How to Think Like a Christian Should

We rarely think about thinking. Many very smart people fail to see the assumptions hidden underneath their reasoning. How often do news articles assume that the only really reliable way of knowing truth is the scientific method?

I happen to believe that method is highly valuable, and I’m sure I’ve got my own hidden assumptions. But if God says I can “know” some things that science can’t see—like the love of Christ—then science can’t be the only way to know. “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim 1:12). If science can’t tell me the most important truth there is, that God is working through Christ to reconcile the world to himself, then science also can’t be the best way to know. “By faith we understand” (Heb 11:3).

One of the biggest helps I’ve ever received to “take every thought captive”—and my favorite book of all time—is John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (DKG).

Here are just three major insights you could get out of DKG that might Christianize your own thinking:

1. Knowing is not a secular activity.

Secular society likes to believe that error stems from ignorance and environment. Lacking a concept of original sin, it cannot conclude that people believe lies because they love darkness rather than light. Secularism is still capable of monumental moral dudgeon, and sometimes I thank God that it is. But I’ve always felt that its diagnosis of the human condition has been lacking: secularism tends to point to physical causes only, not spiritual ones. And that’s an unsatisfying way to describe humankind and our choices—and our thinking. Why do people believe falsehoods, from moon landing skeptics to flat-earthers?

John Frame takes a fully biblical view of the results of the fall on man’s thinking (Eph 4:17). He knows that man owes allegiance to his creator in more than just our choices and even our loves; he teaches that we are morally responsible to know obediently (2 Thess 2:10–12).

Frame is far from claiming that all Christians all the time know obediently and truly. We, too, are affected by the fall. But by submitting as Frame urges to God’s picture of mankind in Scripture, we can know truth, and know that we know it.

2. Reason and emotion can’t be separated.

One of the West’s prevailing myths is that people ought to be ruled by reason, that emotion is unruly and untrustworthy. It’s as if emotion is fallen and reason is not. Not all Westerners think this way: the Romantics reacted (and I know this is a big generalization) by privileging emotion over reason, and their heirs are surely present in the West, too.

But Western rationalists and romantics share the assumption that individual people can be usefully divided into separate, competing “faculties,” usually mind, will, and emotion.

Frame shows that the Bible does not do this. God does not command my reason to command my emotion, or vice versa. He doesn’t command my will, either. He commands me.

3. It’s helpful to see the world from three perspectives.

Frame teaches that moral decisions involve three things: 1) a person 2) applying a norm 3) to a situation.

I have found this simple “triperspectival” schema to clarify moral questions over and over again. I have also watched other Christians stumble confusedly through moral discussions that could have been illuminated by what I think are ultimately biblical categories.

The problem with non-Christian ethical systems is generally that one of these three perspectives gets absolutized, the others minimized or even lost. “Non-Christian ethics tends to absolutize” one of the three perspectives, eliminating the others (74). Only the God of Scripture can bring them together.

Conclusion

The great thing about books is that it’s a sign of intellectual health for you to swoon over one book for a while and then start courting another (as long as the two are more or less consistent with each other: don’t fall for The Institutes of the Christian Religion one month and Mein Kampf the next). The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God has been holding steady as my favorite for a good while. But before that (to name a random few) it was The Pleasures of God and before that Perelandra and then Matilda and then, uh, Good Night, Moon?

I’m not going to come on this blog and tell you that every last book in the Logos catalog is going to change your life, or Christianize your thinking. But many of them could. Maybe The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.


Mark L. Ward, Jr, PhD serves the church as a Logos Pro. His most recent book—“Highly recommended” by D.A. Carson—is Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible (forthcoming, Lexham Press).

 

Comments

  1. Gary Archibeck says:

    Thanks for the article. The necessity of brevity is obvious here. However, it seems that in this short space, the underlying thought is that there is a difference between the secular and the believer (the sacred?). I wonder if that polemic is substantiated in the New Testament. Also, I find it odd that Frame’s perspective lacks access to the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ mighty works were accomplished through the Holy Spirit. The apostles were led by the Spirit, and Revelation admonishes, “Those with ears to hear, let them listen to what the Spirit is saying.” It seems the New Testament wants us to learn the voice of the Spirit. The letter (the law) kills but the Spirit gives life. This knowing “by/in the Spirit” is much more difficult because it requires relationship, but the depth of knowledge revealed may lead others to life in the King.

    • This is good thinking, and I encourage you to pick up Frame’s book. He does most definitely address the issue you raise. It is, in fact, very important to him.

  2. Actually, I frequently think about thinking and in this particular case, I think you are perpetuating an erroneous view of the scientific method. Looking at logic as a type of reason, I note that different types of logic have different goals:
    – Deductive logic leads me to what must be true.
    – Inductive logic leads me to what is probably true.
    – Abductive logic leads me to the simplest and most likely explanation.
    – Defeasible logic leads me to a rationally compelling but not deductively valid conclusion.

    Science uses abductive logic and by definition is not exploring truth. So when you say “How often do news articles assume that the only really reliable way of knowing truth is the scientific method?”, you are perpetuating. What many news articles assume is what many in our culture believe: the facts of the physical universe are best expressed and explored via the scientific method/abductive logic. However, in the arena of politics, judiciary, etc. … newspapers switch to a defeasible method of reasoning.

    Although I keep rereading Frame, I am consistently disappointed in him as he falls for the same error in analysis that Avi Sion displays in his analysis of “Buddhist Illogic”. That is confusing the metaphysical assumptions of a logic with the logic itself. This is analogous to thinking that elementary school arithmetic is “wrong” because it assumes no imaginary numbers. In Frame’s case, I disagree that reason and emotion can’t be separated. In the same sense that I can abstract math out of its physical manifestation, I can abstract reason out of its psychological/sociological manifestations. And while different cultures express abstracted reasoning in different manners, they usually express the same rules and reach the same conclusions.

    The danger of Frame’s approach is that it provides no way to question and refine the metaphysical Christian assumptions as defined by his particular Christian worldview. I believe that the earlier Christian logicians who separated the Christian metaphysical assumptions from the rules of reasoning are more insightful.

    • M.J., please stop making interesting comments while I’m on vacation and simply don’t have time for an adequate reply! =)

      I’ll try to offer a few thoughts when I return to my desk next week. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

    • Hi M. J. happy New year.

      Glad to read your input.

      May I ask for recommendation of resources (best if in L7 ) that touch on the different types of logic?

      Also can you mention some of the Early Christian Logicians that you consider worth checking and the resources that apply?

      I have not read Mr. Frame’s books. I did read something that I really liked in a hit on a search: Mr. Frame expressed that “Experience is the highest form of perception”.

      This ties with my question to a believer about the time that a man of God heard and saw a celestial being deliver a message to him near a river, while at the same time other persons in the area just heard a noise and were afraid and left quickly.

      To me the person with the right perception of the “reality” being experienced was the prophet, that due to having the Holy Spirit could correctly experience and understand the reality that was happening.

      I doubt that man knew that much about the types of logic, etc. but he sure got the message by the celestial messenger.

      Very interesting subject.

      Blessings.

      • I’m stuck in that embarrassing situation where I have a mental image of a chart in the resource I would refer you to, if only I had a clue as to where the chart is. I’ll get back to you when I find it. In the meantime, this web site is a starting point: http://changingminds.org/disciplines/argument/types_reasoning/types_reasoning.htm Unfortunately, the way textbooks in logic are constructed tends to force each type of logic into its own volume. The website provided above and Wikipedia both have decent articles on each type of logic/reason. Similar but more technical information is available at https://plato.stanford.edu/ .

        As a preparation for reading early Christian logicians, I would suggest Socratic Logic: A Logic Text using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles by Peter Kreeft and Trent Dougherty which appears to be one of the few books by Kreeft not in Logos. I was thinking of the work of people such as John Scottus Eriugena, Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, Albert the Great, Boethius of Dacia . . .

        I would agree with you to some extent that “the person with the right perception of the “reality” being experienced was the prophet, that due to having the Holy Spirit could correctly experience and understand the reality that was happening.” although I might replace “prophet” with “prophet/mystic”. However, there still needs to be a rational process to judge the experience – self-delusion and charlatans are simply too common to place such experiences outside rational evaluation. Fortunately, we have examples from multiple religious/cultural backgrounds to consult.

        • Hamilton R. says:

          Thank you MJ, God bless you much.

          I do have P. Kreeft resources, and I will try to get the one you suggest.
          I do think I have resources on the others too.

          MJ said: “However, there still needs to be a rational process to judge the experience – self-delusion and charlatans are simply too common to place such experiences outside rational evaluation”.

          Totally agree with you. The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself.
          And this is why I am very inclined to intertextuality in the Scriptures, and to read the Bible diachronically.

          I see some unneeded mistakes in superb thinkers, just because they study the Bible synchronically, and do not study all the info related to the topic in the whole counsel of God.

          About prophets, there used to be school for them in early times, and not all that was prophetized was recorded in the Bible. So that opens the possibility that some prophets were used by God for local historical prophecy (e.g. foretelling in order to warn about events in their daily life).

          I think this type of prophecy (local and historical) still continues with the H.S.’s gift of prophecy.

          As far as eschatological prophecy goes, that one ceased, as the Canon is closed.
          Some persons seem to not understand the difference.

          As usual, your input is most interesting, and very helpful for further research, reflection and comment. Thank you very much.

          Blessings.

    • M.J., as I have thought (Christianly, I hope) about your comment in spare moments on my vacation, my mind has run most frequently to your comment that “science uses abductive logic,” that “by definition [it] is not exploring truth.”

      I’m wondering: who sez? How many of the journalists to whom I referred, many of them influential, grasp the distinction between the deliverances of abductive, defeasible, inductive, and deductive logic? You’re describing an ideal in which people are such self-critical thinkers that they know how much weight to give to particular beliefs based on how they arrived at them. I’m not sure that world exists anywhere, even in my own thinking… =) I’m saying that journalists’ frequent recourse to the results of scientific studies, when they get to the “solution” phase of an article they’re writing on a particular problem, suggests that they think of science as delivering truth, as does the dominant class in our culture. The most recent example I came across, in a writer I otherwise admire and profit from, was this. The implicit message is not, “Science has a contribution to make,” but “Science can tell us what’s truly true in this situation.”

      And I’m not sure that a Christian definition of science, one formed by biblical categories, would say that “by definition [it] is not exploring truth.” I follow Frame (and Romans 1 and Psalm 19) in believing that nature reveals truth, truth that is ultimately from and about God. At a given height above sea-level and a given temperature, it takes a specific amount of time for water to come to boil. Discovering that time is discovering truth. Sure, I’m fallen and finite and can never grasp truth exhaustively and perfectly, but does the Bible insist that I add that caveat as a footnote every time I claim to know the truth?

      If you’ve read Frame, then “Read more Frame” may not be a fair answer. But I think Frame would say that emotion and reason can be usefully distinguished, just not finally separated. Belief is, in part, a feeling about a proposition. Knowledge is, too. And as Alan Jacobs discusses in a fantastic book I wish we carried, “feeling’s a sort o’ knowledge.”

      If God is the determiner of truth, wouldn’t we expect that there is no platform from which one may evaluate him except a platform he has built? Where can one stand outside God’s universe in order to pronounce an independent judgment on his truth claims? There *is* a way to question and refine the metaphysical assumptions of a Christian worldview, but it isn’t to adopt another one, no matter how temporarily. Where do the “rules of reasoning” come from? Do they have an existence independent of God? Frame’s theology is a “Theology of Lordship.” Is there ever a time when Christ is not king of my epistemic framework?

      All I’m doing is repreating Framean, Van-Tillian, and (I think) Augustinian themes. I’m probably not saying anything you don’t already know. And perhaps my comments reveal that I haven’t understood you, M.J. I’m open to clarification.

      • I’ve ordered Alan Jacobs as it looks very interesting. You might wish to read William Franke’s A Philosophy of the Unsayable which covers some of the same domain (https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Unsayable-William-Franke/dp/026802894X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515715854&sr=8-1&keywords=a+philosophy+of+the+unsayable).

        While I agree that journalists may be unaware of the distinctions between the various type of logic, I think that they recognize the provisional nature of science in that it is always subject to revision (better than previous best explanation). Christianity, as I know it, recognizes the limitations of science — and of human intellect. (A very sad and currently relevant example is the Catholic bishops of the 50’s and 60’s who believed that a short psychiatric treatment would make pedophiles safe to reassign working with children based on the “best science” of the time.)

        I agree that nature reveals truth but do not believe that it does so primarily through science. Your example “At a given height above sea-level and a given temperature, it takes a specific amount of time for water to come to boil.” is an excellent example as the purity of the water, the ratio of deuterium-depleted water to heavy water, etc. … all have an effect on boiling time. What we do is accept an average of assumed “normal condition” as the figure we use for practical purposes. I would use the term “fact” rather than “truth” for this knowledge.

        Regarding “but does the Bible insist that I add that caveat as a footnote every time I claim to know the truth?”, I’d say yes 1 Thess 5:21 :-) Yes, I’m pushing it but I do believe that a little more humility in what we know to be true vs. what we believe could work wonders in the world.

      • Sorry for the split answer but re-reading your post re: belief, are you aware that belief also has its own logic (doxastic logic or action logic + belief revision logic)? You might find the essay collection Logic In Theology of interest. (https://smile.amazon.com/Logic-Theology-Bartosz-Brozek/dp/837886006X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1515750585&sr=8-2&keywords=%22logic+in+theology%22)

  3. Thank you for this brief review of what sounds like a thought-provoking book. My only disagreement is with the notion that the Bible doesn’t divide man into intellect, emotion and will. Emotions are often referred to in the Old Testament as coming from the stomach, and intellect from the heart. That metaphor changes by the New Testament era, where Paul tells us to be transformed by the renewing – not of our entire person – but by the renewing of our mind. I agree that all three can be wrong and must be brought in line with the character of God. Speaking for myself, however, I would trust my intellect over my emotions every time. After all, what can feel right is often something I know is wrong. When there is a question, I use a matrix that I discuss from time to time on my website think-biblically.com. That matrix asks how does this act effect (1) my relationship with God, (2) my personal spiritual growth and (3) my witness to others. By answering these questions I am led to the answer that results in the best possible outcome for the Kingdom.

    • The most important answer I can give to this is, “Read Frame.” =)

      Briefly, however, the paradigmatic illustration for me of emotion leading to truth and intellect leading away is the abortion clinic worker who, upon being asked to help with an actual abortion, begins weeping and ultimately leaves her practice.

      But read Frame! You’ll profit, I promise.

    • Hamilton R. says:

      Hello Tyson, God bless.

      Thank you for letting us know about the t-b.c, quickly browsing looks like a good project.

      I know that you did not write for me, but the methodology in matrix seems a valid attempt to systematize analysis of important issues.

      My little input (very based on personal experience), is that at some point we must understand that we are finite beings dealing with practical matters here, but definitively made by an Infinite Being, very willing to help us out.

      This brings us to the context that not many talk about: the Holy Spirit context.

      The H.S. is not bound by tradition, time era, language, matrixes of any kind, etc. And it just happens that He is the Paraclete.

      God’s reality is ultimate reality, it is what it is, regardless of what any human thinks, says or does.

      You may have ideas, feelings, and the like, but if they do not align with God’s true reality, (that the Paraclete is here and present to guide to truth), then you would be out of alignment with that reality (of which the Bible bears witness).

      See, elected persons in the Bible, had an encounter with a Divine Substantive Reality (hypostasis) of God, and then understood and experienced first hand the reality of God.

      Usually such experience triggered a change in the worldview, and matrixes – like it happened to Paul, who before meeting Jesus was heavy on the rationalistic Wisdom movement type worldview-, he discovered that his intellect, emotions, will, etc. were out of alignment with God’s reality and will.

      Paul thought that he was serving God, when in fact was acting against His will.

      For correct understanding and subsequent orthopraxis, one needs the input of a Divine Substantive Reality (the Paraclete in our era).

      The Bible bears witness to that Holy Spirit context, Jesus second mission after dying for us, was to baptize believers with the Holy Spirit. Only that way the relation with God is restored to the original intended one, in which His children are dependent on His input.

      Different angle for further study, reflection and comment.

      Blessings.

      P. S. maybe Dr. Ward can comment on the context of the Holy Spirit, and why is not a main focus of study. (as that context is what ultimately allow us to align will, mind, and emotions with true reality and will of God).

  4. Felmar Roel Rap. Singco says:

    The LORD Jesus Christ in His Sermon on the Mount invites all of us to be “perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect”, sending his rains not just on the just but on the unjust, and doing good to all regard less of their race, religion, gender, age, economic circumstance, and political affiliation.

    This is the kind of thinking, the kind of mental attitude, that the LORD likes His faith full to have in them, the thinking and intellectual attitude that is a like His and God’s, our Father in heaven.

    The Mystics and the Saints through the ages characterised this thinking and mental attitude as one of “out wardness”, of “dispersiveness” to the out side of the self, of “going out-ness” out of the self to wards others, of “sharing-ness” to others of what ever one has, and of “expanding-ness” to include all in what one can do and give.

    Their anti thesis are the attitude of absorption with the self and with the “I”, “My”, and “Me”, of selfishness, of egotism, which are the very root causes of pride, the very first of the cardinal sins.

    Just my thought on the subject on how we a Christians should think like.

    • Hamilton R. says:

      Hi Felmar, thanks for sharing.

      I have thought about this from your point of view before, virtues, both types.

      Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that the logic behind this “help all” kind of thinking may not be right.

      There seems to be a prioritized list of recipients in the Bible for all kinds of helps.

      As far as our very own self, we must be able to have a healthy love for one’s self, otherwise we cannot do well the “love others as yourself” command.

      Then you must take care of your family, otherwise you would be a bad testimony to others in life.

      Then you have to help those brother and sisters in the faith that need help, mostly orphans, elderly, including widows, disabled persons, etc.

      I am not sure what you think of the parable of the wheat and the tares, not sure how your tradition interprets it, but then, I get that we are to help the wheat first above the tares (unless God commands otherwise).
      Of course you need spiritual discernment to tell who is who, or conversely to have a relationship with Christ so He tells you who to help.

      Many times good intentions when helping are not enough. You can give fish, when maybe what God wants you to do is to teach them how to fish.

      Looking at the Bible intertextually, Romans 5:5 tells clearly how we get the love of God in our hearts, it is obtained by the presence of the Holy Spirit, not by any human ways.

      And is this divine love the one that the Bible refers to as the high virtue, not a human undiscerning “do good” attitude.
      If you have the Holy Spirit, then by praying He will disclose what God wants done and to whom, any other way is to put your own self at the center of the throne in your heart, instead of letting the Holy Spirit take that place.

      Coincidentally, undiscerned: trust concerning certain persons, their intentions, and the occult agendas that they are trying to push, is what allows tares to get in the congregation, and wreak havoc at very different levels.

      No wonder why hardcore tares oppose so much the gifts of discernment of Spirits, word of knowledge (as when Paul knew what was in Ananias’ heart), and other such gifts of the Spirit.

      There is a reason why certain groups want the true sheep to believe that the Holy Spirit does not let people discern who is tare and who is wheat, an occult agenda cannot be pushed in an environment where the light illuminates the darkness for all to see.

      Kind regards.