Sacred Journeys - The Thinking Stream

We all have different gifts, but it is the same Spirit who gives them. There are different ways of serving God, but it is the same Lord who is served. God works through different people in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through us all. 
1 Cor 12: 4 - 7

Faith is a journey, a pilgrimage, where we travel purposefully with others, and sometimes
stop and discover something new. That 'something new' we want to discover at Eastview this term is an appreciation and understanding of the journeys of others. We introduced the notion of a braided river, like the Rakaia or the Waimakariri many of us have flown over coming into Christchurch. Most of the time the river comprises a number of different channels, all from the same source and all going to same destination, but taking different paths. We can’t say which is the main stream, because it’s at once none and all. It’s a great metaphor of unity and diversity. We are following up our Lenten explorations of God’s Big Story with some thoughts and exercises to help us connect that Biblical story with our personal journey of faith, and become more confident in having spiritual conversations with others, about that journey.  

In Ephesians 4 - and the passage from 1 Corinthians above - Paul teaches about the Body of Christ, where a diversity of gifts come together in a unity of purpose. "He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love." We are suggesting four different channels for us to look at, but of course there are more; Gary Thomas names nine in his book Sacred Pathways. We’ve chosen four that seem to represent the ways most people first come to faith in Jesus Christ: 
  • thinking or intellectual assent, 
  • feeling or tangible experience, 
  • serving or participating in God’s purpose 
  • and belonging, being nurtured into faith. 
Like most congregations we have all four streams in our community, and each story is sacred ground. No one is better than the others; they are just different. 

So - one of these streams or pathway to connection with God is that of 'loving God with our mind' (Luke 10:27). Down through the centuries many people  came to Christ through intellectual belief or reasoned truth. One is the fourth century academic Augustine of Hippo, who after years of spiritual struggle came to trust in Christ, and became one of the greatest intellectuals of the church. St Augustine outthought the pagan world, defended the faith against many heresies, and passionately believed it is through the application of reason we gain an accurate understanding of God.

Another was Anglican cleric John Wesley, who in 1738 sat in a chapel in Aldersgate and felt his heart 'strangely warmed'. But he wasn’t lost in a worship song or having an ecstatic Holy Spirit moment – he was listening to someone read Luther’s long sermon on the book of Romans. He said,  “And I knew I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me” His change of heart was a change of thinking.  Some of us have read Who Moved the Stone? by English journalist Frank Morison, who set out to prove that the Resurrection story was a myth. His research however, led him to discover the truth of the Biblical record in a moving, personal way. His change of heart was a change of thinking. C. S. Lewis was also converted to Christianity by examining the evidence. “I thought I had disposed of the Christians”, he said in Surprised by Joy, but his investigations brought him to faith “kicking, struggling, resentful, and looking in every direction for a chance of escape.” His book on the evidence, Mere Christianity, been responsible for converting many thousands of others.

Recently I read another compelling book by British scholar, Professor Anthony Flew, who was an atheist from the age of fifteen. He was a wartime intelligence officer but later became a professional philosopher, and his books on atheism have been widely reprinted over the last fifty years – God and Philosophy, The Presumption of Atheism, and Theology and Falsification. But in 2004 he announced that he had changed his mind, and now believed in God. Perhaps not the Christian God as such, but a divine intelligence who brought the universe into existence. His reasoning is profound, and if philosophy is your thing, his book is called There is a God. In it he says that he is not a Christian, but that in his view the arguments for Christianity are more impressive than those for any other religion. He includes in the book his dialogues with Bishop NT Wright, who he says makes an impressive case for the historicity of the resurrection.

It often seems that how we come to faith is often how we continue to enjoy connection with God. Those who found Christ via an intellectual pathway are likely to continue learning from him by studying and debating. They live in a world of concepts and ideas, where faith is as much it be understood as it is to be experienced. There are plenty of examples of this in the Bible – Peter who discerned that Jesus was the Christ, and went on to become Bishop of Rome. John, that intellectual giant who wrote about the logos, and also recorded for us the 'I am' sayings and Jesus ‘’ sermon in the Upper Room. In Acts 17 we are told about the Bereans who “listened eagerly to Paul’s message and searched the Scriptures day after day to see if the apostles  were teaching the truth.” Paul told us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, Rom 12: 2 and a quaint little verse in 2 Tim 4: 13 has Paul writing to Timothy asking for his coat and his books and papers. Donald Whitney says it seems Paul didn’t just need the physical warmth of his cloak but also the mental warmth of his letters and Biblical scrolls.

Is this you? Do you recognise yourself and your prime pathway for connecting with God in these stories? Gary Thomas has a little survey that might help clarify if the thinking stream is your preferred sacred pathway:
  • I feel closest to God when I learn something new about him that I didn’t understand before. It’s important to me to know what I believe and to exercise my mind.
  • I get frustrated when the church focusses too much on songs relating to feelings and experience. Proper understanding and doctrine is more important to me.
  • I feel offended if the preacher dumbs down God’s word  or demonstrates wrong thinking.
  • I feel especially close to God when I spend hours of concentrated study time reading the Bible or a Christian book and perhaps then having an opportunity to teach what I have learned.
  • I spend more on books that I do on music.
  • My signature sins are pride, argumentativeness and majoring on the minor. 
However, if this is not your preferred style for worship and discipleship, it doesn’t let your mind off the hook! You don’t have to be academic but we all must be lifelong learners. Paul writes that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds; I think he means we are to follow him thoughtfully, to think our faith through, not leave our brains in the carpark. That means to worship thoughtfully, and to pray thoughtfully, and to give thoughtfully. The Message translates Jesus’ version of the Shema as loving God with “all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.” They are all important. We worship in spirit and in truth. Paul say in 1 Cor 14 "I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also" (1 Cor 14: 15). Just as a thinker like me can’t opt out of participating in passionate worship, so others of us can’t make excuses not to engage our brain. “Burning hearts are not kindled by brainless heads" (Whitney); “The end of learning is to know God and out of that knowledge to love him and imitate him" (John Milton).

We are all different, and those differences enrich the Body. So try to understand the 'intellectual' pathway people more deeply; ask questions with respectful curiosity, because their story, like yours, is sacred ground. We remembered how Paul advised the Romans: "Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. Don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with." (Romans 14: 1, The Message).

We asked our folk to experiment with this pathway, to maybe move out of their own stream into a different channel – and we stood and recited a creed together, an edgy act in a Baptist church! Here is the one we used:
A New Creed 
We are not alone,
we live in God's world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God's presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
UCC revised 1994

To Chew Over: Here's the exercise we suggested for experimenting with loving God with our mind.  
Make time to do a study of EITHER Acts 2: 14 – 36 
OR the above creed,  and answer these questions:
Who was Jesus? What did he do? 
How do we know? Why does it matter?

Use what you have written to thank God for the good news of Jesus.