Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Renewing the Mind

Roger Hazelton observed: “Difficult as it may be for us, a believing faith in God is all that can save us from our critical intellectual situation.” This teacher of philosophy at Andover Newton Theological School was writing in 1949 rather than 2015. He was also teaching students on their way into religious vocations, not all of which would fill pulpits. The book he wrote was oriented more to Christians than to non-Christians.

What I found most interesting was that he described our current times with almost prophetic accuracy, almost better than his own age when I was just beginning my career (Renewing the Mind, McMillan, 1949). “Such belief is not a residue but a resource,” claimed Hazelton.

This professor-preacher, a man of high intellect, believed, that a “world without God is a world without truth; indeed, it is no world at all, but mere nonsense. No drummed-up atheistic courage, no nihilistic posture of defiance, can long evade this fact. Hence if we are intellectually in earnest about getting well, a lost aptitude must be recovered, an abandoned birthright reclaimed, a precious heritage rewon. Plainly, the renewing of our minds demands that we learn again how to believe in God (emphasis added).

If such a recovery is to take place, insisted Hazelton, “our minds must become more childlike. This does not mean that we ought to be gullible; it simply means that we ought to be docile or teachable. By folk of our generation, at any rate, belief is not to be had on ‘I-told-you-so’ terms; and it cannot be generated and grown in the soil of ignorance and superstition. We do not need to be told what to believe, so much as taught how to believe. To some this may appear a childish and quite preliminary sort of discussion; but since where belief is concerned most of us are in the kindergarten anyway, learning its alphabet and practicing its scales, it may not be the wrong place to begin …” (22-23).

Hazelton saw human intelligence retreating “before the undisciplined squads of raw emotion or goes down before the shock troops of ruthless interest. Thought for power usurps the place once given to the power of thought. Reason gives up the battle for meaning and worth in human life, numbed by disaster and worsened by despair” (p. 6)

He concludes “A great and awful perversion has occurred. Man has sold his birthright of reason, and sold it cheap, for the pottage of a power-centered and power-obsessed culture” (p. 7). If this statement was accurate at mid-century during the Russian cold war, it is accurate many times over today when citizens are totally obsessed with the latest technology and governments are operated by power brokers.

People know how to build smarter computers (eg: the Smart Watch everyone is waiting for) but few people know how to read the signs of the times or tell the difference between truth and half-truth. Alfred North Whitehead once wrote, “The keynote of idolatry is contentment with the prevalent gods.” That describes us as a nation.

Or as Hazelton wrote, “To borrow a useful phrase, idolatry means “absolutizing the relative.” Whenever, we set up fragmentary and finite things as if they merited that full and ultimate concern which only God has the right to demand of us, we are in fact worshiping idols” (p 10).

We are a culture that values athletic coaches more than college presidents, the words of an athlete more than of a preacher. We get all excited when a bunch of one-and-done basketball players who have leased their abilities to a school for  a year, compile a record shattering thirty-eight victories without defeat. Yet I doubt that one of us will concern himself or herself as to whether they further educate themselves for the rest of the lives they will have to live after their professional careers.

After all, life’s bottom line is making money and education mostly concerns itself with making better people. All the while, people know more and more about gadgetry and things and less and less about reading, thinking, and truth (which may in actuality be non-existent).

“The task of Christian philosophy is not to establish an unsteady and artificial peace between the gospel and the world,” insisted Hazelton. “It is to penetrate all the nooks and crannies of human life with the spirit and significance of Christian faith (emphasis added). Morals and science, the arts and industry, letters and government must all be sought out, won, made captive to the mind of Christ” (pp 181-182). Obviously that would completely transform American culture.

The Apostle Paul pleaded with fellow believers “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” This begins by not conforming to the surrounding world but to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 1:1-2 NASV). And if you read the rest of the chapter, you find a practical manual for everyday living by ordinary people.

We will see more lives changed and experiencing the transformation of which Paul spoke when more Christians get their heads (hearts and minds) really into the ballgame.

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