10 March 2011

How to think: two ways

by Dan Phillips

How can we figure out what to think about the big issues of spiritual import?

Well, we can ask a lot of questions, all centered around ourselves, or centered around other people. We can, for instance, ask how a concept makes us feel. We can ask whether it makes sense to us. We can test whether it fits the contours of our own personal thought. We can propose paradigms and syllogisms of our own crafting.

We can get into dialogue with others, and listen to them. We can hear their stories, and let those stories move us and mold and form our thinking. We can get a broader sample by reading bios, looking at polls, reading the mainstream media. We can embrace their questions and their rationales and their hierarchies, let them set the agenda for the endeavor.

We can sample this and that "faith-tradition," as broadly as we care to do. See what other men and women have done with it in the name of religion. If it important to us to be seen as (or to see ourselves as) cosmopolitan, we can search the world over 'till we think we find true love.

Then, once we've formed what feels right, what makes sense, what appeals, what best suits us — then, I say, we can launch, journey, and arrive.


Or we can be Christians.

While you're either looking for me to qualify that antithesis, or preparing to demand that I do so, let me just double-down by insisting that I mean exactly what I say. Thinking like a Christian, and thinking like anything else, are two fundamentally distinct processes. They are as different as night and day, and as irreconcilable as left and right.

There are fundamentally two ways to approach any concept, and only two. We can start with God and His Word, or we can start somewhere else; and the "somewhere else" usually boils down to ourselves. This is a philosophical methodology of ancient coinage.

My text here — one of many possible — is Proverbs 1:7.
The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge;
Wisdom and discipline, dense people belittle. (DJP)
"Beginning" here can mean several things. I bat this around in my book on Proverbs, and explain that I think it means beginning in the sense of starting-placeIt is the starting-place not in that we check the box and move on, but in the sense that, if we don't start with the fear of Yahweh, we won't get anywhere in knowledge or wisdom. I liken it to the alphabet. You don't get anywhere with reading without knowing the alphabet; but, having started with the alphabet, you never discard it. You use it constantly, because it permeates all you do when you read.

So likewise the fear of Yahweh is the starting-place of knowledge, and of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). We start there, or we get nowhere. And, having started there, we never leave it, because it permeates every thought and every chain of reasoning.

It would help to gain a more precise grip of what fear of Yahweh means, then. It has little to do with emotion, or with vapory notions of a mystical awe. Most frequently we find it in a pretty concrete sense in the OT. Kidner well says that is the fear of Yahweh is “that filial relationship which, in the most positive of senses, puts us securely in our place, and God in His” (on Nehemiah 9:32, in Ezra & Nehemiah [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979], 113).

The fear of Yahweh is a mindframe that reverses Genesis 3, in effect. Eve was motivated by self-concern. The repentant believer is motivated by God-concern (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5ff.). Eve decided to test God's Word by her judgment and experience. The repentant believer tests his judgment and experience by God's Word.

So when the first sort of person we discussed finds that he, or many people, are repulsed by a concept affirmed in the Bible, he's all aflutter to appease the crowd or himself. He is greatly moved by reports (or sensations) of being repulsed, turned off, devastated, psychologically crushed, terrified or traumatized by that Biblical tenet. He'll go to great lengths to quiet those negative feelings or reactions; if the Bible doesn't yield peaceably, so much the worse for it.

By stark contrast, the second sort views the lot and says, "So? What of it?" He has abdicated the throne, and he doesn't forget it. God is Lord of his thinking. His first question is not "How do I feel about this?" nor "How do others feel about this?" His first question is "What does God say about this?"

Perhaps another way of seeing it is in what moves, when push comes to shove. The first sort of person, confronted with uncongenial truths in the Bible, will ignore them, deny them, question them, fiddle with them, redefine them to oblivion, or otherwise sweep them under the rug. In his case, it is no questions: the truths are what must be moved.

The second sort, finding himself in the same situation, will confront his feelings and his prejudices and his ignorance. He will regard these as enemies to be repented of and dealt death to and disowned — not precious jewels to be adored and displayed.

It is, in a blunt word, the difference between a rebel and a slave.

Or, put another way, it is the difference between Heaven and Hell.


Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Home run.


Winning 3 pointer.

Exceptionally well-written and helpful.

Thank you.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Or, put another way, it is the difference between Heaven and Hell."

Coincidentally, this post has applicability to the Rob Bell controversy.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, Dan...whatever are you getting at here??? Are you implying that there's not some grand story of mankind that coincidentally matches up with exactly what makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside and also provides compatability with the world?? I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, to find truth in this establishment!

And..er...ignore the above, but seriously, thank you Dan. I was thinking of writing up something similar myself, but you wrote it far more concisely and powerfully than anything I would have written(and to a far larger audience!). Proverbs 1:7 is also one of my fav verses...every time I read it, it strikes me hard where it hurts - the center of my pride and self-will. (BTW, when is the DJP version of Proverbs coming out??)

Anyways, enough of my nattering away, but again let me thank you for your God-fearing post here. Indeed, Yahweh, He is God!! Let us all fall down and worship. Let us not construct an idol in our own self-image, but look to the revealed nature of God and glory!

Esther said...

So...you're claiming that Christians are presuppositionalists (or should be)?

Isn't that kind of arrogant?


Thanks for writing this. Now I can just ecycle it instead of typing my own version.

Too bad we're mostly just preaching to the choir...

Tom Chantry said...

Coincidentally, this post has applicability to the Rob Bell controversy.

Actually, this post has applicability to . . . everything! That's the beauty of epistemology.

DJP said...

SoT7 - (BTW, when is the DJP version of Proverbs coming out??)

If you mean full translation of the whole book, probably never. (c:

If you mean my Proverbs manuscript, it's at the publisher. Please pray that God blesses that project and moves it forward towards publication.

Anonymous said...

Aha, that answers that. I'm greatly looking forward to that book(even more than your other book!). Will definitely be praying for it.

DJP said...

Thanks. I'm just grateful that anyone is looking forward to anything I write. Seriously.


JackW said...

Thumbs up DJP.

Be grateful again, I am.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Actually, this post has applicability to . . . everything! That's the beauty of epistemology."

True, dat.

This post could be applied to the following announcement:

Global commemorations of International Women’s Day have included a public call for reading the Bible “through a gender lens.”

In a statement issued prior to the 8 March commemoration, the World Communion of Reformed Churches said it was supporting efforts to focus attention on the ways words and images can harm women.

“Controversial biblical texts on women such as a passage saying women are to be silent in church (I Corinthians 14.33-34) can harm women when they are used to justify enforced submission of women to male authority,” said Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, a Guyanese theologian who heads the WCRC’s gender justice program.

“If the language of the Bible is not understood in today’s terms,” she said, “some passages can be used to allow excluding women from church leadership.”

Sheerattan-Bisnauth said a “gender lens” is an important way to read and interpret the Bible.

“It is necessary for church women and men to learn to read the Bible in the context of their economic, social, political and cultural reality,” she said. “Churches need to encourage openness to women’s interpretations of Scripture and ensure their voices are heard in theological seminaries and in local parishes.”

KimMalk said...

Well thought out. It took me a minute to figure out what "version" the DJP was :). Yes, confronting prejudices, etc., is a far cry from nurturing them.

Tom said...

The Sensei writes: "There are fundamentally two ways to approach any concept, and only two. We can start with God and His Word, or we can start somewhere else; and the "somewhere else" usually boils down to ourselves."

Most excellent observation. Most excellent.

It is unfortunate that even conservative evangelicalism & fundamentalism is full of pragmatism, politics, and personality.

Anonymous said...

"...between a rebel and a slave...between Heaven and Hell."

For parallel structure it oughter be "between Hell and Heaven"

DJP said...

It's chiastic.

(Hel-lo? OT major! Proverbs book!)


David Regier said...

Whenever I see that word, I think of . . .


It's chia-tastic!

DJP said...

Regier, you are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.

DJP said...

(Name that movie.)

David Regier said...

You are a child's play thing!

DJP said...

You catch my meaning exactly.

Bob Edwards said...

A poor man's John Frame. And that is a good thing.

DJP said...

Believe me, I take that as a too-high compliment. You're very kind.

...unless you were talking about Buzz Lightyear. Then, never mind.

Bob Edwards said...

No, Frame is my favorite theologian, but let us just say you are a little more accessible. The Biblical epistemology he describes in his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God is something every Christian needs to understand. I just can't recommend that most people read him. Your post is a help in that direction.

Robert said...

Thanks, Dan...it is nice to have this thinking reaffirmed and put forth for others to consider.

I go through this every day. Either we approach what we do with a biblical worldview or unbiblical. I often tell people the biggest difference I see between a believer and unbeliever is their reaction when the Bible points out their sin. The unbeliever will justify his actions or hide/change the meaning of the text, while the believer repents (basically what you wrote in your post). Granted our repentance is never good enough...as Piper said at last year's T4G conference, we're even sinning while we are repenting. I do try to allow space for the immature believer, but there is a fine line between immaturity and willful ignorance/disobedience.

John said...

Humbled again at your "slugger" power - the Hank Aaron of sorts of Biblical writing/blogging.

May I ask permission to use excerpts (not sure which but a least the alphabet deal) from this article in a near-future discussion on having a Biblical worldview (since Gen. 1:1 and John 1:1 were my texts)?

Keep it up bro.

DJP said...


Jugulum said...

[quote]"We can get into dialogue with others, and listen to them."[/quote]

What?!? You don't believe in respectful dialogue or listening to other people? You don't think we can ever learn about big issues of spiritual import through each other?

Word verification: "lozgl", noun. An ironic question, prompted by the anticipation of likely misinterpretations of a statement or text. Employed by the Apostle Paul in his epistles. (See also "devil's advocate".)

donsands said...

Great lesson. Thanks.

"Or we can be Christians."

Christian has taken a lot of abuse, and has lost it's once deep and rich meaning, though it still is a good biblical word.

But how about this: Or we can be saints.

Paul used the word saints a lot for believers, more so than Christians.

Of course the word saint is thought of in the wrong way as well.

Have a blessed day in our gospel.

philness said...

Oh the safety and contentment in being a slave for The Master. Because it's a jungle out there.

MSC said...

What I think is sinister is when people know how Christians ought to think (i.e. thinking God's thoughts after him) but then that contradicts the way they want to think. They understand the implicit authority of scripture in Christian thinking but they don't like it. So in order to fool others that their thinking is actually Christian they have to make some sort of appeal to scripture while at the same time denying its authority and perspicuity. Unfortunately, too many people who themselves don't think Christianly have a hard time seeing the ruse and so we have distortions, deceptions and heresies widely disseminated and accepted uncritically.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Or we can be Christians.


Awesome. Right out of the park.

Melinda said...

Hi Dan - Just wanted to say thanks for the post today.

The line " . . . or we can be Christians" hit me like a ton of bricks. I catch myself trying to solve my problems and issues using the "other" way of thinking far too often.

Thank you for your gift of teaching. It has equipped, matured, and challenged me over the years I have being following Pyro. (Can you tell I am studying Ephesians 4 right now?)

DJP said...

Bless your heart, Melissa; I appreciate the kind words.

You make a terrific point. My burden in the post is the great divide in two fundamental ways to approach the meaning of life, the universe, and all that.

But even among us who have from the heart signed on to the second approach, we lapse ALL THE TIME. Would to God it weren't so, but we all know it is. We need to walk by faith, but we fall back on sight. We need to go by the Word, but we fall back on human viewpoint.

Like Luther said: it's a life of repentance.

Stefan Ewing said...


Re your 11:02 comment—yes to everything you wrote.

Praise God that the basis of our relationship to Him is not our own sinful behaviour, but what Jesus Christ did upon the Cross in bearing the wrath for our sins upon Hismelf.

What a great and awesome God we have, a God of justice and mercy, and covenantal lovingkindness.

Robert Warren said...

Thanks, Dan.

How sad is it that I caught the Hee-Haw reference?

DJP said...

As sad as it is that I made it in the first place?

Stefan Ewing said...

"Covenantal lovingkindness" in the sense of a God who graciously bestows lovingkindness upon His people for the sake of His everlasting covenant, sealed in the blood of the Passover Lamb, our King and Redeemer.

northWord said...

Outstanding post!

I'm also reminded of Ecc 7:29: "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions."

All the issues of life (as such) really, truly and finally are this black and white! There are but 2-worldviews, each coming from an exclusive prospective (if that makes sense): man and God. Now, to convince many "Christians" of this...Oh the eyes that glaze over when I've said as much.

OAN: I may "grab" some of those Pomo-vators sometime, if that's OK?

DJP said...

Right here.

northWord said...

Already bookmarked :-)

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Or, put another way, it is the difference between Heaven and Hell.

R.C. Sproul Jr has a post titled: Can a Person be Evangelical and Not Believe in Hell?

The post is also helpful because it briefly discusses the history of the term "Evangelical".

Anonymous said...

Dan, I just want to say that this is the first post I've read by you and I love it! I'll definitely be reading your stuff a lot more in the future.

From my own experience, I often describe these two types of people as those that embrace the mystery of God and those that reject it for a more convenient "truth". Thanks for blessing us with such a great article.

David Regier said...

Oh. I almost forgot.


/end rant

This was a great post, by the way, Dan. I wish I had spent more of my years thinking like this.

Solameanie said...

For a moment, I thought I'd post a remark about the voluptuous Eve drawing at the beginning of your post, but we really don't want any donnybrooks started today, do we?

And you wouldn't believe what my word verification was before posting this comment. I would tell you, but it might be taken as a double entendre.

(Tongue firmly planted in cheek)

DJP said...

That is such a funny "tie." What are the odds?

Solameanie said...

And before I get in any more trouble, yes, Dan..I did read the post and loved it.

The tag line of my radio program is to help people "establish and maintain a Christian worldview." That involves biblical thinking. The more I ponder the subject, it's amazing just how unbiblical my thinking often is. Scary, even.

Anonymous said...

"We walk by faith, not by sight"

"The devil can come all dressed up as an angel of light."

We can't trust how we feel about God, how we think about God, what we do about God.

We can only trust in His Word (that comes from OUTSIDE of ourselves, alone.

Christ says, you are loved, you are forgiven. That is the truth about me (us) no matter what else may be going on in ourselves, or in the world.

(there he goes again...radical Lutheran nut!)

Stefan Ewing said...

It's all about what we think we deserve, isn't it?

Even on my best days, I'm still not getting what I deserve (by God's mercy and forbearance).

And even on my worst days, I'm still getting what I don't deserve (by His grace and providence).

atomicreform said...

Exceptional graphics really.

But on a serious note, great post as well. The slave statement hit home.

Unknown said...

In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis says that the real difference between the Christian and the atheist is that the atheist says that all other religions are simply wrong, but that the Christian says all others are flawed, but not absolutely wrong. That difference, of course, for Lewis makes the difference between heaven and hell, but that isn't the question. Are you saying Lewis is wrong?

Along a similar line, if truth is binary like that, is goodness? Are only Christians good, and no non-Christians good at all? Or perhaps that living like a Christian is the only sort of good, and non-Christians are simply evil? (And Christians may be somewhat evil.) (I'm not saying a non-Christian should get to heaven.) Because that has two problems. First, the difference between Christian and non-Christian isn't some level of sanctity, but is that the Christian, in all his faults has Christ--at least if we are to be on Luther's side against the Anabaptists.

But second, it is flatly Manichean, and therefore heretical. But since truth is the good of the mind, this is borderline heretical.

It certainly is not the position of Augustine or the other Church Fathers, who relied on Greek wisdom for wisdom (though of course, recognizing that as it stood, it was Christ denying.)

Anonymous said...

Good is not even part of the eqauation. God is great, His glory is all that matters. Jesus fulfilled the covenant, and those who were chosen by the Father were given to Him for eternal life. And this is enternal life, that you may know God fully. Start eternity now by reading His word and learning what He says about Himself. And as you learn to know Him, you will be filled with the love of God that has been poured out within our hearts through the holy Spirit that was given to us.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding. I'll be referring to this post time and time again, probably sounding something like this...

"What HE said!"

Tyrone said...

Amen Brother!

Lilian said...

Terrific stuff, Dan...
I was just meditating on Proverbs 1:7 last night for my daily reading.

I, too, am really looking forward to reading your book when it comes out. You are a gifted communicator and teacher, indeed.

May the Lord continue to use you mightily for his glory!

Eddie Eddings said...

I agree with Tyrone!

btw...love the Belief poster.

thomas4881 said...

Calvinism vs Arminianism?

Anonymous said...

Great advice!

Well screw it up, though.

That's just what we do.

But, maybe...nah...forget it.

Deb said...

Good one Dan! I'm not a fan of Frame's triperspectival epistemology, so this article was right on the mark, true to the scripture.

Mel said...

"If it important to us to be seen as (or to see ourselves as) cosmopolitan, we can search the world over 'till we think we find true love."

"...but they'll find another and pfftttt, they'll be gone."

Are Dan and I the only closet HeeHaw fans here?!

Ahh, good times...

Burrito34 said...

"It is, in a blunt word, the difference between a rebel and a slave."

The NT concept, that a human being is either a slave to sin and death or a slave to Christ and eternal life is something that is not emphasized enough today and something believers need to always remember. We are not our own; we were bought by Christ's death and we belong to Him and are to follow and obey Him without question.

I've nearly finished a book written by John MacArthur, Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ that I really have enjoyed and highly recommend.

Anonymous said...

As if to reinforce your point, consider this nugget, ripped from today's headlines:
Closed for two years, a historic downtown Minneapolis church is open again. And in a tense time for Methodists, the Rev. Greg Renstrom says he plans to bless same-sex unions.

Here's the quote from the Pastor that essentially proves your point: "Somebody has to do it (Bless same-sex unions)." "I cannot imagine that Jesus would ever refuse to bless a responsible, mutually respectful and reverent relationship."

As you said, "We can start with God and His Word, or we can start somewhere else; and the "somewhere else" usually boils down to ourselves."


Unknown said...

Pow! Great post. Great site.
Esther: I'm really not up on all the technical terms and labels (at least y'all don't use acronyms much) but I googled "presuppositionalists" and was amazed at the rage-filled "how to talk to presuppositionalists" sites that popped up at the top of the list. Tho, I supposed I shouldn't have been.

Unknown said...

Mel: I always liked "Where O where are you tonight?"

Steve Berven said...

"Eve decided to test God's Word by her judgment and experience. The repentant believer tests his judgment and experience by God's Word."

Bingo. The crux of that moral dilemma which has plagued mankind for a couple thousand years now. Never seen more readily than in the "enlightened" teaching of modern humanist thinkers.