Christians and the Need for Critical Thinking
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:6-8)
It has been said, “Life is made up of ideas and ideas have consequences.”¹ And though that has always been true, in our age of social media those ideas circulate at break-neck speeds. Not having the ability to think critically in today’s sea of information is like jumping into the ocean without the ability to swim. Rather than settling for merely staying afloat, we should develop our ability to swim with ease through the waves of theories and theologies that have the potential to wash us away from Christ. After all, the church is not immune to the negative influences of postmodernism, relativism, political expediency, or any other of the myriad of unbiblical philosophies alive today.
Critical thinking is simply the skill of pressing certain questions further to understand and evaluate an idea or argument. It is the opposite of evaluating an idea simply by our emotions or allowing our thinking to be driven by the media or groupthink. It is accepting the personal responsibility to not be taken “captive” but to evaluate all ideas through the lens of Christ, the One in whom we are to walk.
In one of my seminary classes, we were taught three important questions to ask when trying to think critically as we engage different ideas, theories, theologies, or philosophies.² I want to share those with you here.
So, in your attempt to think critically concerning the next blog post, news article, or controversial conversation you encounter, here are some practical questions you can ask as you think critically regarding a certain issue.
What do you mean?
This question is basic but often skipped. Rather than determining the meaning of the argument as a whole, first consider the various words and phrases that are being used. Is it clear what they mean? Oftentimes meaning is assumed or we bring our own understanding to the argument. But as we engage others in conversation or in their writings we must first know what they really mean. Sometimes people can’t offer a clear explanation of what they mean. If there is an absence of clarity in their argument, critical thinking enables us to see through that.
1. What is your evidence?
Once we understand the meanings of the central words and phrases being used, we need to think through the connecting arguments. You might find that not all evidence given is relevant to the conclusion. For example, consider the argument, “The sky is blue and snow is cold, therefore the Buffalo Bills are a terrible football team.”³ Those all might be true, individual statements but they are not necessarily connected, and thus form a bad argument.
2. What’s next?
In other words, we ought to ask, if I believe this idea, what else would I need to believe? If I agree with this, what else will I need to agree with? This question is helpful as it acts like a safety check on the back end of the thought process; a kind of final inspection before agreement. No idea lives in isolation so think through the potential implications of the argument.
Again, we are bombarded by ideas every day. We must be ready to think critically as we engage the viewpoints of others, oftentimes coming from a worldview other than biblical Christianity. If we are to root ourselves and build ourselves up in Christ we must guard our minds from any idea that is not centered on Christ. So, before you wholeheartedly agree with the next book you read or you share the next opinion piece that hits your newsfeed or timeline, determine to engage in some critical thinking. These three very simple questions, asked in conjunction with a growing knowledge of Scripture, can aid you in guarding your mind from any idea being propagated that is not according to Christ.
¹Jeff Myers, The Secret Battle of Ideas About God: Overcoming the Outbreak of Five Fatal Worldviews. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2017. This book gives a good introduction to a Christian evaluation of postmodernism, Islam, Marxism, secularism, and new age teachings.
²Props to Dr. Madsen at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for this helpful class.
³No offense. You can decide if those statements are true. (They are.)