Christianity has always been a thinking person’s faith, but is there a way for a person to “think christianly” (to borrow a phrase from the literary critic Harry Blamires)? Does one think christianly only when pondering religious or theological issues – the Bible, the Church or life after death, to name a few? Or can one think christianly about any number of issues, even those generally regarded as secular?
The plain answer is that one can think christianly about any topic, including ostensibly secular ones, like international trade agreements, the ballet, global warming, and many others. And one can think non-christianly about any topic, including religious ones, like the Bible, the Church and life after death.
That one can think non-christianly about religious topics is evident in our universities, where one can earn a degree in “religious studies” without at all ascribing to the truth claims of the subject matter. Indeed, to do so might actually be a hindrance to academic success.
Because of the profound influence of Christian thought in the West prior to the nineteenth century, non-Christians may sometimes think christianly without even knowing it. Because of the widespread influence of secularism in the West since then, Christians may sometimes think non-christianly without even knowing it.
How does thinking christianly differ from thinking secularly? Blamires locates the difference between the two in the Christian’s “supernatural orientation.” He or she approaches any issue with the assumption that God is the source of everything and the foundational reality. From this perspective, absolutely everything in the universe bears some relationship to God.
This is very different from the person who thinks non-christianly. He or she approaches any issue with the assumption that the material world is the source of everything and the foundational reality. As Carl Sagan famously put it, “The Cosmos is all there is, ever was or ever will be.” From this perspective, nothing in the universe – including ethics, morality and even religion – is in any way related to God.
Eliminating God from one’s thoughts on any subject makes a vast difference in the conclusions one will reach. For example, if God is removed from our thinking about human sexuality, then the historic view that humans were designed – that there exists a blueprint for humanity – is lost. If humans are not designed, then there is no standard. If there is no standard, there is no norm. If there is no norm, sexual choices are governed only by desire.
A similar pattern follows whether one is thinking about human rights, politics or the future of fossil fuels. Those who think christianly will not always reach the same conclusions on such issues, but because they operate from the same premise they will understand each other.
How can a Christian, instructed in an irreligious educational system and awash in a secularist society, make sure he is thinking christianly? He begins by thinking (to use James W. Sire’s word for it) “worldviewishly.” A worldview is, as Sire describes it, the “set of assumptions that are the foundation of all our thoughts.” The Christian learns to identify those assumptions in the thinking of others and of himself.
But thinking christianly goes beyond an awareness of our worldview assumptions. It involves searching for truth in the light of the God revealed to us in and by Jesus Christ. The Christian asks, “What does this mean” – where “this” may be anything from the minimum wage to the death of a loved one – “in a world where the God of Jesus is present?”
To think like this one must be knowledgeable about the character and nature of the God of Jesus. The acquisition of such knowledge is the prime task for all who would think christianly. Equipped with such knowledge, a person can think profitably and fearlessly about any subject.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 2/22/14