If your pastor became an atheist, would you rethink your Christian worldview? Are you a tough-minded believer, able to think for yourself?
If Christians are truly “lights in the world,” then its time to reclaim our faltering intelligence, for in case we’ve forgotten, thinking is a necessary part of the Christian life (Rom. 12:1-2; Matt. 22:37). The best light is a bright mind–a clear mind. The more we can arrest our emotional motivators and hidden biases that thwart clear thought, the more confident we’ll be about what we believe. Our primary focus needs to be on objective truth, not subjective experience (for our subjective experiences can only make sense when illuminated by the backlight of objective truth), and clear thinking is the avenue to take.
Christians emphasize “faith,” which has a tendency of getting us into trouble because it’s easy to stop questioning something with the misguided notion that to stop questioning is an act of faith. Yes, some questions are better left unanswered, such as what God wills for a given course of events or whether salvation is better understood in light of Calvin or Arminius. It’s not biblical, however, to stop asking questions if it’s done out of cowardice or slothfulness. We’re meant to strive for accurate knowledge (Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 14:29; 2 Cor. 10:5; Eph. 5:1; 1 Thess. 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1), which doesn’t give one permission to be lazy. And if one is afraid of learning something that may upset their current dispositions, what do you think the body of Christ is for? There’s protection in the company of others. How else are we supposed to grow if not together (Eph. 2:19-22; 4:15-16; Phil. 2:2)? The Church is a place for ideas, not just sociality; Church is a place for people to get smarter.
So let’s get smarter.
1. Know What Your Worldview Is: Defining Your Terms
Jars of Clay says it best in their song “These Ordinary Days”: “The harm of words is sometimes we don’t quite know what they really mean.”
Christian terms are thrown around dorm rooms, small groups, YouTube comments and blogs like bullets in Call of Duty, but they’re never clearly defined. “What do you mean by that?” is the first thing to ask if the terms aren’t clearly defined by the trigger-happy term-shooters. Leveling the play field is what this does, and everybody is happier when confusion steps aside.
The Bible is the foundation for the Christian worldview, so before we’re ready to defend what we believe, we must know what it is we’re standing on. Believers must know the basics if they are to be confident “lights” (Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15). But it’s no tale: Biblical illiteracy is on the rise (also, here, here, and here). So without a basic knowledge of the Bible, many go to Google and get a bunch of puzzle pieces, then put them together without realizing they’re from completely different puzzles. In other words, many Christians have a worldview that looks like Johnny Cash’s automobile in “One Piece at a Time.” There’s a bunch of colors, but no frame to hold the picture.
The best way to alleviate Biblical illiteracy is to 1.) read the Bible (duh) and 2.) read books about the Bible (handbooks, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Basic Christianity, etc). Amazon and Goodreads are great places to start perusing the options and what other people say about them.
As individuals, we’re responsible for making our worldview as consistent as possible, not open to contradictions (for example, a common critique against pro-lifers is that they can’t fight abortion and also advocate for the death penalty at the same time), and the best way to do that is know why you believe what you believe.
2. Know Why You Believe What You Believe
Many trust what the pastor says because he’s the pastor. It doesn’t matter if he’s Fred Phelps from Westboro Baptist or Jim Jones from the Peoples Temple, people like to reach a point where they stop asking questions because it gives them a form of peace.
But the world will always ask questions. It doesn’t matter if we’re OK with certain mysteries of God; many people aren’t, so why not explore those mysteries with them?
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20; emphasis added)
Teaching others about the Gospel requires knowledge of apologetics. Apologetics is for everyone, not just the “professionals.” Our children, family members and coworkers will have questions about Christianity, so why not be prepared? For starters, learn the arguments for and against God’s existence as well as for the historical reliability of Christ’s resurrection.
The point about questioning your own worldview is not to run your faith into the ground but to test “the boat” for seaworthiness–for making sure what you believe is true to reality–because it’s our responsibility to ensure that those who come after us have a seaworthy worldview as well.
I understand the need for childlike faith and simple spirituality in a convoluted world, but like anything else in life, it’s foolish to not be prepared for “new theologies” that creep into the minds of those we love–or (God forbid!) us. Joseph Smith, Muhammed, Charles Russell and Joseph Rutherford are examples of why it pays to know what you believe and why you believe it. Knowledge of Scripture is the antidote for heresies, and when authorities in the Christian Church pull stuff from who knows where and present it to unsuspecting laypersons with spiritual language, it will be a united body of Christian skeptics that keep heresy in check.
How do I come to know this?
Does this conflict with anything else I believe?
Is there a way to harmonize my conflicting beliefs?
Am I OK with tension (between two or more beliefs) in my worldview?
Once you have all the parts of your worldview defined (1.) and grounded (2.), then you’re better equipped to think for yourself and defend what you believe, especially when people call out your “contradictions.” Lastly, one must be prepared to do some hunting–fact hunting.
3. Know What The Facts Are
Checking facts and source material is critical. “Where are you getting that from?” should be the first question we seek to answer when we hear something new, even (especially!) if we agree with it.
Whenever some new documentary comes on about the Bible or Christianity, or whenever your astrophysics professor describes some new finding, chase it down with questions. Dig into the material. Hunt the facts. If it challenges your beliefs, it’s not wrong to modify them if you’ve looked at both sides of the issue and determined what’s true and what’s not. Remember, there are many different types of Christians out there. Just because you abandon a belief you’ve held from childhood doesn’t make you a heretic.
I believe the only time one should stop researching is because you have other demands in life. Nobody can truly know enough about a given topic. Yet our eighty years or so on Earth is filled with many things, and learning isn’t always the most tempting pursuit. Still, Christians are responsible for upholding truth, so there’s no excuse to stop asking questions of pastors, scholars, archaeologists, historians, scientists, psychologists, and yes, ourselves.
Like the boy who called everyone’s stupidity out in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Christians should be the ones calling out those who appear to be building their worldviews on air–Christian and non-Christian alike.
In closing, it must be noted that just because Christianity and the Bible leave the door open for wackos to use for twisted purposes, it doesn’t make it an unreliable source of truth. Misuse of medicine doesn’t make it evil or false. Smart people use medicine well, and smart Christians use information well.
Be a smart Christian.
Alex Aili is a story-dweller who tends to wander off the trail in search of the right word…and the better view. In addition to writing at A Clear Lens, he writes fiction and offers his musings about God’s hand in the world at Covert God: Redemption in Shadows. Strong coffee, good pipe tobacco and longs walks in the woods make him happy. He resides in northern MN with his wife and two sons. See what he’s up to on Twitter.