Friday, March 23, 2018

Developing a real Christian mind

This is a draft of my third devotional talk for the forthcoming conference on Science and Christianity.
It is based on Philippians 2:1-11.

In discussions about Christianity and Academia it is common to talk about “the Christian mind” and the “Christian world view” and “loving God with all your mind”. The titles of some influential books are The Christian Mind by Harry Blamires, and The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll,
All first-year students at Calvin College in the USA a required to take a course entitled “Developing a Christian Mind”. At Oxford, there is also an excellent initiative called "Developing a Christian Mind."

What does the Bible say about what it means to have “the mind of Christ”?
I find this passage from Paul's letter to the Philippians rather challenging.
Having the mind of Christ does not seem to be concerned with intellectual issues or a particular world-view but rather a personal attitude, particularly one of humility.
The passage begins.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Here are some specific applications.

A commitment to unity.
It meets being “like-minded” with others who follow Jesus.
If my ideas and views are creating division in the church do I have the mind of Christ?

Put aside my selfish ambition.
It is not all about me: my views, my organisation, my career, my ministry, my achievements, my influence, my status,..

Why does division occur within churches and between churches?
Sometimes it appears to be about differences of belief, about doctrine, or practice.
Contentious issues include church government, baptism, the role of the Holy Spirit, gender roles, Biblical interpretation, support of political parties, music, liturgy, budgets, fund raising, …
The list is almost endless. On the one hand, these are important issues. On the other hand, we should humbly and critically ask how much does “selfish ambition and vain conceit” play a role when a new denomination or a new congregation or a new organisation starts?

Sometimes, the role of ambition can be explicit and blatant. Other times it is more subtle or sub-conscious. We should ask this of ourselves and of our leaders. Am I looking to my own interests or to the interests of others?
Am I primarily concerned with showing I am right?
Where does my identity come from? From my views or from Jesus?
Where does my community identity come from?
Do I value others (including their views) above myself?

What drives academic life? What drives science?
Is it a passion for truth? Unfortunately, too many scientists have big egos. The history of science is littered with brilliant people who were not willing to give up on their own ideas and theories, even when there was overwhelming evidence against them.

Max Planck was the founder of quantum theory. He is sometimes credited with saying “Science advances one funeral at a time”. He actually said
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
Academic theologians and pastors are not immune from self-promotion and a reluctance to respect those with different views.

I should clarify and qualify what I am saying.
Being humble and having the mind of Christ does not mean discarding strong convictions. It does not mean unity at any cost.  It does not mean not being critical of other views. It does not mean not taking a stand for truth.
It does not mean that all views are equally valid.
What it does mean is being more humble about what I believe and how
I relate to others with different views. How open am I to changing my
views? It means abandoning self-promotion. It means trying to understand what is best for others and serving them.
It means following Jesus example of humility and service.

The best scientists are humble.
They are humble before nature. They are eager to learn, both from nature and from others.
They are willing to change their pre-conceptions and give up cherished ideas when confronted with convincing evidence or persuasive arguments.

What does this have to do with Science and Christianity?
This is an issue that divides churches.
There are a diverse range of perspectives. Some of them I strongly disagree with
them. However, that does not give me the right to ridicule those with different views.
We need to be humble. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

We like to exalt ourselves, our views, our organisations, our achievements, ...
But in the end, we will not be exalted.
Jesus will be. Our views and agendas will fall away.
Jesus is the name above every name.
Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It is all about our downward mobility!

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