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The celebration of the Christian mind

July 1995 | by Geoff Thomas

John Stott
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A biblical world-view is attained by means of a Christian mind. But few themes can produce such yawns as those two words. Back in 1963 the Anglo-Catholic clergyman Harry Blamires wrote a book of that title in which he said, ‘There is no longer a Christian mind’ (p.3). In the past thirty years it has become the book’s most quoted sentence. From John Stott (Your mind matters, p.20) in 1972 to Mark Noll (The scandal of the evangelical mind, p.5) in 1994, all sorts of writers have sheltered behind those words and nodded in agreement. At times it would seem that scarcely a single book on contemporary life could be published without the author lamenting the loss of the Christian mind.

Every Christian institution in America, its colleges, the Reconstructionists, the Dooyeweerdian Institute in Toronto, the Institute for Contemporary Christianity in London all gravely assert, ‘There is no Christian mind.’ But they’ve all got it! That’s the rub. ‘We are on the cutting edge of Christian thought. The scandal has been ended by us. Buy our books; enroll in our college; take our courses; listen to our tapes; sit at our feet and you too can have a Christian mind.’ We have tried it. You have tried it. Hence the yawns.

Are those dubious opinions, those questionable attitudes to politics, worship, feminism, the welfare state, homosexuality and war, the Christian mind? Is that what we did not have? We seemed wiser then.

A preposterous statement

‘There is no longer a Christian mind’-the statement is preposterous. It is looking back to a certain time, which Blamires does not specify, when, apparently, there was a Christian mind. And somehow that understanding which Christians had then they have now lost. Where has it gone?

Did Martin Luther have the Christian mind?
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Certainly anyone who said, ‘No Christian mind ever existed before me and my group’ would be laughed to scorn. Augustine without a Christian mind? Athanasius? William Tyndale? Luther? Calvin? Bunyan? Owen? Baxter? Milton? Whitefield? Wesley? Edwards? Dabney? Cunningham? Spurgeon? Kuyper? Hodge? Warfield? Machen? Schilder? Schaeffer? Van Til? Lloyd Jones? They all possessed Christian minds. as did those millions of anonymous believers whom they influenced and who helped make them what they became.

The need to be consistently Christian in every area of life is the stuff of true faith, and as old as Pentecost. Alexander Mather was one of Wesley’s ‘Veterans’, that is, one of those preachers who revived Christianity in England in the eighteenth century. After he had died his friend John Pawson wrote an account of his life in the Methodist Magazine in 1801 and observed, ‘Alexander Mather taught the necessity of carrying religion into every part of our conduct, into the closet, the family, the shop, or the market, in order that in all things it might appear that we walk with God.’ That is the Christian mind.

We think of North Wales slate quarrymen in their cabins in the lunch hours discussing theology. We think of a Wiltshire farmer rising to his feet in the prayer meeting and in hushed tones leading a congregation in adoration and confession. We think of the sacrifice of poor people to establish Christian schools in Holland. We think of women answering their interrogators at the Inquisition with wisdom and grace. We think of The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire in which John Kennedy preserved the memory of godly crofters and blacksmiths (‘the men’) whose high attainments were nothing more than the operation of the Spirit on the mind, who showed such ability to present and apply the truth. And in the north of Scotland and Wales and the Netherlands and the USA today is there none with a Christian mind? ‘The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him’ (Psalm 25:14).

God effectually sanctifies the mind

One would think that sanctification depended upon men, and that God had no ability to change men’s minds unless the stance of a certain magazine or movement or institution were adopted.

How different is the New Testament. ‘We’, says Paul in apostolic solidarity with the whole Corinthian church, ‘have the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16). And on that basis his characteristic appeal is for Christians to be what they are. ‘May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it’ (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Or again, ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 2:5). God has made everything new in a definitive act of sanctification for every true believer. The Holy Spirit who indwells us pervades every part of our beings; the Christian is a new creation: ‘I will put my laws in their minds’ (Hebrews 8:10). So work away at your salvation! ‘Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). ‘Set your minds on things above’ (Colossians 3:2). ‘Be made new in the attitude of your minds’ (Ephesians 4:23). ‘Your mind may somehow be led astray’ (2 Corinthians 11:3). ‘Prepare your minds for action’ (1 Peter 1:13).

All these exhortations and warnings are based upon the fact that God has transfigured our minds and that we are never to forget that fact. The body, soul and mind of every single Christian are members of Christ himself. The Corinthian church member who had gone to a prostitute was taking the members of Christ and uniting them with a harlot (1 Corinthians 6:15). He was not showing that his body was not the temple of the Holy Spirit. So, too, when a Christian starts thinking as covetously and lustfully and blasphemously as any unconverted man he is not proving that his mind is not the mind of Christ. Rather with the mind of Christ he is behaving abominably. Hence the theme of the exhortations in the epistles to be constantly ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2). That is progressive sanctification.

Blamires’ own views

So, pace Harry Blamires, it is historically and theologically unacceptable to say, ‘There is no longer a Christian mind.’ But what are Blamires’ own counsels to rediscover it? In the last analysis it will be found in the ‘voice of the church’ which he describes as ‘the authoritative vehicle of salvation in time’. Blamires says, ‘The church carries the institutional authority of a body established by God and guaranteed by our Lord as his own Body, the vehicle of his continuing life in time’ (p.143).

C. S. Lewis
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So the church makes statements and decrees; it publishes encyclicals and teaches the faithful to have a Christian mind. Blamires himself, as far as one knows, has not joined the early exodus of Anglo-Catholics from the Church of England to the Roman Church, though his son has become a Roman Catholic. So Blamires’ answer to his lack of a Christian mind is the informed sacerdotalist solution, like that of such men as C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and Vladimir Solovyev.

The evangelical Christian mind

What is the evangelical Christian mind? It has five elements.

1. A mind set upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is nothing more fundamental than that. The Christian mind has the most exalted view of the Lord Jesus. Conversion is basically an intellectual revolution concerning a person’s estimation of Christ. God persuades us that Jesus is his Son. I think of the elderly widow of a Welsh shepherd who was a member of our congregation. She had never been to the theatre; never read a play of Shakespeare; never heard a symphony of Beethoven; she had no interest in painting or politics, but her life was Jesus Christ. She walked and talked with him every day. She radiated her Saviour. All that thrilled her soul was Jesus. She had the richest Christian mind: it was set upon the Lord Jesus.

2. A biblical mind.

The Word of God ploughs the minds of Christians. One of the first things that regeneration does to a sinner is to persuade him of the divine authority and complete truthfulness of the Bible. God has taken great pains to give us a word of revelation that all men and women can understand. That is why he has given it. So it is our obligation to see and use that Word in order that we become utterly familiar with it. The Christian mind develops in apprehension of the Bible. The first piece of armour that the Christian soldier puts on is the girdle of truth.

3. A holy mind.

When Paul urges the Romans to be transformed by the renewing of their minds he explains in the following verses what he desires from them and it is in terms of the highest moral stringency: ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you … Do not repay anyone evil for evil … live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge … if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him something to drink … Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.’ That is the Christian mind; it is the mind of Matthew 5,6 and 7; it is the mind of Ephesians 5 and 6. We understand what is required of us; we assent to it; we set our minds on it and we do it. Thus we love God with all our minds. A Christian mind is God-fearing and righteous.

4. An undistracted mind.

There are people whose minds are characterized by neurotic anxiety, obsessionally preoccupied with the details of this life. This is a paralysing and irrational state of mind for a believer. It is not enough to be informed of apologetics, philosophy, culture and education while one is burdened with phobias. The Christian mind is a mind at peace. There are normative emotions which God requires from us as much as revealed doctrines or principles of conduct. Those are love, joy, contentment in whatever state we are in, freedom from worry and depression. God in Scripture comes to men and challenges their state of mind, ‘Why are you angry? What are you doing here? Why are you cast down?’ The Christian mind is undistracted.

5. A mind fascinated with all creation.

A consequence of becoming a Christian is not that subsequently nothing matters but the local church. God cannot want that, for throughout Scripture the writers are interested in everything in God’s creation-music, mining, beauty, agriculture, commerce and military matters. They had this great view of God’s creation and everything that God had bestowed upon his world. John Calvin was one of the great humanist scholars of his day. John Wesley was a classicist at Oxford. Kuyper loved mountain climbing. B. B. Warfield wrote hundreds of articles on shorthorn cattle: born on a farm he never got that out of his mind, and why should he? A man, asked if he had any siblings, replied that he had two brothers, one being a preacher and the other was a human being. Such tensions must never be, because the earth and its fulness are God’s.