Friday, October 23, 2009
Critical Thinking as Worship
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (λογικoν λατρείαν). Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
I like to remind my American Government students that the Constitution, like the Bible, is not read, but instead, interpreted. Christians need reminding [or enlightening] too. The Word of God isn't self-evident. In the Christian tradition that we grew up in, the Greek phrase λογικoν λατρείαν in Romans 12:1 was translated as 'your spiritual act of worship.' This 'evangelical' tradition equates faith in God as an individual, spiritual act of emotional worship, often characterized as grossly anti-intellectual. This is problematic. First of all, Paul wrote letters to communities, not individuals. He believed these communities modeled the inaugurated kingdom of God in the context of the kingdom of Caesar. The word uμwν is the Greek word for plural 'you' or, as they say in the South: y'all. Second, the word λογικoν is the Greek word that we English-speakers get 'logical' from. Combined with Paul's urging for a renewed mind in the next sentence, this must mean a call for those 'in Christ' to embrace deep, critical thinking as the very means of enacting God's will 'on earth as it is in heaven.' Third, the goal for the community of critical thinkers is for our lives to be a sacrifice. Paul was apt to exhort his readers that 'the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit' (I Cor 6:19). This related to our own individual bodies, lived out for the glory of God and the communal body of Christ, pledging allegiance to the kingdom of God together. So what's this sacrificial living really look like? Paul continues:
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.* 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;* do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;* for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20 No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Those committed to the easy "yolk" of Christ in the United States creatively engage empire with our critical minds and subversive lifestyles. Our transformation unveils quite a juxtaposition:
The Script of Empire versus The Script of the Living Sacrifice I’ll Love You If _______ versus Genuine Agape Love
Indifferent to Evil versus Hate what is Evil
Cynicism/Skepticism versus Rejoice in Hope
Seek Comfort/Convenience versus Patient in Suffering
Anxiety/Fear/Control versus Perseverance in Prayer
Good Investments versus Contribute to the Needs of the Saints
Revenge/Payback versus Bless those Who Persecute You
Compete versus Rejoice with Those who Rejoice
Pity/Blame versus Weep with Those Who Weep
Upward Mobility versus Associate with the Lowly
Christian Faith means thinking and acting together to bring concrete transformation--both individually and structurally--to our world. This will take sacrifice.