Bibliotheca Sacra 143 (Jan. 1986) 3-13.

          Copyright © 1986 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

 

Thinking like a Christian

               Part 1:

      The Starting Point

 

  D. Bruce Lockerbie

 

 

The Egocentric Predicament

 

The title of this series, "Thinking like a Christian," denotes

both a topic and its context; it also points to what ought to be the

consequences of a Christian education. In the modern era, "think-

ing" has been equated with the human state of existence by both

philosopher and medical ethicist. Rene Descartes declared,

"Cogito, ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am"). In elevating sheer

"thinking" to the acme of all argument for existence, Descartes and

his followers diminish all qualitative measures of human experi-

ence. Why "I think"? Why not "I love, I serve, I give"? Cartesian

rationalism gives fuel to the so-called Enlightenment, empiricism,

the scientific method, the primacy of logic, the objectivity of rea-

son, the preeminence of mechanical and managerial efficiency. By

extension, Descartes' maxim results in mechanistic reductionism.

Thus in hospitals today where patients are being sustained by life-

prolonging technology, decisions to pull the plug and terminate

artificial means of support will be made on the basis of whether the

patient is "brain-dead"—no longer capable of transmitting brain-

wave evidence of life.

According to William Temple, late Archbishop of Canterbury,

the moment of Descartes' Cogito, ergo sum may have been "the

most disastrous moment in the history of Europe” –the birth of

scientism.1 For as Jacques Maritain points out in The Dream of

Descartes, the French mathematician was not interested in what

 

       3



4                      Bibliotheca Sacra - January-March 1986

 

he thinks, why he thinks, or the moral obligation on the thinker.

The goal of Cartesian reasoning is not really to know, says Mari-

tain, but "to subjugate the object." Thus "rationalism is the death

of spirituality" because, Maritain notes, Descartes' aphorism leads

straight to self-worship: "Here is man, then, the center of the

world. "2 Baillie agrees in speaking of "the egocentric predicament"

brought about by the exaltation of rationalism.3

Today people have learned to express Descartes' slogan with an

emphasis on the first-person pronouns: "I think, therefore I am."

People have accustomed themselves to think primarily of self:

"What's good for me? What's in it for me? What have I got to gain or

lose?" But such egoism, the doctrine of enlightened self-interest,

quickly declines into egotism, the heresy of the imperial self. And

from there it plummets to the cult of solipsism, a theory proclaim-

ing the omniscient self, the repository of all truth.

Contemporary manifestations of this delusion are evident

everywhere. "Whatever you think is true, is true," Sally Jessy

Raphael advises her nationwide radio audience. A bumpersticker

reads, "Question authority." A Valley Girl chomps on her bub-

blegum and emits her wisdom: "I'm comfortable with that." A TV

psychotherapist counters a question about deity, saying, "The

supernatural is interesting, but so far there's no scientific evidence

that the supernatural exists. It's healthier to count on what's real."

Rationalism, egotism, solipsism—these represent "the ego-

centric predicament." One dare not consider "thinking" in a vac-

uum but only in a moral context, within the parameters of a moral

position, determined by an awareness of and submission to moral

responsibility. For in the end, how a person thinks affects what he

thinks, which in turn affects what he does.

By the words "how we think," this writer does not mean to

discuss a variety of cognitive theories—electrical impulses on the

cortex, left side of the brain versus right side, Bloom's taxonomy of

knowing, and other concepts. Instead, "how we think" speaks of

the system of values that informs one's thinking, the vantage from

which his thinking obtains its perspective, the platform on which

a person stands; in short, "how we think" derives from one's

Weltanschauung, his world and life view

From the Cross and empty tomb a Christian can see cause for

hope, even in the face of cruelty, despair, and death. This is not a

feckless hope, a sort of silly optimism; it is hope tried out in the fires

of adversity and hostility. It is, in every sense of the word, hope-

against-hope, except that, in this case, a Christian's hope stems



The Starting Point                                         5

 

from the fact of the Resurrection: because Jesus Christ lives,

believers too shall live. This fact of faith determines "how we think"

about everything. It is the ultimate hope, for it points to the

ultimate Good, of which the ancient philosophers spoke and for

which all mankind searches.

 

     Plato's Line

 

In The Republic, Plato offered a visual aid to describe various

ways of thinking, as a person ascends toward knowledge of the

Good. A vertical line is cut in two unequal parts. The bottom

represents the visible world of appearances; the top, the intelligible

world. Again each of these two sections is cut in the same manner,

separating the material from the ideal. Lowest on Plato's line are

mere images or shadows; above them are the material objects they

reflect. This is the world of appearances, physical and moral,

inhabited by those whose grasp of reality is limited to the material

order of things. The intelligible world exists in similarly related

stages. Below are opinions and hypotheses, such as may be used in

solving a geometry problem; above, the abstract ideals (which Plato

called "Forms") to which the geometric figure one draws can be only

an approximation. These ideals or forms may be perceived only by

intuition or enlightened reason.

Taking these four divisions on his line, Plato related them to

what he called "four faculties in the soul," arranged in an ascend-

ing order of perception. At the bottom is conjecture, what Francis

Cornford calls "the wholly unenlightened state of mind.”4 Next

comes faith, or "common-sense belief." In this context Plato was

not commenting on religious faith; rather, he equated this level of

perception with trust in the visible assurance of things—perhaps

in the same way a general has faith because of the number of tanks

he sees ready for combat, or an investor has faith because he knows

the strength of his diversified stock portfolio. But such faith is

nonetheless inferior to the next level, understanding, suggesting

deductive thinking or logical analysis. In fact Plato served up a gag

line for Socrates to deliver: "One who holds a true belief or faith

without understanding is just like a blind man who happens to

take the right road."  Highest on the line comes knowledge, or

intuitive reason. But above and beyond the apex of the line lies the

Good, that impersonal source of truth, virtue, justice, beauty, and

goodness. For as Plato would have Socrates say, "The Good has a

place of honor higher yet. "



6                      Bibliotheca Sacra - January-March 1986

 

Plato's line is a representation of today's methods for perceiving

and valuing reality. At the bottom of today's mass culture are those

poor souls endlessly chasing after the phantoms and illusions of

materialism: followers, fans, spectators, imitators. Unconsciously

searching for the realities called philosophical truth, political

power, and social freedom, the masses clutch at shadows and

images: teenagers adoring a reprehensible singer, union members

reelecting a corrupt official, indolent sophisticates clogging their

nostrils with cocaine.

At the next level are today's materialists. Western civilization

has always worshiped material things. Trinkets, toys, baubles,

luxuries, yes; but above all these, gadgets and whizbangs and

better mousetraps called "labor-saving devices."  Modern society

believes and puts faith in them. Henry Ford's assembly line at

Dearborn is the Lourdes of American industrialized society, where

the miracle of mass production began.

So much for the visible realm. At the level of opinions and

hypotheses are the ideologues and perpetrators of half-truths

under the guise of "information." Most if not all broadcast jour-

nalists, news commentators, investigative reporters, editorial

spokesmen, and other more or less surreptitious shapers of public

opinion rise no higher than this stage. They are to truth what

rumor is to fact. The polls they conduct contain the same sort of

disclaimer now required for automobile advertising: “Your mileage

may vary.”

Not to be excluded from this same group are too many of the

evangelical broadcasters whose programming similarly thrives on

sensation, personality, and the reduction of complex issues to the

simplest formula. This writer has appeared on some of these pro-

grams, once sandwiched between a converted hooker and a faith

healer who can make cancerous tumors disappear; another time,

preceded by a Cuban revolutionary and followed by a recipe for

granola. If citizens whose only source of news may be "You give us

22 minutes and we'll give you the world" are ignorant of cause or

consequence, then Christians whose diet of spiritual nourishment

depends largely on religious broadcasting remain in a state of

arrested development and stunted growth. They are deprived of an

authentic Christian education.

At the top of Plato's line stand those few individuals committed

to the moral principles existing as intimations of the Good—

justice, virtue, truth, beauty, goodness. Their ascent to the level of

intuitive reason, said Plato, nominates them to serve the state as



The Starting Point                                         7

 

poet, priest, and philosopher. They have chosen to live the life of the

mind, but since no one—not Plato nor Socrates nor Solon the

lawgiver nor Pericles the patriot nor Sophocles the poet—can live

perpetually in rarified transcendental illumination, this ephemeral

insight keeps slipping out of reach, leaving frustration. For as Plato

wrote, "No one is satisfied with the appearance of goodness—the

reality is what they seek." So Plato offered a parable, perhaps

foreshadowing the Incarnation, telling of "the child of the Good,

whom the Good begat in his own likeness, to be in the visible world

…what the Good is in the intelligible world."

Christians will naturally interpret such a parable to point to

Jesus of Nazareth, but they must guard against twisting Plato to

suit their theology. Devout Hindus, reading the same passage, will

find support for one or another of their avatars. Nor does it follow

that philosophers and theologians since the Incarnation will nec-

essarily identify the Good exclusively with Jesus Christ. The liberal

and modernist heresies have long since made their positions clear.

For example more than 150 years ago an apostate Unitarian

minister made Platonic idealism his gospel. In 1832 Ralph Waldo

Emerson was considering demitting his ordination. He disap-

proved of the Unitarian custom of celebrating the Lord's Supper on

stipulated Sundays. Emerson's journal records that crisis. On

June 2, 1832, he wrote, "I have sometimes thought that, in order to

be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry….Were

not a Socratic paganism better than an effete, superannuated

Christianity?"5 And on October 1, four weeks before he resigned

his pastorate, Emerson wrote,

 

Instead of making Christianity a vehicle of truth, you make truth

only a horse for Christianity.... You must be humble because Christ

says, "Be humble." "But why must I obey Christ?" "Because God sent

him." But how do I know God sent him? Because your own heart

teaches the same things he taught. Why then shall I not go to my own

heart at first?6

 

In Emerson, an orthodox Christian today may still see the

corrosive defects of heterodox denial and liberalist dismissal of

biblical integrity. Thinking with "my own heart" becomes the final

authority; thereby religious guesswork yields to solipsism. Thus

for Emerson as well as for many other neo-Platonic idealists in

pulpits and seminary classrooms, "understanding" rises above

"faith," and "reason" above all, since "reason" is the intuitive

moment, a moment in which a new set of absolutes may be

glimpsed by transcendent illumination.



8                      Bibliotheca Sacra - January-March 1986

 

Of course this new set of absolutes can be located only within

oneself. Here is the dogma of idealism, whether presented as

rationalism, secular ethics, liberal theology, heterodoxy, or cult. At

root, "the egocentric predicament" causes rebellion in the human

consciousness against any revelation of truth from a. source out-

side oneself. This rebellion permits an idealism whose branches

deny authority, deny historical example, deny accountability. Even

within the Christian community are advocates of "the right of

private judgment" rejecting traditional hermeneutical consensus.

Also within Christianity are proponents of "the word of knowl-

edge," whose idiosyncratic behavior derives its warrant from an

equally unique hotline to heaven, over which God gives them

special instructions withheld from other believers.

 

The Fear of the Lord

 

To return to a faith less subjective, one needs to find a different

starting point, the right starting point. A world-class woman run-

ner entered a 10-kilometer race in Connecticut. On the day of the

race, she drove from New York City, following the directions—or so

she thought—given over the phone. She got lost, stopped at a gas

station, and asked for help. She knew only that the race started in a

shopping mall's parking lot. The attendant also knew of such a race

scheduled just up the road. When she arrived, she was relieved to

see in the parking lot a modest number of runners preparing to

compete, but not as many as she had anticipated. She hurried to

the registration table, announced herself, and was surprised at the

race officials' excitement at having so renowned an athlete show up

for their event. No, they had no record of her entry, but if she would

hurry and put on this number, she could be in line just before the

gun would go off. She ran and won easily—four minutes ahead of

the first man! Only after the race did she learn that the race she had

run was not the race she had earlier entered. That race was being

held several miles farther up the road in another town. She had

gone to the wrong starting line, run the wrong course, and won a

cheap prize.

To begin thinking like a Christian, one must find the authen-

tic starting point. That point can be none other than a recognition

of the immutable God, Creator and Judge, before whom all nature

and human nature must be accountable. The pronouncement of

this responsibility before God is found in the pages of Holy Writ.

There are inscribed the words whose weight Christians have



The Starting Point                                         9

 

already borne in their untutored hearts. "The fear of the Lord is the

beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111:10); "the fear of the Lord is the

beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7). Wisdom and knowledge, not

reason and intuition, are the goal of all cognition, all learning, all

thinking. And the beginning point is an obligatory reverential awe

before God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

To recognize wisdom, to respect knowledge, one first needs

recognition of and respect for the Source of wisdom and knowl-

edge. This means reverence for God, awe before the Lord of the

universe, worshipful humility before the Judge of all the earth and

heavens. Paralleling such reverence for God must run a realization

of one's own dependent state. Wonder of wonders, no human is in

charge of the universe! No mortal is the center of the cosmos! No

human being controls the weather or the metamorphosis of the

gypsy moth caterpillar or the miracle of human love and its fulfill-

ment in the birth of a child. Someone Else is responsible, the

sovereign Lord who deigns to invite people to join with others in

calling Him "our Father." The formula is clearly stated: God's sov-

ereignty means mankind's dependency. That dependency also

means the beginning of wisdom, knowledge, order, and truth—the

beginning of a genuine Christian education.

But so too must the contrary formula become clear: Disregard

for a minimal or nonexistent God produces autonomy in the

human spirit, which leads to folly, ignorance, chaos, and falsity.

Remember that the psalmist also declared, "The fool has said in his

heart, ‘There is no God’" (Ps. 14:1). Atheism is the religion of

autonomous man, whose folly is the perversion of wisdom.

"The fear of the Lord" means initial acknowledgment of God.

To begin thinking like a Christian, a person must come in faith,

believing first "that God exists and that he rewards those who

earnestly seek him" (Heb. 11:6, niv). That reward will be con-

firmation that the Scriptures are true; that what the Bible says

about God's faithfulness can be relied on as trustworthy; that what

the Bible tells of Jesus Christ can be believed to the eternal good of

one's soul.

But if an individual is to begin thinking like a Christian, he

must know what the Bible teaches. This simple, logical, common-

sense fact has been the glory of Dallas Theological Seminary and its

curriculum. Sadly, too many seminaries—not to mention the ros-

ter of most evangelical colleges—have eliminated all but the most

minimal diploma requirements in biblical studies. And those



10                    Bibliotheca Sacra - January-March 1986

 

institutions then presume to "integrate faith and learning"? But

they cannot integrate out of ignorance!

Christians need, instead, to immerse and steep themselves in the

Word of God, as the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent states:

 

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for

our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark,

learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy

holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of

everlasting life which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus

Christ. Amen.7

 

"Hear . . . read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest." Surely such a

pattern for learning must lead to thinking and living out the truths

one has learned.

 

The Claims of Christ

 

Furthermore thinking like a Christian means, implicitly,

thinking like Jesus Christ. But before one can think like Christ, he

must first think of and about Christ. What claims are made for

Jesus of Nazareth? The paramount question of history is not

whether life exists on other spheres or whether the Dallas Cowboys

will ever again win the Super Bowl. The single most important

question echoes and reechoes from the time it was first asked:

"Who do you say that I am?" (Matt. 16:15); its corollary is this:

"What do you think about the Christ?" (22:42). Thinking about

Christ—reckoning with His identity as "the Son of the living God"

(16:16)—is the only way to think like a Christian. Griffith Thomas

was succinctly accurate in entitling his book Christianity Is

Christ.8  A person cannot be Christian in his thinking and living

apart from acknowledging and then submitting to the lordship of

Jesus Christ.

Thereafter, thinking like a Christian must mean what Paul

called for in 2 Corinthians: nothing short of all-out war against the

sophistry of Satan. "We demolish arguments," wrote the apostle,

"and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of

God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to

Christ" (10:5, niv).

Why must Paul be so bold, so aggressive, in his use of lan-

guage? Because he wrote at a time and to a people well acquainted

with the rhetoric of "the Big Lie." Five hundred years before Paul of

Tarsus strolled the agora and climbed the acropolis of Athens,



The Starting Point                                         11

 

troubled by idolatry and cynical polytheism, that city had divested

itself of genuine belief in its gods. Under the influence of the

Sophists, particularly Protagoras, the young men of Athens had

been introduced not only to a new way of arguing but also to a new

set of propositions. Knox writes that the Sophists' teaching

 

tended inevitably towards the substitution of man for god as the true

center of the universe, the true measure of reality; this is what

Protagoras meant by his famous phrase, "Man is the measure of all

things." The rationalistic scientific mind, seeking an explanation of

reality in human terms and assuming that such an explanation is

possible and attainable, rejects the concept of God as irrelevant.9

 

Far from being a religious people in the theistic sense of the

term, the Greeks had become a political people. Pallas Athena was

no longer the goddess of wisdom but the patron economic focus for

the city of Athens. So too with Artemis (or Diana) and her rela-

tionship to Ephesus; so with Aphrodite (or Venus), the goddess of

erotic love, whose city was Corinth. Most Greeks of the first century

had fallen prey to the Big Lie, the folly that says, "There is no God,"

except for power, wealth, and sensual pleasure.

For such an opponent there can be no other weapon than the

dynamite of the gospel, capable of razing the specious arguments

and theories of Satan. Mere refutation and rebuttal have no weight;

pretty speeches prove unconvincing. Paul himself had delivered

one of the most perfectly formed examples of classical rhetoric

extant, his speech to the Areopagites in Acts 17. Yet its results were

mixed at best: sneering rejection, polite dismissal, but only a few

believers. Years later, in writing to the church at Corinth, Paul was

ready for a different approach. He urged the Corinthians to go on

the offensive against every alien notion, forcibly subjecting it to the

lordship of Jesus Christ.

C. S. Lewis, when engaged in serious discussion with dis-

believing colleagues at Oxford or Cambridge, was anything but the

jolly and avuncular spinner of Narnia tales. He would whirl on his

antagonists, bellowing, "I challenge that!" Then with the remark-

able gift for analysis given to him by God, Lewis would proceed to

destroy their feeble objections to Christian faith. Few Christians

today, however, possess either the courage or intellect to emulate

Lewis. Too often what results is a smart aleck's retort or a quipster's

snide jab, a little below the belt.

If people today are to begin thinking like Christians, pride

must yield to humility as they acquire the mind of Christ. Paul

described that frame of mind in writing to the Philippians: "Your



12                    Bibliotheca Sacra - January-March 1986

 

attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in

very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to

be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a

servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in

appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to

death—even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:5-8, niv).

Thinking like a Christian means adopting the humility of a

servant. Christian thinking has no place for arrogance, no room

for self-importance. All need to hear again the words of Comenius,

the Moravian pastor credited with being the father of modern

education: "God does not call us to heaven asking us smart ques-

tions. It is more profitable to know things humbly than to know

them proudly.”10 Or we need to hear this statement by the Chris-

tian humanist Nicholas of Cusa: "We then, believers in Christ, are

led in learned ignorance to the mountain that is Christ." 11

The United Negro College Fund has a slogan: ‘A mind is a

terrible thing to waste." This writer would adopt that slogan to

state that a Christian's mind is too precious to waste on its own

flattery and preening. Instead Christians are needed who are will-

ing to think with the mind of Christ, which means—as Paul again

informed the Philippians—to ponder and become absorbed in

thought by only those things which are true, noble, right, pure,

lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. "Let your mind dwell

on these things," commanded the apostle (Phil. 4:8).

Believers need not fear for the adequacy of their resources, if

they dare to begin thinking like Christians. After all, they are

assured that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and

knowledge" (Col. 2:3). They are also promised access to God's secret

wisdom, "the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed

and made known through the prophetic writings by the command

of the eternal God" (Rom. 16:25-26, niv).

Coming full circle, thinking like a Christian begins with believ-

ers acknowledging God's sovereignty and ends with their being

welcomed to share in the very riches of divine wisdom revealed in

Jesus Christ. Likewise the purpose of this quest becomes centered

on the Person of Christ. This writer's favorite quotation from

Desiderius Erasmus expresses that purpose: “All studies, philoso-

phy, rhetoric are followed for this one object, that we may know

Christ and honor him. This is the end of all learning and

eloquence.”12

For those who wish to begin thinking like a Christian, the



The Starting Point                                         13

 

starting point and the goal of Christian thinking are one and the

same.

 

Editor's Note

 

This is the first in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W H.

Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 5-8, 1985.

 

      Notes

 

1  William Temple, Nature, Man and God (London: Macmillan and Co., 1964),

p. 57.

2  Jacques Maritain, The Dream of Descartes, trans. Mabelle L. Andison (New

York: Philosophical Library 1944).

3  John Baillie, Our Knowledge of God (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,

1939), p. 152.

4  Plato, Republic, trans. Francis M. Cornford (New York: Oxford University Press,

1955), p. 222.

5  Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston:

Houghton Mifflin Co., 1957), p. 9.

6  Ibid., pp. 10-11.

7  The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Pension Fund, 1945), p. 92.

8  W H. Griffith Thomas, Christianity Is Christ (1909; reprint, New Canaan, CT:

Keats Publishing Co., 1981).

9  Bernard M. W Knox, Oedipus at Thebes (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,

1957), p. 161.

10  John Amos Comenius, cited by John Edward Sadler, J. A. Comenius and the

Concept of Universal Education (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1966), p. 51.

11  Nicholas of Cusa, Of Learned Ignorance, trans. Germain Heron (New Haven,

CT: Yale University Press, 1954), p. 161.

12  William Harrison Woodward, Desiderius Erasmus Concerning the Aim and

Method of Education, quoting Erasmus, Ciceronianus (New York: Teachers Col-

lege, Columbia University 1964), p. 95.

 

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Dr. Roy Zuck

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204

 Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu