“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” – C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (101)
My journey of faith included a lot of thinking about what I believed and why I believed it. I often wondered about whether the things my parents had raised me to believe were even true. I knew many people who believed all sorts of different things; I knew Muslims, Mormons, agnostics, atheists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. They were all very sincere, but I knew that we could not all be right. I knew that I could be sincere but be sincerely wrong, just as much as anybody else. A good portion of my journey was trying to navigate and sift through all of these different worldview narratives. I could just ignore that voice in my head and try to stifle the questions about meaning, existence, and an afterlife. It actually wasn’t hard to do; apathy is not chore. In fact, it is a very comfortable fallback. Though I tried, there was always the occasional nagging question that would arise.
One day in church I heard someone quote Jesus saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). That was not something new to Jesus’ audience; he was actually quoting Deuteronomy 6. But all of a sudden, it seemed new to me. It begged the question, what does it mean to love God with my mind?
In order to understand what it does mean, it is important that we understand what it doesn’t. Loving God with your mind is not a passive experience. It is not simply having thoughts about God. Rather, it is coming to conclusions about God through His revelation, based on examination, and thoughtful consideration.
Active and passive faith
The way the Bible describes this process does not allow us to put our thinking on auto-pilot, even if, at times, we want to. In 1 Peter, Peter writes that we should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope that we have.” That word “prepared” (also translated “ready”) holds the connotation of being athletically qualified. When I did my undergraduate degree, I ran varsity track. I was a short-distance sprinter and I devoted a lot of time within my week to building endurance, speed, technique, and strength. However, if you asked me to run 100 meters in ten seconds today, there is no way on earth I could pull it off. I am simply not prepared.
Similar to the limited time frame and upkeep that fitness requires, Peter is reminding us that our faith, our lives—that which merits having a hope that others will ask about—needs to be active. Like physical fitness, it takes work, but it also requires maintenance, perseverance, and active conservation. Practice and skill is involved throughout such a process. Thinking is a tool that requires preparation and proper employment.
We live in a world where we are constantly being bombarded by information. Sometimes simply being asked to think about one more thing can feel exhausting. Yet, what is the tool that we need in order to observe the world around us and separate truth from falsehood? The device we use to do that is reason, the ability to use our minds well to sift through the information we are being inundated with and draw accurate conclusions about what is true. This is essential when it comes to discerning our faith. Rationality is a key tool that God has given humanity to understand and comprehend truth—His truth.
Sometimes we can think of our faith as something that is personal to us individually. It is the feeling we have when we encounter God in nature, or at church, or listening to a specific worship song. Personal experience is definitely an important part of spiritual health, don’t get me wrong. However, we are challenged by God Himself, to love Him with our minds. To use the gift as rational beings to sift through the worldviews around us and differentiate what is truth (and who is the Truth). And on the whole, I would contend that this is not best done as a solitary process. That type of journey is done in the company of others who can challenge our claims, propose conflicting ideas, and force us to think through our presuppositions.
My own journey of solidifying what I believe involved a careful examination of the evidence, of thinking through whether the Christian faith was indeed true. If true, was it something that required great attention or little? Coming to terms with loving God with all of my mind was admitting that I needed to take his truth seriously, and consider whether I thought it was true enough to devote the time and effort to stay spiritually fit. The facts are not the reason I am saved; salvation took a supernatural work of the Spirit to remove my heart of flesh and give me a heart of stone. Yet, I had to come to the point of admitting that I had no more intellectual or spiritual excuses to justify not taking my worldview seriously.
Similarly, I get emails from individuals on a weekly basis who come from backgrounds of various ages, creeds, and worldviews, all of whom are working out what they believe and why they believe it. Sometimes these emails come in the form of questions and inquiries, others are angry and want to prove me wrong, and some use language I would not feel comfortable writing here or reading out loud. Yet nearly all the responses, both negative and positive, reveal the fact that they are wrestling with the truth. They may not like it, they may be confused by it, they may be scared of what it means, but the truth remains true nonetheless.
This has been made very clear to me in two particular emails. The first I received after speaking on a university campus for an outreach event. A few days after my talk, I received an email from an individual who came into the room as an atheist but ended his email: “I am not entirely sure I’m an atheist anymore and I think it’s your faith…” Signed, “a very bothered, potentially new Christian… theist?”
The second email I received was from a Muslim student who watched a video of mine on Youtube. He set out to expose me and prove me wrong. Yet he became uncomfortable with the questions he was forced to ask in this process. Within the email he said, “I would like to talk to you further, because if what you say about Islam is true, then I think what you say about Jesus might also be true. If it is,” he declared, “then I think I might have some serious decisions to make.”
The philosopher Blaise Pascal once said that, “[People] despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next, make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.” In other words, “Love the Lord your God with all of your mind.”