Of What Value is Good Thinking?

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Continued from: What is Good Thinking?

What do you think might have gone through young Bennie’s mind as he processed his mother’s stern guidance, “You need to think, Bennie!” Perhaps the question “Why?” popped into his mind. “Really mom? What difference would that make?”

A lesson that I learned to ask from Michael Pearson is to regularly ask myself, “So what?” In other words, “Why does this matter?” If it’s of value, stick with it. Invest in it. If it doesn’t really matter, let it go. Forget about it.

In the first article, we considered several marks of good thinking. In this article we will discuss some benefits of thinking well. Why should good thinking matter to you? What difference might it make in you and in your church? What might be the return on your investment?

First, good thinking establishes a solid foundation on which to build one’s life. Poor thinking, on the other hand, leads to a mooring that constantly shifts when exposed to the elements of life. Rigorously contemplating what one believes, why one believes it, and how that belief manifests itself in one’s life provides strength and stability when confronted with opportunities, new perspectives, and challenges. It injects courage when encountering daunting issues. It helps one establish guidelines with which to process important issues and allows one to live with a sense of quiet confidence. Steady, stable, confident Christians benefit a church.

Good thinking establishes a solid foundation on which to build one’s life.

This is true organizationally as well. Taking the time and investing the effort to thoroughly think through, establish, and communicate the core values and beliefs of one’s church is important. Anything proposed to be done under the moniker of the organization must, at minimum, be consistent with the stated core values and beliefs. Core values and beliefs do not change with time therefore they establish a consistent baseline for everything the church does in its lifetime.

Identifying an organization’s God-ordained role in the Great Commission is also valuable. No one organization has the resources to be all things to all people. God locates churches geographically and places people with certain talents and resources in them on purpose. Myriad effective ministry opportunities exist. Knowing the one or ones for which God has uniquely located, equipped, and resourced one’s church brings focus to ministry efforts and increases the return on investment in those ministries. Lacking focus results in disconnected efforts; experimenting with every new idea and trying the things that everyone else is doing that appear to be working well. This shotgun approach consumes time, expends resources, exhausts people, builds little to no momentum, and generates suboptimal effectiveness. Identifying the specific role God has for one’s church in His greater plan to reach mankind provides a platform of guidance for consistent actions that lead to optimal effectiveness over the church’s lifetime.

Second, good thinking leads to personal growth. We grow when we build on the past, glean from today, and adjust the course for the future. It makes failure a part of the journey rather than a terminal destination. It develops one’s capacity for discernment and good judgment. It leads to a new and improved you.

God wants Christians to mature, develop, and grow. Paul described it as having the capacity to eat meat rather than subsisting on milk alone. Christians who are developing into who God wants them to be are an asset to their church.

This applies organizationally as well. Mature thinking will cause our churches to grow as an organization. (I do not mean growth in attendance here.) We need to respect and give careful consideration to our history, but this does not mean we mindlessly adopt the practices of our forefathers with the attitude of “if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.” Why did they do what they did? What can we learn from them? We need to pursue an understanding of our contemporary context. The de-intellectualization of our culture, as J. P. Moreland describes it, secularized man’s worldview, which significantly changes the people our ministries intend to reach. Effectively reaching these individuals requires adjusting our methods. A church with mature thinking assimilates lessons from its past and the people it is working to reach to guide the selection of the ministry activities in which it will engage.

Third, good thinking can improve one’s influence on others. Exercising good thinking enhances one’s integrity and delivers better results, both of which build trust. Good thinking effectively communicated attracts and influences people. We’ve all heard “just because” in response to “Why?” and it tends to repel rather than attract. Well-articulated, rational, and intellectually honest explanations build trust. Increased trustworthiness enhances influence. Christians are responsible for influencing the world for Christ. Good thinking assists with the job.

Exercising good thinking enhances one’s integrity and delivers better results, both of which build trust.

An effective church influences people for Christ. The previous two sections identified how good thinking can impact the church as an organization: (1) giving stability by identifying core values and beliefs and focusing on its role in God’s plan and (2) maturing as an organization. Projecting those effects forward, with God’s help and blessing, the influence of the church will improve.

Fourth, good thinking can prevent the experience of unnecessary, avoidable, and sometimes tragic consequences. Money, jobs, reputations, and other things are often lost in the physical world as a result of poor thinking. It can be extremely painful. But in the spiritual world, the stakes are much greater. Poor thinking can lead to tragic eternal consequences.  Rigorous thinking can assist in the exercise of the extreme care called for here.

Christians who love their neighbors and care about their flourishing are especially concerned with using good thinking to help others avoid temporal and eternal consequences. Moreland asks,

Is it any wonder that Christians started the first universities and have planted schools and colleges everywhere our missionaries have gone? Is it any wonder that science began in Christian Europe because of the belief that the same rational God who made the human mind also created the world so the mind would be suited to discern the world’s rational structure placed there by God?

Fifth, good thinking helps us to place all things in their right relation to God. This is one definition of theology: thinking about all things in their right relation to God. To practice good thinking as a Christian is to think about everything theologically—in its right relation to God and the redemption he has provided in Christ. Harry Blamires contrasts thinking Christianly with thinking secularly:

To think secularly is to think within a frame of reference bounded by the limits of our life on earth: it is to keep one’s calculations rooted in this-worldly criteria. To think Christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen by God.

Finally and most importantly, good thinking helps us to love God with our minds. Jesus taught us the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). In Love Your God With All Your Mind, Moreland encourages us to “note carefully that Jesus included an intellectual love for God with the mind.” To worship God in truth, as he really is, we must think rightly about him. In a chapter titled “Why We Must Think Rightly About God,” A. W. Tozer famously wrote, “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” According to Moreland, “following Jesus Christ is to be a thoughtful life.”

So as I’ve learned to ask myself, “So what?” Of what value is good thinking? Establishing a solid foundation to build your life on. Driving personal growth. Improving one’s influence. Avoiding preventable consequences. Placing things in their right relationship to God. Helping one love God with his mind. Are these of sufficient value to warrant the investment of time and effort to groom one’s thinking? I believe that they are, but you must answer that question for yourself.

Believing that improving one’s thinking is valuable, a natural question to ask is “How can I improve my thinking?” The third and final article in this series, “What Can We Do To Develop and Encourage Good Thinking?”, will provide practical ideas for improving one’s own thinking as well as the thinking of those with whom one engages.

Todd Arnold
Todd Arnold earned a PhD in civil engineering from Penn State University and works as General Manager of Pine Test Equipment, Inc. in Grove City, PA. He lives in northwest PA with his wife, Abby, and their children, Erin and Drew.