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Reflections

A Conversation on the Life of the Mind, Part 1

By Kenneth R. Samples - October 8, 2013
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The motto of the United Negro College Fund is “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” This is an excellent observation, but according to Christian theism the stakes are actually higher. According to Scripture, human beings, including their mind, are created in the image of an infinite, eternal, and Triune God. Therefore, the mind takes on an eternal dimension and we have an obligation to use our mind to the glory of our Creator.

As any regular reader of Reflections knows, I am passionate about the life of the mind. Over the next few weeks, I will unpack this concept and what it means for the average Christian via a conversation with Reasons to Believe editor Maureen Moser. This discussion will appear in four installments on Reflections.

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Maureen: What do you mean when you refer to the “life of the mind”?

Ken: From a Christian theistic perspective, all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Therefore, we all possess profound conceptual and volitional faculties. In a finite way, the human mind resembles God’s infinite mind. God created the world according to laws (nomos) and logic (logos) and then networked the cosmos and human minds with himself. This wiring enables humanity to experience an amazing life of the mind and to be, in effect, hunter-gathers of truth. Humans are uniquely qualified via the image of God (imago Dei) to use our mind to track the intelligible nature of the created cosmos. So, it’s not surprising that the scientific enterprise was birthed at a time when the Christian worldview was preeminent.

Maureen: What does pursuing the life of the mind actually look like for a Christian?

Ken: Pursuing the life of the mind means learning to recognize the conceptual and intellectual side of life. When a Christian values and cultivates the life of the mind, it brings glory to God. One way of doing this includes staying informed and critical in our thinking; this prepares us to handle truth responsibly. And since “all truth is God’s truth” when we encounter truth of any kind, we are on the trace of the Creator.

Maureen: How does the life of the mind relate to a Christian’s relationship with God? A lot of people seem to be under the impression that intellectuals are typically prone to pride and usually turned off to spirituality.

Ken: The attempt to love God with all of our being (Luke 10:27) includes loving him with our mind. The life of the mind is not about smugness and pride, but about the pursuit of intellectual virtues to the glory of God. The intellectual capacities that make the life of the mind possible are, after all, a gift from God; therefore humility is mandatory. A believer can be a careful thinker and also grow in the other important areas involved in Christian devotion such as compassion and spiritual sensitivity. We should reject the false dichotomy that a person must either be a thinker or a feeler. In his public ministry, Jesus Christ exhibited signs of being a first-rate thinker and debater yet he was also keenly compassionate to the genuine needs of humanity.

Maureen: What practical benefits does this Christian view of the mind produce?

Ken: This biblical conception of God, the world, and human beings as an integrated worldview encouraged Christians during the ancient and medieval times to pursue education as “people of the Book.” That book-oriented value of learning then allowed literacy to flourish in the Western world and, in turn, for Christian leaders to establish the university system of Europe that would, ultimately, usher in the scientific enterprise in the mid-seventeenth century.

 Next week will feature part 2 of this discussion of the Christian life of the mind.


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