This title is not original to me. It is the title of the US radio program of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. It is also one of the biggest asks in the Christian church today. Contemporary Christians are not exactly known for being great intellects or for carefully reflecting on the issues of the day.
Some years ago R.C. Sproul went so far as to say that we live in the most anti-intellectual era of church history. That could well be the case. Of course the use of the intellect is not highly championed in most of society, but that should be no excuse for the mushy minds of so many believers.
We are clearly instructed to love God with our minds. Indeed, things are quite clear in this regard. If believers are struggling to discover the will of God, well, some things have been nicely laid out for us in black and white. Indeed, Jesus was once asked what is the greatest commandment. That should have every believer’s attention. Here is a question we should all be asking, and should all be seeking an answer for.
The good news is, the answer is plainly given. In fact, this episode is repeated in all the Synoptic Gospels, so it is hard to miss (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-8). It is worth spending a bit of time on these passages.
When Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, (or how to inherit eternal life, as in the Lukan version), Jesus gives a two-part answer: to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself. Here Jesus appeals to two well known Old Testament passages: Dt. 6:4-9 and Lev. 19:18, respectively. Jesus nicely sums up the whole of the law in our Godward duties and our humanward duties.
The former passage, Dt. 6:4-9, is known as the Shema (along with Deut. 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41). It is this passage that I want to spend some time on. The Hebrew word shema means to hear or to listen. That is the opening word of Deut. 6:4: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one”. This is the fundamental call to monotheism in Jewish thinking. The passage continues with the words quoted by Jesus, and then instructs Hebrew parents to teach these words to their children. It is a very key passage, even for Jews today, and recited twice daily by the devout.
The interesting thing to note here is if you compare the three Synoptic versions with each other, and with the Hebrew of Deut. 6:5, as well as the Greek translation of 6:5 in the Septuagint, the passages vary somewhat. The four words are not always there – sometimes just three are mentioned: heart, soul, and strength. And the order of the words varies as well. Why is this? Is it an indication of errors in Scripture, or bad copying?
No. The exact phrasing does not matter here. Deut. 6:5 is what is known as a Hebraism. That means it is a rhetorical device, an idiom, used to indicate the whole person – the totality of one’s being. Just as God is one (Deut. 6:4), so our response to this one God must be one (Deut. 6:5). God is undivided, and so should be our loyalty to him. Just as unity, singularity and integrity characterise God’s being, they should also characterise our love for him.
Thus both the Deuteronomy passage and the Synoptic passages are not dividing persons into three or four distinct parts, but are calling followers of God to be totally one in their love to God. Our whole person must respond to God. Not just the emotions, not just the will, not just the mind, but all of us. We are to love God with every ounce of our being – nothing is to be excluded.
But for our purposes, this passage reminds us that we have been a bit divided in our response to God as 21st century believers. We are often good at loving God in our worship services, especially with our emotions, but we have too often neglected to love God with our minds as well. Thus these passages remind us of a total response to God, and certainly to pick up where we have been slack. Instead of checking our minds in at the door when we enter God’s house, it needs to be an integral part of our Christian worship and devotion.
The importance of the mind and truth
The importance of the mind is stressed throughout Scripture. Paul tells us that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Sadly, many believers read that as saying we should be transformed by the removing of our minds. I have written up this biblical material elsewhere.
But the related concept of truth is also worth noting. Truth is mentioned repeatedly in Scripture. In brief, it has at least two components. First, truth is a person, as we are reminded in John 14:6 when Jesus says that he is the way, the truth and the life. Truth is personal and relational.
But truth also has a propositional component. For believers, this means truth has to do with beliefs, doctrines, creeds, and theology. Most believers steer well clear of such things, but we do so at our own peril. Just consider the riches in the biblical understanding of truth and how important it is to the Christian life. The following passages provide just a small sampling of how Scripture deals with the importance of truth.
We are told that the reason Jesus came to planet earth was to testify to the truth (John 18:37). That is why he came, thus emphasising the vital nature of truth. We are also told that truth is what sets us free (John 8:32) and that the truth sanctifies us (John 17:17).
Moreover, it is by means of truth that we worship God aright (John 4:24). The Spirit of God that is given to us is known as the Spirit of truth (John 14:16-17), and this Holy Spirit guides us into all truth (John 16;13). And believers stand firm by means of the truth (Eph. 6:14).
It is God’s overwhelming concern that people come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3-4). The prophet Isaiah complains that truth is nowhere to be found (Is. 59:14-15). Jeremiah also laments that truth has perished from the land (Jer. 7:28).
The New Testament writers tell us that those who do not know God will reject the truth (2 Tim 4:3-4; Rom. 1:18; Rom. 1:25; Rom. 2:9; Acts 20:30). We are told that those who perish do not believe the truth (2 Thess. 2:9-13). Scripture informs us that the devil does not hold the truth (John 8:44-47). In the Bible sin is connected with refusing the truth (Rom. 7:11; 2 Thess. 2:10; Eph. 4:22; Heb. 3:13).
On the other hand, we can tell if someone is from God if they listen to the truth (1 John 4:6). All who listen to Jesus are the ones who have the truth (John 18:37). And we can escape the snares of the enemy by coming to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
On and on the list goes. Truth is vitally important. Thus we dare not minimise it or downplay it in our Christian journey.
We are to love God with the totality of our being. And as unpleasant as it may be for some, that means with our minds as well. That may mean for the first time some believers will need to start using the old bean that we have been given. It might mean switching off the TV and actually reading the Bible and other good books. It might mean – horror of horrors – studying some theology, reading a Bible commentary or consulting some biblical reference works.
But it is something we all must do. As the passages on truth listed above make clear, if we do not, we are going to get into all sorts of strife. And we will be violating the greatest commandment as well.
So consider this to be a divine exhortation: let my people think.