June 2016 Feature Article
“We take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) is what comes to my mind in writing about engagement of the mind. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul writes about how we are not waging war according to the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. A stronghold which needs to be conquered is that of the mind.
A rabbi lawyer asked Jesus the following question to test him: “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” The rabbis were engaged in an ongoing debate to determine which commandments were “light” and which were “weighty”. The law referred to the whole of the Old Testament. Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6 verse 5: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. Faithful Jews repeated this twice daily but seldom understand the totality of personal devotion to God as represented by this verse in the Old Testament. We need to love God with our mind as well as with the heart and soul.
“Heart”, “soul” and “mind” do not represent rigid compartments of human existence but rather refer to parts of the whole person. The mind is part of the whole person but today it tends to be increasingly detached from the rest of the person so that we need to capture it back in our obedience to Christ, in integrating it with the heart and soul and then offering the whole person to God through Jesus Christ with the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ himself was devoted to God totally, in heart, mind and soul. Born a baby, growing up as a Jewish boy, we find Jesus able from the age of thirty able to obey God the Father totally in the path he took which led him to the cross. His sacrifice of His whole person to God on the cross is what enables us to be whole persons through faith in who Jesus is and what Jesus did on earth and carries on doing now for us while seated at the right hand of God in resurrected glory.
Taking every thought captive means bringing the mind back to being part of the whole person. Today the mind today tends to have a life of its own, and I find this to be especially so in the academic activity that I am engaged in. Academic life is centred around fields of study which can be professional (like medicine, accountancy, engineering) or humanities and science-based (like history, geography, economics, physics and chemistry). Each of these acquires an autonomy or life of its own and very often those in one field of study knows very little of what goes on in another field. Specialisation goes to extremes so much so the saying is that one may know everything about nothing!
Is it possible to then to know everything about everything? Can we have wisdom?
Proverbs 8:22 states that “the Lord possessed me (wisdom) at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago, I(wisdom) was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth”. This is but a reference to the Spirit of God which we read in Genesis 1:2 as “hovering over the face of the waters”.
There was in addition a third person present when God the Father created the heavens and the earth. This was Jesus Christ. Jesus was born a baby but Jesus had the mind of God for Jesus was there when God created the world. As stated in Colossians 1:16 “for by him (Jesus Christ), all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through him and for him.”
When we engage our minds with God, we need to do so through the mind of Jesus Christ, for it was through the mind of Jesus that all things were created. Good thinkers recognize that there needs to be prayer before any intellectual activity is started. The mind of a person needs to be not only engaged with the body and spirit of a person but also with the body and spirit of God, i.e. with Jesus, God-become man and also with the Holy Spirit, the go-between God, the God in whom Christians have fellowship with each other and also with God the Father and God the Son.
God is a tri-une Person, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and in the same way as there is constant and complete communion between all three persons of the God-head, there needs to be constant communion between the body, mind and spirit of a person in order for any one of us to be a full person. The continual temptation is to fragment ourselves as if body, mind and spirit are separate persons not in contact with each other.
I am reminded of the description of the academic as an “egg-head” as if the head is out of proportion with the body in which it is located and the spirit which energises it. Many of my colleagues in the university are like that. It is a rare person who can engage in holistic companionship within the walls of a campus. The devil tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God in fragmenting their obedience to God. The apostle John wrote of all that is in the world as coming from the desires of the flesh (body, my italics), the desires of the eyes (mind, my italics) and pride in possessions (spirit, my italics). John stated that “if anyone loves he world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15).
As Christians we are not to love the mind inordinately or excessively. The division of our person in body, mind and spirit is there but not to be dwelt on literally for what matters is the whole person. In order that the whole person can be made whole, the mind has to be brought into fellowship with the body and spirit through being made captive to Christ.
By the same analogy, there are some who love the body excessively or love the spirit excessively too. For some, the mind needs to be developed further: for others, it has to be reduced in importance. For some, the spirit needs to be developed, for others, there has to be some reduction. What the “proportions” are varies from person to person and in each person, from one stage of one’s journey through life to another stage.
The temptation of Satan is makes ourselves the determinant of how the whole person is to grow. The commandment of God is to make God the determinant at all times. The body has a certain capacity to grow and we all know that this capacity is reached when one’s height or weight reaches a limit. However the mind and the spirit are not so easily limited. The mind can continue to grow long after my body stops growing. We need to make it captive to Christ. Even more capable of growth is the spirit which is evidenced in the growth of pride. For that there seems to be no limit as it was pride which made Adam and Eve disobey God. C.S. Lewis rightly pointed out that pride is the chief obstacle to our loving God fully.
Be that it may, my concern as a scholar and as a teacher is to urge my students and colleagues to make every thought captive to Christ. This is easier said than done, for there are many activities of the mind which have yet to see the lordship of Jesus Christ. Christians ought to engage themselves in seeing how the Christian mind can be applied to what they study. There is no such thing as Christian economics, but there is the economics which a Christian writes about. It is the Christian person that matters, not economics. The person who is a Christian can write about economic knowledge as overflowing from his or her witness and life as a Christian. There are as many varieties of economics as there are Christians who are economists. It is the person that matters, not the subject.
Yet many Christians put the subject first. This leads to the mind being reduced to an autonomy of its own which is not its true calling. As Christians we are urged to make the mind part of the whole person and in so doing to give the appropriate significance to it as it deserves, in the context of a person’s walk with God. Making every thought captive does not mean reducing thought but elevating it to its proper role. May God helps us to make every thought captive and in so doing, give it the freedom it ought and deserves to have.
Dr Lee Soo Ann is President of The Bible Society of Singapore. He is also Senior Fellow at the Department of Economics at the National University of Singapore, where he earned his PhD in economics. He was the former General-Secretary of the Bible Society, and has also served in a variety of roles in Christian organisations, public service and academic settings over the course of his career.