Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Importance of Being Thoughtful

Sitting in a waiting room the other day, I decided to do some reading. I had downloaded Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' a while back (it was free) and thought I'd give it a go. I got a few pages in and found myself laughing at the following quote:

"But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they don't think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was a boy of eighteen, and as a natural consequence he always looks absolutely delightful."

It made me laugh and then it made me think... it made me think two things.

The first is the importance of thinking...
Lord Henry's comment about the church is an interesting one - and I'm not talking about the fact that all clergy are good looking (a look at our elders would surely derail that theory!). It's interesting because it makes a good point. It is very easy to become an armchair Christian. One who sits in church and accepts everything that they hear, without thinking or questioning. One who carries on believing the same things without thought or reason for years.

This isn't a good place to be. Augustine said; "I had learned ... that because a thing is eloquently expressed it should not be taken to be as necessarily true; nor because it is uttered with stammering lips should it be supposed false. Nor, again, is it necessarily true because rudely uttered, nor untrue because the language is brilliant."

Augustine was one of the great leaders in Church history. He was a thinker. He wasn't happy just accepting what he was told without first considering it, nor was he happy accepting what he thought without challenging it. We need to be the same. Doubting isn't a bad thing. If harnessed properly, doubt leads to greater understanding. Thomas doubted what he heard about Jesus, but when confronted with the risen Christ, this doubt led to the declaration that Jesus was 'Lord and God'. Our doubt can lead to the same outcome.

It is important for us as Christians to consider what we believe and why we believe it. It's okay to change our mind towards things as we think, research and consider them. It enables us to truly think through our beliefs and therefore stand firmly in them when and if they are challenged.

The second is the importance of trusting...
The quote above is also interesting because it makes a bad point. The bad point is that for something to be true it has to be constantly changing and evolving. That what was thought 50, 100, even two thousand years ago is less likely to be true than something believed now. This is one of the great fallacies of our post-modern world view; That we are the pinnacle of knowledge and know better than everyone else.

The reality is quite different. Look around at our superior civilisation and you quickly see that our modern worldview on a whole number of moral and societal issues is causing a whole lot of damage. It is important not to think too highly of ourselves and to consider the thinking of the past. In some areas this isn't obvious. For example, modern medicine beats middle-aged medicine everytime, I would much rather have anti-biotics than be bled and dung poulticed. But, we can still learn something from middle-aged medicine - herbal remedies are becoming more popular and you will notice that hardly anyone back then died of obesity... our diets certainly could learn a lesson from the past.

Considering the past is especially true of Theology. We are quick to assume we modern Christians know better in many instances than our forbears, but 2000 years of church history can teach us a lot. Many of the ideas we may challenge have been challenged ongoingly for much of that time; free-will vs. pre-destination; paedo-baptism vs credo-baptism. Other ideas we challenge are only coming up now - challenged by our post-modern world view - and it is important that we don't throw away 2000 years of thought and tradition just because it doesn't sit neatly in our current world - which like every other world view is temporary and incomplete. It is important for us to view the thoughts and bibilical interpretations of church history as a great starting point for our thinking, and often we will find that they become the end point too.

So, yes there is a huge need for us as christians to sit and consider our faith. To reflect and question what we believe and why we do things. But there is also a need to trust God and Christian traditions, because we don't necessarily know best! I highly doubt that when I am 80 I will agree with everything I think now, but if I do, I hope it will have been after much thought.

If you're interested in having a think about what you believe and why, consider taking TF2 in the coming year. Registrations are coming up and it would be great to see a whole bunch of young people growing in their knowledge and faith together. Follow this link if you're keen to find out more. 

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