Use Your Brain! — A Review of John Stott’s Your Mind Matters

Posted: May 20, 2012 in 99-Uncategorized

USE YOUR BRAIN! A Review of John Stott’s Your Mind Matters
by Mark Bowling

When reading the book, Your Mind Matters by John Stott, one might look for one or two sentences that epitomize the thrust of the book – that one thought that drives the book’s point home greater than any other. It might well be, when John Stott says,
“Now all the verbs Luke uses here of Paul’s evangelistic ministry – to argue, to explain, to prove, to proclaim and to persuade – are to some extent “intellectual words. They indicate that Paul was teaching…and arguing toward a conclusion. He was seeking to convince in order to convert.” (67)

Stott says God created man as a rational being, a thinking being. It is through knowledge of God that we grow to spiritual maturity. In the end, the best way to summarize this book in one sentence is that emotion may lead us to the cross, but knowledge of God will keep us there.
In Chapter 1, Stott begins by identifying three examples of anti-intellectualism that is prevalent in Christianity today. He states that Catholic Christians have “nearly always placed a strong emphasis on ritual and its proper performance” (15). Stott comments that the danger is not ritual itself, but ritualism, which becomes “a meaningless substitute for intelligent worship.” He then identifies “Radical Christians,” who focus on “social and political action” without concern for doctrine (16). Next, he takes aim at “Pentecostal Christians, many of whom make experience the major criterion of truth.” Stott quotes an unnamed Pentecostal leader as having said “what matters in the end is ‘not doctrine but experience” (17). In conclusion, Dr. Stott discusses his desire to see a balance between the anti-intellectualism of the above situations and the opposite pole of arid, unemotional intellectual approaches to God. Both the mind and the heart were created to worship God, according to Dr. Stott, not solely one or the other. Each must serve in its place.
In Chapter 2, Stott demonstrates discusses how knowledge has changed the world rather than brawn. It is clear that the idealist, the non-violent philosophical thinkers of the ages that have radically changed the world and the course of history. Gandi, Mandela, King, and others jump to mind that have radically changed their societies simply with expressed thought rather than through violent overthrows of governments. Of course, Jesus’ taught his followers to change the world not with swords but through changed hearts. Although other animals can think in rudimentary ways, only man can reason and understand. Stott makes this a powerful appeal when he says, “Scripture takes for granted that we have the capability to think and to reason and it rebukes us when we act in ways show us to be less rational than animals” (24). Uncontrolled emotions lead us to satisfy our own pleasures. Our emotions are kept in check by our minds. It is through reason that we discover the effects of sin and the methods by which we can extract ourselves from it. Evil thoughts can be reasoned away by comparative thought of Godly things. Stott gives us biblical examples of how God expects us to use our mind. For example, Jesus rebukes his audiences for begging for signs and uses the example of how we can reason from the signs of the physical world how the weather is going to be on a particular day but yet they kept begging for signs of the Messiah.
Stott now turns to God himself as evidence that reason is an expectation. The processes of nature are logically explicable. God has expressed his thoughts to use through the processes he established in nature. Stott then quotes James Orr’s book, The Christian View of God and The World. Orr’s quote basically says that what differentiates Christianity from paganism and from other religions in general is that it has a defined doctrine. The truth revealed by God in His universe and His Word gives us is a basis of knowledge. However, this doctrine without exercise of knowledge becomes ritual. Ritual without understanding becomes weak and easily swayed away from the knowledge of God (29-30). From Orr, one can see that Christians must have doctrine and understanding of why we believe it.
Next, Stott addresses the role of our mind in redemption from sin. Man can read and reason. He can read and reason upon the gospel. The written word of the gospel and the sharing of these words addressed to the mind is the chief means by which God has appointed to bring salvation to sinners. Stott goes onto indict modern Christianity. We want our church to be like our entertainment, mindless-not thought-provoking such that we would be forced to re-examine ourselves. We don’t want to have to think about it. In this atmosphere, ritual becomes most important. How do we get Christians to be thinkers again? Reading the Bible! Stott explains that Paul repeatedly uses the words knowledge, wisdom, discernment and understanding in his canonical letters to the churches he planted. Stott concludes that “there can be no doubt that Paul found these characteristics to be foundational to the Christian life” (41).
In Chapter 3, Stott identifies six areas of the Christian life where knowledge is crucial. They are worship, faith, holiness, guidance, evangelism, and ministry. With regard to worship, Stott calls on several Davidic Psalms. In each case, the mighty deeds of God in the universe and for his people Israel all point toward his mightiest deed for us all, the birth, life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. Only through reading and meditation can one understand what God has done for each believer and thus respond in praise. All worship should be an intelligent response to God’s self-revelation in his Word. Next, Stott describes how knowledge and faith work together. Stott explains that true faith is essentially reasonable because it trusts in the character and promises of God. One does not shut his eyes to the facts and circumstances of life and think happy thoughts. Believers express faith by reasoning. According to Stott, faith is a reasoned choice not something mystical in which we have no role to play. Next, Stott addresses knowledge and holiness. His argument is that knowledge of the Scriptures (just as Jesus displayed in his temptation in the wilderness) and thus of the will of God is the first secret to a righteous life. He warns though that knowledge alone though is not enough. We must renew our mind so that our behavior becomes transformed. We must recall Scripture’s truths again and again until they take hold in our mind and thus changes our character. This is not giddy optimism. This is recalling the truth that exists until we make it part of our mind and thus who we are. Stott then moves onto the next area where knowledge and the Christian walk must interact. This area is guidance or discernment. Stott further breaks the issue down into two categories – general will of God and particular will of God. The believer develops knowledge of God’s general will for all believers. This will is that of being conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus, Christ, is fully evident and revealed in Scripture. Thus, we need to use our mind to study the Scripture, using proper biblical interpretation principles, so that we may discover God’s general will as to how his people should react to certain situations in life. God’s particular will is not to be sought directly in Scripture. It comes forth from the proper interpretation of Scripture. Proper interpretation of Scripture must be taken to the next step which is application. Application is where God’s particular will for our lives is shown. We must use our minds and our common sense and pray that God will guide us through this thinking process.
Knowledge and evangelism should not be separated either. In this area of Christian life, Stott relies heavily on the Apostle Paul. He states that Paul summed up his ministry by saying that “we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Persuading is an intellectual enterprise. To persuade is to develop arguments that will change another person’s opinion on a particular subject. Stott also indicates that once a person was convinced of his need for Christ, Paul and other early Christian evangelists taught them a body of doctrine about Christ. Each of these activities requires a reasoned approach by both parties to the transaction – the evangelizer and the evangelized. Closely related to evangelism is pastoral ministry. Knowledge is thus required in the pastoral ministry. However, it is a reminder against lazy or false doctrine in the pulpit. Stott reminds that it is by the knowledge of Christ as he is portrayed in the Scriptures and proclaimed by the ministry that Christians reach spiritual maturity. Thus, pastoral minister must be studious, both in preparation for the ministry and in the field with his flock.
In the final chapter (Chapter 4), Stott says that knowledge of God should is foundational to a true and full Christian walk. Our knowledge should have results. We must move forward by remembering “just one thing: God never intends knowledge to be an end in itself but always to be means to some other end.” He again calls on Paul to make his case. Without love, our knowledge is like a clanging cymbal. It makes noise but does nothing. Stott claims, “Knowledge carries with it the solemn responsibility to act on the knowledge we have, to translate our knowledge into appropriate behavior” (80). As a result, we find knowledge leading to worship, faith, holiness, and love.
To conclude, Stott’s book demonstrates the effect of Luke 10:27 commands. We are commanded in the first half of this verse to “Love your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” Knowledge of God leads us to love Him more and realize what God has done for us through redemptive history culminating in Jesus in the flesh to offer a final sacrifice for our sin nature. This knowledge should make us giddy with joy. It should make us so giddy with joy that execute the second half of the verse – to love our neighbor as ourselves. Emotion may get us to the cross. Knowledge keeps us there. Together in proper balance they embolden us to share the cross.

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