An exhortation I gave to New St. Andrews students the other day…
Since we are coming down to the end of the school year and weather is warming up, I thought it would be good to remind you that part of the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our brains. Moses taught Israel this, and Jesus reaffirms it in the gospels. This means that part of the living sacrifice we are called to offer to God is how we think. Failure to think, failure to think carefully, failure to think courageously, failure to think creatively are all failures of worship, failures to love God with our minds and thoughts.
So how are we tempted to check our brains at the door?
I’ve seen this in two ways at New St. Andrews. Basically, you have the nerds and the bad boys. And just so we’re clear, this may or may not have anything to do with fashion awareness. But the nerds come in enamored with NSA ready for their Christian culture hit, they’re looking for the button that says Download Christian Worldview Here. In other words, brains got checked at the door and now information is going into the house like so many old lady knick-knacks and the lights are on but nobody is home. There’s no critical interaction taking place. On the other hand, you have the intellectual bad boys. They like to wear their hats backward, academically speaking. If the prof says that modern art sucks, the intellectual bad boy will studiously cultivate a love for modern art. If the prof says that Eastern Orthodoxy is a black hole for father-hungry hipsters, the intellectual bad boy will flirt with just enough Orthodoxy to worry his mom but not enough to actually get expelled. Academic faithfulness means humility and courage, submission and creativity. But getting this balance right takes hard work. It’s easier to check your brain at the door. It’s easier to be lazy and call it submission. It’s easier to be rebellious and call it courage. Idolatry always seems easier.
I remember several years ago an NSA student came into my office and asked, in all seriousness if it was OK to do private devotions. The student had heard a number of critiques of highly individualistic pietism, where one’s spirituality is measured solely by sheer hours spent in private devotions or the number of private ecstatic experiences one has had. That’s one ditch surely, but the other ditch is a non-existent devotional life, where the only prayers you pray are at the Bible study, at church on Sunday, or before meals – or where the only Scripture you carefully read and study is for homework or for the Bible study you have to lead. There’s no need to be legalistic or cranky, but your spiritual life should be thought of a lot like your physical life. You feed and wash and clothe your body, don’t you? Do you need an accountability group to make sure you shower? (Maybe some of you do.) Do you only wait for Sunday to eat? No, your personal, private devotional life ought to flow into and directly out of your communal life. This takes hard work. This takes mental discipline. But your mind needs to be set on things above.
Finally, remember that the devil is a prowling lion, seeking whom he may devour. And sometimes Christian kids at a Christian college are some of the easiest victims. They’ll be studying St. Augustine late into the night getting ready for a final, and then somebody will come up with a brilliant idea that includes charades, the Chronicles of Narnia, and shots of Tequila. Or they’ll finish finals and all go out and watch the most recent artsy sewer thriller at the theater. Somebody heard that one of the screenwriters has a friend with a pet schnauzer who gets groomed by the second cousin of John Piper. (I bet it’s pretty good.) Or maybe you’re courting or dating somebody, and since you’re in Moscow, you (or your parents) just assume that Doug Wilson automatically issues a golden halo to every couple. Or maybe you’re lonely, you haven’t got any deep friendships here, but there’s a friendly pagan boy who occasionally chats with you at the park. Or maybe you’d never dream of stepping out of line here, but in a few weeks you’ll be heading home for the summer, and maybe, just maybe you’re thinking you can finally relax, have a little fun, see some old friends, and nobody will know. Be on guard. Be vigilant in your mind, in your thoughts. Little compromises are training for big ones.
What does your brain do? What are your thoughts like? Does your brain worship Jesus? Does your mind take every thought captive to the Lordship of Christ? No brain does perfectly, but if we confess our sins, the sins of our brains, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness. This is part of the mind of God.
But this isn’t meant merely as a guilt exercise. I’m not trying to stir up a bunch of paranoia, stressing everybody out. I’m honestly not trying to get you to drudge up something. If there are big, obvious failures, confess them, repent, get counsel, and so on. But what I really want to exhort you to, is to worship Jesus with your brain. Consider the fact that God has given you this gift that in some way approximates His mind. While His image is not limited to thoughts and brains, it certainly does not exclude them. He thought up this world. He invented the Fibonacci sequence. He thought through the story, in all its complexity, down to the cross and the empty tomb, all the way down to you and the number of hairs on your head, and all the way down to last flea on the last dog at the end of the world. And God has given you something that approximates that, something analogous to that. So think hard, think carefully, wrestle with the difficult questions, ask hard questions, don’t let your guard down. Be vigilant. Be wary. Be bold. Be creative.
Of course, we know our thoughts are often so silly, so trite, and often so awful. But God knows our thoughts, and He is still here with us. And He loves our feeble efforts. Don’t give up hope. Don’t stop trying in any area. Set your mind on things above. Set your mind on Jesus and His goodness and grace, and then work that muscle in your head, work it until it creaks.