Every day we are fed information. Like a child learning to eat, the world we’re in holds the spoon and tells us exactly what we need and how much. This happens as we scroll through social media, sit in passive learning environments, and find ourselves gossiping among small groups. We have been slowly and slyly trained to hear and receive, and not always think for ourselves.
Unfortunately, this kind of “learning” has filtered into Christian education in varied formats. Teaching and inspirational writing is accessible everywhere. It is all too easy for us as disciples to fall into the hole of idolizing well known authors, speakers, and teachers and neglecting the personal spiritual discipline of studying – and even more so neglecting what comes with studying, critical thinking.
A definition of critical thinking was given in 1987 at an education forum. Michael Scriven said this: “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”
Obviously, from the Christian perspective we critically think on the foundation of a biblical worldview as we see it in Scripture; nonetheless, critically thinking is an art that too many of us are eager to avoid.
Specifically when it comes to studying the Bible, traditionally our default has been devotionals and pre-made curriculums for both personal and corporate education. Both of these resources are not inherently bad, in fact they are wonderfully fruitful tools. However, as with many things in life, it requires a balance.
2 Timothy 2:7 “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”
Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The Word of God demands a responsibility as disciples to think and discern. We see this all throughout Scripture. The balance in reference then is, when is it appropriate to passively learn and when is it necessary to actively learn? When our entire Christian education is founded on devotional readings we are deprived of the fruit of independent, personal communion with the Lord through his active Word. Consequently we walk through this life on a crutch, unable to faithfully speak the gospel over our lives, remind ourselves of the character and nature of God, and/or stand firm on assurance of salvation because we don’t have the formed thoughts, understanding, or knowledge that comes from spending deep, attentive time in the Bible.
To be clear here, the level of thinking or study we partake in is not a measurement of worth or godliness; but, we cannot deny that it makes logical sense that the more we understand who God is and what he has done, the more effective we will be able to live out and teach those truths. If this were not the case, why would God even provide a closed, bound copy of his revelation? And why would this medium be “…living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).”
And why would we see beautiful examples of reverence like the following in Psalm 19:
“The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.”
We have the privilege of co-laboring with the Spirit as we seek to understand the Bible, growing in godliness as it renews our minds and transforms our hearts. But we must learn to think critically. To independently rest in, wrestle with, deconstruct and reconstruct the beautiful, powerful text. Without this discipline, we may find ourselves misunderstanding the Bible and therefore wrongly informing the way we live, act, and believe.
The art of critically thinking is not something to be intimidated by, nor something to be measured by. It is merely an art we are invited into practicing, with the knowledge that growth occurs over time.
Let us consider how we approach Scripture. How often is our Bible time passive learning and how often is it active? Even when it is active, do we challenge our heart and mind to slow down and awe over the intentionality behind every verse? Or do we scratch the surface?
There is little that is more awestriking than experiencing the transforming power of the Bible as we witness it come to life for our feeble, limited minds. It happens my friends. It’s available for us to know and obey God. Critically thinking about the text invites us into a deep, intimate relationship with the Lord. I urge you to pause and search your heart today – what do you believe to be true about the Bible? – and examine your interactions with it.
Let me leave you with this quote from Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life as you consider why the Bible is worth this kind of time and effort:
“Let the Word break over your heart and mind again and again as the years go by, and imperceptibly there will come great changes in your attitude and outlook and conduct. You will probably be the last to recognize these. Often you will feel very, very small, because increasingly the God of the Bible will become to you wonderfully great. So go on reading it until you can read no longer, and then you will not need the Bible any more, because when your eyes close for the last time in death, and never again read the Word of God in Scripture you will open them to the Word of God in the flesh, the same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you for ever to His eternal home.” – Donald Whitney, 35.