Monday, May 05, 2014

Learning and Thinking

You shall love the Lord your God . . . with all your mind (Matthew 22:37)

There is a difference between learning and thinking.

The two are certainly related. Each has some bearing on the other to a degree. You can’t really learn without thinking. When you think you will learn. But learning and thinking are not identical, especially when it comes to the life of faith.

I can honestly say that I’ve spent my entire life learning what it means to be a Christian. My faith formation and education began in the earliest months of my life in ways that I cannot remember. But years passed and the learning continued. There’s plenty that I do remember.

I learned to use my Bible by doing ‘sword drills’ on Sunday evenings at what we called ‘training union.’ Sword drills were basically a kind of race with Bibles, a skills exercise to see who was quickest at locating a scripture reference. I found sword drills to be somewhat humiliating because I never won. But I learned to handle my Bible nonetheless.

I learned hymns by hearing them and singing them week after week. I learned the content of scripture by hearing its stories told and preached. I learned to pray by hearing other people pray. I learned to listen to sermons by sitting in church next to my mother and being bored and drawing on the bulletin. I was learning to listen even when I wasn’t listening.

At the time I was not aware of learning anything at all. Now I look at all of that as a great gift.

But while I was blessed to learn the faith I don’t recall ever really thinking about the faith until I was in college. Somewhere in that season of my life I realized that I had learned to be a Christian without thinking about being a Christian. Like many, I started thinking about my faith when I was introduced to the works of C. S. Lewis. I remain deeply thankful for the teachers from whom I learned the faith, and the teachers who helped me think about the faith.

It is very common (and quite dangerous) to learn the faith without ever thinking about the faith. Perhaps less common (but equally dangerous) is careful and critical thinking about the faith that never leads to a personal knowledge of God.

Said another way, it is possible to learn the faith by custom and tradition and repetition. There is a learning that is passed from generation to generation, an affection for God that is almost acquired like an inheritance. But when such an inheritance is obtained without the rigor of thought it can be easily lost.

This week we’ll be thinking about what it means to love God with your mind. Jesus included the mind in his citation of Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Along with heart and strength, the mind is involved in truly and rightly loving God.

Two questions will get us started today: Who in your life most helped you learn what it means to be a Christian? And who in your life has helped you think about what it means to be a Christian?

Gracious God, we want to love you with all that we are – not just our affections and not just our actions, but with our minds as well. Be our teacher in these days by your Holy Spirit, we ask in the name of your Son. Amen.

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