acquaintanceship? In actuality, these men met unhesitatingly the intellectual challenges of their day, refusing to give in for a moment, ‘that the truth of the gospel might remain with you’ (Gal. 2:5). This great effort is best captured in the words of the apostle Paul, who declared, ‘We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2Cor. 10:5).

  If we too are to keep our theology sound and successfully fulfil the biblical mandate to be ‘salt and light’ in the world – in its gutters and in its universities, in the kingdom of God and in the kingdom of the cults – I am convinced that the modern disciple of Christ should not seek to sanction any unbiblical divorce in the marriage of faith and reason. The sanctity of this alliance has been demonstrated time and again in the life and ministry of Jesus, the apostles, and the many subsequent heroes of our faith who all embraced the biblical call for a developed mind, ever-ready to give ‘a well reasoned defence’ for the hope that is within us (1Pet. 3:15).

 

  The mandate to acquire wisdom and understanding (Pro. 4:5, 7; 16:16, Psa. 119:104), to obtain knowledge and shun ignorance (Rom. 1:13; 11:25; 1Cor. 10:1; 12:1; 2Cor. 1:8; 1Thess. 4:13; cf. 2 Pet. 3:8), to develop the mind (Mk. 12:30; Rom. 12:2) and become doctrinally anchored (2Pe. 3:16), is echoed and re-echoed throughout the scriptures. The prophet Isaiah asks repeatedly, ‘Do you not know, have you not heard?’ (Is. 40:21,28). Jesus frequently enquires: ‘Have you not read...?’. (Mat. 12:3,5; 19:4; Mk. 12:10 etc.) Time after time Paul repeats the question, ‘Don’t you know...?’ (Rom. 6:3, 16; 11:2; 1Cor. 3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19; 9:13). And how often are Christians chided for their ignorance and for failing to think clearly about their beliefs (eg. 1Cor. 15:12-14,32,35; Gal. 3:1; 4:21; Col. 2:8)? If we are to avoid being justly condemned as ‘ignorant and unstable people’ (2Pet. 3:16), we as believers must learn to actively engage in the time-consuming process of renewing the mind (Rom. 12:2); learning to think sensibly and biblically about God, ourselves and about the world around us. We cannot expect the Spirit to lead us into all necessary truth without an obedient response to the Spirit-breathed commands that call for honest thinking and reflective study, nor should we expect other people to accept our doctrines if we can offer no justification for them outside of our feelings and experiences. In the Charismatic Renewal, we value experience and spiritual power. However, ‘power without theology is dangerous’, as the gifted but childish community in Corinth clearly demonstrated! If the Church is to reach her full potential in these last days, she must know what she believes, be convinced that it is ‘true and reasonable’ (Acts 26:25), and be able to convince other people. Never again must she allow challenges to the faith and the contaminating influence of secular philosophies persuade her to question this ancient, biblical alliance between reason and spiritual truth. It is, in God’s eyes, a marriage made in heaven.

 


[1] I recognise that this is a somewhat simplistic overview of the body of Christ. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there are two basic attitudes to the Bible which shape the way Christians view controversial biblical assertions.

[2] Dr. Lee Spetner, in his assault on the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, points out that, just over half a century ago, the accepted scientific opinion was that the universe was infinitely old, having no beginning and thus requiring no cause. Spetner (a religious Jew) observes that this theory “denied the Torah concept of creation” and was rejected by Torah-scholars unanimously, despite the weighty scientific arguments that were being made at the time. However, science moved on, and the “Big-Bang” theory eventually replaced the infinite-age theory. Thus the basic position of the Torah scholars (and Bible-believers in general) was vindicated. Lee Spetner, Not by Chance: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution.

[3] The above is such an example. There are many others.

[4] C.S. Lewis, whom I have quoted in this essay, though in many ways a great defender of the faith against the liberalism and apostasy of his time, accepted evolution as fact and sought to integrate it into the Christian faith (see Mere Christianity, for example). I think the fatal flaw in his reasoning was the common supposition that the theory of evolution entails progress – that is, climbing some sort of ladder. In actuality, there is nothing purposive about it at all: Variations happen by chance. Those variations that happen to produce an organism better in tune with its local environment are preserved. But given a change in the local environment, the same alterations may become equally disadvantageous. No variation can be classified as ‘better’ in absolute terms, and the immergence of man or intelligent life is not inevitable.

[5] An example of this is the ‘NOMA’ philosophy proposed by the late Stephen Jay Gould. Gould, a famous evolutionist (and an atheist), claimed that religion and science are ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ (NOMA), which apparently means that they can both sit side by side. What it really seems to have meant is that science is about objective facts and religion is all in your head.

[6] See C.S. Lewis, Miracles, “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism”

[7] Let me say from the outset that this is not intended to be a comprehensive, ‘balanced’ teaching on what the Bible has to say about the role of the mind in the life of the believer. When the apostle Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God-- not because of works…”, (Eph. 2:8-9) and the apostle James wrote, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (Jam. 2:24), they were both speaking into different situations with different audiences in mind. Likewise, this paper has been written to respond to a particular ‘need’ perceived in Charismatic/Pentecostal circles. I wrote it to encourage myself as much as anyone else! However, a different message with a different emphasis may be needed for some Christians who have reduced their Christian life to mere intellectualism. Such believers would do well to ponder Dr. Jack Deere’s “confessions” in Surprised by the Voice of God.

[8] See Ken Blue, Authority to Heal, chp. 12, pgs 139-143.

[9] Paul, in wishing that “your spirit and soul and body be preserved whole and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” deliberately uses the singular rather than the plural form of the verb tereo (be preserved) and the singular form of the adjective holokrolos (whole) (1Thess. 5:23). This does not imply a rejection of trichotomy or dichotomy as such, but it does confirm that Paul conceived of man as an integrated whole.

[10] I am not suggesting that the particular theory of trichotomy which locates the mind in the soul and distinguishes the soul from the spirit is necessarily unbiblical. A holistic trichotomy that emphasises unity is an adequate corrective for the anti-intellectual tendencies of this theory in its more primitive manifestations. Such a proposal exists in Man as Spirit, Soul and Body; Trichotomy in Exchanged Life Counselling, by John Woodward.

[11] Various arguments have been made to explain away the fact that spirit and soul are presented as separate in these verses. It is beyond the scope of this paper to address them here.

[12] John Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate. As cited in Horton, Stanley (Editor), Systematic Theology (from a Pentecostal Perspective), chp. 15, Divine Healing

[13] I have often met the following basic formulation in Charismatic teaching: God’s thoughts flow from the mind of God to the Spirit of God, to the spirit of man, to the mind of man.

[14] Another false division has been made between ‘heart’ and ‘mind’. See for example Luke 5:22 and Mark 2:6,8.

[15] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

[16] Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham. As cited by Joe McIntyre, Healing in our Redemption

[17] Larry Taylor, Do Full-Gospel Ministers Need Theology?


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