Years ago there was a commercial that had to do with advancing the cause of higher education among minority students. The caption at the end of the segment read “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Even now that statement remains with me, and still makes sense when applied to life in the church.
We sang an interesting hymn last Sunday morning entitled, “We Praise You with our Minds, O Lord.” It went well with our emphasis for the day, as we hosted Dr. Molly Marshall, President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to hearing a challenging message on the importance of theological education, I was given several additional remarks from church members about this hymn. There is a consensus at UHBC that God expects us to continue thinking and growing in the faith.
You don’t hear much about “praising God with our minds” in some Baptist circles. I remember Dr. Fisher Humphreys giving one definition of theology as “loving the Lord with our minds” which definitely fits with Jesus’ instructions to love the Lord your God with all your “heart, mind, soul, and strength.” The Apostle Paul instructed believers to have “the mind of Christ.” And what a mind that must have been! Jesus never was at a lack for words in responding to challenges from the religious establishment of his day. He was the greatest preacher and teacher who ever lived, and quoted frequently from the Pentateuch. He could match wits with anyone, yet knew how to relate to even the most uneducated with stories that could instruct and entertain at the same time.
It grieves me when I hear preachers downplaying the importance of education. I have found that most of these individuals never put in the mental and emotional effort required to earn their theological stripes. For some reason, these same pastors who warn against folks with earned doctorates also do whatever they can to get a “Dr.” in front of their name by going to a degree mill institution. I sat in seminary classrooms and watched in disbelief as men who came to school in cowboy hats openly criticized the positions of professors who had decades of study and reading under their theological belts. The ignorance of these men was exceeded only by their apathy toward learning anything that might challenge some of their presuppositions. Why attend seminary if you already know everything?
It’s not easy to be open to learning a new theological trick or two. And it doesn’t necessarily mean sending your belief system down the river without a paddle. I do think it means approaching our faith with an open Bible and an open mind, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. This is not always an easy task, and requires prayer, reading, reflection, and dialogue with believers and non-believers alike. This can be a frightening prospect, especially for those persons who think they know it all already. Pride can be a real obstacle to learning, and a little humility never hurt anyone. Discussing a theological position doesn’t necessarily mean that you accept it as your own position. It also doesn’t mean you have to villify the person who disagrees with you.
Unfortunately, Baptists haven’t really been known for loving the Lord with our minds. Some folks might question whether Baptists have any mind at all based on some decisions that have been handed down through the years. One notable piece of evidence relates to Dr. Adrian Rogers who once said that if Southern Baptists believed pickles have souls, then that’s what they should be teaching in the seminaries. There are also examples of seminaries treating women like they don’t have a mind at all. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, for example, is giving academic credit to women for taking homemaking courses in food preparation and hospitality. This is important as some level, but surely not at a seminary where there is a brief window of opportunity to instruct people about biblical studies, theology, church history, ethics, and pastoral ministry.
It’s possible to be a loving, caring, and thinking follower of Christ. We don’t need to “check our mind at the door” when we enter the church house for worship. Now, more than ever, Baptists need to be a thinking people. With the diversity of religions out there, we ought to treat the faith questions of searchers very seriously. The church hasn’t had an unblemished record through the years, and we haven’t always done justice to the teachings of Christ. We all have some learning to do.
Blessed are those Baptist churches where honest theological searching takes place is a loving, safe atmosphere. It is more challenging to lead this kind of congregation, but the effort is well worth it. We must always remember to lift up Jesus Christ rather than a set of propositions about the Bible. Ours is a living, dynamic faith rather than a cold, dead orthodoxy. The church that is always being reformed and changing is one that is still growing. We don’t need to codify our beliefs into a set of propositions or insist upon compliance from our members in order to work together for the cause of Christ. Nobody said being a Baptist was easy, especially a “thinking Baptist”.
Let’s make sure the term isn’t an oxymoron.