Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Life of the Mind

Cliiford Williams, The Life of the Mind: A Christian Perspective. Baker Academic, 2002. ISBN 080102336x

"Our danger has not been too much thinking, but not enough."
                                                                          Nathan Hatch

Clifford Williams in The Life of the Mind: A Christian Perspective presents a book-length essay on why thinking is important to the life of the Christian. He states that Christians are faced with a dilemma in regards to the life of the mind: "Christians have mixed feelings about purely intellectual pursuits. On the one hand, many believe that thinking and learning can enrich faith and devotion.... Other Christians, however, are suspicious of too much thinking and learning and even more so of a life devoted to them. Those who hold this opinion are convinced not only that thinking and learning are useless to faith and devotion but that they are likely to undermine faith and devotion. To these Christians, being a thinker does not comport well with being a Christian" (9).

Why do Christians side with two different camps in regards to the life of the mind? Why do some Christians see the life of the mind as beneficial to the Christian faith and other Christians see it as a danger to the Christian faith? I have to admit in much of my association in churches the view that sees intellectual life as a danger to the faith has been exhibited more than seeing it as a strength? The encouragement for intellectual life has come more from reading books than from activity in church. This is strange since many of the great saints of the faith have been great intellectuals:  the apostle Paul, Clement of Alexandria, Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, C. S. Lewis and others. Why do Christians see faith and reason opposed to one another?

I would like to relate my experience with two of these thinkers: Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. First, some of the things I have learned from Thomas Aquinas. I have learned from the example of Thomas Aquinas that both the life of the mind and the devotional life can be cultivated in the same person. Second, I have learned that faith and reason are not only compatible, but can enrich each other. Third, I have learned that both the world and the body is good because it is created from God.

Recently, I have felt the need to deepen my spiritual life. I have chosen Saint Augustine as my guide to help me to cultivate a deeper spiritual life. I have been reading him for some months now and have found him to be an excellent companion in seeking to cultivate, a deeper, spiritual life. He has shown me both the need to know my self and God. I need to be alone and quiet before God. I need to allow Him to speak to me in a still, small voice. Saint Augustine was a sinner who struggled with sin as I am. He had a great thirst for God as evident in his Confessions which portrays his quest for God. He was a pastor who sought to follow God in a very busy life. He can show me how to follow God in an active life.

As has been shown in these two examples, faith and reason do not necessarily conflict. Faith can enhance reason and reason can enhance faith. We can pursue God in an active life or a solitary life. There are many models in the Christian tradition that can help us live a deeper, spiritual and intellectual life.

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