Have you ever wondered why Christians aren’t smarter? I mean, we have the only true religion, we have a Book which is responsible for all of Western Civilization, and we serve a God who can safely call Himself the supreme champion at every trivia contest. So why aren’t we smarter? Well, the reasons are many, but the goal of changing that condition is the driving passion of my life. Having taught college philosophy, my background is in equipping people to think better, and I used to think that talent was best used in the secular world. Three years ago, however, I was persuaded by some good counsel to turn my attention toward the Body of Christ, and that’s why I came to Phoenix to do my radio show weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m. on AM 1360 KPXQ.
Not thinking well is a sin.
God commands us very simply: Love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. Catch that last part … with all our mind. This means thinking is not optional for the Christian. Thinking, and thinking well, is a form of worship of God which is nothing short of obedience to His primary command. Hence, if we do not “use the brain God gave you,” (my mom’s favorite rhetorical chastisement), we are sinning.
Not thinking well is a scandal.
The most pervasive myth about Christianity is that it is incompatible with intelligence.
This is what I believed before I became one, and it made me not want to be one. I say it is a myth both because nothing demands more thinking capacity than being a faithful Christian and also because our history is rich with intellectual giants.
Nonetheless, Christianity has a reputation as a religion for fools, and this is at least partially our own fault. By offering empty platitudes such as, “Well, you have to have faith,” when challenged with difficult questions, outsiders can be forgiven for forming the impression that what we really mean is, “Well, you have to be stupid.” This puts people in the painful situation of feeling like they have to choose between their mind and God. Also, it makes Christianity offensive to the smartest people in society, who tend to be culture’s greatest influencers. Thus, simply showing non-Christians that one can be both smart and faithful is a powerful form of evangelism.
Fishers not just fish-eaters.
“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” Simple. Obvious. But, all too often, it’s not the guiding principle of Christian education.
Christians can be so concerned about having the right answers (good doctrine), that we fail to teach people the thinking skills and patterns which would lead them to these and other true conclusions. They may have the unreliable dogmatism which comes from mere repetition, but they lack the true confidence which comes from deep and honest examination of an idea. Sadly, it also means they do not have the ability to discover new answers for themselves in novel situations.
On my radio show, I deliberately do not provide people many answers because I am more interested in helping people learn how to think than I am in telling them what to think. My confidence is high that such ability will ultimately get them to the right place, and it will be a place of true security as well.
Disciples, not an audience.
Jesus mentored His disciples. He interacted with them. He answered their questions. He joked with them. And He corrected them. He didn’t lecture them. He lectured the masses. And I think the reason is simple. A lecture is not the ideal form of education.
The reasons are many. If a listener doesn’t like what is being said, he can simply ignore it. If he doesn’t understand or if he disagrees, he cannot easily inquire of the speaker. Because such questions go unanswered, other people miss out on having these questions answered. When the teacher fields questions, he replaces his own assumptions about his audience with real knowledge and can more accurately tune his teaching to the real needs they have.
Finally, I believe in collaboration rather than solo performances. Although I think I have many reliable insights worth saying, I’d rather talk with people and work together toward truth instead of just trusting in my own ideas too much. So my show is built around discussion rather than presentation. I am working with my listeners to fashion a product together rather than simply distributing to them a prefabricated one.
Haggling, not purchasing.
In the Mediterranean culture of the Bible, haggling was a way of life—and such negotiations provide a great way of coming to know someone. The process of haggling gains both friends and sharper minds. We are often baffled by this when we travel to that part of the world because Americans are so transaction oriented. “I agree,” “I disagree,” “I will buy,” or “I will not buy.” We are very comfortable with these types of shallow interactions. In the Mediterranean, the sellers understand that the product is insignificant compared with the relationship its sale can create.
In contrast, I think Americans are too concerned with conclusions instead of relationships. Thus, the key in my show is to find stimulating topics which cause people to want to talk with each other and build friendships. Whether we agree is not so much the issue, but whether we are able to love each other while we disagree and talk about it. That matters.
I was concerned when I took this job—concerned that my fellow Christians wouldn’t endure me because they wanted their own ideas reinforced rather than examined and challenged. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered vast numbers of Christians who were excited about the prospect of being made to think, even if they didn’t always agree with me. And so my audience and I have created an environment where we love each other not because we agree all the time, but because we enjoy the experience of talking it over together. Every day we collaborate to show that theology, like a good relationship, is not something to be purchased or rejected, but something to be enjoyed … together.
Andrew Tallman is the host of The Andrew Tallman Show and a columnist. Andrew’s show is heard daily on KPXQ in Phoenix. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This commentary originally posted on January 8, 2008.