Analysis of the Modern Evangelical Mind and the Lost Art of Boxing

Before I begin my mind-walk, let me say something briefly about the knotty term “evangelical.”

David Bebbington in his “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s” mentions four key marks of “evangelicalism”: conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism (the cross) and activism (activity).” (See review of Bebbington and Al Mohler’s “Thinking in Public: in conversation with David Bebbington). Bebbington lumps the Puritans together with Arminians (e.g. Methodists) where he gives more weight to Wesleyan Methodism than to the Puritans (Calvinists). When I refer to the “modern evangelical” mind, I am referring to the Arminian evangelical who thinks that thinking about Jesus can get in the way of believing in Jesus. I now examine one of these “modern evangelical” minds.

Walking with Jesus, all Christians would agree, often involves talking to others about Jesus. Talking, naturally, involves thinking. The main operation of thought is categorising. Many modern evangelicals rebel against “boxing in” Jesus into categories. My aim in this post is to argue that “boxing in” and “boxing,” (categorising) are not the same process.

To describe one’s beliefs, or anything, you have to use words, which is the usual human way of expressing thoughts. Some words are more important than others. These are called “key” words. Problems arise in communication because of contradictory definitions of these key words.

When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it.

Here is a typical comment I received from and evangelical Christian on one of my posts about Calvinism and Arminianism:

“Can I make a suggestion, because these terms – Calvinian, Arminian.. etc.. – have never occurred to me in my walk with our Lord, Jesus Christ – I don’t even know who Spurgeon is (and I’m sure many others can say the same) this kind of thing can just spread confusion with different followings. I’d suggest we continue to Humbly study the Word, and do what is commanded of us. That is to spread and teach the gospel; to continue to seek the Kingdom of God first; to ask Forgiveness and to repent of our sins… but all the time to remember that God sees and weighs up the heart – so whatever we do or say, may it be with an examined heart, or we could fall into a trap ourselves. Using terms like Arminian and Calvinism is putting people in boxes – this is the thing the world does. We don’t do this – because its putting man-made limits and assumptions up. I believe that God, in his sovereignty, does as He pleases. Has mercy on whom He pleases, gives understanding to whomever he wants at whatever time suits Him and his ultimate plan.”

“I think that some understanding and having our eyes opened brings us to the point where we can do nothing but be humbled, quietened, moved by our God. A seeing person can only be effected and touched by what he sees. Maybe its like a person who is slowly gaining strength back in his/her legs… he can do more and more each day that his strength is renewed. But, that person with the weak legs has to go to the doctor first to get worked on. Jesus Christ didn’t just go to people and spontaneously heal them. The people came to and called on Him. These man-made terms and translations mean nothing to me personally – I wont be put into a box. Its like the rest of the world.. if you’re like this, you’re Aries or a Dragon.. Fill in these questions that our Well Learned Psychologists have put together and we will tell you Who you are and What Category you fit into….. harumph! No thanx.”

The problem with this view is summed up in the writer’s last paragraph, specifically the misunderstanding of the term “category”:

“These man-made terms and translations mean nothing…I wont be put into a box… Fill in these questions that our Well Learned Psychologists have put together and we will tell you Who you are and What Category you fit into…” (My italics).

Categorizing is the mother of all mental processes. What do we do when we categorize? Here is a thesaurusful:

Words related to (that is, the semantic field of) Categorise

analyze, ascertain, distinguish, characterize, classify, collate, decide, demarcate, determine, diagnose, differentiate, discriminate, estimate, figure out, identify, judge, know, label, mark off, pinpoint, place, qualify, recognize, select, separate, set apart, set off, sift, single out, singularize, sort out, specify, spot, tag, tell apart.”

Now, obviously, the writer does not advocate that when we study the Bible or talk to others about it we should not differentiate, select, diagnose (something psychiatrists do very well), sift, and so on.

The writer says:
“I’d suggest we continue to Humbly study the Word, and do what is commanded of us. That is to spread and teach the gospel; to continue to seek the Kingdom of God first; to ask Forgiveness and to repent of our sins… but all the time to remember that God sees and weighs up the heart – so whatever we do or say, may it be with an examined heart, or we could fall into a trap ourselves.”

This is good advice. My question is: How is one going to teach the Gospel to enemies of the Gospel, which all human beings are in their natural state? The writer asks: “Why try to analyze it all? God is not subject to any laws or rules.”

I answer: the fact of the matter is that the writer and I understand a key doctrine of scripture in opposite ways, namely, I hold the Calvinist view that sinners play no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while she says that sinners cooperate with God by turning their hearts to God, that is, by striving (exerting their will, with help from God – “prevenient grace”) to come to faith. Her view is Arminianism. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something that God gives, as Calvinism understands it.

Obviously there is much sifting, demarcating, differentiating, categorising, analysing going on. In “Analysis,” we break things down, where we move down the ladder of abstraction from the general to the particular. Here is Hayakawa’s graphic explaining the ladder of abstraction. (S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, George Allen & Unwin, 2e edition (1973, London).

(See here for further clarification).

Here is an example from scripture. A large section of the New Testament deals with explaining what is meant by Jesus is the Son of God; for example, in John’s Gospel and Paul’s epistles. Paul spends much effort – mental, analytical effort – explaining what “Jesus the Son of God” means. Three thousand years ago, the psalmist asks:

[1] Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

[2] The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together,

against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,

[3] “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

[7] I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”

Why do the unbelievers rage when they hear: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” The reason, the Bible explains, is that their “hearts” are darkened. “Heart” in the Bible refers to man’s internal(ised) determination to disobey God, and what better way to do it, says the modern man, than to deny that God has a Son, or worse, God does not exist.

Now, a follower of Christ like the Apostle Paul or like many modern Christians will want to – indeed are commanded to – defend the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. To do that you’ll have to use your noggin and not your bottom – unless you’re sitting down. And that is where “analysis” is pretty useful.

Definition of analysis
1580s, “resolution of anything complex into simple elements” (opposite of synthesis), from M.L. analysis, from Gk. analysis “a breaking up, a loosening, releasing,” from analyein “unloose, release, set free; to loose a ship from its moorings,” in Aristotle, “to analyze,” from ana “up, throughout” (see ana-) + lysis “a loosening,” from lyein “to unfasten” (see lose). Psychological sense is from 1890.
(Synthesis, the opposite of Analysis, is putting things together).

Walking with Jesus will have to also involve thinking about Jesus and how to explain to non-believers how to think about Jesus and Jesus as the Son of God. To do so does not mean that you have to talk about ladders of abstraction and other such theoretical concepts. Nonetheless, when you do explain a biblical doctrine such as the divinity of Jesus, you are trawling – in your noggin – with Jesus up and down the mental ladder of abstraction. Theology, the science of God, is based on the same principles as Hayakawa’s ladder of abstraction above. To return to “Jesus is the Son of God. In 1, Moving from the bottom up, we move from Jesus through Son to God. But it is not a simple as that, for in 2, we see that “Son” only applies to Jesus, and not to other sons; the Son is God and the Father is God.

My explanation is “analytical.” So walking with Jesus should also involve analysing Jesus (the concept) for ourselves and (unless we do it ourselves we can’t do it) to others. “Analyse” means use your reason to give reasons for the faith that you have received, and defend the body of teachings (doctrines) that pertain to this faith. The Bible is clear: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” ( 1 Peter 3:15). There are many examples of Jesus and Paul reasoning (analysing, and synthesising) with their listeners. One important topic in this regard was the authenticity of the historical events in the scriptures. Paul was a master “apologist” (defender) of the Gospel. “Apologetics” is a very important part of learning and teaching the faith.

Having established that we need categories to know how to “apologise” (defend) for our faith, that is, walk the walk with Jesus, I can safely say that we also need categories to establish how a person comes to Christ – the Arminian or the Calvinist way (or, what is very bothersome, the Calvinist-Arminian and the Arminian-Calvinist way) which is closely bound up with what is meant by the “Sovereignty of God.”

They (people who don’t read – books) say that books aren’t everything. But that does not mean that books are nothing. Similarly with the mind; “the mind isn’t everything” does not mean that the mind is nothing. Actually when it comes to living the Christian life, reading (and thinking that is required to read) are important. As is very clear from the scriptures, minds can be darkened by more than lack of information. For example, the Gospels are very clear that most, if not all, the disciples, were “slow of heart” to understand Jesus. Peter got it most in the neck from Jesus. Jesus kept on telling the disciples that he was to suffer, die and rise again, but they couldn’t take it in because they didn’t want to; they were not expecting a suffering Messiah but a victorious one.

Happy analysing, in other words, bottoms up.

(See A Jewish view of a French Bottom)

1S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, George Allen & Unwin, 2e edition (1973, London)

Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s

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