great thinkers

Great Christian Thinkers

Today’s Christians find themselves facing a frustrating dilemma. On the one hand, Christianity seems to be increasingly maligned by its contemporaries. As Mary Eberstadt notes in the TIME article “Regular Christians Are No Longer Welcome in American Culture,” “Secularism has catapulted mockery of Christianity into the mainstream and set a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs.” As she points out, stories of attacks on Christian beliefs and insults to believers’ personal image have become increasingly common. In response, many Christians have become understandably incensed. Unfortunately, some Christians have decided to fight fire with fire, preferring to vent their outrage instead of finding ways to promote intelligent discussion with our fellow man. Such a response only invites further criticism, creating a vicious cycle of attacks from both sides. 

As I consider these issues, I realize that our current world desperately needs someone to speak truth into such heated conversations. We need a rising group of intelligent Christian thinkers, who can converse with others in a way that is helpful and effective. As a freshman in college, I discovered a path towards that goal in a rather unlikely place: Maranatha’s Introduction to Humanities course. The structure of this class created a perfect outline for how to become the Christian thinker this world desperately needs.

You Need to Read

Human beings have an innate desire to be understood. We want to be known as unique individuals with our own beliefs, talents, achievements, and perspectives on the world around us. For those of us who are Christians, however, it can be easy for us to go through life without ever interacting with people whose beliefs and perspectives differ from our own. Yet if we fail to understand the world we live in and the people we share it with, we will fail to reach it for Christ.

One way we can broaden our horizons of understanding in this area is to read—and to read a lot. In Introduction to Humanities, we read everything from contemporary articles about the nature of humanity to poems from Greek philosophers. Our goal was simple: to broaden our perspectives about individuals, communities, and culture in general. As we learned about different ideologies and worldviews through the pieces we read, we developed our ability to connect with the people who hold them in real life.

You Need to Write

While reading is of course valuable, merely reading something does not guarantee that it will stick with us as readers. We have to learn to process what we read. As I took Introduction to Humanities, I learned how to use writing to understand my reading more deeply. For every reading, we had to write an analysis that showed our thoughts, questions, and comments on the text. This writing helped us synthesize our thoughts on the concepts we were learning; even now I find myself writing questions or taking notes as I read without a second thought, later realizing that I find the answer after I’ve read the work in its entirety. Writing, even if it is just some scribbles in a notebook, takes the jumbled mess of thoughts in your head and solidifies them into more concrete ideas.

An added bonus of becoming a skilled writer is the impact it can have on the outside world. Writing isn’t just for personal growth; it’s designed as a form of communication. Writers who take the time to study and hone their craft can use that talent to deepen other people’s understanding of the world and its Creator.

You Need to Discuss

No matter how much we read and write, we’ll never have all the answers. No matter how broad our perspectives or how varied our life experiences may be, we each hold only a sliver of the entire picture. In order to gain a more nuanced understanding of the world, we need to discuss our thoughts with other people. Other people will have different insights—and may come to different conclusions.

An unfortunate (and unintentional) byproduct of growing up in a Christian subculture is the “bubble effect”—being stuck inside the bubble of one belief system, and therefore never hearing conflict, controversy, or differing opinions, not to mention the life experience that the world provides. Unfortunately, this may hinder Christians from truly understanding differing perspectives, thus hampering honest and effective discussion.

To be clear, biblical truths are—and always will be—our foundation. But if we are not willing to tackle complex issues, we do these truths an injustice, making them trite and cliché in a world that is desperately searching for answers. When difficult issues are discussed, the truth ultimately takes on a deeper meaning.

We found such success in our own class discussions. Although we all had different ideas about the topic of the day, we found depth in the melding of different viewpoints. Our ideas were varied, but our goal was the same: to find a deeper understanding of the truth, no matter the complexity.

With this goal in mind, controversy shouldn’t be shunned, but acknowledged. As long as the foundation remains secure, conflicting opinions will help push fellow believers towards a strong answer on a complex topic.

Now What?

Now is the time to go and put the lifestyle into practice.  Read up on the beliefs and cultures in this world, write and outline what you find, and discuss it with thinkers around you. We have to be willing to step out from the masses and study deeper for ourselves.

Christians should be “Renaissance Men of Thought,” so to speak, able to meet people where they are and able to understand the world they live in. Christian thinkers are not afraid to look at other perspectives because they know what they believe and why they believe it. They understand opposing views and can discuss those views graciously. but at the end of the day, their belief rests in what they know to be true about God. It is this kind of Christian thinker who can win the opposition’s respect, engage effectively with diverse perspectives, and, ultimately, reflect Christ to a world in need of his truth.