I recently heard a Christian speaker say, “Thinking is the devil’s territory; I just want to experience God.” He continued, “Hearing God is a totally right-brained activity. We need to turn off our analytical thinking and lean into our intuition.”
He’s wrong, totally wrong, and dangerously wrong. But I think (oops, I feel) that I understand his dismissal of the analytical. He is reacting.
He’s reacting to the modern era’s enthronement of reason. In the modern age (which began with the Enlightenment), rational thinking became the epicenter, the very essence, of humanity. So Descartes—a prominent rationalist—penned his famous declaration, “I think therefore I am.”
Many people (including the speaker above) react against crowning reason as king. They see too many “intellectual” Christians who spend too many hours studying supralapsarianism vs. infralapsarianism* (who makes these terms up?); such highbrows might hold right doctrine, but they often live harsh, anxious, and miserable lives. Something isn’t working.
So nowadays we reject reasoning. Instead we feel, intuit, or “just believe” because it “seems right.” We prefer the right-brain, we choose imagination over discernment (unless the discernment is based on a gut feel), and we leave thinking to those brainiac eggheads.
The Enlightenment divorced the heart. Today we chop off the head. Both approaches are stupid. Divorcing the heart doesn’t help us think better, and a lobotomy doesn’t help us feel better.
Guillotining the head is not an improvement over stabbing the heart.
The whole person
We are meant to be whole people, neither a heart-deprived Tin Man nor a lobotomized tomato.
In the Old Testament, God commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength” (Deut. 6:5, edited). But when Jesus quotes that passage, he inserts a word, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30).
Did you ever notice that? Why did Jesus add “mind”? Because the Greeks are the ones who birthed the idea of divorcing the head from the heart, and their word for “heart” failed to capture the full meaning of the Hebrew word. We are meant to love him with our whole being.
Including our mind. God made us both thinking and intuitive beings, and “What God has joined together, let no man cast asunder [or separate].”
The whole brain theory thing
The Greeks birthed the baby of head vs. heart; the Enlightenment re-birthed it; now believers proclaim it born again, baptizing it with the right-brain/left-brain idea. They say we only hear God in our right-brain, intuitively and spontaneously. Just empty your logical, left-brain minds.
The problem is, this newborn right-brain idea is stillborn. And neither scientific nor biblical.
The right-brain/left-brain idea came from the work of Roger Sperry who studied a specific set of brain surgery patients (however Sperry himself claimed the idea has no broader value beyond those specific patients). Numerous studies prove false the modern myth of any right-brain/left-brain dominance (see these Psychology, Huffington, and Wiki articles).
The analytical (left-brained) person analyzes better when also using the right-brain, and the creative (right-brained) artist creates better when also using the left-brain.
And we don’t hear God better through our intuitive right-brain. Rather, divorcing the two halves of our brain disrupts any ability to communicate at all. Half-brained thinking is half-as… (well, you know what I mean).
Rejection of the right or left brain is hare-brained. God means us to be whole-brained.
Christianity and thinking
I don’t know how to say it plainer to our feeling-dominated society of believers; but Christianity means thinking, and thinking hard. Yes, it’s more than mere mental activities. But not less.
To feel good, we need to believe good, and believing good begins with thinking good.
When Jesus addresses anxious people—who feel bad because they’re scared—he says, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin…” (Luke 12:27). He instructs us to, “Consider.” Jesus says the answer to bad feeling is good thinking.
And thinking a lot. The Greek word for “consider” (katanoeo) means to think hard, to ponder furiously, to immerse ourselves in contemplation; to scrutinize until we perceive. Jesus says to ponder God’s approach with lilies, to think and re-think, until we perceive God himself.
We don’t stop at thinking (that’s the Greek, Enlightenment, left-brain heresy). We “consider” until we begin to see God. It is seeing God that leads our hearts from anxiety to confidence.
Let’s retake our vows
Let’s divorce ourselves from culture’s stupid answers, and let’s re-marry our head and heart.
Try this experiment. God frequently tells us to, “Remember!” Take five minutes and actively remember an action of God (the lilies, crucifixion or resurrection, or one of his answers to a prayer). Ponder furiously his actions, his goodness, love, and incredible power.
As we consider with our minds something changes in our hearts. His great riches overshadow today’s credit card bills. We begin to see God with the eyes of our hearts. Remembering joins together—it re-members—our head and heart. Besides, a wedding is always more fun than a divorce.
* I’m neither supralapsarianism nor infralapsarianism. I’m super-napsarian. Whenever I try to understand those speculative schemes, I just want to take a super, long nap.
Tell me what you think. Or feel. (I want the whole person.)
Time For My left brain to shut off so my right brain can nap ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
Sleep well. If you’re having trouble, I can send an abstract article or two your way….
Once again, thank you for doing the hard work of thinking through and creatively expressing an issue that many of us might leave unexamined unless having our attention drawn to it. Thanks for the invitation to “consider.” I’ve not made a practice of furiously pondering enough, and this is a wake-up call. After all, isn’t the life of, in, and with God what we’re pursuing? Guillotining the head – deadening… Stabbing the heart – life-threatening… Remembering God’s personality and works, re-membering and reconciling our divorced heart and mind – priceless … and life-giving. I think (and feel) this is a wonderful post.
Thanks. I think I feel good because you make me feel I think good.
I’m really serious about that “pondering furiously.” Some of my best times of hearing God have been when I’m in that mid-ground between scripture study and prayer, that is, meditation.
We had an elder of our church state, from the pulpit, that ‘if you could prove the Bible wrong, he would still follow Jesus because of everything Jesus had done for him.’
I about fell out of my chair. While this elder is no longer with our fellowship, I could not get the other elders to see the horrid worldview that type of statement was making. Two weeks prior, I had just read an article about a family that worshipped Vashti (the goddess with all the arms) and they said exactly the same thing as our elder stated about Jesus.
My thoughts? If you can prove the Bible wrong, then you need to be looking for what is true. I don’t want to follow Jesus if he isn’t true.
Thanks for your comment,
God wants us to be thinking beings. I know this sounds strange to people today, but we people today would sound strange to our grandparents (and much of human history).
Sounding strange doesn’t make it wrong.
One of the ways we humans are different that beasts is we can reason, think, analyze, study, reflect, consider, and ponder. It’s good.
My question (for that departed elder) would be simple: where do you get the truth you are clinging to? Is it just gut feel or instinct? Well, lots of other people of contrary gut feels and instincts. Why should we listen to you?
As believers, we should not be afraid of truth.
Thanks for sharing with us.
I suppose the speaker you quoted would have big problems with Philip Yancey, or C. S. Lewis, or Augustine, or Apostle Paul (lots of big thinking going on there)
For me, I need physical input as well as intellectual and emotional. Most of my deepest encounters with God have come while I am running or cycling or backpacking … the physical movement opens me, resets me.
You answer is perfectly fitting. God wants us to be whole-beings. We’re not just spirits, or just brains, or just emotions, or just bodies. We are multi-faceted beings.
I actually hear God most (at least lots) when I’m walking. Others do as they dream. You as you run or cycle; we are not meant to portion ourselves up as much as we do.
(In marriage, we have conversations, romance, dreams, and chores together. It’s … everything that makes a good marriage.)
I hear God at all sorts of times: gardening, reading a book, listening to sermons, scrapbooking and card making, cleaning house. Sometimes I am in the middle of scolding my children and I hear His quiet voice. How do you shut your brain and heart off to God?? That is not possible. You can choose to ignore Him, but He will still speak nonetheless.
You are so right, right on! “God
speaks time and again—and in various ways—but nobody notices” (Job 33:14)
It’s not that God isn’t speaking, it’s that we don’t always recognize his voice.
Your examples are just what people need to hear.
Wonderful article, Sam, and a great feeling/thinking argument for all of us. This divorce of feeling and thinking would never have occurred in the Jewish culture of the Old Testament, where men and women did not fear their emotions as we do today. You’re absolutely right about the Greek philosophers introducing logos or logic and they did this as a way to understand the spiritual and the physical and free their people from religious manipulation through superstition. I think a key way for the church to keep the two unified is through what Jesus said about worshipping in Spirit and in Truth. Truth in the Biblical sense will always be perfect, unlike fallible human logic. And the Spirit, since He is living, will lead us to a deep, founded love for God, rather than the temporary nature of that yearned for emotional high. In fact, I just realized that in both cases, you’re not talking about a thing but a person, since Jesus is the way, truth and life and the Spirit is God. What we really need to do is dig back into God.
Great response. I love your ending, how we are not just talking about “things” but about a person who embodied (literally in the incarnation) truth and life.
Good stuff to think about.
Every time you post something, I think THIS is my favorite post. But this time I really mean it. Thank you for providing an antidote to my frustration with (thankfully guest) pastors who ridicule thinking Christians. I needed this!
(Shh. Don’t tell anyone, but this was one of my favorites too.)
I’ve actually been frustrated by people on both sides of the aisle, though the “right” side has been more frustrating more recently. It’s why my blog is called Beliefs of the Heart; real Christianity involves the head and the heart; and REAL doctrine involves right thinking that changes our heart.
And I get sick of people who tell us thinking is bad. I recently read someone who said the first sin (Adam and Eve) had to do with knowledge (you know, eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil). He said the whole problem with Christianity–and humanity!!!–is knowledge.
(Which is good … to know.)
I want to ask, “What about obedience?” Oh well.
I’m glad you liked it. Misery loves company.
For a long time, I have been one of those people that defy the right/left brain dominance theory. On the one hand (or should I say, “On the right brain…”), I am very analytical. I have a BS in Math and an MA in Math Ed. I got an “A” in both my Logic and Advanced Logic classes.
On the other hand (or left brain), my minor was Theater Arts. I was in nearly a dozen plays at WCU. I’ve also taken classes in Painting, Voice, Dance, Jazz, Violin, and Creative Writing. I have sung with the University Chorus at UNCC and the praise team in church. I have also performed in three local theater productions in recent years.
I am thankful that God has indeed encouraged me to use my whole brain both in life and in worship. I have received inspiration while studying his word and while listening to music, BOTH!!
Samuel, Please don’t turn ‘Charles Krauthammer’ on me. I love his book and listening to someone with a ton of ‘smarts;’ it’s just I have to have a dictionary close at hand, and that’s not always the case.
Have no fear, even if I aspire to his brilliance–and I suppose I do–I don’t carry my dictionary with me either.
Karl Bart was one of the best known theologians of the twentieth century. He wrote thousands of pages with tons of multi-syllable terms. When asked to summarize all his heady prose he said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Even the intelligentsia can bring it down to my level.
Some of my most enjoyable thoughts come when I ponder either a personal situation or one concerning another believer who is spiritually moored in the harbour with no wind for the sail of their soul. When a thought comes to me from scripture or reading or meditating and I can think of a specific soul who can benefit from the words I feel most fulfilled in sharing the information and watching them set sail again. Isn’t thought after all a kind of divine inspiration when the sails are set with Him in mind?
Exactly. Great example.
God does sometimes speak spontaneously to us–in fact, I bet his is doing it all the time–but I think he speaks most often, and we hear it most clearly, when we are pondering in his presence, thinking prayerfully.
And, by the way, I love your prose; it’s almost poetry.
Appreciate your feedback.
I wonder at times if there is way to incorporate those thoughts into a calling because it does seem to happen on a regular basis in a variety of situations with people I encounter in difficult circumstances. At the same time I realize we all need encouragement.
I suspect it already is part of your calling, whether others recognize it as such or not.
And the world–every single person you meet–needs more encouragement.
I think, because God made me to think…I love, because He first loved me. (For the record, I am the sort that took both the blue pill and the red pill just to make sure that I got it right. Haha. Don’t overanalyze this…It’s way past my bed time.)
I like mixing it up, and I like purple (the color of a mixed red and blue).
Not analyzing, just loving it.
One of the loveliest passages in Scripture: “Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord.” just the idea of being invited by God to sit down with him and think things through and appreciate his wisdom with the mind he gave me. Sweet.
But then there’s this one: “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me, but I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother…” Just as sweet, the admission that I can’t “get” it all, but that I can entrust myself without understanding to the all-knowing lover of my soul.
If I neglect my intellectual responsibility, I’m actually being disobedient to God’s intention for my capacities, and I’m probably adding to the many harms that unthinking Christians have done over the ages. But when I’ve put too much trust in my intellect, I’ve stumbled and fallen over things that are too hard for me. (I’m not talking about the things that are not too hard for someone smarter than me; I mean the things that are too hard for anyone.)
People like me, whose self-image is really tangled up in knowing stuff and articulating it, may be able to appreciate that I’ve lately felt invited by God to a deeper faith that can let go of knowing and just trust–or that can let go of articulating and just perceive.
So while I see the fallacy in your quoted preacher’s black-and-white statement, I can also guess at the experiences that may have inspired it.
That’s why Christianity is more than thinking but not less than thinking.
CS Lewis says that faith begins with reason but doesn’t end there. Because even though we can reason things, we often fail to believe the very things we reason. We “reason” (have faith) that plane travel is safer than automobiles, yet we are scared when we step through that airplane door (are rarely scared when we step through our car door).
Christianity is “reasonable” and there are many reasonable proofs. And yet our moods, desires, and emotions rebel against our reason. Faith is often choosing what we believe over what our moods, desires, and emotions say to us. Faith is clinging to our knowledge of God’s goodness toward us even when external circumstances look like the opposite.
As you say, it is trusting God even when we don’t feel like it or have words to express it.
In fact, the very first commandment was actually probably the strangest commandment, “Don’t eat that fruit.” If the first commandment had been, “Don’t murder” or “Don’t be unfaithful,” it would have made sense (to our reason). But fruit was GOOD.
Obeying God meant denying something that was good; it meant trusting God beyond our understanding.
Thanks for your great comments.
“More than thinking, but not less than thinking.” That’s perfect.
Here’s my experience: First, the gift of God’s participation in our human condition by communicating to us through the capacities he gave us–reason and language and imaging and sense. This is a not-less-than-thinking, meditative, content-filled, conversant relationship: God coming into our territory.
Hold that in one hand, and then, in the other, the eventual realization that the finite mind “can’t get there from here.” Hence the ancient Christian traditions of silent, more-than-thinking, contemplative prayer. I see that as God beckoning us into his territory.
Another example of both/and rather than either/or.
Spot on Sam!!
Aaron Michael Newton
“We don’t stop at thinking (that’s the Greek, Enlightenment, left-brain heresy). We “consider” until we begin to see God. It is seeing God that leads our hearts from anxiety to confidence.”
That is not “easy”
Thank you for the encouragment
Thanks for sharing.
Learning to meditate in God is … what can I say? It’s great.
Seema Sophia Kapoor
I got saved when I was 20yrs old. I struggled with my inner self so much . it was horrifying what I had to endure. Long story short. I got admitted to a state psychiatric hospital.every thing was spiritual every one everything and it was all seemingly in a different dimension. One night I woke up and felt like my complete prefrontal cortex and part of my frontal lobes had been ripped out of my head!!! I looked instantly to the foot. Of my bed, and in complete darkness stood a creature the size of an average man….but he was darker than complete darkess and I was paralyzed with fear but could move my eyes. I thought it was my time to go and some how I said….I’m sorry…and he turned and moved very quickly out of my room. Seemingly to be floating .. No walking. I spoke to no one about this for many years and a few have seen a being like this but he only paralyzed them for a short period and I’ve just recently crowned my experience as a Spiritual Lobotamy. Now I have spent the last 20years exploring my experiences as well as others. And I have became enlightened from seeking how to understand this unseen world that is here no matter if we believe or not. Everything is moving up and we are gonna see a far better world here on our blue planet than most could never imagine. Jason b