Learning to think Christianly

As Christians, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. “This,” Jesus said, “is the great and foremost commandment” (Matthew 22:38, NASB).  Part of our divine calling is to think.

In the words of John G. Stackhouse, Jr.,

“Jesus intends thinking to be understood as an activity of love toward God.”

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But what does it mean to think Christianly? Stackhouse’s answer is found in his book, Need to Know: Vocation as the Heart of Christian Epistemology (2014), where he delves into how we know things, and how we know that we know them. He aims to show how we should reflect upon whatever God calls us to think about.

Learning to think Christianly

Stackhouse, who serves Crandall University as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies, suggests that a pluralistic and postmodern world calls for a new model of thinking constantly in a Christian way about everything.

His proposal is strikingly reminiscent of the manifesto Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), the Dutch journalist, statesman and theologian, issued at the Free University of Amsterdam’s inaugural convocation: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!’ ”

Richard J. Mouw comments,

“When God saves us..., he incorporates us into a community, the people of God. And this community, in turn, is called to serve God’s goals in the larger world. In the life of the church we worship a sovereign God, but that God then commands us to be active witnesses in our daily lives to God’s sovereign rule over all things.”

An enriched Christian mind, Stackhouse continues, can be informed by “both faithfulness to the past and openness to new ideas.”

He contends that the heart of Christian knowing and related issues of epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, is vocation, which he defines as “the divine calling to be a Christian in every mode of life,” whether public or private, religious or secular, corporate or individual. God intends for us to honour our vocations, so he will ensure that we know enough to do so.

The reader may occasionally wonder about the route Stackhouse is taking but, to his credit, in the final chapter he demonstrates how Christians can use vocational epistemology to know precisely how to make decisions in an ambiguous world.

The most practical part of Need to Know is the appendix in which Stackhouse sketches how his method can work by demonstrating how he arrived at his understanding of gender. (See also his Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender [2005]).

He admits that while his model remains open to correction, green indicators lie in the direction in which he is steering.

Need to Know is a rigorous piece of scholarship, requiring keen focus and concentration, but the determined reader will be challenged by the hope of shalom which is, Stackhouse explains, “an ideal of universal well-being.”

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Following a 35-year career as an ordained minister, Burton K. Janes is now a freelance editor, writer and online instructor. He lives in Newfoundland where he maintains his own blog burtonkjanes.com

About the author