With All Your Mind – A Critical Faith

February 22nd, 2012 9:27 am

Did you know that Great Britain’s SCM just wrapped up their annual conference “With All Your Mind”? Below is a blog from John M. Hull originally posted on www.movement.org.uk where you can find more instalments reflecting on the event. 

Leading up to SCM’s Annual Conference ‘With All Your Mind’, the professor and theologian John Hull writes the first of a series of blog posts reflecting on the theme of this year’s conferene and asks, “what does it mean to love God with all your mind?”:

Valentine cards usually show a heart, perhaps with an arrow through it. I have never known one which showed a head with an axe through it, although since it is with the brain that we respond to a loved one, the axed brain might stand as well as the arrowed heart for the experience of being smitten by love.

In our culture, it is with what we call the heart that we express emotions, and it is with the brain that we think. True, in other cultures, both past and present, other organs of the body have been regarded as the location of thought and sensation, but let us stay with our own culture for the time being. What is it, then, for us, to love God with the mind?

It would not be useful to commence our enquiry by asking about love, for the point of the biblical saying is that there are various forms of love, or ways of loving. We need to ask what is different about each of the ways, through the heart, the soul, and the mind. We have to ask what is typical of the mind, or what are the characteristics of the life of the mind.

The main feature of the mind, which we may also describe as the intelligence or as reason, is to know. It may be, as some argue, that all our knowledge comes through our senses, but it is the mind which integrates, interprets and forms an opinion about what the senses receive. It is these characteristics of knowing, or of forming what we take to be knowledge, that leads us to consider other features of thinking. The problem is that our senses can mislead us, and we are vulnerable to self deception. Therefore, the mind must discriminate, assess, evaluate, and either decide or defer decision.

To love with the mind is therefore to do what the mind does best, and what it alone does, and what it must do to be itself, namely, to criticise. It is at this point that some Christians hesitate. Who are we to criticise God, and how can merely human reason venture upon such a task? Would it not be to give in to doubt if we accept the necessity of criticism?

Although at first, these questions seem formidable, on closer inspection they must be answered by pointing out that the very nature of Christian faith as we have received it summons us to criticism. Remember that criticism is not necessarily negative. Let us take the Bible as an example. The text of the Bible exists in many thousands of ancient documents, and more are being discovered. This means that there is a continual and on going labour to compare these and to recommend the best possible text, that is, the one which is most likely to be nearest to the originals, all of which have been lost centuries ago. It is true that most of these variations are quite small, but the principle remains that in order to be faithful to the Bible, it is necessary to adopt a critical mind toward it.

This principle applies not only to the textual problems of scripture, but also to biblical doctrines. The ability to organise and make patterns is another important function of our minds, and the problem is that the huge variety of biblical thought and expression is difficult to organise into patterns. This is why there have been so many attempts to create systematic theologies; the Bible is compatible with many such attempts. So this is another sense in which the Christian faith demands our critical response.

Let us take a particular theological doctrine or belief, faith in God. God commands us to love God. By what authority does God make this demand? Now we are faced with a choice. Either we can provide reasons for obeying God, or reasons for regarding God as an authority, or we cannot. If we cannot, but can only say that we must obey because it is God, and it is what God wills, then God is a tyrant. God commands this, but God could just as well command something else. That would reduce us to mere puppets, or robots or slaves, and we would have to ask why did God provide us with minds, only to deny us the possibility of using them?

Well, perhaps God is an authority but not authoritarian. To be an authority is to have reasons for what you say but to be authoritarian is simply to tell people. And God does have reasons. In Christian faith, God is at least personal, and our vocation is to become fully person. But that requires that we learn to be responsible, to choose what is best for ourselves and for others, and to learn how to love. God, who created us, seeks through ways that are compatible with personhood to grow us into personhood. And that involves us in developing maturity of judgement, an accepting the truth which has become true for us through the processes of our living and thinking.

But if love must be free, and cannot be compelled, why does the verse say, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind’? In the light of what we have seen about the mind, this verse means that we are to love God thoughtfully, always being aware of what we are called to do, constantly vigilant to examine ourselves and our faith, so that the mind, in loving God, does what is proper to it, and through the characteristics of the mind, learns how to love God.

To some extent, we are responsible for the choices we make about how to use the gift of intelligence. The command of God is that we should choose to use our minds to love not only God but also ourselves, others and the world.

-John M Hull Honorary Professor of Practical Theology in The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education and Emeritus Professor of Religious Education in The University of Birmingham.  You can book your place for ‘With All Your Mind’ here.

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