February 2, 2014
No question about it—Paul had a spectacular idea.
What you should do, Paul wrote the followers of Jesus at Rome, is live your everyday life—your “…sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life…” in such a way that you are changed from the inside out, developing the best from your given potential while growing into a well-formed maturity.*
This transformation, Paul then explained with admirable brevity, comes about through conscious resistance to unthinking cultural conformity combined with the “renewing of your mind.”
From the beginning, effort to put Paul’s idea into practice leads immediately to practical difficulties. Translating Paul’s directions into pragmatic guidelines for “sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around” quickly develops into a process significantly different than preparation of an operator’s manual.
And then there is this bothersome business of defining resistance to cultural conformity. Paul was writing to believers who lived in the powerful capital city of Rome where failure to conform was dangerous. Nevertheless, Paul was not recommending that these early followers of Jesus do as the Romans did simply because they lived in Rome.
Political correctness was not Paul’s goal. On the other hand, Paul held no brief for an abrasive “otherness” in relationships that invited alienation and suspicion and challenged Rome’s power. Later in his letter, Paul advised these same believers to live responsibly as citizens, to pay their taxes, pay their bills, respect their leaders, and so far as it was possible to do so, to live at peace with all men.
But whatever the complexities of defining the “too little” or the “too much” of cultural conformity, these issues become comparatively simple when we move on to Paul’s second point. Be transformed, Paul wrote, by the renewing of your mind.
What does “renewing” of our minds look like when we attempt a pragmatic, behaviorally-based description?
How does a transformed, renewed mind function?
I am increasingly convinced that the issue of “thinking christianly” is not so much about what we think (although the content of our thinking remains of crucial importance), but it is more about how we think. Can we, for example, make mind-renewing use of paradox, of symbols, of imagination in an integrated collaboration with logic and linear structure? And what is the diffuse constantly fluid inter-relation between what I feel and what I think?
Jesus called it the first commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37)
Is obedience related to cognitive processes? In order to love God with my whole mind must I first develop a whole mind? In this culture does that require me to resist cognitive pressure to conform to dualism, fragmentation, and obsession with phenomena that can be measured?
Thinking with you about thinking christianly while immersed in the glorious illogical process of human life, sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around.
See you next week.**
*See Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 12 in The Message.
**See—there are worse things than Chicken Little. (Smiles)