Graduate article: Physicist to published theologian

Myles MacBean, a graduate from our Class of 2016, shares his testimony and how God has led him to become a published author. 

Stepping out with God

In the last few months I have often been asked how I got from being a physicist to being a ‘published theologian’, and the honest answer would be that only the Lord really knows!

God certainly gave me a character that meant from an early age I loved the challenge and fulfilment of making things. As a schoolboy, it was making plastic model aircraft. In my twenties as a physicist, it was making microscopic quantum electronic devices. In my thirties, it was creating new-fangled internet services. In my forties, it was engaging the imagination of families around the world as I helped make Disney’s digital entertainment and run Disney’s online business.

God also chose to break into my life in a very personal way in my late teens, to disciple me especially through my local Youth Fellowship and through Scripture Union Scotland, and to continue shaping me through church leadership roles from a relatively young age. And, looking back, I can recognise that God continued to shape traits in me that worked across, and wove together, my professional and spiritual life: a gift for forming, equipping and releasing teams of people to excel; a fascination for the principles of communicating effectively, and a passion for simply making things happen.

But then, in 2012…crisis hit!  Looking back on that time in hindsight, I had not been listening carefully enough to God for a while and it took God putting me through a year of tribulation for me to listen. Overnight, a sweet-tasting and fulfilling career in industry turned to sand in my mouth until – in desperation – I renewed my surrender to God’s will.

Above: Myles’ cohort when studying his MA in Applied Theology with us at Moorlands College.


Quite quickly this led me to Moorlands College, as I gave up business life and made the time for theology studies. Despite my concern that as a scientist and business man I had never written a humanities style academic essay in my life, the Moorlands College approach to the MA in Applied Theology was a perfect match for me. Its modular structure gives the mature believer with academic/professional experience the time to seek future ministry opportunities while also ‘retraining’ in theology; the ‘applied theology’ approach encourages such students to bring all their professional, life and church experience to bare in a very beneficial way; and the focus on ‘practice’ allows us to immediately use what we learn at Moorlands in our ministry as we fit all our years of experience within new theological frameworks.

This academically rigorous, practical theological grounding I received at Moorlands certainly gave my wife and I additional confidence as we stepped out with God anew in 2014 and – in a move that turned out to be a greater surprise to us than our friends and family – end up on the mission field in Malawi with Zambesi Mission. Acting as Church Development Partners, for the last three years we have been able to deploy all our life-skills for the benefit of the church in Malawi while also learning so many things about ourselves, about God and about his world.

Above: Out in the mission field of Malawi


Here in Malawi, I have been able to further my Moorlands-encouraged passion in preaching and preacher training: carrying out field research for my MA dissertation on how best to create contextual, scalable and sustainable grassroots preacher training in sub-Saharan Africa and then – among other things – developing such a grassroots training program that is now rolling out across Malawi.

And so that is how a physicist gets to being a ‘published theologian’ – by stepping out with God! First I was able to combine a small piece of my Malawi field data with a piece of work I did for an MA assignment on preaching set by Chris Sinkinson and see it published in Evangelical Review of Theology. [1.] Then, encouraged by evaluation feedback from Ian Coffey, I have also recently completed reworking my dissertation into a book due for release by Apostolos Publishing in January 2018 [2.] and is available now for pre-order.

At the end of November 2017, Ruth and I return to the UK at the end of our three-year assignment. Please pray for us as we seek to discern how we should be stepping out with God next.

Above: Myles’ latest book, Preach the Word: Towards effective grassroots preacher training in sub-Saharan Africa, available for pre-order now.


You can find out more about Ruth and Myles’s time in Malawi, and follow them as they continue seeking to step out with God, by visiting their blog at www.steppingoutwithgod.com 

References

[1.] Myles MacBean, “The Homiletic Window: A model for reflective preaching praxis”, Evangelical Review of Theology, 41:3, 2017, 209-221.

[2.] Myles MacBean, Preach the Word: Towards effective grassroots preacher training in sub-Saharan Africa, London: Apostolos Publishing, 2018. (See http://www.apostolos-publishing.com/product/preach-the-word)

A Reformation for today?



On the anniversary marking the beginning of the Reformation, our Director of Postgraduate Studies, Chris Jack, celebrates the magnitude of what Luther set in motion, 500 years ago.

Over the months and decades that followed Luther’s actions in Wittenberg, he and his fellow reformers saw great change sweep through not only the Church, but all of Europe—theologically, politically, socially and culturally.

“Always reforming” was one of the Reformation’s watch words, and Chris wonders what Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and the other reformers would think of the Church in our day and age. Was the reformers’ work complete, or would they encourage us to cultivate a new spirit of reformation in the Church today?

Graduation 2017

Over 90 BA and MA graduates from Moorlands College recently celebrated the completion of their Applied Theology degrees. In the tranquil setting of Christchurch Priory, more than 70 per cent of the undergraduates were awarded with a 2:1 or First Class Honours degree. Our graduates, their guests and the Moorlands College staff team joined together to celebrate the success of its student community.

Dr Paul Nyquist, President of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and guest speaker at the celebratory service, spoke of the impact the graduates would have in the world today. Reflecting on recent news and current affairs, he asked, “How does God want us to walk out in a world like today? He wants each of us to have a heart that is totally His.”

The Class of 2017 was the biggest year we’ve had so far, with students from all three of our regional centres coming together to celebrate the completion of their studies. We also celebrated the success of our Midlands Regional Centre, which was originally set up in 2014 and saw its first group of students graduate this year.

Above: A few of our Midlands Regional Centre graduates with Sharon Prior (Senior Tutor/Lecturer), Rachel Retallick-Cheel (Centre Manager) and Colin Bennett (Vice Principal of Development).


At each graduation service, we present an outstanding student with the Academic Prize to commend them for their efforts. Jonathan Senior, who graduated with a BA (Hons) First Class Honours in Applied Theology, won the prize this year. When discussing the achievement, Jonathan said, “I am thrilled to have received the academic award at Moorlands College. It was thanks to the quality of teaching and student feedback. After initially getting in trouble for using unnecessarily big words like ‘expostulate’ I never looked back and very much enjoyed engaging with God’s word!”

Above: Academic Prize winner and Christchurch campus-based graduate Jonathan Senior (centred) with his parents.


Many of our graduates will now take up roles as church leaders, children’s and youth pastors, teachers, evangelists, charity workers, missionaries and church planters across the UK and beyond.

Megan Barrett graduated with a First Class BA (Hons) Applied Theology (Youth and Community Work). She is now beginning her career working with Message Wales, a project working with schools, prisons, communities and local churches to share the good news of Jesus.

Above: One of our Class of 2017 graduates, Megan Barrett.


Megan shared, “My experience studying at Moorlands College was challenging and hard, but also incredibly fun and life transforming. It not only continued to stir up my passion for studying the Bible, but it also equipped me with the tools to be able to study God’s Word at an even deeper level. I am so thankful that God called me to Moorlands College and I cannot wait to see Him continue to do amazing things in my life, and in the lives of the young people that I’ll meet in my role with Message Wales.”

The 2017 graduates, from both undergraduate and postgraduate courses, were as follows:

BA (Hons) Applied Theology: Daniel Alcock, Rachel Bate, Christopher Benbow, Anna Boorman, Michael Britton, David Brock, Rebecca Brown, Sophie Canfield, Amy Capner, Damien Chambers, George Cook, Emma Cribben, David Duche-Ruilova, Debra Durrant, Daniela Eisentraeger, Matthew Evans, Giles Fairman-Bourn, Benjamin Fitzsimmonds, Zoe Gorton, Simeon Grimshaw, Graham Hayes, Maren Hedermann, Jonathan Hillman, Amy Hitchmough, Melissa Hobbs, Joshua Hooker, Christopher Humphries, Ruth Jones, Thomas Langston, Nathan Leigh, Mark McEvoy, Linnea Madeleine Murray, Paul Muzzall, Lee Pollit, Jonathan Schnarr, Alexander Scott, Jonathan Senior, Matthew Smith, Lucy Stone, Paul Sutton, Craig-Sweeney-Essex, Jodi Thomas, Clarissa Vanstone, Peter Wallace, Daniel Warren and Jessica Williamson.

BA (Hons) Applied Theology (Youth and Community Work): Christopher Adams, Christopher Bancroft, Megan Barrett, Daniel Bennett, Adam Brown, Tabitha Crawforth, Fiona Cursiter, Samuel Dallimore, Israel Douglas, Hannah Fenton, Samuel Hughes, Daniel Knight, Timothy Ogutu, Amie Ramsden, Scott Rushby, Ruth Slade, Joshua Taylor, Jessica Walker, George Wortley and Alison Wright.

MA Applied Theology: Nicholas Arkley, Carelle Begley, Clair Bent, Simon Burin, Derek Dayman, Simon Ellis, James Findlay, Robin Gerrard, Andrew Gaudion, Aaron Griffin, Wayne Hadley, Mark Macklin, David Sharples, Neil Tinson, Steven Watson and Michael Wildsmith.

MA Applied Theology (Youth and Community Work): Emma Holland

Certificate of Higher Education Applied Theology: Mikael Blacklock, Daniel Connold, Thomas James, Emmie Mwembo and Joshua Soal.

Postgraduate Certificate Applied Theology: Joshua Butler, Maureen Pimenta, Andrew Smallridge and Thomas Ward.

Postgraduate Diploma Applied Theology: Kimberley Dean, Darlington Machingauta and Greg Whittick.

Above: More of our grads from the Class of 2017.


 

Student article: Serving in Croatia

Daniel Brooks, a second year Moorlands College student, travelled to Croatia this summer to serve, lead and support the spiritual growth of its young people. Daniel shares his summer stories with us, reflecting on his experiences and the various mission opportunities that you too can get involved in.

My Summer in Croatia by Daniel Brooks

When you think of mission, what springs to mind? Is it a tribal un-developed village in Africa, or perhaps rather an urban slum in Guatemala? How about Croatia?

The country of Croatia perhaps isn’t the first place that comes to mind for a deprived area of the world that desperately needs aid. However, whilst it may appear to be on the surface to be doing just fine, it really is in need. The need that I am talking about however is spiritual need. Croatia, like the rest of the world, is desperately longing for something or someone that will fulfil, give hope, offer acceptance and deep unending love. The God of Christianity is the God we serve, and not only does He hand over those things to us through His will, He blesses us with so much more, His son Jesus Christ.

I am excited sitting here writing, as it means I get to share about this summer with all of you (obviously) fascinated readers. It brings me deep pleasure knowing that what happened this summer can be enjoyed and be challenging to more than just me.

It begins…

On 9 June, I embarked on what was to be the most compelling season of my life so far. In Western Croatia, there is a stunning region named Gorski Kotar. It’s a beautiful area of forests, mountains and rivers; at the end of which is the DPB House, which is partnered with Scripture Union and SEND International.  The house is led by an American couple, Steve and Jenny Meeker, who created and now run a program called Leadership Lab International (LLI). The program was created for 18–28 year olds to grow in their leadership skills.

Training

Before the summer camps for the young people began, we went through a process of four weeks of training. We learnt Applied Bible study methods with Michael Brent and went through the book of Romans (our book for all camp Bible studies). It was a real privilege, with the quality of learning being absolutely outstanding. We gained a deeper understanding of Romans and were practically equipped to teach Bible to young people.

All of this was especially useful considering the equipping that Moorlands College provided last year. Moorlands College complemented LLI perfectly, and the training received at Moorlands was the best bridge for working effectively at LLI. As a result, LLI has provided an even better bridge into my second year and most certainly for future ministry.

Additionally, lectures on outdoor adventure leadership proved to be vital to our leadership growth. We were given the opportunity to be selected and be trained by experts in either rock climbing, archery (my sport) or canoeing. These sports were then the ones we taught to young people within camps.

Further teaching included leadership training, delving into cross cultural communication, covenant community, team development and more. Finally, a huge feature was our module on spiritual formation, getting to know God through fasting, prayer, worship, relationship and the Bible.

It was not only was it a privilege to serve on this Christ-centred team, but it was also a shock; we came together in such solidarity.

Camps

And so, after our training, the camps began!

I really fell in love with the camps the most. I started meeting with the kids at Missionary Kids Camp 1 (MK Camp)  and I realised how much I enjoy youth work and how huge my passion is to see young people transformed for the Gospel. Through both the two MK camps, International Camp and English Camp, I got to meet a huge number of young people and exceptional leaders. I am still blown away with how I was transformed and how God transformed the young people.

We would usually have devotional time, breakfast, lead a Bible study and our sport, have lunch, lead some form of game, eat dinner, lead worship, share testimonies and then finish with all sorts of activities in the evening. Each day usually started around 6:30am and finished around 11pm. For those of you thinking it could be easy… you’re wrong!

Testimonies

Here are a few stories which were clear highlights of the summer, and blessedly I have been given permission to share them by the individuals involved.

Martin came to our International Camp. His mother told us that Martin never comes out of his room, constantly plays computer games and doesn’t go and see his friends. She said, “We are not Christians but I just wanted Martin to do something this summer, we have never done anything like this.” Now, through the week of sports, Bible study and all the rest, Martin seemed to eagerly listen to what I was teaching through the week. One day after a talk on salvation in the evening, I found Martin outside by the bonfire sitting on a rock praying. My heart leapt when I saw that. When he had finished, I spoke with him and he conveyed how much he connected with the talk. Next morning in the Bible study, I asked him to pray, and he paused for about 10 seconds before finally saying he would do it. The next day, Martin volunteered to pray. Now, remember this is a non-Christian guy who had never been to anything like this. It soon reached the end of the week and his mum came to pick him up. Her face lit up when she saw Martin and I saw an expression of confusion on her face as he came closer. We told her about the week and she was just shocked at how Martin had changed. She then proceeded to say to me something I will never forget: “Croatians mean things when they say them. If you are ever in Croatia again, I want you to come stay with us, have our food and our drink and teach Martin more about God.”

At MK Camp 1 I got the honour and privilege of meeting a guy called Sidney. Through the week of getting to know Sid, we both quickly realised how similar we were and spent time sharing testimony and chatting about life together. It became apparent that mentoring Sid was a real option and so that happened at the end of the week. I soon found out that Sid’s brother, Bradie, was going to be at MK Camp 2. Sid told me a lot about him so I was ready for what made Bradie laugh and what his nicknames were. When he arrived, we instantly connected and it became a hilarious week because of Bradie and his other friends. After both MK Camps had finished, I got the amazing honour of being invited to spend Christmas with Bradie, Sid and their family because of the connection with the two guys.

There was also an amazing guy called Ely who, through one of the other camps, was constantly questioning Christianity. I remember one day he asked me to help him with a serious question he had. We both went over to a table-tennis table and started chatting about God. He described how he desired a deeper relationship with God, and kept asking how he went about doing that. It was absolutely incredible how God was working in that guy’s life.

God used us as leaders so mightily and wonderfully for His purposes even though we are so incapable without Him. Transformation happened in my life which was a blessing enough, and then to be able to witness and partake in transformation of young people’s lives as well, simply put, blew my mind.

Community

One of the great parts of living at DPB was the community that was built. For those of you who have experienced good community before (whether in a Christian setting or not, whether at Moorlands College or wherever it might be) you know that it can be a double-edged sword of blessings and pains. I don’t overstate when I say this, but I can recall only a couple of minor disagreements over the whole summer, which sounds impossible, but I am being entirely honest. The community we got to build with each of us students, with staff, mentors, the young people and their parents was pure joy. I really have never experienced anything like it.

Slovenia SEND conference

A very special lady named Sherri, one of our Camp Directors for MK Camp,  approached me one day and asked if I was free between two particular dates in August to help lead youth work at a conference in Slovenia, Lake Bled, for SEND International. In this summer, I had planned one free week to travel in between the end of LLI and the heading onto my final camp at Sirač. Funnily enough, the date she suggested was in that free week!

There was many things that rushed through my mind at that point, and she said to go and pray about it. Eventually I came back to her, and started pointing out I wouldn’t have enough money, I’d be too tired, and questioned how I’d sort lifts to Slovenia and back. She quickly stopped me and solved all those problems in about five minutes and it ended up going ahead!

The conference itself lasted four days. My role was to help a lady called Teena (an absolute legend) with MK care for the week whilst the adults had their conference. Ironically, and hilariously, I knew most of the group from MK camps earlier in the summer so I got to cement those relationships further. It truly was a blessed few days which I was honoured more than I have ever been in my life. I did the clicker for the worship, a small menial task, but got an applause for it from about 100 missionaries at the end of the conference. At the last dinner time asked for the one Englishman (me) in the room to come up and they gave me a gift bag to thank me for serving at the conference. My favourite part was being able to speak to missionaries at breakfast, lunch and dinner and get insight on mission from every angle possible—it was incredible.

Camp Sirač 2017

To finish up the epic summer, it had to end where it all began five years ago for me, in Sirač for my seventh visit. The Baptist Church in the village has been partnered with my home church The Forge for almost 20 years, and have run a kids camp for all that time every year. After arriving back from Slovenia, I came to Sirač and it was safe to say, it was the most successful camp we have had in the last five years at least. We saw as many as 35 kids or more each day for five days of camp which is amazing considering that the camp is run in a fairly small village. God did some very special things, and those who came over were an incredible testimony to the community of who God is.

Future

It’s safe to say that this summer was both everything I expected and also everything I wasn’t expecting! I have described it to most people like it has been three years worth of growth and change compacted into three months. Leadership Lab International, Slovenia SEND Conference and Camp Sirač have been three outstanding opportunities that God was so awesome to offer me this summer. The moments and memories I have I will treasure forever, and will build on. I somehow received multiple offers for different future options in Croatia and elsewhere as a result of LLI. If you would join me in praying for that future wherever that may be, I would be forever indebted to you.

Opportunities for you

Now, it’s great that you managed to make your way through all of these ramblings of mine, but what is the significance of all of this to you? In early February 2018, Steve Meeker, the leader of Leadership Lab International and DPB House, will be coming to England and also visiting Moorlands College for two days. In this time, Steve will be available for any questions on the topic of joining LLI for a season just as I did this summer, or alternatively for a Block Placement in third year. For now, be praying, and considering if you want to seek calling in areas such as mission, leadership, youth work, outdoor ministry or camp ministry overseas.

If you have any queries about anything related to this, please come speak with me or visit the LLI website. Mission Croatia this summer has allowed me to discover my calling and be a part of something far greater than me—the mighty and unbelievable works of God’s hands.

Special Thanks

Thank you to the LLI students: Sung Kyung, Klajvert, Emma, Siret, Rachel, Burdeen and Megan.

A ridiculously large amount of gratitude has to go to the staff and volunteers who made this summer one to always cherish and remember: Marijana, Steve, Jenny, Tamara, Nate, Mia, Jonathan, Alison, Randy, Katie, Ash, Marissa, Uriah, Anja, Mitch, Sherri, Susan, David and more.

MK Campers, International Campers, English Campers, the biggest thanks to you, you know who you are.

Daniel is a second-year Moorlands College campus-based student.

 

High praise in latest National Student Survey

Latest government findings show that our students at Moorlands College are among the most satisfied in the UK, ranking in the top 15% for overall satisfaction in the National Student Survey (NSS).

The results released this summer reveal that Moorlands College scored highly for student satisfaction, with an overall 92% of students agreeing with the survey’s twenty-six positive statements. This overall satisfaction percentage been maintained since last year’s results.

In addition to the satisfaction ranking, Moorlands College were successful in many areas, particularly those relating to course teaching (95%) and learning opportunities (96%). A further handful of specific scores included: 96% satisfaction for opportunities for students to apply what they learn; 95% satisfaction for students’ ability to contact staff; and 98% satisfaction for the course’s intellectual stimulation, placing us in the top 6% of the 458 institutions whose students participated in the NSS.

When discussing the recent satisfaction results, Ian Kirby, Vice Principal (Academic) at Moorlands College, shared: “Our students have spoken clearly about the excellent teaching and learning opportunities at Moorlands College. Our staff are delighted to see that their partnership with students is working effectively to equip them for their future.”

Architecture and the ivory towers of theology

Neil Tinson

I recently found myself chatting to a friend, someone I hadn’t seen for a few years, about my role at Moorlands College and our emphasis on applied theology. It’s quite a common conversation I have when people show an interest in what we do.

My friend immediately saw that our students benefit from the theoretical knowledge. But he glazed over slightly when I explained they’re also compelled to apply it practically, within their area of ministry. His response surprised me, as—if anything—people usually see the benefit of the ‘doing’ bit before they regard the full value of the ‘learning’ bit. I was caught slightly off guard.

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T BUILD
A few days later, I was listening to an interview with Aaron Betsky on Monocle 24’s Section D show. Betsky, Dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in the US, was being interviewed about his new book, Architecture Matters (Thames & Hudson, 2017). In a chapter entitled ‘Why You Shouldn’t Build’, he argues that our cities and understanding of the built environment are heavily shaped by ideas and projects that never actually ‘break ground’. The structures and spaces that never materialise beyond an architects’ drawing, rendering or model are nonetheless crucially important to the field, he says, for their conceptual and educational merit. For Betsky, ideas don’t necessarily need to be built in order to matter.

Betsky’s approach comfortably reflects the philosophy of his mentor, Lloyd Wright, who promoted a harmony between human habitation and the natural realm through ‘organic architecture’. Betsky argues that “architecture is first and foremost about seeing, and knowing what you’re seeing.” In an increasingly ephemeral world, and with resources (including land) fast disappearing, socially-adept architects can shape both our view and our experience of the world through ideas alone—without the need for cumbersome bricks, mortar, steel or glass to prove a point.

Architecture Matters book

ARCHITECTS WITHOUT BUILDINGS
Listening to this perspective, I was immediately reminded of an architectural practice supporting Betsky’s line of thought. Formed in London in the 1960s, the notorious avant-garde architectural group, Archigram, influenced the postmodern and deconstructivist trends of the late 20th century—even though most of their projects dwelt at the limits of possibility and remained unbuilt. Their work was dramatically neofuturistic and envisioned a glamorous future machine age; turning away from convention to, in the words of Simon Sadler, “propose cities that move and houses worn like suits of clothes. In drawings inspired by pop art and psychedelia, architecture floated away, tethered by wires, gantries, tubes, and trucks.”

Perhaps the eminence of Archigram grew particularly because so much of its work remained illusively conceptual. What occupies the mind needn’t occupy a plot in order to shape society and culture. Without being something one can physically experience, somewhere to step into and move through, somewhere whose limitations become both known and felt, somewhere that would soon fade in the memory of lived experience, the ideas of Archigram linger instead in the imagination. And so often our imagination can overpower any of our five senses.

Archigram, Walking City (Project 064), 1964

Above: Archigram’s Walking City (Project 064), 1964 (© Deutsches Architekturmuseum)

Ultimately, though, architects are judged for their mastery of the discipline on the quality of their buildings. Radical ideas may win competitions and the hearts of enthusiasts, but only in physical form will they truly impact private lives and the public square. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, not just in the artfully illustrated recipe.

Then it struck me. Might there be a similarity here between the Christian whose theological knowledge isn’t purposefully put to use, isn’t trialled and refined by their actions, and the architect whose work rarely breaks ground?

TAKE YOUR MIND FOR A WALK
Theological thought and knowledge is indeed vital. God’s Kingdom is no troubled metropolis—a place where sticking to the popular hotspots of Christian theology will keep you safe, but where intellectually wandering the backstreets is a shortcut to trouble. This is a place where a lifetime of cognitive strolling, exploring and sightseeing is a faithful part of what it means to be a committed Christian: it does us good individually, and it does us good collectively.

Let me explain. First, rigorous theological understanding is important for us as individuals. There is merit to the mind. In Matthew 22, a Pharisee tests Jesus by asking him which is the greatest of the Law’s commandments. Jesus’ reply is to love the Lord completely: with our heart, our soul, and our mind (v37). He’s referencing the Torah directly, by quoting the key confession of the Jews; also known as the Shema. Found in Deuteronomy 6:5, the Shema extols the Israelites to obediently “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

Note, however, that last word. In his restating, Jesus swaps the original Hebrew word for “strength” with the equivalent word for “mind”.

In Hebrew thought, the heart wasn’t the seat of emotion, as it is now, but the place from where decisions and choices were made. The ‘heart’ of the early Israelites was the ‘mind’ of today. By saying to love God “with all your heart”, the Shema doesn’t neglect the mind, but treats it as an inseparable part of the whole self, called to a life of public devotion.

So why is Jesus recorded by Matthew to have subtly changed the language to re-emphasise the mind as a discrete expression of faithfulness? We know that Matthew generally has a high view of the intellect in his Gospel, made apparent in the emphasis he places on Jesus’ teaching ministry. Furthermore, Frederick Dale Bruner believes that, according to all the Gospel writers, Jesus wanted to accent believers’ mental, critical and rational love of God already resident in the intellectual impulse of Hellenistic Jewish tradition. The commentator suggests that “Good thinking loves God as much as do good feeling and good willing, and this thinking deserves equal time with these usually more celebrated faculties.”

And it’s particularly fitting that Jesus should be challenging an expert in the Law to love God with all his mind.

I wonder if there’s another reason for the word swap, too. Purely speculation, of course, but could it be that this person of Jesus standing before the Pharisee, this revelation of God’s character in relatable, human form, opened up the way for all people to really know God with their minds in an entirely new way?

Whatever we learn from Matthew 22, it’s clear that attentively feeding our mind is a key way of building a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. And it’s not just conceivable, but commanded.

Second, rigorous theological understanding is important for us as a community of believers. Thinkers are inspired by other thinkers. When theological thought is shared, it credits the account of the Christian community. Critical thinking and different insights keep us from becoming complacent in our understanding of the faith, and our appreciation of God’s Word. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the gifts of the Holy Spirit—each being a “manifestation of the Spirit… given for the common good.” (v8) The gifts listed by Paul include messages of wisdom and knowledge, all serving to build unity through diversity. A bit later in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul urges his brothers and sisters to “stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (My emphasis, v20) This suggests that Paul sees the Church as being a community of believers who help each other to mature in their thinking, and therefore in their faith.

FAITH WITHOUT DEEDS
But just as the life-long accrual of an architect’s expertise cannot fully reside in a polystyrene model, a Christian’s growing understanding of faith cannot inhabit the mind alone. In their recent book The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive (9Marks, 2015), Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop propose that sound collective thinking is the right starting point, but not an end in itself. They echo Paul, and his emphasis on serving others within a context of selfless love, by arguing that the fruit of our theology must ultimately find its expression in our practice. “It is impossible to know too much about God and his love for us in Christ. If someone is into theology and not into loving others, the problem isn’t that he’s spent too much time learning about God; it’s that he never took to heart what he learned. In fact, 1 John warns he may not even be a believer at all.”

Elsewhere in the New Testament, James declares that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17) The knowledge formed in the mind needs to manifest itself in the world. Whatever we think with our heads and confess with our lips only proves to be authentic when it’s commended by our deeds.

James uses the example of Abraham who, by offering Isaac on the alter, “completed” his faith by integrating it with action (vv21–23). What Abraham thought and believed in his head would have been worthless had it not influenced how he responded in the situation. Going further, Abraham’s faith only cemented itself as genuine faith when it found itself tested under pressure. Apparently it was Eleanor Roosevelt who once said, “A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.” We might legitimately say the same of the Christian faith.

Theology that isn’t lived out will be like an architect’s building that can’t be lived in. It’s helpful to a point, but its value will only ever be restricted to a theory rather than fulfilled in a life. Ultimately, Christians who employ their minds will find they simply cannot be like the architects whose ideas never break ground. What privately unites our hearts, souls and strength will eventually be made public by our conduct. And this we see modelled by God, too, when divine thought breaks into the world as divine action. As Francis Schaeffer once said, “We know God only because of His choice to create”, and the real significance of God’s conviction that “all he had made… was very good” (Genesis 1:31) truly broke ground in the structure of a wooden cross and the space of an empty tomb.

Neil Tinson is Marketing Manager at Moorlands College, and has just successfully completed the MA in Applied Theology (Christian Leadership).