I’m Gonna Think So God Can Use Me

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Luke 4:14-21

Looking back… though I didn’t know it at the time… it is clear that growing up… I belonged to a thinking church… a church with a “heady” faith… This was true not only of us, but most of the mainline churches: Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians… We didn’t go in for all of that touchy feely emotional stuff… We left that to the charismatics and the Baptists… Who often questioned whether or not we even had faith because were not emotional enough…

If you had attended Riverside Presbyterian Church, here is what you could have expected…

  • Very orderly worship… Not as rigid as the Episcopalians… but decent and orderly…
  • The sermon… always 3 points and a poem/joke… Very well thought out and laid out… They were often printed after worship for us to read and digest… and You would see the introduction, the Roman numerals… and the closing poem or joke… Very predictable… Sort of helped you know when the end was coming…
  • The titles were heady… I remember Lee Stoffel preaching on “Making Sense of a Three Person God”… A sermon on the trinity

That was my religious heritage… rooted firmly in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition… a tradition that believed that the life of the mind is meant for the service of God…  Or to quote an old ad for the United Negro College Fund,  “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”

We would not have been big on “truthiness”… that Stephen Colbert made famous.

Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” to describe the intuitive, not always rational feeing we get that something is just right.”The word “truthiness” was chosen as the “Word of the Year” in 2006.Basically, what he is saying is this: “If it feels right, it must be true… regardless of the facts”

Many Christians have done the same thing for years… appealing to gut feeling alone… suspending the mind… even suspecting the mind. I remember seeing a bumper sticker that said, “If the King James Version of the Bible was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me!”. That is faith based on feeling, not facts…

This  has not been our tradition… We believe in loving God not only with heart… BUT ALSO MIND…

Jesus, surely would approve… He said as much in the great commandment… and contrary to what many believe… he was not an illiterate carpenter without access to the marketplace of ideas. As one author pointed out, he lived on the Silk Road… a trading road between east and west… he would have been exposed to ideas from Greek philosophers… he would have been exposed to mysticism… And we haven’t even mentioned his command of scriptures…

Today’s text is but one example… more than once he was seen teaching in the synagogue… and he opens the scroll to read the scroll. He could read.

He was known as a rabbi… teacher among his followers and the crowd. Respected for his insight and wisdom. He could go head to head (so to speak) with the well-educated Pharisees and Sadducees… and even Pilate… he could out quote scripture to the Devil…

When asked test questions… he was able to respond with intelligence. He told parables that mystified the educated and spoke to the simple.

No, he was no simple carpenter with a 1st grade education… He knew what he believed and why he believed it… his life and ministry and teachings…

This was true of the Christian leaders that followed… Christian faith especially spread as Paul—well educated Paul… put his mind to work in understanding and explaining what God had done in Christ. Read Romans… it is not a touchy feely book… but a letter to Christians in Rome, trying to explain what God had done in Jesus… It is a book for the mind…

Sad to say, we do not live in an age that honors this style of faith very well. We used to lift up the Niebuhrs and great thinkers like Karl Barth in our culture as great thinkers of faith… People used to throng to hear Harry Emerson Fosdick or George Buttrick line out a reasoned argument of the faith. And if you don’t know who I am talking about, you understand my point.

The great preachers of the last century were thinking preachers… Not so much today. Today, we are drawn to entertainers…

Tom Long, Professor of Homiletics once commented that the greatest heresy the Church faces today is not atheism. It is superficiality.

This becomes a difficult problem for Christian faith and especially for Presbyterians… There seems to be a mood in America that places a higher value on religious emotion uncritically examined and sentimentality (truthiness)… than on the life of the mind in the service of God. [i]

Unchecked emotion can be dangerous sometimes. Sharon and I saw the movie “Selma” and one thing you notice is how emotion led to hatred and bigotry and even murder.

Our heritage embraces the mind as a gift to be used by God.  Augustine and Anselm – ancient Christians spoke of “Faith seeking understanding” and how faith helps us understand… and how reason corrects and clarifies faith. In other words, God gave the faithful a mind in order to use it! Calvin would say we should be using our minds for God’s glory.

Calvin made knowledge as well as personal commitment a condition for admission to communion table. He was convinced that Christians should know what they believed and why they believed it.

How many Christians today can tell you “what they believe and why they believe it…” One reason agnosticism and atheism… and books by people like Richard Dawkins gain popularity is because far too many Christians are not able to articulate what they believe and why they believe it.

Which is a loss not only for the church but for the world…

We do well to remember that Calvin was a first rate humanist scholar before he became a reformer. His liberal arts education left a lasting imprint upon the whole future of the Reformed tradition that exists to this day… My theology professor, John Leith reminded us our contributions:

“Where ever the Reformed community went, it established schools alongside the church not only to teach the Bible or to teach reading and other skills to study the Bible, but also to teach the whole range of liberal arts in order to liberate the human spirit…” [ii]

 “Reformed Christians have always applied their mind to the study of the historical sources of our faith, especially of the Bible and of the intention of Jesus Christ for the Christian and the church…

From the very beginning, the Reformed church sponsored learning as Christian duty… valuing skills of language, reading, writing and speaking… They prized clarity, logic and precision in mental procedure. The valued the ability to analyze a problem and to formulate an answer…”

[iii]

As hard as it is for heart types to believe… it is this way of being a Christian that has led to the conversion of many people.

Perhaps in my lifetime no one did this better than CS Lewis… himself converted by arguments about the faith… He wrote volumes of books that speak to logic and the mind: Mere Christianity, The Case of Christianity, Miracles and more… Many have read Lewis have been convinced by his arguments and responses to atheism… agnosticism… as he embraced the faith…

The burden that head types sometimes have to bear is that in the midst of all of their thinking and reasoning… sometimes faith can become little more than an intellectual exercise… rather than a faith commitment. In fact they turn reason into an idol… not seeing that there are limits to reason.

They forget that faith seeks understanding… faith makes sense of the world around us and our lives… but understanding alone is not enough… It can be dangerous for some people.

I will never forget the preacher Fred Craddock talking about how we sometimes analyze things to death. He pointed out that sometimes when a preacher or scholar  looks at a passage… uses all of the historical criticism and biblical tools at our disposal to help us understand the text… if we do that without coming back to what the text is trying to say to us as a matter of faith… well that is dangerous.

It is like we have been doing surgery on a person… opening up the person… examining them… and then we forget to put them back together… If we do that, we don’t have a living person, we have a corpse… That can happen to faith as well… So we need to be careful as we rely on our thinking alone which is always limited.

Good thing to remember… while we use our minds in the service of God…

While we may not be appreciated, I believe head types have an important role to play in the renewal of the church.

The world needs someone to make sense of their faith in a modern world… just as has been the case sense Paul was trying to make sense out of his faith in Christ to his world – steeped in both a Jewish and Roman tradition…

 

I believe we are blessed to be a part of a tradition that offers that to the world.

The reason we encourage you to read the Bible… to read books about faith, theolgy and even about the world… is that we believe the life of the mind serves God.

 

Sometimes someone will tell me that a book they are reading is hard. Sometimes they say it challenges them… or is over their head. Well… good! It means you are stretching the muscle called your mind!

 

What I am trying to share with you is actually very simple.

 

Years ago I was attending a conference and the leader told me about the slogan of a church he once worked with. And when he shared their vision, I thought to myself… “yes, that’s it”… that’s what I want to be a part of … that is what I think would honor God….The church described themselves this way. (Our church is) “ Where life in it’s fullness is experienced through “Spiritual Depth and Intellectual Integrity”

 

Spiritual depth and intellectual integrity. I dream that dream for myself…and I dream that dream for you at the Kirk…

 

What that looks like to me is doing exactly what we are doing… understanding our spiritual types… as we are now… trying to go deeper spiritually…  It means becoming a more literate congregation where members can explore the meaning of their faith… in small groups… in a variety of classes… and even in worship…  Where we learn the basic biblical stories… basic theology… as the foundation for the never ending task of faith seeking understanding…

 

I think we live in a world where people hunger for spiritual depth and intellectual integrity. When I read or hear authors attacking the faith… it is often a very simplistic view of faith… that assumes we are all dumb. Drives me crazy!

 

For I know… I know there is more to faith than truthiness… I stand proudly and firmly in the part of the family of faith that believes the life of  the mind is important in the service of God…

 

Indeed, if I’m gonna live so God can use me… I’m not going to check my mind at the door… I’m going to use my mind… all of my mind… so God can use me… anywhere… an

[i] Insights from Loving God with Our Minds: The Vocation of Theological Education by Michael Jinkins

 

[ii] John Leith, p 77 ff- Introduction to the Reformed Tradition

[iii] Ibid p 78

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