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“The Other Half of My Brain is My Grandmother”: Why Christians Must Learn to Think

I grew up in a Bible cult full of intelligent, sincere people.

Many were college graduates. But when it came to studying the Bible, for the most part we rolled over and accepted whatever our pastor said. He was a Princeton grad and had attended seminary. He knew Greek and Hebrew. He had a commanding presence.

He also suffered from at least two separate personality disorders, believed that God spoke directly to him, spent most of his sermons elaborating on the Old Testament, forbade disagreement with his interpretation of the Bible, and destroyed our church and several dozen families in the course of twenty-five years of ministry. It’s a sad story, and I have heard dozens of similar stories from other folks since I started this blog.

Sebastien Wiertz, Creative Commons

Sebastien Wiertz, Creative Commons

I wish I had learned to cultivate a critical mind as a youngster. I wish I had learned to think.

But cults aren’t the only places where the faithful few pick mental cotton. A lot of normal, everyday churches have failed to prepare their people to think for themselves or to “correctly handle the word of truth.”

Don’t believe me?

Here are actual quotes from students at a modern-day university. The quotes were compiled by an anonymous Bible professor who started a Twitter feed as a way to cope with the astoundingly mindless logic purveyed as thought by some of his students. What follows is a sampling from the past semester. The quotes are out of context, of course, but context probably wouldn’t polish these muddy gems.

At first they will amuse you—they did me.

But then you might feel sad; and finally, terrified, because these students will grow up to populate churches.

Some may grow up to populate pulpits.

From the Twitter Feed @BibleStdntsSay (Bible Students Say):

“The Bible, in my opinion, is all narrative.” (Sure…except the parts that aren’t.)*all parenthetical comments are from the anonymous professor   

“My take on poetry versus narrative is that I disagree.”

“The Bible says we have to be taught by a preacher but as my pastor tells us to search the scriptures for ourselves.” (There is no spoon)

Owen Benson, Creative Commons

Owen Benson, Creative Commons

“I’ve always just believed what I felt within myself and what I was taught.”

“I always heard of the contoversies surrounding the Bible, but I never really stopped to look into any of it.”

“I believe in God, & the bible & I believe if you have to ponder or doubt Genesis, you are subconsciously questioning God & his power.”

“If I wanted to be a Bible Scholar or Historian, I know these things would be important, but I just want to love God & keep my faith strong”

“I think the arguments for historical accuracy or whether some passages are to be taken literal or metaphorically are just arguments.”

“In the front of our Bible is a timeline of both religious & world history.  There is no astronomy or biology or evolutionary timeline.”

“I know enough of the Bible to know if something is not right, and if I cannot sense this, I have a spouse to do so.”

“NT Wright discusses that sometimes the Bible is not to be taken literally. However to a non-believer this could further prove their stance”

“I am taking this course as a way to make more sense out of some of my own opinions.”

“Translation is a necessity yet the history & root words & meanings are not what they used to be.” (Truly, you have a dizzying intellect)

“While the Bible is meant to be discussed and studied, the meanings of the passages are not up for interpretation or debate.” (Facepalm)

“I disagree with NT. Wright. He believes symbolism takes place in several scriptures, specifically in regards to Revelations.” (Sigh)

“I fall somewhere in between literal and liberal.”

“The Bible is written in many different languages which can alter the translation.”

“It is believed that everyone has a Biblical Worldview. Various passages in the Bible help support the Biblical Worldview.”

Pepp 2012, Creative Commons

Pepp 2012, Creative Commons

“Articles like this 1 scare me b/c they make me question everything I was ever taught. I’d rather just believe what my family believes.”

“I cant help but to wonder if morals and values have changed through the years or if the word of God has changed?”

“You are either a beliver or a critic!! Bam!!!!!”

“Any reader of the Bible seeking the true meaning of the scripture should not use individual reasoning but rather should ask the author”

“As a Believer, followers see God as mere perfection, but the Bible also teaches that God also punishes.”

“I have been to churches that have used the NIV Bible and it was totally different from the scriptures in my Kings James Bible.”

“So much is at risk to be overlooked or left out when translating from Hebrew to King James version to NIV version.” (Sigh)

“Since there is no living author of the Bible there will continue to be interpretations of it.”

“Somethings are meant to be interpreted but others literally say what it says.”

“There are times where the word written is what is suppose to be read. This happened more in the new testament.”

“Our branches of government are judicial (The Lord is our judge), legislative (The Lord is our lawgiver) & executive (the Lord is our king)”

“The Israelites and Egypt, the Jewish people and the Nazis and even within modern American history.” (That isn’t even a sentence)

“I think ‘money’ in Matthew 6:24 could also be substituted with ‘man’.” (…or ‘balloon animals’, since we’re just substituting random words)

“Church and religion have similar meanings. State and politics also have similar meanings” (Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.)

“Atheists do not believe in God. They believe that all things are made of matter.”

A student in my Intro to NT class just wrote about all the “God-fearing Genitals”

“There is very little first hand experience writing when it comes to the bible.” (True.  Nobody in this class actually wrote the Bible)

“I learned a lot from the videos that we were required to read.”

Klearchos Kapoutsis, Creative Commons

Klearchos Kapoutsis, Creative Commons

“I tend to stay away from the word open-minded.”

“I believe that the bible and our constitution make things clear.”

“But isn’t the Bible really just a history book?” (FACEPALM)

“Since I don’t have the insight that Greg Boyd has, I tend to agree with him.”

“I believe that believing is the most important part.” (Well, that works out well for you.)

“However, I have not casted down the relevant information but it’s just hard to throw out key principles that I was raised on.”

“I was raised to read the Bible as literal accuracy.”

“I thought this class was going to teach me about the Old Testament, but instead it forced me to think about my own beliefs.”

“I was surprised to read of Harold Camping, in this article. I use to listen to him every chance I had.” (FACEPALM)

“The stories of hell alone are plenty but the rapture does provide that extra grim demise needed to put some on the right path.”

“I have seen the Left Behind movies & have heard John Hagee preach on the rapture. To me this point of view makes since.”

“Living amongst our society today equality rules, so the loss of reverence for the bible as well as God, is a huge factor.”

“Even in our misguidance God still has ways to send a message of intercession through a personal prophet to put us back on the right track.”

“I would amagine that maybe Pharaoh’s reason for not complying with God’s wishes was because he didn’t believe God was THY God”

“When I read or study the Bible I never look at it with regards to political, economic, or social relations; only spiritual.” (facepalm)

via CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons

via CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons

“I’m confused on why the Bible can’t just be more literal.  If something is literal, than it is more understandable and to the point.”

“Why do people find it hard to believe the world was created in 6 days?  It seems to be written clearly enough.” (Checkmate!)

“Genesis is the only part of the Bible that I have actually ever read.”

“I guess what I am trying to say is I was not aware that there were a large difference between the KJV, the NIV, NSV, & Good News versions”

“I believe the Bible has some errors in it because nothing is perfect, but I also believe the Bible is perfect.”  (Wait…what?)

“I think the Old Testament is a guide to living more like a christian.” (Sigh.)

“My own personal belief is that very little of the Bible can be interpreted and used for negative purposes.”

“I did not know there was this much tado about the interpretation of the bible.”

“It is believed that everyone has a Biblical Worldview. Various passages in the Bible help support the Biblical Worldview.”

“However, of those who consider themselves atheists, only 3% truly do not believe in a God of some sort.” (Wait…what? Citation?)

“With a Biblical Worldview, one believes God solves problems. Atheists believe in other solutions such as the government or education.”

“Just because one is an Atheist doesn’t necessarily mean he or she doesn’t believe in a God.”

“The other half of my brain is my grandmother shaking her finger at me telling me to believe what is written and not to question it.”

Conclusion

When God made human beings in his image, one-third of that personhood involved the ability to think and reason. Let’s become more and more the people God created us to be by wrestling with God’s Word, entertaining other opinions, keeping an open mind, and standing firm on the things we hold with a settled conviction.

Please don’t let the other half of your brain be your grandmother.

Or your pastor.

Author’s Note 1/30/14 – Upon further reflection (and the, ah, helpful input of my wife, after I tried hard to justify myself to her), I have to agree with several of the comments below which express disappointment in how I handled this post. I could have better made my point by selecting certain of the quotes above which truly matched my greatest fear: that people not abdicate their responsibility to think for themselves by farming it off to pastors or other teachers. By quoting so extensively (showing my disdain for what I considered ignorant comments) I indulged in something I dislike in others–condescension and pride. I wish I’d written this post differently. I wish I’d thought about it more. Or prayed about it. This shows once again why it is important to live out our faith in community, a point John H makes tellingly in the Comments section. I hope that the overall point is somehow salvaged–we all need to think about why we believe what we believe–and that folks should always remember to use critical thinking skills when reading a blog post, just as the commentators did below.  Thanks for your comments, everyone. I hope I can incorporate the lessons and feedback into my future writings. 

Related Posts:

Christian Leaders and the “Don’t Talk” Rule

A Biblical Perspective on Spiritual Authority and Critical Thinking

13 comments on ““The Other Half of My Brain is My Grandmother”: Why Christians Must Learn to Think

  1. Steve,

    I want to first say that I greatly respect you as a person and a scholar and I am immensely grateful for the work you do on this blog. It has helped me personally since I know first hand the damages of the cult-church we were in. You are also a friend so I hope that you will read my comments through that lens.

    I found this post to be confusing. It is true that we were NOT taught (and in fact, discouraged) to think critically about the Bible and that was very harmful to us (it is important to remember that this was in the context of a cult, at the hand of someone who was purposely manipulative, condescending, and controlling). Your point is spot-on that God created us with an ability to think and reason. So I’m not disagreeing with all that. However, I find it a bit concerning that you would use a very long list of quotes which you admit are taken out of context by which to prove your point. Maybe I’m dumber than I look, but I fail to see how most of these quotes prove your point. True, there are a handful that left me scratching my head, but with most of them, especially without the benefit of the context, I don’t see how it proves that so many young people are unthinking, uncritical students of the Bible. Maybe in your mind this response will lump me in with them? I hope not. Not everyone is blessed with a seminary education or high intellect. You have those gifts – so wonderful!! You can do so much with them to help others and that’s great! But I did find the tone of this post to be slightly condescending to those who are not as highly educated and trained as you.

    Having moved from a state where the majority of people had a high school and college (or greater) education level to a state where a shocking number of people don’t even have a high school education and many that do don’t have a college education, I have met many very sincere, God-fearing and God-loving, faithful followers of Christ who simply believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved. They don’t possess the intellect or Bible training to critically study the Bible – they take it at face value, believe, sit under the most honest preaching they can find, and are transformed by the Spirit of God. I hear many statements like the ones you posted from folks whom I love and fill our churches and they are wonderful churches, not places to be terrified of. Students who come from these churches to our universities – students you quoted – should not be mocked (“FACEPALM” ??) – perhaps they haven’t known anything different. Surely in a higher university, there is the opportunity for further study, illumination, and intellectually growth, and they can take that back to their homes and families and churches, and teach what they’ve learned. They should be encouraged in this.

    I have come to the conclusion that it is not how much you know (intellectually) about the Bible that saves you but WHO you know, i.e., God. The Bible was written over a long period of history where the vast majority of it’s readers/hearers were uneducated. God did not give his Word only to highly intellectually, education people. He gave it so that even the lowliest person could understand the gospel and be saved (granted, I don’t know anyone who can understand the book of Zechariah, so I do scratch my head at it’s purpose in the Bible – but my lack of understanding does not harm my salvation). Education is not necessary for knowing God and believing in him and experiencing a transformed life.

    I’m sorry for rambling, just wanted to through my thoughts into the ring :)

    I hope you know my intent is not to offend. Please forgive me if I have done so.

    In Christ,
    AE

    • Hi AE, I’m really glad you wrote your comment. I can see that what I posted could lead to confusion. My intent was not to criticize people who hold a simple faith. Jesus said we all are to be like little children. Then again, he also says we are to be shrewd as serpents. Then again, James says that those who are poor in the eyes of the world are rich in faith. Then again, Paul says in 1 Corinthians that the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. Then again, Proverbs calls the “simple” person a fool.

      So we see a biblical tension between the so-called wisdom of the world–mere book-learning, degrees, and the arrogance those things can produce–and the need to think clearly and exercise wisdom to avoid thinking or acting like a fool.

      Some of the wisest people in the world are also the simplest, without formal education or degree. It sounds to me like you are referring to these people. I am not critcizing those good folk.

      My intent–and I apologize that this was unclear–was to show the importance of critical thinking and being willing to engage with new concepts. This is especially true in the population I quoted from: university students. I also wanted to show how many of these students were willing to farm their thinking off to somebody else who they would blindly follow. I think God calls each of us to own our faith, think about the world and how we fit into it, and be open to new ideas even as we hold to the fundamentals we believe.

      In my opinion, quotes in this post show not just a failure on the part of these students to learn, but it shows a systemic failure in the church (and yes, in schools and families) to teach them how to think. Whether someone has a college education or not, they can keep an open mind, listen to other viewpoints, ask good questions, and then settle down into whatever it is they think is right. Sometimes it is the farmers, auto mechanics, cleaning maids, and grocery store workers who ask some of the toughest questions at town meetings. They also may be some of the wisest teachers in the church, while the college professor might be a fool.

      I began the post by pointing out that many folks in our church were college educated. Nevertheless, many of us failed to exercise healthy critical thinking skills when it came to discussing the Bible. We did what many of the students in the quotes above did: hold blindly to the teaching of someone else who we thought was smarter and holier than us.

      I guess my point was to remind my readers that God has equipped each of us with the capacity to think and the responsibility to claim our own faith. Whether someone has proper diction or a diploma matters not in the least, as you rightly point out.

      Does this help clarify what I meant? So glad you commented =)

      • Steve,

        That helps greatly and I appreciate the clarification :) I should have stated in my response that I read each post you write with the assumption that your intentions are good. I just want you to know that. I agree with you and I appreciate you taking the time to follow up!

        The struggle comes for me in this – we were raised in a highly-intellectualized (not a word? lol) environment but were not allowed to think independently. We could spout off, for hours, lots of detailed information about the Bible that made us appear extremely knowledgeable, all the while being deprived of true knowledge and understand of Gospel truth (i.e., grace – did that even exist in our world?). As I’ve been struggling to heal, I have had to put aside EVERY bit of “knowledge” and fact I learned about the Bible and start all over with simple faith. I believe that appropriate study is important to growing in our knowledge of God and his Word (in whatever form that study comes for each individual). But I’m also very wary of it too. Does that make sense? I’m still trying to figure out the best balance of the two.

        Thanks again….God bless :)
        ~AE

  2. Haha….”throw my thoughts into the ring” not “through”. Yes, I can spell, really :)

  3. I think this is informative, and maybe it is good that the professor has some outlet for processing what he has to hear from his students, but merely shaking our head at the invalidity of their statements does nothing to cure or solve this problem.

    We laugh at what they say, but how will they learn what is better unless someone teaches them? The answer to this is to offer help, offer learning, even if it is not appreciated or accepted. It is not charitable to throw up our arms in response. I feel justified in saying this because I have thought these thoughts or worse and until I expressed them and was corrected charitably, I never grew out of my misunderstanding. I can identify these errors because someone first identified mine when I expressed them and helped me correct my understanding. This is why God corrects our understandings, so that we can then join in His work of bringing about correct understanding. So I think.

  4. Cowgirl, I am pretty sure that it was the college professor who stated “facepalm” with his twitter feed, not Stephen.

    I can see what you are saying Cg but I understand where Stephen is taking this- basically we need to think and study for ourselves God’s Word. I would add to this post that we CAN rely on the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Word and give us what we need. There is a Bible verse that states just that- we are able to get what we need through His Spirit; but God does require us to put that effort (further studying, greek and Hebrew, good pastors, others counsel) into finding these things out ourselves. I believe it is this co-laboring with the Spirit that we will be given the wisdom to see His truth. Anytime we veer away from this and start relying on others to determine that truth we then stop co-laboring with Him and end up in the wrong direction.

  5. trust4himonly,

    Thanks for the clarification – I must have misunderstood who was leaving the editorial comments. Steve, accept my apology.

    I agree with you that we are being good stewards when we engage in further study to understand God’s word better; thought it doesn’t require Greek & Hebrew study by every person – again, intellect, access to higher education, life circumstances, etc – does not make this possible for most people. I’m not sure that this is “required”. I have known many down-&-out simple folks who struggle just to get through daily life and yet belong to God, read his Word, and go to church to learn more. They fill our churches but they are not terrifying places to be.

    Again, I just failed to understand the concern with many of the quotes in this post.

  6. Cowgirl, you are right to be good stewards! :)
    No it does not require Greek and Hebrew to know God, but I would have to say it is nice to know the context and culture in what the church and apostles were coming from. Many times we have taken Scripture out of context to what really went on back at that time and many of the things that were done in that time do not apply to us today (such as head coverings, etc.); so I believe it is to our benefit to study these things and use our brains. Everybody can do that except those with mental disabilities.
    I think this country, in particular, have been so use to allowing others to make their decisions for them or parking their brains at the door, instead of taking the responsibility to search out this stuff ourselves. I am a pretty simple person and don’t like to get into a lot of theological writings myself; but I do believe in researching for yourself the truth and not just trusting blindly in what others tell you to believe.

  7. ^ what cowgirl said. Our false beliefs certainly did not come through lack of education and thinking. Rather the opposite – in fact, the false beliefs had encouraged us to, for example, mock intellectually inferior Christians along with the likes of @BibleStdntsSay.

    Full disclosure: I enjoy making fun of dumb people as much as the next guy, but that isn’t something I’m proud of, to say the least…

    It is also disappointing to hear you say the thought that “these students will grow up to populate churches” saddened and terrified you. Rather, give thanks to God that foolish sinners for whom Christ died (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 2:2) would be given saving faith (Eph 2:8-9), joined to his body the church (Rom 12:5) and sealed with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 1:22), who Christ promised would guide them into all truth (Jn 16:13) and preserve them unto eternal life (Eph 1:13).

    Also, the Bible does not teach your position (cited here and underlying some of your other posts) that “I think God calls each of us to own our faith, think about the world and how we fit into it, and be open to new ideas even as we hold to the fundamentals we believe.”

    If anything, there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:5) – the traditions handed down (2 Thes 2:15) by the eyewitnesses to the resurrection (Lk 24:44-53). This gospel God calls and elects us to believe, confess and teach.

  8. Steve, thank you. We’re all in this together, right? Learning from each other? As my husband often reminds me, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. I have a lot of respect for you.
    I would be interested in a follow up post on this same topic because I would really like to hear your thoughts further developed on the point you were making (“that people not abdicate their responsibility to think for themselves by farming it off to pastors or other teachers”) along with what Scripture has to say about the topic. This is something I struggle with finding a balance in, as I explained in a previous response above ^^.
    Thanks!
    AE

  9. Cowgirl, maybe what is important is that we encourage to be critical thinkers, but our attitudes towards those who are not in the same place should be one of love and understanding? Balance is good. :)

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