Category Archives: Thinking

THINKING CHRISTIAN: AN INTERVIEW

 

 

Moore: What motivated you to write Thinking Christian?

Spencer: I approached Thinking Christian with a couple of motivations.  The first came from teaching “Developing a Christian Mind” for Right On Mission.  Students struggled to understand the examples and context of Harry Blamires’s 1963 work titled The Christian Mind.  I wanted to offer an updated treatment of Christian thought that wrestled with matters of contemporary concern. 

The second motivation was more personal.  My last two years in higher education were physically and emotionally draining.  In addition to dealing with major budgetary and enrollment issues that would result in staff and faculty layoffs, we were also dealing with a public relations crisis due to a variety of accusations. 

Thinking Christian was my way of reflecting theologically on some of the dynamics I experienced during those last two years.  Writing the book became my way of coming to terms with that tumultuous period of life.  Looking back on the process of writing Thinking Christian, I would say that each essay is the fruit of a deep period of prayer and study.  My goal was to contribute to the church’s thinking and to rediscover my own sense of contentment in Christ. 

Moore: Over the years, I have read many books with titles like The Christian Mind by Harry Blamires, John Stott’s Your Mind Matters, and Love Your God with all Your Mind by J.P. Moreland. How does your book make a fresh contribution?

Spencer: Thinking Christian makes a couple of unique contributions.  First, I’ve attempted to highlight the need for a church capable of training Christians to think Christian.  The church needs to counter the world’s logics so Christians learn to approach the world as a people who look and listen with theological eyes and ears.  For instance, James urges us to be slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to listen.  While Christians would likely affirm James’s command, it isn’t always clear that we have embraced James 1:19-20 on social media platforms that increasingly encourage us to be quick to speak, quick to anger, and slow to listen.  Counter-acting that latter logic seems to me to require a community that trains us to use a biblically rooted theo-logic.  I hope Thinking Christian makes a contribution in that respect.

The second contribution is related to Thinking Christian’s evaluation of Christian thought in the digital age.  The church has not adequately considered the implications of new technologies and technology practices.  Thinking Christian offers some direction for thinking about issues like Christian testimony and accountability by reckoning with the new media and technology environment in which the church seeks to offer a faithful witness.

Moore: What are some of the best practices you have seen for getting out of our self-imposed echo chambers where everyone agrees with one another?

Spencer: First, just as Israel’s king was to write a copy of the law every year, we need to keep God’s word close.  The goal is, in part, to ensure that we do not come to believe that our incomplete understand of the world is complete.  God’s word has a way of disabusing us of such notions by constantly reminding us that we only know in part.

Second, we have to create quieter spaces in our lives.  We have to turn down the volume so we can think more deeply about our decisions and the positions we hold.

Finally, we have to set aside our “us versus them” mentality which creates unnecessary conflict that keeps us from understanding the perspectives of others.  That mentality conditions us to react to “opposing views” by doubling down on our own arguments.  If we can learn to approach others as people seeking to make a contribution, we can maintain our convictions while evaluating the ways information sources help and/or hinder our ability to see more faithfully what God is doing.  This orientation requires the humility to recognize the incompleteness of our own views.  That humility will help us resist the echo chamber.

Moore: What are some tangible things that pastors can do to equip Christians to be ready to give a loving and thoughtful engagement with non-Christians?

Spencer: I think pastors would do well to remind congregants that everyone feels the brokenness of the world in different ways.  As Christians, part of loving our neighbors involves learning how they feel the world’s brokenness and how they seek to address it.  Once we understand our neighbors, we can proclaim Christ as the only and final solution to the brokenness they see.  There is a place to address specific individual sins and to be proactive in sharing the gospel, but I’ve found that non-Christians are more willing to consider the gospel when I listen to them first.

Of course, in today’s world who we are in our one-on-one interactions with non-Christians will likely need to match who we are in our digital interactions.  As such, pastors also need to encourage congregants to consider their witness comprehensively.  So often we fool ourselves into thinking that liking, posting, sharing, and commenting are effective ways of changing the world when they may actually be distractions pointing the world away from Christ. 

Moore: In your book, you mentioned James Clear’s comment that “we don’t rise to our goals, but rather fall to our systems.” For those not familiar with Clear’s work, would you describe first what he means, and secondly what bearing that sage observation means for Christian learning?

Spencer: I’m always quick to say that earning a PhD isn’t simply about being disciplined or intelligent.  It requires a support system.  My wife, for instance, supported me financially and emotionally while I completed by coursework.  My goal was to earn a PhD, but without the support systems of my wife and others, I’m not sure I would have achieved that goal. 

Clear is making a similar point.  Our systems can hinder our ability to achieve our goals because they create environments.  All environments afford us certain opportunities while withholding others.  If we try to reach goals within a system that does not afford us the opportunities necessary to achieve those goals, it will be far more difficult, though not impossible, to achieve them.

When we apply this understanding to Christian learning, we will likely recognize that we exist within systems that have no interest in seeing us be and make disciples for Jesus.  As such, the goal of faithfully witnessing to Christ is made more difficult by the systems in which we exist.  We need a system that fosters and supports discipleship.  The church is to offer such a “system.”  If it’s not, we all need to address it.

Moore: Your wide and eclectic reading, especially writers outside your own Christian tradition, models an intentional desire to not be stuck in your own echo chamber. What are some things that first motivated you to delve into writers with very different worldviews than your own?

Spencer: My interdisciplinary focus developed out of my rather odd career path.  I’d pursued a PhD in theological studies with the intention of becoming a faculty member.  I wanted to write and teach.  As it turned out, I started my career as an assistant dean of an online department before transitioning into a role as academic dean and now as president of a Christian non-profit. 

While I was learning the ropes as an administrator, evaluating pedagogical strategies, guiding education finance, and overseeing marketing and recruitment, I made an effort to think theologically about systems, process, policies, and curricula.  Doing so required me to interact with business, educational, psychological, and sociological literature. 

I came to appreciate the way that interdisciplinary engagement challenged me to think theologically.  The novelty of other fields made me explore the scriptures and do theology in ways I would not have otherwise.  It has kept me open to new ideas and insights, as well as helping me to clarify my own biblical and theological convictions.

Moore: What are a few things you hope your readers take from your book?

Spencer: Ultimately, I want readers to recognize that Christians have a unique capacity to proclaim Christ in a fallen world.  We need to say and do what only we can.  We can’t allow political, socio-cultural, or economic crises to overshadow God and the gospel.  We can participate in these realms, yet fixing political, cultural, and economic problems has to proceed from an unwavering commitment to be and make disciples.  Only Christians can proclaim the gospel in deed and in truth.

I would also like readers to recognize our need to conform our speech and behavior to a theo-logic that is less concerned with solving society’s problems than pointing to God’s solution for the world’s brokenness.  That doesn’t mean we ignore the world’s brokenness.  As James notes, practicing pure and undefiled religion involves engaging that brokenness. It does mean that we aren’t called to fix the world, but to live faithfully within it. 

I hope readers walk away from Thinking Christian with a renewed desire to build the body of Christ, to outdo one another in showing honor, and to observe God’s teachings, however inconvenient or ineffective it may seem to do so, so that the world may seek Christ in us. 

LOST IN THOUGHT…

Our American culture is full of people with a toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance.

Lost in Thought is an antidote to both of these.

Hitz’s subtitle is The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life. She has done a terrific job of showing us where the gems are to be found.

I am glad Hitz felt free to use “intellectual” and to show that all of us, irrespective of brain power or giftedness, are called to pursue a life of learning.

This book is part memoir as the author shares a bit about her own journey. I found this not only interesting, but it lent credibility to the things she promotes in her book.

Hitz does a good job demonstrating that deep learning is a way to show love to others.

Education and high culture do not automatically lead to virtue. You can be both learned and lacking in virtue. The Germany of WWII is the example usually given, but sadly there are many more.

Hitz’s book contains many fascinating insights like how the solitary confinement of prison resulted in some people doing brilliant work. She did not mention John Bunyan, but I will try to forgive the author for that omission!

Highly recommended!

 

DIGITAL MINIMALISM

Digital Minimalism is Cal Newport’s latest book.  I interviewed him on his previous book, Deep Work (see link below).  Both are absolutely terrific.  

I am gladly not on Twitter or Facebook, though some have tried to convince me otherwise.  I am on LinkedIn and obviously have some blogs.  These fit what I do. 

I’ve read several books and essays on the perils of social media.  All have been great, but Cal’s latest book and probably Neil Postman’s, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology are now my favorites.

Newport is hardly a Luddite, but he is a wise guide in helping us to think intentionally about how we spend our time.  If you look at Newport’s prodigious output of both popular and scholarly work, you know that he is practicing what he preaches.

Highly recommended!

Cal Newport: Focused Success in a Distracted World

STEPPING INTO CONTROVERSY INVITATION

Here’s the official announcement from Hill House.  And yes, the meals are free!
2104 Nueces Street (Austin, Texas)
Garage parking available across the street and parking can also be found on the street
Simply RSVP to me here.
Starting Wednesday, June 5
and running through Wednesday, July 17 
from 6-8 pm we will be hosting a weekly dinner and study at Hill House
taught by Dave Moore.    
Students and non students alike are welcome to attend. 

STEPPING INTO CONTROVERSY…WITH COURAGE AND CHRIST-LIKE CHARACTER

IS IT POSSIBLE IN OUR DIVISIVE AND TURBULENT TIME?

Taught by Dave Moore

Imagine that you are at your favorite coffee shop.  Everything about the place is great, except the tables are a bit too close to one another.   This, of course, makes it difficult to avoid eavesdropping.  Your reading tends to zone you out from the conversations of others, but not on this day.  To your utter amazement you listen in on a conversation between an ardent Trump supporter and one who gladly voted for Hillary Clinton.  It is not the various arguments that are being mustered for one candidate over the other that intrigues you.  Rather, it is the evident respect each person has for the other even while articulating their significant disagreements. 

It is hard to go back to your reading for the day.  You become preoccupied with why the kind of exchange you just heard is as rare as it is refreshing…even in your local church.

For seven weeks we will discuss several areas that can hurt or help us as we discuss controversial subjects.  A sampling of these include:

*Taking honest inventory of our own failure to be prepared and/or interact with grace

*The need to slow down and pay more careful attention to the definition of words

*Diagnosing how much of an echo chamber we live in

*The need to read and listen to those who make us angry…and to pay close attention to what our “opponents” can teach us

*Why the focus must be on our own challenges rather than being frustrated with those we disagree with

We will also be looking various points raised in How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs.  Copies will be available. 

STUPID THINGS PEOPLE SAY

Yesterday, I preached a sermon to the wonderful folks at Brenham Bible Church.  The sermon was titled “What’s in a Word.”  My sermon focused on the three words: faith, hope, and love.  I showed from God’s Word how these three are commonly misunderstood…even by many of us Christians.

During my preparation I pondered how the popular saying “I am a person of faith” bothers me.  My musings during the recent preparations surfaced a new twist to my dislike of that saying. 

Think about it for a minute.  Every human being, whether they are religious or not, is a “person of faith.”  Non-religious folks gladly place their faith daily in everything from elevators to cars.  And, of course, they place their faith in themselves! 

Saying you are a “person of faith” is about as meaningful as saying you are a person. 

Christians believe that they place their faith IN God.  It is the object of our faith that makes all the difference in the world.

SLOPPY THINKING

Image result for sloppy thinking

We like hardened categories, especially when it comes to people we like a lot or those we don’t care for at all.

Either everything about these folks is all great or all horrible.

 

It takes more time, humility, and most threatening of all, looking at our own heart to see that people are complicated and so therefore a mixture of virtue and vice.