“Christian” Ideas that Aren’t (5)

1.    “I’m more of a New Testament Christian.”
2.    “The Old Testament is legalistic and about law; the New Testament is about love and grace.
3.    “God helps those who help themselves.”
4.    “Those who do not work should not eat.”
5.    “Minds are like umbrellas.  They work best when open.”

Though not Christian in origin, this slogan is found an numerous church signs and is a “foundational truth” in most mainline and even in many evangelical churches.  I call this the “Dead Poets Society Syndrome” (or is that sin-drome).

I refer to the Robin Williams’ 1989 hit movie in which Williams stars as a English professor at a prestigious but stuffy and tradition-bound boys school.  He tries to open their minds, makes a cardinal virtue out of carpe diem (“seize the day”), discounts traditions of literary criticism and interpretation and makes free, autonomous self-expression the core of the curriculum.

“Make up your own minds” is a nearly unquestioned mantra in our day.  Free your minds from the bounds of tradition, family influence, church teaching, and make up your own mind about what you believe.  The only good mind is an open mind.  So it goes.

But I’m not sure.  I think Stanley Hauerwas, who claimed that “Dead Poets Society” was one of the most conformist films you could see, was on to something.  He claimed that most of us do not have minds worth making up!  If we cut people free from the traditions, influences, and commitments they grew up with, and send them out “open minded” to make up their minds about what they really believe, we only make them easy pickings for the consumeristic-materialistic mindset that governs and shapes most of what most of us think and believe in today’s world! 

He goes on to say that he wants his students to read the same books he has, and think like he does while under his tutelage. Then they will have a mind well-formed enough to responsibly “make up” on their own.  They may agree, disagree, modify, or reject what and how he has taught them.  But such students will have the rudiments and habits of a mind made up under Hauerwas’ instruction.

Lacking such formation, the cry to think for ourselves and open our minds is a sure recipe to be captured or unduly influenced by ideologies and patterns of thought antithetical to the gospel.  To try and make up our own minds apart from or in opposition to the traditions and teaching that have made up the church’s mind is both a crucial and cruel mistake.  It places us in a situation we cannot handle and will finally distort us as badly as whatever “evil” we believe the church’s thought and tradition have done to us.  Until our “minds” are sufficiently formed by the church’s “mind,” we have no way to know what might count as an insight into or alteration of thought we ought to take seriously.

One church I served put this “Minds are like umbrellas, they work best when open” mantra on our church sign one week.  That very same week the Christian Church up the street on the corner had this message on their sign:  “Some open minds should be closed for repairs.”  Maybe taken together like that, there’s some truth in both!


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