It sounded plausible at the time. “Hey honey, why don’t I just take the boys over there and get them a treat, while you’re checking out” I said naively one day in a crowded Asian mall. “It’ll give Zach a chance to run.” Sounds great. No problem. I got this one.
Actually, all things considered, he did reasonably well. Zach now understands “come” and a decent majority of the time he obeys. But 18 months is still 18 months. And in my son’s case that’s a really fast version of 18 months. He always obeyed when I told him to come but the shiny displays and fancy flashing lights were just too much for his attention span. Our trajectory looked something like this:
And that reminded me of biblical thinking. Ok, give me a chance and I’ll make the connection.
I’m regularly shocked by the things that get called biblical. I’ve read people arguing that biblical thinking tells us (no joke) we should not be seeking, striving, and working to be more righteous. I regularly read comments claiming to be biblical on topics that have absolutely nothing to do with the Bible. And I’ve had people call specific wording unbiblical that actually turned out to be exact quotations of the Bible. If the Bible isn’t biblical, nothing is.
I think this kind of confusion happens because we throw the word around like a hashtag. The positivist philosopher A.J. Ayer once suggested (wrongly) that morals are just our way of giving approval or censure. To him, the statement “stealing is wrong” just means “Stealing: Boo!” or morals meaning “Faithfulness: Hurray!” And for too many believers that’s how “biblical / unbiblical” works too. To say “X, Y or Z is unbiblical” is to say “X, Y or Z: Boo!” Or putting it another way, we’re already pretty sure we’re right, so we try to pull the Bible in on our side.
And the problem, of course, is that the ideas just come from our own brains, not the Bible. I’m afraid, sometimes, that because whole generations of us grew up knowing all the Bible stories backwards and forwards, we go into life with the unspoken assumption that “if I’m pretty sure it’s right, it’s biblical.” But in reality, whether I think something is true or whether it even sounds really Bibleish is completely irrelevant; what matters is if it accurately represents the truth of the eternal God.
Consider three foundational notions for biblical thinking:
- You should be skeptical of what sounds good. All truth claims are volleys in a great battle for your mind. Good communicators know how to make things sound appealing; that’s what they’re paid to do (Rom. 16:17-18). Furthermore, you and I aren’t good at sorting out the difference on our own.
- Don’t trust your intuition. One of our most basic human foibles is the assumption that we get it—somehow I am unusually discriminating and incisive in my thinking. Consistently well above 50% of people report that they’re smarter than average. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 21:2). What we fail to realize is that our brains aren’t inclined to follow the truth; they aren’t even neutral. My brain and yours assiduously avoid, distort, confuse and ignore what is true. In fact, it’s a testimony to the power of the Word of God that any of us ever thinks correctly.
- Biblical thinking happens only by being saturated with Bible. The comment above about whole generations that grew up in Sunday School hearing all the stories… I’m one of those. Getting a boost as a child is fantastic. But it’s not enough. Biblical thinking isn’t static, as though I can get a good start and be set for life. It’s organic—a growing, changing condition that you have to carefully maintain, like taking care of a tempermental houseplant. If starting tomorrow you did nothing, your thinking would go off the rails. Every time. And only Scripture provides the constant recalibration to counteract the error-loving bent of our hearts.
Every morning you get up and walk out the door to a world that is anything but neutral. All day it’s shouting in your ear. All day, a very much fallen part of your heart answers to that call and loves it. And only by actively fighting back will your thinking stay on track. Coming home and opening your Bible is the start of setting things straight again—correcting thoughts that went astray and restoring your thoughts back to the life-giving standard of truth.
As it turns out, that 18-month old running through the mall is me. 18-month olds don’t end up anywhere good without someone walking in front, constantly telling them which way to go. If I stop actively, obediently listening to the voice in front of me, I’ll last about 6 steps on my own before I’m headed off to the nearest blinking light or shiny looking package. I’ll probably even figure out a way to slap on the biblical label and call everything else erroneous or too liberal or too legalistic. Or a combination of all three at the same time.
Biblical thinking doesn’t just happen. It’s always a miracle, starting with the resurrection of a heart that was dead in sin, and continuing lifelong by the corrective power of the Word of God. Or to put it even more biblically:
“We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).