Better Living through Better Theories

tikun olamThe ability to form and use theories is a gift from God to us. It may be, and often is, misused, but it is still as much a gift from God as human affection or natural beauty, and to be used for God’s glory. It doesn’t matter whether we realize it, or even whether we like it, we are using theories all the time. If we do not use godly ones, and if we do not develop a means of finding out which are godly and which are not, we will be using whatever comes to mind. Since we have no right to presume on God for the things that he has left it our responsibility to do, and since sin influences the intellect often quite unknowingly, the likelihood is that any theory uncritically adopted will be ungodly.

Here’s a quick illustration from law-making. Good laws, in part, liberate people to be loving. So what are we to think of a law that makes medical professionals, who happen upon the scene of an accident, afraid to help the injured person because they could get sued? This is not a law that liberates medical professionals (who could be quite loving in such a situation) to be loving. There is a bad theory behind such a law, which Christians working in the area of jurisprudence could seek to correct.

Since our wisdom informs our theories, the way to better theories, and to better living as a result, is to keep acquiring a wisdom that is becoming increasingly biblical, which, by the way, is the hope of this blog, I realize that this means we must continue to change, and that that means work, and, goodness knows, we’ve all got enough work to do anyway! But this kind of work is liberating. It sets us free to participate more consistently as co-workers with God in redeeming creation.

Yet we make excuses to get out of this kind of work, never mind that we have obediences to fulfill here as part of our Christian discipleship. Let me just point out one common excuse. On becoming a Christian a radical change gets introduced into our outlook. We now say that we know God, and we are likely to take the supernatural more seriously. Personal religious experience, such as prayer, communion, and church attendance, takes on an entirely new meaning. The Bible, our moral obligations, and the religious attitudes of others also begin to have a different meaning, and we acquire sympathy with the causes that Christians identify with.

Yet it would be unscriptural, besides being extraordinarily naive, to think that our entire wisdom on life changes completely straightaway. The Bible, after all, would not speak of the need for our mind’s ongoing renewal if that were so (Romans 12:1-2). And let’s remember the apostle Paul’s complaint that Christians fail to let the process keep working itself out (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Galatians 3:1–3; Colossians 2:20-3:2). Part of the difficulty, then, on the way to better theories, is that the process of acquiring a more thorough biblical wisdom stalls entirely too easily because we think we have arrived.

We fall into the trap of assuming that we are living consistent with biblical wisdom, that little, if anything, in our wisdom (the way we see life and live in it) remains unscriptural. This may be true regarding areas of religious convictions and moral decisions, but what about, as we saw in the previous post, our thinking about “secular” life?

map readingIn a recent post we considered that we get our wisdom by absorbing it from childhood. This includes absorbing assumptions and developing attitudes to life in conjunction with our families and the community and culture around us. Unfortunately, many of us have been influenced for decades by a process of wisdom formation in which life is thought to be split into the spiritual and the material, the religious (or sacred) and the secular. This has hugely influenced us to see Scripture as being only about spiritual things. So that becomes the only way we know how to think about Scripture and engage with it.

This means that those who desire to learn and develop wisdom for “secular” life will look to sources other than Scripture because the traditional, American Christian community doesn’t think Scripture has much, if anything, to say about our “secular” (our everyday) lives and work – call it life outside the church walls; Monday through Saturday life.

I’m not saying that there is no godly wisdom that can be found in sources other than the Bible. I’m saying that our assumption about the Bible is tragic because the Bible has an enormous amount to say about everyday life – the life where most of us spend most of our time, by far. And once you start seeing it, there is so much of it, you wonder how you every missed it.

Another obstacle in the process of wisdom development is our penchant to go it alone. But we cannot do this on our own. Christian life is about relationships and community in Christ, and the importance of this for the task of increasing our biblical wisdom cannot be overstated.

I’m not talking only about being in a church service every week. I cannot tell you how important it has been for me, personally, to meet regularly with people to “search the Scriptures” (John 5:29), which “are able to make [us] wise” (2 Timothy 3:15). Learning together has been especially important to me during periods when I have been struggling with an important issue and haven’t had a breakthrough. Although sometimes this has simply meant finding one or two good books on the subject or arranging for a longish phone call with a knowledgeable person, meeting regularly with people has proven to be a key for me.

Having said all this, I would not be telling the whole story if I did not add that today many Christians no longer see the Bible as being about spiritual life only, and as a result they are finding it a little easier to do the kind of biblical homework being discussed here. They have been awakened to their need for a truly coherent and thoroughgoing biblical wisdom, one that will inform their theories and speak to the “secular” affairs of life in a godly manner. But this wasn’t the situation decades ago in most Christian circles.

gobsmackedNevertheless, it still can be a desperate and daunting task. In our fast-paced and changing world, in which nearly every day some unexpected cultural, economic, or political challenge gets thrust upon an unprepared church, we may have few biblical clues to  guide us. It still is, after all, a comparatively new enterprise for us, and we often lack signposts, sophistication, and expertise.

Further, ministers may raise bewildered, even disapproving, eyebrows at our questions. Christian friends may struggle to understand what we are talking about and asking of them. Group discussions, even among those who do understand, may feel like a pooling of ignorance. Temptations arise to become impatient, or to fall for easy and dogmatic answers, or to wallow in self-pity (“nobody understands me”). But who said Christian discipleship was going to be easy?

When the Bible commands us not to be molded by the world but to have a renewed mind, surely this includes changing our thinking in secular life. This means that we have got to get on with learning the wisdom of Scripture for secular (everyday) life and work as best we can, so that through choosing better theories we can live lives increasingly for the glory of God in the world.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Parts of this post were adapted from Uncommon Sense: God’s Wisdom for Our Complex and Changing World, by John Peck and Charles Strohmer, Chapter 7.

A related post, about the ABCs of Scripture, may help interested readers with some practical steps to take this discussion to another level.

Center image by Ed Yourdon, lower image by Magdalene Roeseler (permissions via Creative Commons).

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