The Conversion of the Mind

July 26, 2012

Technical Papers

by Bill Crouse

(Note this arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly appeared in the Jour­nal: REFORMATION & REVIVAL. Sum­mer, 1994.)
One effect of glob­al, high-tech com­mu­ni­ca­tion on this shrink­ing plan­et is the increased expo­sure we have to oth­er lands, peo­ples, and world­views. Today stu­dents on major uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus­es will like­ly encounter pro­fes­sors who teach their sub­jects from vast­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. For exam­ple, a Hin­du may be found teach­ing psy­chol­o­gy; a Marx­ist, his­to­ry; an exis­ten­tial­ist, lit­er­a­ture; and a human­ist, sci­ence. Young peo­ple are now con­front­ed with a vir­tu­al super­mar­ket of world­view options upon which to base their lives. As a result, many Chris­tians – con­fused, defen­sive, and often in the minor­i­ty – tend to incor­po­rate much non-Chris­t­ian think­ing into their own world­views.

Chris­tian­i­ty as a world and life sys­tem (weltan­schau­ung) was not always on the defen­sive, nor has it always been viewed as one option among many, as we find today. For much of the his­to­ry of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion, Chris­tian­i­ty has been the basis for world order. In the areas of crit­i­cal thought, moral order, and?culture, Chris­tian­i­ty (i.e., its ideas) was pre­dom­i­nant.

Chris­tian­i­ty set the agen­da. This is not to say every impor­tant thinker or artist of the past was a devout Chris­t­ian. But many were. And those who were not at least affirmed or accept­ed the basic rudi­ments of the Chris­t­ian world­view.

Retreat and with­draw­al of the church from active engage­ment in cul­ture began, we believe, some­where in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry when it failed to ade­quate­ly answer the con­tra-Chris­t­ian argu­ments of the Enlight­en­ment. Instead, the church took an increas­ing­ly defen­sive pos­ture. As Chris­tian­i­ty slow­ly lost ground in its con­flict with Enlight­en­ment human­ism, it began to con­cede the area of cul­ture to the ene­my. This con­ces­sion was no?doubt part­ly due to the church’s embrace of the erro­neous Neo-Pla­ton­ist idea which dichotomized life into the “sacred” and “sec­u­lar” (or “spir­i­tu­al” and “phys­i­cal”). In keep­ing with this view, the “sacred” or “spir­i­tu­al” area was deemed more impor­tant. There­fore the church became increas­ing­ly pre-occu­pied with the mys­ti­cal and the here­after, and looked upon itself only as an instru­ment of spir­i­tu­al or inter­nal change, while it retreat­ed from its man­date of being salt and light in society.1

Many Chris­t­ian lead­ers spoke out against this error but were large­ly unheard. Per­haps the most elo­quent was the great New Tes­ta­ment schol­ar J. Gre­sham Machen. He chal­lenged his stu­dents at Prince­ton Sem­i­nary in 1912: “The Chris­t­ian can­not be sat­is­fied so long as any human activ­i­ty is either opposed to Chris­tian­i­ty or out of all con­nec­tion with Chris­tian­i­ty. Chris­tian­i­ty must per­vade not mere­ly all nations, but also all of human thought. The Chris­t­ian, there­fore, can­not be indif­fer­ent to any branch of earnest human endeav­or. It must all be brought into some rela­tion to the gospel. It must be stud­ied either in order to be demon­strat­ed as false, or else in order to be made use­ful in advanc­ing the King­dom of God. The King­dom must be advanced not mere­ly exten­sive­ly, but also inten­sive­ly. The church must seek to con­quer not mere­ly every man for Christ, but also the whole of man.“2

Anoth­er strong voice call­ing for a Chris­t­ian pen­e­tra­tion of?culture was Oxford schol­ar and pro­lif­ic Chris­t­ian author, C.S?Lewis. He ?remarked: “I believe that any Chris­t­ian who is qual­i­fied to write a good pop­u­lar book on any sci­ence may do much more by that than by any direct­ly apolo­getic work. What we want is not more lit­tle books about Chris­tian­i­ty, but more lit­tle books by Chris­tians on oth­er sub­jects – with their Chris­tian­i­ty latent. It is not the books writ­ten in defense of Mate­ri­al­ism that make the mod­ern man a Mate­ri­al­ist; it is the Mate­ri­al­is­tic assump­tions in all the oth­er books. In the same way, it is not books on Chris­tian­i­ty that will real­ly trou­ble him. But he would be trou­bled if, when­ev­er, he want­ed a cheap pop­u­lar intro­duc­tion to some sci­ence, the best work on the mar­ket was always by a Christian.“3

And more recent­ly, the late Fran­cis A. Scha­ef­fer, pop­u­lar apol­o­gist and the­olo­gian, has force­ful­ly and effec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ed the role of the church in cul­ture to a gen­er­a­tion of?young peo­ple look­ing for an expla­na­tion (a world­view) that spoke to all of life. It is this author’s opin­ion that Schaeffer’s great­est con­tri­bu­tion has been to alert the church to its com­plete role in the world. The cul­tur­al man­date of Gen­e­sis 1:26 – 28 is still in effect. The pow­er of the gospel is not only suf­fi­cient to change lives, but to change cul­ture as well.?Christians are to chal­lenge their spheres of influ­ence with Chris­t­ian truth claims. We believe that God still wants Chris­tians to bring all areas of thought and life under the cap­tiv­i­ty of the Lord­ship of Christ (IICor 10:5). To do so involves the devel­op­ing of a decid­ed­ly Christian?worldview. It involves the indi­vid­ual Chris­t­ian think­ing God’s thoughts after Him in every dis­ci­pline of study – whether in art, sci­ence, his­to­ry, psy­chol­o­gy, or eco­nom­ics, and apply­ing what he or she learns, on the can­vas, in the lab­o­ra­to­ry, at the?chalkboard, in the coun­sel­ing process, or in the busi­ness world!

Of late many fine Chris­t­ian books on the sub­ject of world­views have been pub­lished, but most of these books only cri­tique and ana­lyze var­i­ous world­views. While there is cer­tain­ly a place for this, our expe­ri­ence in a vari­ety of?ministries has taught us that crit­i­cism must be fol­lowed by?suggestion of a pos­i­tive alter­na­tive. Ana­lyz­ing what is wrong with the world is impor­tant but, we feel there is a ?cor­re­spond­ing need to set a new mood with the atti­tude, “Look what Chris­tian­i­ty offers the world.”

For those who believe the church’s mis­sion is sole­ly spir­i­tu­al and that the cul­tur­al man­date was negat­ed by the Fall, world­view build­ing will be seen as an exer­cise in futil­i­ty. If that is the opin­ion of any read­ers, we chal­lenge you with this ques­tion: What would the world be like with­out the works of Augus­tine, Aquinas, Luther, or Calvin? These men were not just great the­olo­gians; they ?dis­tin­guished them­selves in their attempts to devel­op a Chris­t­ian world and life view which incor­po­rates the impli­ca­tions of Chris­t­ian think­ing into every area of knowl­edge.

It is the con­vic­tion of this author that Christ is Lord and that all areas of life and thought are to be brought under His domin­ion. It is there­fore, the duty of every believ­er, not only to think Christ’s thoughts after Him, but also to act accord­ing­ly as His regal rep­re­sen­ta­tive on earth.

Most Chris­tians will agree that the Chris­t­ian worldview?should be applied in per­son­al rela­tion­ships, the fam­i­ly and in?the Church. But, should Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ples also be applied in cul­ture and in gov­ern­ment? In oth­er words, should Chris­tians try to reform soci­ety? If the Chris­t­ian expe­ri­ence of the new birth is gen­uine, we believe it can­not be oth­er­wise. Changed peo­ple think­ing “Chris­tian­ly” and apply­ing Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ples will lead to changes in every area of life includ­ing the insti­tu­tions with which believ­ers come into con­tact.

In say­ing this, we wish to make it per­fect­ly clear that we are in no way advo­cat­ing an “eccle­sioc­ra­cy” or that Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ples should be imposed by force on unbe­liev­ers. Christ clear­ly taught us in the para­bles how this change would occur– through the evan­ge­liza­tion process or the revival-reform dynam­ic (see Matt. 13).4

The con­ver­sion process is not just a change of heart or an emo­tion­al expe­ri­ence. We are also to be con­vert­ed in mind. In Romans 12:2 Paul speaks in the imper­a­tive: “Do not con­form any longer to the pat­tern of this world, but be trans­formed by the renew­ing of your mind.” But, we are not to stop there.5 We are to apply bib­li­cal think­ing in every area of life. To a Chris­t­ian med­ical doc­tor it will mean, among oth­er things, the appli­ca­tion of the bib­li­cal view con­cern­ing the dig­ni­ty of life. To a Chris­t­ian leg­is­la­tor, it means seek­ing to make laws which are in accor­dance with the prin­ci­ples of Scrip­ture. To a Chris­t­ian artist, it means cre­at­ing works of art which speak truth­ful­ly and hon­or the Cre­ator.

The impli­ca­tions of this are clear. Chris­tians will thus inevitably be in con­flict with non-chris­t­ian world­views. Think­ing world­viewish­ly in a con­text of like-mind­ed peo­ple is one thing, but hold­ing to cer­tain con­vic­tions about the world and ulti­mate ques­tions where there exists a plu­ral­i­ty of answers and no con­sen­sus is anoth­er. At the close of the Twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry­we find our­selves in just such a state. The Judeo-Christian?conception of real­i­ty based on revealed absolutes no longer enjoys the con­sen­sus it once had in West­ern civ­i­liza­tion.

Var­i­ous forms of human­ism are present­ly in the ascen­dan­cy and are threat­en­ing to impose their world­view on all of life. As Chris­tians, and as Christ’s theo­crat­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tives, we have a man­date to enlarge His King­dom dur­ing our sojourn on earth. This is taught, we believe, by Jesus in the para­ble of the pounds (Lk. 19:11 – 26). The ser­vants were charged to increase their master’s?assets dur­ing his absence. The goal was not to break even. They were to prof­it, to improve the sit­u­a­tion! Thus Chris­tians today should not be build­ing clois­ters but a cul­ture that increas­ing­ly reflects God’s will. This means that Chris­tians have a divine?call to every wor­thy voca­tion, be it sci­ence, eco­nom­ics, med­i­cine, the arts, pol­i­tics, or the mil­i­tary – each accord­ing to his gifts and abil­i­ties.

Should Chris­tians then attempt to Chris­tian­ize the world? Yes, in the sense that efforts should be made to con­vert peo­ple from ungod­ly ways of think­ing and act­ing. We has­ten to add how­ev­er, that we are not refer­ring to the trans­fer­ence from our west­ern cul­ture those aspects which do not have Bib­li­cal sanc­tion. We should attempt to speak only where Scrip­ture speaks. Many laws in the Old Tes­ta­ment applied specif­i­cal­ly only to the Hebrew cul­ture. For exam­ple, the Mosa­ic Law decreed that home­own­ers had to have a wall around the roof of their house (Dt. 22:8). The pur­pose of the law was to pro­tect chil­dren from falling off the roof. In the dwellings of their day many fam­i­ly activ­i­ties occurred on the roof. To seek to impose such a mea­sure on mod­ern soci­eties with dif­fer­ent struc­tures is ludi­crous. How­ev­er, the prin­ci­ple that can be deduced here is that par­ents are respon­si­ble for the safe­ty of their chil­dren. Such can be pro­claimed in any cul­ture. In our plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety con­flicts and polar­iza­tion are inevitable because the oppos­ing human­is­tic world­views have a dif­fer­ent basis for deter­min­ing moral val­ues. Each side attempts to leg­is­late laws based on its own moral per­spec­tive. The abor­tion con­tro­ver­sy is a per­fect exam­ple of con­flict­ing world­views. Those advo­cat­ing abor­tion-on-demand do not want the world­view (reli­gious views) of those against abor­tion imposed on them. At the present, how­ev­er, the will of those advo­cat­ing “pro-choice” is being imposed on those who are opposed. This impo­si­tion takes form in sev­er­al ways: tax mon­ey is being used to pay for abor­tions, and our chil­dren are increas­ing­ly exposed – in var­i­ous avenues of our cul­ture – to non-bib­li­cal views of human life.

How can the Chris­t­ian con­sen­sus of the past be restored to what it once was? Obvi­ous­ly not by the pow­er of the sword (II Cor. 10:3,4)! Rather we seek to evan­ge­lize and influ­ence those that oppose God and His laws. This takes time, just as it has?taken cen­turies for ?human­ism to get where it is today. West­ern civ­i­liza­tion with its Chris­t­ian roots did not rise in a day either. Jesus taught this prin­ci­ple of time to His dis­ci­ples in?the para­bles (Matt. 13). A mus­tard tree starts with a tiny seed and takes some time to grow to matu­ri­ty. Yeast as well takes time to leav­en a whole loaf of dough as it works qui­et­ly and per­sua­sive­ly with­in ( Note that its action is latent not bla­tant!). As Chris­tians we are called upon to “leav­en” the whole “lump” of soci­ety. We are to affect change in its com­po­si­tion. The process is spir­i­tu­al in that people’s hearts are changed through the preach­ing of the Gospel, and whose minds are then influ­enced and changed by the teach­ing of bib­li­cal prin­ci­ples (Chris­t­ian world­view).

Chris­tians should there­fore strive to set the agen­da on cul­tur­al issues (i.e. to be a gen­uine counter-cul­ture) and to be the con­tin­u­ing con­science of soci­ety. This again is taught by Jesus when He declared His fol­low­ers to be the “salt” and “light” in the world (Matt. 5:13 – 16), two of the most com­mon and nec­es­sary ele­ments in every house­hold. Through the use of these two metaphors Jesus is describ­ing the pos­i­tive and whole­some influ­ence His dis­ci­ples are to have in the world. Salt was of extreme­ly high val­ue as a commodity.6 It was used as a condi­ment (Job 6:6), as a preser­v­a­tive (Bar. 6:28 in the Apoc­rypha), for purifi­ca­tion (Mk.9:49), as med­i­cine (Ezek. 16:4), to seal covenants (Num.18:19), as a sym­bol of wis­dom and whole­some speech (Col. 4:6), and as a method of ster­il­iz­ing an ene­mies’ field (Jud. 9:45).3 Salt, how­ev­er, when con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by white lime­stone or gyp­sum dust los­es all its val­ue. It is only salt?found in its pris­tine state that has any val­ue. The appli­ca­tion is obvi­ous. The com­mand to the dis­ci­ples of Christ is to “keep one­self unpol­lut­ed by the world” (James 1:27). It is only in this pure state that the Chris­t­ian can effec­tive­ly offer a counter-cul­ture. If through the metaphor of salt the church is to offer some­thing of val­ue to the world, it is only through the sec­ond metaphor of light that the world can dis­cern this val­ue. It is light which dis­pels dark­ness and presents the truth of what is real­ly there. The teach­ing of Jesus in this all-impor­tant pas­sage makes it quite clear that Chris­tians are not to be pas­sive in their earth­ly sojourn. Indeed the appli­ca­tion of this truth in the ear­ly church changed the face of the Roman world.

The Need for a New Mood

As Christ’s ambas­sadors we must not be intim­i­dat­ed by the size of our task. We serve a pow­er­ful God and He has giv­en us all the nec­es­sary tools to car­ry it out. There is no room for pes­simism in the Christian’s think­ing. It is not only time for a new mind, but a new mood as well. Com­mu­nism in past decades has had its suc­cess­es because its adher­ents believed vic­to­ry was inevitable. Chris­tians above all peo­ple should reflect the same cer­tain­ty. We know that the Gospel works wher­ev­er it is applied; it brings order out of chaos.

We must guard against a pes­simism that aris­es from a faulty empha­sis in our escha­tol­ogy. We are not to retreat because “things are going to get worse accord­ing to bib­li­cal prophecy.?Therefore, we might as well let things get worse, then Jesus will?come and straight­en out this mess. We should not pol­ish the brass of a sink­ing ship.” This atti­tude is found nowhere in the New Tes­ta­ment writ­ings. In fact, three books of the New Tes­ta­ment con­tain warn­ings about the seri­ous­ness of retreat­ing from our task. (see I and II Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans and Hebrews). Fur­ther­more, Jesus said “no man knows the day or the hour” (repeat­ed many times in the Gospels). Most agree that the sec­ond com­ing of Christ will occur in the midst of world-wide suf­fer­ing and con­flict. Our error today is one of pre­sump­tion, concluding?that these events must be near. They well may be, but what if they are five hun­dred years away? Do we not have to face this as a very real pos­si­bil­i­ty? How will we “occu­py” in the 21st cen­tu­ry if our Lord tar­ries? Do we not have the awe­some respon­si­bil­i­ty of equip­ping the church and our fam­i­lies to be God’s ambas­sadors in this micro-chip world?

We have every rea­son to be opti­mistic. Why advise Chris­tians to be active if they can­not win? We ini­tial­ly focus on rais­ing God­ly seed in our own house­hold, estab­lish­ing a small?beachhead in ene­my ter­ri­to­ry. We next build strong church­es where we our­selves find strength and teach­ing that equips us for our task. We then live before and con­front the world wher­ev­er God has called us. We are to “occu­py till He comes.” We have the promise of vic­to­ry from the Lord Him­self when He proph­e­sied to His dis­ci­ples that the gates of Hades would not prove stronger than the church (Matt. 16:18). The pic­ture Jesus paints is a walled city in which Satan and his king­dom have tak­en refuge. The gates and walls how­ev­er, are no match for the bat­ter­ing rams of the King­dom of God. Many times Chris­tians read this pas­sage and get the fig­ure reversed. Jesus is not say­ing that the church is hud­dled behind the walls with the forces of Satan try­ing to kick in the gates. It’s the oth­er way around. The gates of hell are not strong enough to pre­vail against the force of the gospel. We can be opti­mistic. We must begin to think in these terms, and of tak­ing the offen­sive.

Human­ism as a sys­tem con­tains with­in itself the seeds of its own destruc­tion. It is bank­rupt, and we as Chris­tians need to take advan­tage of its weak­ness­es and re-estab­lish the Christian?worldview with its moral and spir­i­tu­al cap­i­tal. In doing so we must have a qui­et con­fi­dence and opti­mism that Chris­tian­i­ty will?triumph.

As we seek to per­form our task it is essen­tial that we have a prop­er atti­tude toward the lost. It must be a “but for the grace of God, there go I” kind of an atti­tude or the truth we preach will meet with a neg­a­tive reac­tion. We rec­og­nize that some of the ene­mies of God will resist even a gra­cious approach, but we must nev­er present the truth naked­ly to the lost. It must?be adorned with a gen­uine love and com­pas­sion for our fel­low humans as crea­tures that Christ loved enough to die for.7 (See Eph. 4:15 and I Thess. 1:5.). The entire epis­tle to Titus seems to stress this very thing. The Apos­tle instructs Titus to rebuke the Cre­tans for teach­ing false doc­trine. Yet the rebuke would have had a hol­low ring to it if his own life were not above reproach. In the rest of the epis­tle Paul exhorts his young appren­tice to “make the teach­ing about God our Sav­ior attrac­tive” (2:10), and to devote them­selves to “doing what is good” (3:8). One of the reac­tions of those that came into con­tact with our Lord while He was on earth that bog­gles our mind is the fact that sin­ners were attract­ed to Him (Lk. 15:1). His adorn­ment of the truth made it allur­ing!

We are liv­ing at an oppor­tune time in his­to­ry. Not only is there an immense spir­i­tu­al vac­u­um through­out the world, there also seems to be a cor­re­spond­ing dearth of ideas and solu­tions to solve cur­rent prob­lems. We must have con­fi­dence that the revealed truth of God is ade­quate for our times and all times. We must not make ral­ly­ing cries like “Jesus is the Answer” or “the Bible has the answers” into hol­low slo­gans. We must demon­strate to the world that Chris­tian­i­ty works. As the truth is lived we must then be pre­pared to:

?give the rea­son for the hope that we have. But do this with gen­tle­ness and respect, keep­ing a clear con­science, so that those who speak mali­cious­ly against your good behav­ior in Christ may be ashamed of their slan­der (I Pet. 3:15 – 16).

Ref­er­ences

1. We are in no way demean­ing the spir­i­tu­al min­istry of the church or the mys­ti­cal rela­tion­ship of the believ­er to?Christ. Our point is that the min­istry of the church must be viewed wholis­ti­cal­ly.

2. This address on “The Sci­en­tif­ic Prepa­ra­tion of the Min­is­ter” was deliv­ered Sep­tem­ber 20, 1912, at the open­ing of the one hun­dred and first ses­sion of Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. It is found in the Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Review, Vol. XI, No. 1, 1913, p. 1.

3. Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock. Wal­ter Hoop­er, ed. (Grand Rapids, Michi­gan: William B. Eerdman’s Pub­lish­ing Co., 1970), p. 93

4. We see revival and reform as two sides of the same coin. True revival leads to reform in indi­vid­ual lives and in soci­ety. Try­ing to push for reform with­out the revival of men’s hearts is futile. As new-born men are then sanc­ti­fied those insti­tu­tions with which they come into con­tact will also be sanc­ti­fied.

5. The ear­ly Chris­t­ian church would have been of lit­tle con­se­quence in the Roman world if its ideas had only changed minds. It was the actions that caused Cae­sar con­cern. Even today a total­i­tar­i­an soci­ety is not con­cerned about a Chris­tian­i­ty that is con­fined to a cer­tain reli­gious rit­u­al at a cer­tain geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion (in church) at a cer­tain time (on Sun­days). As long as Chris­tian­i­ty can be kept on a “reser­va­tion” its ene­mies will rejoice.

6. The most com­mon inter­pre­ta­tion of “salt” in this pas­sage is that of a preser­v­a­tive. But it is almost cer­tain from the con­text and relat­ed teach­ings of Jesus that a wide use of salt is meant. Jesus did not come to pre­serve the cor­rupt sys­tem He found in Israel. He did not come to put new wine in old wine­skins, but rather new wine in new wineskins?(Matt. 9:16,17). For an excel­lent treat­ment of the use and sym­bol­ism of “salt” in Scrip­ture see the arti­cle on “salt” in Col­in Brown (ed.) The New Inter­na­tion­al Dic­tio­nary of The­ol­o­gy. 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zon­der­van Press, 1978).

7. For an excel­lent treat­ment on the sub­ject of how to present the gospel to a non-chris­t­ian world see Fran­cis A. Scha­ef­fer. The God who is There. (Down­ers Grove, IL: Inter­Var­si­ty Press, 1968), See sec­tions IV, V, and VI. And also Fran­cis A. Scha­ef­fer. The Church at the End of the?Twentieth Cen­tu­ry. (Down­ers Grove, IL: Inter­Var­si­ty Press,?1970). See espe­cial­ly Appen­dix II.

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