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Love Your God with All Your Mind

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(Last Updated:  10 Jan 2004 )

Note: This paper is based substantially on the work of JP Moreland, philosophy professor at Biola University, particularly a talk he gave called Love Your God With All Your Mind, and his book of the same name.

The culture we live in often seems to be more effective at evangelising the Church than the Church is at evangelising the culture. Apparently New Zealand is the world's second most secular society (France ranks at #1). Why is the Church often so ineffective? Even in NZ there are lots of Catholics (and other Christians) but perhaps our influence isn't proportionate to our numbers. We all know society is going downhill but it's a lot easier to complain about that than to do something about it. We all could have more influence if we wanted to. Our impact doesn't need to be big, but if everyone bothered then that could make a big difference. One of the ways we could make a difference is if we were to revitalise the intellectual life of the Church.

Looking at history, has the situation we have now always been the case? In fact, from the NT times for the next 4 centuries, and certainly from the 1100s until maybe 100 years ago, the Church could out-think her critics. Now it's important for the church to out-love our critics, and certainly to out-pray her critics (in a secular society that at least shouldn't be too hard!) but we also need to out-think them.

The God that we worship is not stupid. He is fairly bright. Jesus Christ was at least modestly intelligent. He actually knew what he was talking about, and he doesn't want his followers to spend their lives being ignorant of the issues being argued in their society. He wants us to enter those arguments, even if its just in a small way with the people we know, and to do it articulately and intelligently.

But as you know, today we often don't make decisions based on careful thought. What's the major form of persuasion that we experience today? Where do we find the biggest form of persuasion in our culture? TV ads. Do TV ads try to argue for the benefits of their product? Mostly, nope. What they try to do is to associate the product with some emotional need you might have, so that when you buy the product, that emotional need will get met.

Now in a culture like that, what's going to happen? It won't take long before you have a small handful of people having most of the influence in that culture. Now I think that's where we are at today. I'm not sure whether it's the media that has the most influence, or whether it is university professors who get their views popularised through the media, but I don't think the most influential force in society today is the Catholic Church. Once upon a time it was, and I'd love to see the day when we live in a Christian culture again. But if that's going to happen, one of the things we have to do is value the intellectual life, and value loving Jesus with our minds as much as we value loving him with our hearts.

There are four Scripture passages I'd like us to consider here. The first is Romans chapter 12. If someone were to ask you which is the most important passage St Paul wrote about how people are changed spiritually, I'm sure that many of you, being intimately familiar with St Paul's writings, would go straight to Romans 12:1 and 2. Verse 1 says this:
"I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

He is telling us to completely dedicate ourselves as a sacrifice to God, to make ourselves available to God. But he doesn't stop there. You can be dedicated to God but still not be very helpful. St Paul goes on to say:
"Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by..." what? Praise and worship songs? Cell groups? Prayer? Nope.
"... be transformed by the renewal of your mind..."

Be transformed by having your mind or your intellect renewed. Now prayer is important and it will change you. Praise and worship will change you. Adoration of the Eucharist will really change you. But what Paul picks as central for spiritual renewal is the need to transform your mind, give yourself a new set of concepts and beliefs. Now let's think about why he says that.

We almost never violate our beliefs. We hardly ever act against what we really believe. We live in line with our beliefs - not always with what we say we believe, but with what we actually believe. So if you want to change someone's lifestyle or behaviour, what are you going to have to do? You're going to have to change the way they see things, how they believe about things, their understanding of things. How do you change somebody's beliefs?

You can't change someone's beliefs by commanding them to change them. You know why? Because your beliefs are not under the direct control of your will. We can prove that fairly easily. Here's a cool book, it's Love Your God With All Your Mind, by J.P. Moreland, which I used to get a lot of ideas for this talk. I'll give it to the first person who can believe right now that Brendan Malone is in fact a disguised alien from the planet Mongo sent here to spy on earthlings and abduct some of us for a series of hideous experiments. Now there may be some small amount of circumstantial evidence that this is the case, but no-one here actually believes that - you might say you believe it, but you can't just decide to believe it. No-one here can choose to believe that 2 plus 2 is 15. Or that the earth is literally flat.

But what if I said I'd give this book to the first person to raise their hand? Your hand is under the control of your will. You can will to raise your hand, but you can't will to change your beliefs and have them change. So how do beliefs change?

You have to will something else that you can do. You have to will to study whatever the issue is that you wish to change your beliefs about. And if you study the issue hard enough and think about it and so on, you will come to have different beliefs. And that's why St Paul says that a person is transformed by having his mind renewed. Because it is by renewing the mind, through a process of studying the issue, whether it's abortion or evolution or capital punishment or prostitution law reform or whatever it is - if I want to change my mind and my beliefs about that thing, I've got to study and reflect and think about it until I get to the point where I find myself believing it.

Not trying to believe it - never try to believe something. If you try to believe something you're just being a fake and it doesn't work. But what you can do is try to try to believe something. Dedicate yourself to studying the issue and then after having done that you'll have a renewed mind and a changed life because that's what follows from a restructured way of seeing the world as a result of study and reflection.

An example in my own life is belief in Purgatory. I had never given it much thought until I came across an anti-Catholic booklet in a shop one time that argued that Purgatory was an unbiblical invention of the Middle Ages and that to believe in Purgatory was to say that Jesus didn't do enough for us on the cross. That made sense to me at the time, but then it called into question my whole Catholic faith - what else was the Church telling me that I shouldn't believe? I wanted to believe in Purgatory because I liked being Catholic but I honestly thought the Church was wrong on that and I couldn't just wish my beliefs to change. But then I studied the issue, found out that Purgatory doesn't contradict the Bible and that it makes a lot of sense: if nothing unclean can enter heaven (which the Bible says) and if the Holy Spirit hasn't finished his work of making us like Christ when we die, then before we can face God in heaven, he has to clean off any remaining attachment to sin that we might still have - and that's Purgatory. Once I'd worked through this (and also discovered a whole lot of historical inaccuracies and half-truths and misunderstandings in the anti-Catholic materials that argued against Purgatory), I found that my beliefs had changed again. I was also encouraged to find out more about the reasons for why the Church teaches the things it does, and that led me into all sorts of interesting things.

It's the same thing with the study of other issues about the Christian faith and worldview. The more I understand about the solid foundations for what we believe and about Jesus and what he's done for us and the way the faith is expressed in the Catholic Church, the more I love him. And the more I love Jesus and the closer I grow to the him, the more I want to learn so I can love him better, and tell others about him better. It's a wonderful positive feedback loop, and it's one of the ways our loving Father brings us along and works with us and renews our mind and transforms our lives.

The next passage is from Matthew 22. This is a situation where Jesus is going to debate something in public. He is being called into question by the Sadducees. They ask him a question, which he answers, and then someone comes up to him and asks him what's the greatest commandment - which is basically asking him to summarise the Old Testament and say what the guts of it is. Tough question - would you like to be asked that? But Jesus was prepared for it. His summary of the Old Testament is this:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."

Now let's think about this. Let's say you have a youth ministry in your parish. That's a good thing. But if that ministry is not training teenagers to think carefully about the world of ideas, it will only be producing 2/3 disciples. Here's a good quote:
"Training the mind is an essential responsibility of ... the church... Unless [Christians] prod young people to disciplined thinking, they waste - even undermine, one of Christianity's most precious resources."

Jesus, in this passage, is saying that God is so great that he is worthy of being loved with everything we've got, with every part of our personality. So we should work on loving God with our feelings. But we should also work on loving him with our intellects. One of the ways we can love God intellectually is to begin to learn to use our mind more carefully by reading and thinking and maybe reading things over our head and strengthening our mind like a muscle.

Now looking at the context of this passage, Jesus has just told us to love God with every part of who we are, and just before he did this he gave us an example of loving God with our mind. The Sadducees have come up to Jesus. They didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead, so they use a special kind of argument against Jesus, an argument where they take someone's position and draw out conclusions that follow from that position and then say that those conclusions are absurd. If the conclusions are absurd, your position must be wrong. The Sadducees thought they had Jesus with this one. They gave the example of a woman who was married to a man, he died, she married again, he died, and so on, for seven husbands. If you believe in life after death, then when she dies and goes to the afterlife, who is she married to?

This is tricky, because if Jesus says she's married to the first man, then she's committed adultery with the rest. If he says she's married to everyone, then you have polygamy. But what Jesus says is, "You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven". So his answer is, she's not married to anyone because in heaven there's no institution of marriage. Then he gets to the root issue. He says "And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living."

Now when you first read that, you think - what's he on about? It looks like he's just changing the subject. A better proof-text for life after death would have been Daniel 12:2, which says "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." That's a much clearer reference to resurrection in the Old Testament which Jesus could have used to show the Sadducees they were wrong. Why didn't he do that?

The reason is that the Sadducees didn't accept the authority of prophets like Daniel. To them, only the first five books of the Old Testament were the word of God. Jesus knew this, so he didn't quote a prophet. Jesus found common ground with his audience. In fact, the number one verse for the Sadducees was this very verse, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'. When he said "have you not read" that verse, he was being sarcastic, because that was the Sadducee verse (that's why sarcasm is not always bad - Jesus knew how to use it). He was saying "your key verse teaches life after death". It does that because it says "I am the God of Abraham" etc, where in the Hebrew the am is in the present, continuing tense, like "I am, and continue to be, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had died and ceased to exist it should have said "I was...".

The application here is that in order to be prepared to present the truth to the Sadducees, Jesus had to spend a lot of time studying what they believed. He studied the ideas of the major groups in his society, and he knew that if the opportunity came up he could nail them at their own game. Smart guy.

Next passage: 1st Peter 3:15: "in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence".

Now JP Moreland tells this story. A few years ago he got a phone call from the head of the philosophy department at the University of Mississippi. It was an invitation to debate the existence of God. He had had his doctorate in philosophy for one year, had no published articles. He was asked to debate Kai Neilson. Kai Neilson had written 300 journal articles at that time, 26 books, had at one time been president of the Canadian philosophical association. When JP Moreland did exams for his Masters degree and for his PhD, Kai Neilson was one of the authors he had to know to be able to pass both sets of exams. But he said yes and did the debate, in front of about 850 people. He won the debate. Everyone agreed that he won it, including Kai Neilson. But Moreland says, "It wasn't because of God that I won the debate. It was because of me."

He says it like that because God did help him, but he would never have been able to win the debate if he hadn't spent a life of 15 years before that studying those issues. He puts it like that because he says there is nothing spiritual in being bold about witnessing and sharing your faith. If you want to learn to be bold in sharing your faith, you have to learn to be confident that you know what you believe and why you believe it. You need to live your faith as well and people need to see that, but if you want to share your faith in conversation with others, you need to know what you are talking about. If you do, you won't be scared. That's what 1
st Peter 3:15 says. It's pretty unspiritual. Peter is talking to a group of people who are scared to share their faith. He says "don't be scared." And he says two other things: "In your hearts reverence Christ as Lord". Trust in Christ, make him the lord of your life. And then, "Always be ready to give your reasons for why you believe".

A few years ago, more than 10 years ago I think, I was in a group of people, I think it was at a canoe polo training camp in Auckland, and we were sitting around and someone asked me, "Why do you believe in God, Dean?". And I was totally unprepared for that. I said "Because it's true", and we changed the subject, which was a great relief for me. But I would have really struggled to go beyond that, and it certainly didn't help any of the other people there come any closer to God. Since then, I've spent a lot of time thinking about these issues, and now, whenever I go on a canoe polo training camp, I take books with titles like Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, or Three Approaches to Abortion, or How to Win the Culture War, or Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Then when people say "What are you reading?" I can say, "Well, I'm glad you asked...". Last year we had three hours sitting around at an airport in Wellington and I got to explain several times what "apologetics" means, because it was on the cover of my book. Apologetics actually means not having to say you're sorry (actually it's from the greek apologia, meaning "to give a defense"). For ages I had a screen saver on my PC at work that said "Allrightokuhhuhamen", just so I could explain to folks what it meant when they asked about it (it's what you say when God tells you to do something).

One more passage: 2
nd Corinthians 10: spiritual warfare. Before we go to the passage let's just think: how do you fight spiritual warfare; what tools do we use? St Paul says in 2nd Cor 10:3: "For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war". It's not a physical war. He goes on: "for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds." Now without looking, just think for a moment, what are those strongholds we are destroying? Have a guess, and tell the person sitting next to you what you think, what are the strongholds we are to destroy in spiritual warfare. The Bible's pretty cool in a lot of ways. One is that we are seriously encouraged to take on the bad guys. "'Vengeance is mine' declares the Lord" - but we just want to be about the Lord's business, don't we...

Anyway, here's the answer about the strongholds we are supposed to destroy, in verse 5: "We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God". The word there for arguments is logismos, meaning thoughts or imaginations or speculations or theories or idea systems or arguments or ways of thinking. We are to take on ways of thinking that that are obstacles to knowing God. Some examples: Marxism or communism is a way of thinking. So is Darwinian evolution; the claim that there are no moral absolutes; secularism. These are all idea systems. And idea systems that are raised up against the knowledge of God are things that we need to be taking on and battling against, because they control people's lives. Do you know a good way to control other people? Cause them to believe what you want them to believe.

The devil is a smart guy. How would he control a culture? We've already had some insight into his battle plan. He will try to get a set of ideas widely accepted in a culture that make Christianity unbelievable and unacceptable. That's what happened in the Soviet Union for a couple of generations. That's what's happening, in a different way, in our culture today.

Spiritual warfare involves learning how to argue well. We are to destroy idea systems that are raised up against the knowledge of God. And the way you do that is to show by reason and thought that it is foolish, false and shouldn't be believed. So looking after your mind becomes an exciting part of spiritual warfare. There's more to spiritual warfare than praying against the spirit of cigarette smoking or reading Frank Peretti novels.

Our culture right now does not value the mind. To a large extent we aren't encouraged that way within the Church either. One American politician wrote recently that "Christians are dumb, ignorant and easy to lead". I don't think he's right, but the fact that he thought he could get away with saying it in a major American newspaper, and the fact that a lot of people believe that, says something about the image that Christianity has within our culture today.

What we need is a renaissance of Christian thought, we need people to make the effort to cultivate their minds so they are informed and able to argue effectively and make a difference, and we need to foster this in our parishes and ministries.

What I want to talk about briefly now is some of the ways we can do that.

We can start by looking at ourselves. We live in a culture that encourages self-interest, shallowness, lack of thought and emptiness. We need to look at how much of that we have bought into. Some things to watch out for are:

It's easy for Christians to fall into a lot of these traps. When we do, we're still Christian, but we're likely to be dumb, ignorant and easily led.

If we want to get out of this sort of thing, if we want to develop a Christian mind, then there are a few things we can do.

It can sometimes be funny to see what happens when we don't exercise our intellects. A good example is in parish Bible studies or small group discussions. Often people don't prepare for these properly or don't want to be there in the first place, and instead of being prepared, doing homework or whatever, folks often just show up and see what happens. Lots of times I've seen people break up into small groups to reflect on a Scripture passage or something, and then be asked to share what they think. And God bless everyone who does this, but so often it just turns into a "pool your ignorance" session. People say the first thing that comes into their head, or they say what they heard someone else say once about something kind of similar. Like, your group is looking at the gospel of Matthew and the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree because it didn't have any fruit and someone says "I'm so glad to see Jesus cursed the fig tree. It helps me feel better to know that he was a sinner just like me!".

Now there's no problem with being wrong, but what normally happens is that everyone nods and smiles and affirms and it's all touchy-feely and nice. But what we need to do is exercise more critical thinking in two ways. First, it needs to be OK to analyse someone's statement and pick it apart (in a kind and thoughtful way). And we need to be open ourselves to having our ideas criticised so that we can learn something without taking offense. I know there's a lot of small group stuff at Hearts Aflame, so try to keep each other honest in thinking about what people say - but do it with kindness and thoughtfulness of course!

This stuff about developing a Christian mind is mostly an attempt to develop wisdom, the ability to seek the truth and act on it to achieve something worthwhile. Wisdom is a great virtue. Another virtue we need though is humility, which means being open-minded, open to fair criticism, and non-defensive, and willing to change our views when they don't line up with reality. You can help with this by a little exercise. When you see your views being criticised or trashed in the media, take a couple of minutes to jot down the main points your opponent is saying. Then try to assume that they are saying at least some good points, and see if you can identify them. Then try to work out how you would respond, being precise and not emotional. This can be quite a useful exercise.

It also helps to have some idea of logic and the sorts of mistakes that people commonly make in arguing.

The basic form of logical argumentation is called a syllogism, and a basic syllogism looks like this:
All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
Therefore, Socrates is a mortal.
Everything that begins to exist has a cause
The universe began to exist
Therefore, the universe has a cause.

We use logic like this all the time, mostly without even knowing it.
My car needs petrol to work properly.
My car has run out of petrol.
Therefore I need to get petrol for my car if I want it to work properly.

Almost all argumentation has some form of syllogism in it, and when we are trying to argue against something it can be really helpful to identify the syllogism and work out which part of it has something wrong.

For example:
A woman has a right to do what she wants to her own body.
A fetus is part of the woman's body.
Therefore a woman has a right to do what she wants to a fetus.

The problem here is in the second premise. A fetus, although inside a woman's body, is not part of the woman's body, but is a distinct individual person with his own rights.

There are lots of fallacies in arguments that it can be helpful to watch out for. Here are some:

Appeal to pity:
"If abortion is forbidden then the rich will still be able to get safe abortions but the poor will have back-alley abortions, or they'll keep having babies so they can get more money from the DPB".
This argues for abortion by trying to make us feel sorry for poor people and mad at rich people. But how we feel about rich or poor has got nothing to do with the status of whether the fetus is a person who should be protected.

Appeal to the people:
"Modern people are not so narrow-minded as to think that one religion is the absolute truth, so you Christians should stop claiming that Jesus Christ is the only way to God."
In this sort of argument, you are supposed to agree with the people in the group that you want to be accepted by. Teenagers are the best at using these sorts of arguments.

Ad hominem:
"You are in no position to argue against abortion because you're a man and you don't know what it's like to get pregnant!"
Here the person making the argument is attacked, not the argument itself.

Genetic fallacy:
"The idea of God originated because people were afraid of death and invented something to make them feel better about it".
This is when someone confuses the origin of an idea with the reasons for believing in it. The above argument for example, besides being wrong, is completely irrelevant in judging whether you should believe in God. It doesn't deal with the actual reasons.

Straw man:
"The Catholic Church has this huge doctrine of purgatory, which they invented in the middle ages, based on books that don't belong in the Bible!"
A straw man argument is when an arguer distorts an opponent's position to make it easier to destroy, refutes the distorted position, and then concludes that the opponent's position has been demolished.

Red herring:
"All New Zealanders should be pro-choice. Unfortunately, you Catholics want to invade our bedrooms and force your narrow-minded views on everyone. Loosen up! You should be more compassionate to people less fortunate than you!"
A red herring is where someone diverts attention away from the real argument by changing the subject to some irrelevant or off-topic issue. The argument above starts with a conclusion but instead of trying to prove it, it gets off-track into an argument about the personality traits of Catholics.

Begging the question:
"I know the Bible is completely true and trustworthy because it is the Word of God, and since it's the Word of God it is completely true in everything it says."
Here the conclusion is right but it's a bad argument because it assumes what it is trying to prove.

As well as getting better at thinking ourselves, we should also encourage our parishes and priests and ministries along the same lines. Think about getting speakers in to talk to parish groups about a Christian worldview and how to argue for it. Think about a serious parish study group or Sunday school, complete with homework and grades. Have a look at your parish library and see what quality of books it has. Buy some better ones, if need be, ones that will challenge people to think carefully about their faith and worldview (and while you're at it feel free to offload all the books by Bishop Spong or Matthew Fox or the Jesus Seminar). And encourage your priest to throw in the occasional intellectually challenging homily. Our priests have had seven years of theological training so they have a lot to offer, but often they pitch their sermons to reach as many people as possible, so it's a lowest common denominator sort of level. That's fine and good, but there's nothing wrong with stretching the people in the pews a little every now and then, so encourage your priests to think about doing that.

Finally, get informed yourself. As well as putting into practice some of the stuff I've suggested, try to hook up with organisations that are attempting to make a difference in the culture. One that I really recommend in New Zealand is the Maxim institute. Go to their website, and sign up for their newsletter and be prepared to participate in the public debates that are going on in this country.

For example, last year my wife and I wrote to six MPs who had voted in favour of the Prostitution Reform Bill in its initial readings in parliament. One of them changed his mind for the final vote (not just because of us, but it was still encouraging). If a few more people had done the same thing, perhaps the Act would not have gone through. Later on, the Christchurch City Council surveyed Christchurch residents about what they felt were acceptable locations and advertising standards for brothels. It can be tempting to ignore that sort of stuff, but all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. In our case, one of the survey questions was "What advertising/signage would you find acceptable outside a suburban brothel?" Our answer which we sent to the City Council was that it should be mandatory for the signs to say "This is a brothel. What are you doing here? You should be ashamed of yourself!".

But the point is that as Christians we need to be informed about what is going on in the culture and we need to love God with our minds enough to be able to be salt and light. Why? Because God wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, he wants us to love him with all of our minds, he wants us to be prepared to give people a reason if they ask us why we believe something, and he wants us to engage in warfare against ideas that keep people oppressed and away from the knowledge of God, by learning to tear those ideas apart (not the people who propagate them but the ideas themselves) to show why they are wrong and what's wrong with them.

To do all this takes a bit of work, takes a bit of study, but it's good for us, and our God is definitely worth it.

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