Whose Thoughts Are In My Head?
Of late, I have had the slinky, uneasy feeling that my dramatic theology-swings are making it hard for people to take me seriously. The problem is worse still: reading backwards over my blog, I am having a hard time taking myself seriously! Just one year ago, I was a flaming emergent writer, scoffing at the beliefs I now finding exploding from Scriptures. Only months ago, I drafted a post (never, thankfully, published) entitled, “Environmental Naysayers Push My Buttons.” Within it, I vented my frustration with people who seem more concerned with saving souls than with saving the planet. Today, I am quickly finding myself becoming just such a person, as the reality of the gospel, and the eternality of hell are crushing in on my psyche, and making whales and forests seem as trivial as gnats.
A large source of my “problem” is that I have begun feeding my mind with dramatically different material. One year ago I was listening almost exclusively to emergent and secular news/media podcasts. The closest I would come to religious media (outside of church attendance) was Drew Marshall. Eventually, Drew lead me to Bruxy Cavey, who was my shepherd and guide through the troubled seas of Emergentism. A problem arose when I listened to virtually all of Bruxy’s online materials. After searching about online, I happened upon John Piper and began digging into his sermons, and almost immediately experienced some radical changes in my thoughts. After continuing with Piper for a while I moved on (at the recommendation of Piper and my local pastor) to Mark Driscoll. This occurred shortly after my radical break with Emergentism, and it strengthened me in my resolve to walk down a path exactly opposite my former journey.
I feel called of God to share my beliefs and to influence people towards Jesus – but how can I do this, if my own fundamental beliefs are shifting so quickly, and so radically that I can barely keep track of them myself? This question has caused no small amount of introspection and a brooding season of self-doubt.
I am well aware of the answer which my culture and, to some extent, my Christian professors would tell me: “Do not be so influenced by others. Look inside of yourself and figure out what you believe.”
But how can I find myself? What is my mind, after all, but a dipository of the thoughts of others?
If I were to follow the nonsensical logic of our day, to “find myself” by looking inwards, I suppose the first thing I must do is to stop listening to pastors, teachers, and others. To strip away all alien influences and just “be myself.” But who am I if not a product of my teachers? Shall I strip away all of the hours learning from Driscoll, Piper and Bruxy, from my seminary prof’s, from college prof’s, from local pastors, from sunday-school teachers, and from public school teachers? After all of this, then would I be “truly myself”? No, but a child, a tiny version of myself. And here still, I would be a product of my parent’s tutolage – and how could they help but bring me up according to their Western/European, Evangelical, capitalistic, (etc.) worldview?
If I were to strip away all the influences of others, there would be nothing left of me but an unthinking embryo. And what is my “common sense” but the crystalization of untold thousands of the thoughts of others, quietly adopted as my own?
Perhaps the answer is to move in the opposite direction. Aristotle (?) stated that intelligence is measured by being able to hear and understand an increasing numbers of voices in one’s own head. Perhaps what I must do is to read broadly, to travel the world, to bend my ear to every reputable voice. But here I am defeated before I have begun. Why the assumption that answers lie “abroad”? Reputable according to whom? Already I have revealed the fly in the ointment: listening to every voice on the planet is a practical impossibility. Thus, I must limit my selection of teachers. This limitation cannot work without some sort of criteria, some standard for deciding better from worse, profitable from unprofitable. But it is just such information which I am seeking! In order to find information, I must first decide what I want to believe, then choose thinkers of whom I approve to listen to.
At this point, no doubt, the reader will in frustration throw up their hands and say, “Josiah, your great learning is driving you insane!” In practical reality, nobody operates like this. Just use your common sense, practical experience, and figure out what you believe…
On what is my decision based? Surely, I will use “common sense.” But what is common sense but the repository and crystalization of an untold multitude of thinkers – seen and unseen – entering into one’s psyche, and providing a coherent worldview?
In order for there to be rational order in my head, there must be some unmoving authority. The default authority for our culture is human intellect – but without some higher standard to decide between the voices, all that I have are a countless number of opinions, with no path to truth.
There must be a truth, and I choose to place my full confidence and trust in the God of the Bible.
But why? Where is the rational argument to support this decision? If the authority of Scriptures needed the affirmation of human intellect to stand, why would I bother with Scriptures? In this case, human intellect would be demonstrating itself to be chief.