At Humble Orthodoxy, we value the place of theology in each of our lives. We also recognize that theology is set apart from other studied disciplines. Theology has a quality that paleontology, biology, or philosophy don’t have: it is the truth about God woven into our heads, hearts, and hands. Not mere knowledge, not strict information. It is a part of who we are and how we exist in this world.
Which is how we decided on our next series: Head, Heart, and Hands.
This week, we will hear from Emmaus Theological Seminary’s professor of Historical Theology, Dr. Austin Shaw. His essay encourages us that intellectual pursuits are not empty. Instead, they help us to love the things God loves: living with meaning, stewarding creation, and pursuing truth in education.
Through this series, we hope that your head, heart, and hands are stirred toward love of God, his Word, and his people.
– The Humble Orthodoxy Editorial Team
Every Jewish child knew the Shema and the subsequent verse, “Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6.4-5, ESV). How interesting, then, that whenever the Lord Jesus cited this verse, he added “and with all your mind” (Matt. 22.37; Mark 12.30; Luke 10.27, ESV).
Why does Jesus deliberately add one’s mind to the Shema? The thrust of the verse charges the child of God to devote the entirety of their life to God’s service. Evidently, by Jesus’ time the importance of the thought-life had assumed a more prominent place. How does the Church embrace our Lord’s call to serve him with our intellect? In this short reflection, let’s highlight three areas where the Christ follower has an opportunity to love God with the mind.
We can connect worthy, pre-established mental commitments to a meaningful life.
The way we think about things determines the way we behave towards them. We act towards ends first conceived in the mind. What a Brahman priest sees as a sacred animal to be venerated, a Texan sees as protein to be slaughtered. The different perspectives result from the pre-existing mental structure that, in turn, informs behavior. We all need some intellectual “givens”, some immovable cognitive commitments to operate in the world. Not all worldviews generate a worthy apparatus for judgment.
When a person becomes a Christian, we receive an invitation to view the world through a Christ-like lens. This provides the basic intellectual scaffolding upon which to build one’s life. For example, knowing the fundamental doctrine that we are creatures ought to challenge my pride, make me more sympathetic to others, and remind me that I am not my own. Adhering to the central teachings of our faith provides a foundation for self-understanding.
When the secular person rejects “givens” as restrictive or artificially imposed, any conclusions about life’s big questions have no foundation beyond our own subjectivity. But we cannot invent “givens”. Having cast off the Christian worldview, many young people lack a viable substitute for guidance. Alister McGrath renounced his atheism in favor of Christianity because the latter had a kind of “intellectual fecundity” that materialism could not provide. When we participate in God’s redemptive plan, mental ascent to the pre-existing truths leads to profitable living. One of the ways we can worship God with our minds is to gently connect Christianity’s epistemological framework with a life of congruity and meaning.
We can encourage a healthy relationship between science and faith.
At the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, a passerby will notice an inscription of Psalm 111.2 “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” Notice the order. We might expect a degree of delight to result from study. This certainly happens. This Psalm, however, moves beyond an observation to offer an invitation. When the believer delights in creation, God summons us to study it. This bidding in Psalm 111:2 and other verses explains the emergence of modern science from Judeo-Christian soil. Peter Harrison, for example, has documented how the biblical worldview encouraged scientific enterprise. We know committed high-level scientists can also believe in the Lord Jesus. The fault line of belief lies not between good and bad science but rather along supernatural and anti-supernatural predispositions.
The gulf between science and faith widened in the post-Covid settlement. We can love God with our minds by continuing to take up God’s invitation to bridge the gap between the scientific enterprise and genuine faith. On the one hand, this will require showing our more skeptical brothers and sisters the great good generated from science and medicine. We need to explain to other Christians that God has gifted us with minds to think and invited us to do science within his boundaries. On the other hand, we will have to winsomely push against scientism and the materialistic belief that human invention solves our deepest questions.
God wants His people to investigate, engage, and steward the natural world. We can be devoted Christians who support responsible technological innovation and medical development.
We can promote learning, open inquiry, and high-mindedness.
Near the beginning of On Christian Doctrine Augustine writes “all truth is of him who says ‘I am the truth’.” Accurate knowledge of the world will ultimately connect perfectly with the character of God. Put more succinctly: no true thing will contradict God. Therefore, the Christian welcomes exploration and free inquiry. With a few exceptions, the history of our faith betrays an admirable job of carrying the torch of learning.
For example, a sixth-century Roman Christian named Cassiodorus wrote Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning championing the Christian duty to cultivate education. This book remained popular into the Middle Ages. Likewise, we have Christians to thank for preserving texts, Christian and classical alike. Our faith motivated the rise of the modern university. In our own country, we need only look at the mottos of our universities to see the positive historical relationship between Christ and academic pursuits. As our universities move towards censorship, we can foster the free exchange of ideas in pursuit of truth.
In recent years, parts of the church have turned bearish on the life of the mind. Has the appropriate caution towards producing “brains on a stick” or priggish “evangelical elites” unintentionally dampened the Christian thought-life? I pray that Jesus’ charge to love God with our minds becomes a comparative advantage in our time. Indeed, knowledge puffs up and we need to act with humility, but Jesus commands us to use our minds in such a way that offers both stability and innovation.
Austin Shaw is a pastor of Providence Church in Avon, Ohio. He received his theological education in England, earning a Master’s degree and a DPhil from the University of Oxford. He teaches church history in local universities and participates as a Fellow in the Center for Pastor Theologians.
Photo by Kenny Eliason