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The Supremacy of God in the Life of the Mind

Discussion in 'General Theology' started by ksen, Mar 28, 2003.

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  1. ksen

    ksen Wiki on Garth!


    <H1>The Supremacy of God in the Life of the Mind </H1>

    <H4 class=black>Northwestern College Centennial Series</H4>

    <P class=small>February 25, 2003

    Let's start with a simple definition of the phrase "life of the mind." As I use it, the phrase has a narrow and a broad meaning. The <I>narrow</I> meaning is the life of the vocational scholar, that is, a life devoted to research, thinking, teaching, and writing. The <I>broad</I> meaning is the use of the mind in everyone's life to observe, analyze, systematize, imagine, memorize, and express itself. In the first sense a small band of scholar-teachers is involved in the life of the mind. In the second sense everyone is involved in the life of the mind. I assume that the task of education is for people in the first group to help people in the second group use their minds better.

    What about the phrase "The supremacy of God"? What do I mean by that? First, in this day of Islamic resurgence, I should make explicit that by "God" I mean the Sovereign Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who was sent from him to die for sinners and was raised by him and reigns today over the universe as very God and very man.

    What I mean by the "supremacy of God" is this: <I>the conscious and worshipful experience of God's supremacy in the use of one's mind, together with an intentional display of this supremacy in our mental work.</I> I say it like this because even atheists experience the supremacy of God. He holds them in being. He grants them to discover many natural truths. But they have no "conscious and worshipful experience" of God's supremacy. And they do not make any intentional displays of his supremacy in their mental work. That is not what I mean by the supremacy of God in the life of the mind. I mean conscious worshipful experience of God's supremacy and unashamed displays of his supreme truth and beauty in our work.

    When I put these two sets of definitions together, they become for me a prayer - a prayer for Northwestern College - indeed for all colleges and universities. <SPAN class=excerpt>I pray that vocational scholars will so consciously and worshipfully experience God's supremacy in the use of their minds, and so intentionally display God's supremacy in their research and thinking and teaching and writing, that the rest of us will be inspired and instructed to depend on the supremacy of God and display the supremacy of God in all our mental work - indeed all our work absolutely.</SPAN>

    Why should a Bible-believing Christian care about the life of the mind? The question is urgent because the Bible warns, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1). "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh" (Ecclesiastes 12:12). "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise [says the Lord]" (1 Corinthians 1:19). "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise" (1 Corinthians 1:27).

    Yes that is true. And every college should fly it like a banner over its work. But it should not fly at the top of the mast. The reason knowledge puffs up, and the reason study is a weariness to the flesh, and the reason God destroys the wisdom of the wise and puts them to shame is that the life of the mind has been severed from the supremacy of God in Christ.

    Flying in bright colors above the Biblical warnings should be the flags of scripture calling us to embrace the life of the mind under the supremacy of God and for the glory of God.

    • "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature" (1 Corinthians 14:20).
    • "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." (2 Timothy 2:7).
    • "Gird up the loins of your minds" (1 Peter 1:13).
    • Fourteen times the apostle Paul rebukes his churches saying, "Do you not know?" "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?" (1 Corinthians 6:19). "Do you not know . . . that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?" (Romans 7:1; see also Rom. 6:3,16; 11:2; 1Cor. 3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16; 9:13, 24).
    • Repeatedly in the book of Acts we find Paul "reasoning" in the synagogues with the Jews proving that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 17:2; see also 18:4,19; 19:9; 24:25).

    If you believe the scriptures, you cannot be indifferent or merely suspicious of the life of the mind. God commands us to think, and to think with maturity, and to think with energy, and to think for the sake of holiness and for Christ. The first and great commandment is this: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).

    There is no running from this great mandate: God cares about the life of the mind. It is no fluke of history that everywhere Christian missionaries have gone three institutions spring up: churches, hospitals, and schools. Why these three? Because if you can't live, you can't worship, and if you can't think, you can't worship. The right use of the mind is essential to faith and worship. There would simply be no church without right thinking.

    And the supremacy of God is essential to the right use of the mind. But we haven't established that yet. We haven't shown it from scripture. How shall we do that? I'm going to do it in the way that has been most powerful in my own experience. My experience and my conviction is that when a person is overwhelmed by the pervasive Biblical truth of God's supremacy in his own mind, then God's supremacy in ours is almost irresistible.

    <H4>The Supremacy of God in the Mind of God</H4>There is something about the jolting, shocking, all-encompassing Biblical truth of God's supremacy in the mind of God that either makes you radically God-centered or forces you to put your head in the sand. In other words, the approach that I am taking is not to collect those passages of Scripture that say we should make God supreme, but those passages that say God makes God supreme. This is the truth that changes scholars, and makes God manifestly supreme in their work.

    There are many Christian scholars who say that they believe in the supremacy of God in the life of the mind. But you look in vain for any robust public evidence of it. But when a scholar is enthralled with the Biblical reality of the supremacy of God in his own mind, then things change. There is something about this Biblical truth that frees us from the fear of making God manifestly supreme in our work. Perhaps its this: that, when we see the truth of God's supremacy in his own mind, we see that making him manifestly supreme in our mind is to link our purposes with the highest, holiest, happiest purpose in the universe: God's own exultation in God.

    Whatever the reason, I have found that in my own experience - and in the experience of many others - to see and savor God's supremacy in the mind of God is to be so intellectually and emotionally transformed that to make much of God in our mental labor is irresistibly joyful.</H1>&nbsp;

    To be continued......
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  2. ksen

    ksen Wiki on Garth!

    How shall we best see this in the Bible? One way to see it is to ponder the way God describes his own ultimate aim in all the stages of salvation. From predestination to creation to incarnation to propitiation to sanctification to consummation the refrain of God over and over in his inspired word is: I do this for my glory. That is, I make my glory supreme in everything I do. Mark well, the most stunning point of these texts is not to tell us to make God supreme, but to tell us that God makes himself the supreme goal of all that he does in saving us from beginning to end.

    "He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace." (Ephesians 1:5-6)

    "Bring My sons from afar And My daughters from the ends of the earth, Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." (Isaiah 43:6-7)

    "For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy." (Romans 15:8-9)

    "God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins." (Romans 3:25)

    "This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, [so that you may be] . . . filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

    These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed -- for our testimony to you was believed." (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10)

    That's one way to show the Biblical truth that God is supreme in the mind of God - namely, that from beginning to end in our salvation he does all that he does to the praise of his glory. He makes himself central and supreme in all that he does.

    Another way to see this is to notice that all his mercy, all his wrath, and all his power are aiming, according to Romans 9:23 to his great end: "to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory."
    Another way to see it is to recall that God makes himself the aim of every human endeavor from the smallest to the largest: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).
    Another way to see it is to notice that God defines the very essence of sin as failing to make him supreme: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Sin is sin because it belittles the glory of God.
    Another way to see it is God's design to make his glory the focus of all the nations of the world. "Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations" (Psalm 96:1-3).
    Another way to see it to recall God made the revelation of his glory in Christ the heart of the gospel. "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
    One more way to see God's supremacy in his own mind would be to recall from the prophets what it is that God aims to fill the earth with in the age to come. "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14). That's God's plan; he is supreme in his own purposes.
    The conclusion I draw from these scriptures is that God is manifestly exuberant about making himself supreme in the world. If we should speak of the life of the mind in God's case - the life of God's mind - what would be the animating principle? What would be the passion and unwavering pursuit of this mind? It would be his own supremacy, his own glory.

    To be continued........
  3. ksen

    ksen Wiki on Garth!

    The Supremacy of God in the Life of Our Mind

    I infer from this that God's supremacy should have the same place in the life of our minds. If God is exuberant about making himself supreme in the life of his mind, we should be exuberant about making him supreme in the life of our mind. Indeed, if a scholar is gripped by this truth the way God exults, the supremacy of God in the life of the mind will happen: there will be a conscious and worshipful experience of God's supremacy in the use of his mind, and an intentional display of God's supremacy in his mental work.

    What might this look like in the way we use our minds? Let me venture a partial answer by focusing on four faculties of the mind: Observation, cogitation, imagination, and memorization.


    The mind perceives. It takes it. It observes. So what does the supremacy of God in observation look like? Charles Misner, a scientific specialist in general relativity theory, said the following about Albert Einstein:

    I do see the design of the universe as essentially a religious question. That is, one should have some kind of respect and awe for the whole business . . . It's very magnificent and shouldn't be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt that religions he'd run across did not have proper respect . . . for the author of the universe. [Note 1]

    I don't think it is just preachers who fail so badly to experience the supremacy of God in the mind's observation of the universe or of the Scriptures. For anyone who wants to know, the facts are available: Light travels at the speed of 5.87 trillion miles a year. The galaxy of which our solar system is a part is about 100,000 light-years in diameter - about five hundred eighty seven thousand trillion miles across. It is one of about a million such galaxies in the optical range of our most powerful telescopes. In our galaxy there are about 100 billion stars. The sun is one of them, a modest star burning at about 6,000 degrees Centigrade on the cooler surface and traveling in an orbit at 155 miles per second, which means it will take about 200 million years to complete a revolution around the galaxy.

    One of the great faculties of our mind is the faculty of observation - perceiving what is there. If we used this faculty as God designs, Einstein would not say of us - in our preaching or in our conversation - that we are just not talking about the real thing - that we simply haven't see the wonder that is really there. The supremacy of God in the life of the mind means that when the mind observes, it sees what is really there:

    To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these [stars]? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:25-26)

    May God be supreme in this foundational work of the mind: observation.


    What does the supremacy of God look like in the life of the mind when it is analyzing and synthesizing and systematizing - what we call the work of "thinking"? This is the work that so many replace with reading or footnoting or talking. It is very hard work. And it is commanded in a remarkable way by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:7. He says, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything."

    He does not say, "The Lord will give you understanding, so you don't need to think." And he does not say, "You must think because the Lord certainly will not give you understanding, you must get it on your own." He says, "Think, because the Lord will give you understanding."

    In other words, God has created and appointed this remarkable ability of the mind, called thinking (pondering, analyzing, reflecting, construing, ordering, etc.) to be the means through which he himself will give understanding. Just as God gives heat through the burning of wood, and strength through the eating of food, and sound through the blowing of a horn, so he gives understanding through the work of thinking. But get the emphasis right: God gives the understanding. Thinking is a God-appointed means.

    Therefore we will manifest the supremacy of God in thinking when we regard prayer as indispensable in the life of the mind. We will make much of our reliance upon God in the work of thinking.

    And since God is the giver of all true understanding through thinking, we will employ our thinking to display his supremacy. We will dethrone irrational arguments against God's truth (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). We will expose slippery equivocal language and bring all things to light (2 Corinthians 4:2). We will labor to make difficult truths plain and clear. And we will give thanks all our days that God has delivered us by grace through faith from a futile mind (Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:18).

    May God make himself supreme in the mental work of observation and cogitation.


    One of the great duties of the Christian mind is imagination. Here we move from the mental labor of observing what is there (observation), and analyzing and ordering what is there (cogitation), to imagining what might be there but we cannot see (as in the case of most scientific discovery), or imagining another way of saying what is there that no one has said before (as in the case of creative writing and music and art).

    I say that imagination is a Christian duty for two reasons. One is that you can't apply the golden rule without it. "Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12). We must imagine ourselves in their place and imagine what we would like done to us. Compassionate, sympathetic, helpful love hangs much on the imagination of the lover.

    The other reason I say that imagination is a Christian duty is this speaking or writing or singing or drawing or painting or carving thrilling truth in a boring way is a sin. And God is thrilling. The supremacy of God in the life of the mind is not honored when he and his amazing world are observed truly, analyzed duly, and communicated boringly. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given to make the communication of his beauty beautiful.

    Imagination may be the hardest work of all in the life of the mind. And perhaps the most God-like. It is the closest we get to creation ex-nihilo. We must think of a pattern of words called a poem that has never existed before and does not now exist in any human mind. We must think of an analogy or metaphor or illustration which has no existence. We must see it in our minds when it is not there. We must create music that has never existed. All of this because we are like God and because he is infinitely worthy of ever new words and songs. "Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth" (Psalm 96:1).

    A college committed to the supremacy of God in the life of the mind will cultivate many fertile and a few great imaginations. And O how the world needs God-besotted minds that can say the great things of God and sing the great things of God in ways that have never been said or sung before.

    And so may God lead you on from observation and cogitation to the great God-like work of imagination.


    Why should a Christian College concern itself with cultivating the habit of memorization in its community of learners? Because we are not the first or the best to have observed and thought and spoken with imagination. The best and wisest things that will ever be written have already been written. The best and wisest are in the Bible. And then there are great poems and great songs. God has been seen and savored and celebrated in words that we today will never touch in power and beauty.

    But why memorize when you can just read? And here I have in mind mainly the Scriptures, but also great poetry. Two God-exalting reasons. First, memorizing words that are beautiful and true has a deep influence on the spirit and fruit of our minds. If you want your mind to be deeply shaped by the mind of God - which is surely a great goal of Christian education - you will memorize much of God's self-revelation in Scripture. The mind and the brain are great mysteries. Who but God can explain what thought is? Why one thought occurs and not another? How word flow from our mouths without each one having time to check with any deliberation, and yet hanging together? How is our mind shaped over time? One answer is. Memorized truth and memorized beauty go very deep. And who can estimate how profound the effect will be when that truth and beauty are the very words of God.

    And the second reason to encourage you to create a community of memorization is that God has designed the mouth to be a fountain of life. "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life" (Proverbs 10:11). "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver" (Proverbs 25:11). "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?" (Luke 24:32). When the mind is filled with the word of God, the mouth speaks with great power.

    I think a Christian College should require all its students over four years to memorize a dozen Psalms, Isaiah 53, the Sermon on the Mount, Romans 8, and 1 Corinthians 13. What a gift it would be to their minds and their hearts and their language and their world.

    Exhortation to Faculty and Administration

    I close with an exhortation to faculty and administration. May you be unafraid to craft philosophies of education, and statements of purpose, and class syllabi, and lectures, and assignments which are manifestly Christ-exalting and God-centered and Bible-saturated. And may you enjoy in every discipline the conscious and worshipful experience of God's supremacy - the truth and beauty of Christ by whom and for whom all things were made. Amen.

    1. Quoted in First Things, Dec. 1991, No. 18, p. 63 (italics added).


    Sermon by John Piper
  4. ksen

    ksen Wiki on Garth!

    Please forgive my bad formatting. I'm still trying to figure this out. :)
  5. rnmomof7

    rnmomof7 Legend


    I agree with this. There are many that want to substitute "feelings" for Biblical scholarship and study.
    God gave us oue emotions..but also our mind
    We are to have the mind of Christ..Does anyone think that Jesus did not plan and reason and study?
  6. ksen

    ksen Wiki on Garth!


    This is an excellent point. Knowledge, education, and even *gasp!* philosophy are not evil in and of themselves. It is only when we pursue such things outside of the supremacy of God that we get in trouble.
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