Cognitive Dissonance and the Need to Choose

January 30, 2007

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological term for what happens when a person is grappling with two conflicting ideas in their mind. It usually occurs when something held as a firm belief is proven wrong. At that point, a choice must be made: to accept what has been proven as true, or to reject it and cling to what has always been believed.

In the field of Christian apologetics this phenomenon can be easily observed. It is the job of the apologist to present an argument, ideally an air-tight one, to prove a point about Christianity. Cognitive dissonance occurs within the mind of the one exposed to the argument when that argument proves to be true and correct, but it conflicts with the belief the person presently holds.

The question is what are you going to do with the new knowledge you have found? Will you reject it on the basis that it is different from what you already believe? Or will you humble yourself and receive the truth for what it is? The choice is yours.


Critical Thinking and Absolute Truth

January 30, 2007

It appears that the church has almost whole-heartedly accepted the relativistic viewpoint of our society. The world today says “there are no absolutes.” Christians worship the Lord Jesus Christ, who proclaimed himself to be the Truth (John 14:6). How then is it that somebody can claim to be a Christian and yet reject the reality of absolute truth?

The church has lost a very important ability – the ability to think critically. Relativity has become interwoven into the fabric of the church. Scripture no longer portrays truth, but only opinion. People are free to talk about what a passage “means to them” but reject the idea that there is such thing as a wrong interpretation. Whatever is true for me is true for me, and that may very well be different than what is true for you. This is the heart of relativism.

The loss of the ability to think critically leads to the inability to discern truth and reject falsehood. It is a paradox that Christianity should lose its ability to discern truth. If we cannot discern truth, then we do no truly know the Truth, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Critical thinking makes the assumption that one can find the right answer to a question or problem by sheer reasoning. However, as a Christian I do not view the Bible in a purely rationalistic sense either. I recognize that I serve a supernatural God who created the whole universe and thus stands outside the laws of science and sometimes even reason. Even so, I recognize that God has revealed himself to the human race through the very natural order which he created, and appeals to our minds. In fact, he commands us to worship him with our minds.

Therefore, using the mind that the Lord has given me to worship him with, and in accordance with my understanding that God Almighty is supernatural, I have come to these observations and conclusions:
1) Sometimes God works in ways we do not understand. Being supernatural, that is outside of the natural order of things, he has the ability to do the miraculous. Sometimes he works outside of our human logic. But he also has eternity in mind, and we do not. Sometimes the logical answer to the question “why” is “God knows and I do not.” It is logical to believe that a God bigger than the universe can work in ways we cannot understand.
2) There is a place for critical thinking in the church. However, I reject the positions of liberal theology, which try to rationalize everything supernatural and explain away the Scriptures (see point 1).
3) Time and time again in Scripture we are invited to think for ourselves, and in these invitations it is always implied that there is a correct answer to be found out.
4) Scripture makes many absolute statements, including the assertion that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven (John 14:6). Again, this asserts that there is a right way to salvation, and all others are false.
5) There is such thing as absolute truth. To assert that there are no absolutes is in itself an absolute statement, and thus stands in contradiction with the statement itself. Therefore it makes logical sense to view the reality of absolute truth
6) All this being said, it is reasonable to seek out that which is the truth. In the case of the church, it is our responsibility to know the Lord Jesus Christ as the Truth, and to acknowledge that his words are true. We may use our reason and logic to understand the words of Scripture, but we must never forget that the Author and Perfecter of our faith is supernatural. We must look to him to understand the words of the Scriptures, which he divinely inspired. We must understand that in every area of Scripture, God intended to say something specific to us. Through careful Bible study we must always strive to seek out what God is saying to his church. Only when we know this can we apply the passage to the different areas of our lives.


Renewing the Mind

January 29, 2007

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

The Lord has commanded us to allow our minds to be renewed. This is the solution to the question of how to be a Christian in a world that is hostile towards faith. How is it possible to be set apart from the world? The renewing of the mind will transform you and the way you see the world.

So what does it mean to renew the mind? It means to have a complete change of thinking. The Bible says that unless we are born again we cannot see the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” In Christ we are made new. 1 Corinthians 2:16 says of the believer, “we have the mind of Christ.” Part of what God has made new in the born-again believer is the mind. In fact, we have been given the very mind of Christ.

Having the mind of Christ, it is the Christian’s responsibility to allow that to work out in their everyday life. We are not to be like the world any longer, but be completely different, transformed, by the renewing of our minds. To say we have the mind of Christ says that this is already done. How can we allow our minds to be stuck in a depraved state a minute longer if God has already given us a new mind? A big part of this is simply not knowing what God has done. If you are unaware of the fact that you have a particular gift from God, then you have not yet been given the opportunity to use it. When you do find out you have it though, you have a responsibility to use what God has entrusted to you. If the Christian has been given the mind of Christ, we had better stop acting like our minds are still depraved and start thinking like Christ. It is the Spirit of God in us that allows us to put this into practice.

Renewing our mind is not only something that has been completed in us, but something that must be worked out and practiced daily. Whenever an old thought pattern creeps in, we must catch it and cast it out in the name of Jesus Christ. This means we must be acutely aware of what we are allowing to enter into our minds. Garbage in, garbage out, as the saying goes. If we allow garbage into our minds, then we are going to go back to living like the world, like the depraved sinner we used to be. But if the garbage is blocked and only good is allowed in, then we will have a consistent practice of thinking with the mind of Christ. This is the ongoing process of the renewing of the mind.

The last part of this verse tells us the result of having a renewed mind – We will be able to discern God’s perfect will. Because Christ and the Father are one, knowing Christ means knowing God (John 14:10). If we have the mind of Christ, we have the mind of the Father. Therefore if we have the mind of Christ we can know God’s good, pleasing and perfect will for our lives. God is no longer unknown and distant, but known intimately. How great it is to have an intimate knowledge and relationship with the God who created the heavens and the earth, and who reached into our very lives to save us from our sin. How great it is to know the God who saved our minds from our depraved and foolish thinking, shining his light and illuminating our minds to the truth.


The End of the World

January 25, 2007

Tonight there was a show on TV that gave science’s top ten list of how the world could potentially end. The top three possibilities given (from third to first) were gamma rays from outer space baking the earth, a bird flu pandemic and an asteroid or comet hitting earth.

Interestingly, Scripture prophesies the results of these things. 2 Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” Throughout the book of Revelation we are warned of plagues that will overtake the earth and kill large percentages of the population. And Revelation 19:21-24 prophesies “a boulder the size of a millstone” being thrown into the sea and causing widespread destruction.

The last days will be terrible, a time worse than any time the world has ever seen. But these things must happen before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory. “Immediately after the distress of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:29-31). Again, we are told, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door (Matthew 24:32-33).

We know that this earth will pass away, but that a new heaven and earth will be created (Revelation 21:1). “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:5).

The last thing the TV program talked about was ways to save this earth, which was called our “home.” For the Christian however, this earth is not our home at all. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 4:20).


Surrender and Worship

January 24, 2007

“Whatever we refuse to surrender (to God), and count but loss (for the sake of Christ) we will ultimately worship” (A.W. Tozer)

One has not truly become a Christian until they have died to self. Dying to self means to let go of everything that is yours – all possessions, all emotions, all rights, all will. Without surrendering every inch, every micrometer, of the life, one cannot fully worship God.

As the Lord Jesus Christ pointed out, a seed must fall to the ground and die in order to yield its fruit. To be a Christian, we must bow down and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we must die to self. Then, and only then, will the fruit of new life spring up in us. This is called being born again.

Nothing, no seed and no human being, can die only half-way. There is no such thing as half dead, only fully alive and fully dead. There is no such thing as a half Christian – one is either fully dead to self and alive in Christ, or fully dead in sin. There is no third option.

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). As Tozer restates, whatever we refuse to surrender to God we will ultimately worship. I cannot serve both myself and God. I either serve one or the other. The Scripture passage uses the example of money. You cannot serve both God and money. The reason for this is given – “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” One cannot be completely devoted to two different masters. It is not possible to give two different masters 100% of yourself. What part of yourself is devoted to the other master cannot be devoted to the first. Likewise, we cannot serve both self and God. Self must be died to.

This is not to say that everyone should leave everything and live the life of an ascetic, deprived of basic necessities and mutilating the flesh. But we must give up every inch of our lives to God if we intend to serve him fully (and as we have just seen, there is no other way to serve but 100% fully). Whatever you refuse to surrender you will ultimately worship. If you refuse to give God your time, time will become your idol. If you refuse to give God your family, you will worship your family above all else. If you refuse God your service for the sake of your comfort zone, you become your own idol, serving yourself 100% instead of the God who created you.

Are you holding anything back from the Lord today? I beg you, don’t do it. Whatever you refuse to surrender to the Lord you will worship. You cannot worship both God and any other earthy thing. If you are worshipping something or someone other than the Lord, you are committing the sin of idolatry. And no idol worshipper will enter the kingdom of heaven (Revelation 21:8).


Thinking

January 24, 2007

In his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll writes, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” I believe his observation is correct. It seems that Christians have dropped off the intellectual radar and have been content to maintain a shallow understanding of the very thing which they claim to live for. Seminarians aside, there seems to be a serious and real fear of intellectualism in the church. The practical has overridden the meditative. As good as its works may be, if these are all the church has, then it has already lost its relationship with God.

The Lord Jesus Christ, when asked what the greatest commandment is, replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). We can love God with all our emotions and actions, but to love God with all our soul, we must include our mind, because the mind is part of the soul. Our worship of God is not complete without loving him with our mind.

So why does the church seem to be afraid of thinking? God has commanded us to use our minds in our worship of him. The comfort zone and the status quo are not good enough. At some point we need to move on from spiritual milk to meat and potatoes. An adult cannot stay nourished on milk alone like a newborn can. The spiritual person is the same. The relationship with God will wither and die if more complex nourishment is not taken in over time and maturity. Our minds will atrophy and be good for nothing if we never use them. Have you ever notice how you forget much of what you learn in school if you do not continue to use it? Worshipping God with our minds is a lot like that.

But if we have never used our minds in worship, we will find it hard at first – it is a muscle that has not been used much and needs to build up tone and strength. It may be slow coming at first, but eventually it will be strong as steal.

So how to we worship God with our minds? The most important thing is meditation on the Word. We need to think about what we are learning about God in order to know him more and in turn worship him more fully. Also, we cannot be afraid to dive into the questions we have and seek out the answers from Scripture. The Holy Spirit will reveal the answers to us if we would only seek after him to do so.

Do not be content with a shallow understanding and relationship with God. Answer the call and obey the command: Worship God with your mind.


The Fear of the Lord

January 23, 2007

All too often the church gets a watered-down version of what it is to fear God, if it is talked about at all.  Usually the explanation involves “oh well it doesn’t really mean that.”  Why is the Word of God so adamant about fearing God if those words are not to be taken seriously? 

When I was a child, I feared my Dad.  Not in a bad way, always walking on eggshells afraid of making him angry, but in the sense that I love him and didn’t want to disobey him.  He isn’t the type to get angry often, but whenever I did something seriously wrong, I knew it.  The threat of discipline, and even the thought of disappointing him sent enough fear into my heart that I wanted to be good and do as I was told.  When discipline came, it was swift and effective.

Why do we treat our Father God as if he is someone who doesn’t care what we do?  Why do we act as if he will never discipline us as a good father does his children?  God is gracious and merciful, but he is also just.  “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

Why should we fear God?  Exodus 20:20 says that the fear of the Lord will keep us from sinning.  This is key.  Our earthly parents wouldn’t (or shouldn’t have) tolerated us doing whatever we wanted, but had certain expectations of us.  They expect obedience.  When they say no, they mean no, and if we do it anyways there are consequences.  And we respect our parents for the discipline they give (Hebrews 12:9).  How much more should we fear God in our actions, wanting to please him and keep his commands? 

The Proverbs also point to several reasons why we should fear God.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7).  We are foolish to despise wisdom and discipline, but the fear of the Lord brings light to our minds in the form of knowledge.  Again, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).  Fearing God bring us wisdom and also knowledge of he whom we serve.  Another promise of God is found in Proverbs 19:23: “The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”  Fearing God brings life and contentment.

Finally, we find the command to fear God after the Great Commandment: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength… Fear the Lord and serve him only” (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5, 12).  Fearing God is part of our worship of him as we love him with everything we have and everything we are.  Simply put, we cannot truly worship God if we do not fear him.

Do you fear God?  Or for you is the Almighty God just a cardboard cut-out of some deity that you do not truly know?


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