Catchphrase Christianity: The Lost Discipline of Critical Thinking

I was scrolling through Facebook recently when I came across a post that a Christian had shared. In this post, they were sharing a quote from another Christian who was giving their opinion regarding a spiritual topic. I took the time and read it through a couple times, weighing their words and then I bilaterally concluded, "Well, yes AND no." I both agreed and disagreed with the statement. What they were saying wasn't as simple as they were making it out to be.


This is something that I find myself doing a lot lately, especially regarding social-media post from Christians. In a world where everyone and their Grandma seems to be on Twitter or Facebook or Rumble or Gettr or MeWe or yada yada yada, we have inadvertently trained ourselves to be a culture that has turned our theology into quips that will fit into a tweet. We post and repost things without deeply thinking about them. And this culture of cursory phrases has only deepened because of social media; for it was already here among us due to our "microwaving-sum-it-all-up-for-me-cliff-notes-version" approach to theology. Throughout many decades now, we have trained ourselves to love sound-bites and catchphrases when it comes to doctrine and Christian disciplines:


We listen to 20 minute sermons.

We read 10 minute devotional books.

We watch 20 minute podcasts.

We have 30 minutes of worship in our services.


And we take "all that we have learned" and sum it up in a one sentence post on Facebook.


We have shortened every spiritual discipline to fit into a time-crunched lifestyle. I can't tell you how many times I've had people tell me that church should last an hour on Sundays - an hour and a half if they are a bit more flexible. And where did this unwritten rule come from? Our busy lifestyle of catching a sermon in the car here and reading that quick devo there has formed in us an inability to digest the word at a deeper, slower pace. What we've created through our hurried, simplified version of theology is a famine of healthy, critical thinkers.


We see this all throughout our society to be sure: centers of higher education use to teach students how to think critically about facts and opinions, but now universities tend to be a place of indoctrination, where hungry little minds open up and receive whatever is thrown at them without a thought. From High Schools to Universities, to Journalism and Government, critical thinking is very rarely seen and very rarely encouraged. But in the church, we must return to deeper thinking if we are to mature as sons and daughters who rightly divide our Father's word. We can't avoid critical thinking: it must become a spiritual discipline again.


I believe one reason we avoid it is because we have replaced "critical" with another definition of the word. One working definition of "critical" found in Oxford's Dictionary is "expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgments," and unfortunately, this we tend to have in spades. You don't have to spend much time at all on social media to see Christians criticizing in this manner. But once again, it is usually in quips: short phrases of insult & disagreement. If it is lengthy, it is done from the "safety" of our solitary computer which gives license to individuals to "say their peace" without having to engage in face-to-face conversation where healthy discourse best takes place. So for the rest of us who want to avoid this type of criticism, we are left voiceless. I mean, what can you actually say on social media that encourages true, deep conversation, where agreement and disagreement flow in a healthy dynamic? So, we usually just give a thumbs up and move on to the next post.


But healthy critical thinking, when defined by The Oxford Dictionary is "expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work of literature, music, art," and I would add - conversation and ideas. THIS is what critical thinking should look like among believers - people who are mature enough to sit face to face and discuss hard things because they have taken the time to personally do the same in their individual walk with the Lord. Why is thinking deeply something to be left to the scholars and theologians? Probably because we are a little afraid of what we may conclude, but mainly I think we just feel plain ol' intimidated by deeper thinking. But this really is nothing new. Take Peter's second letter to his flock in the early church. In it, he says:


"14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures."


Here we see Peter openly admit that Paul's letters contain things that are "hard to understand," which probably also means Peter was hearing the buzz among his congregations regarding the "tough stuff" Paul was presenting. And you know what: I'd say, "Amen" to that! There have been many times when ready Paul's letters that I scratch my head and say, "Huh?!" But it's that very "huh" that becomes an invitation if we allow ourselves to turn off the "Twitter theology" approach to the bible, and turn on the light of critical meditation. If we remain "untaught" like Peter says, then we will be lumped into the "unstable" according to this verse. This isn't to shame us, but to wake us up to be Bereans - people who study to show themselves approved unto God; people who can read a summed up statement on Twitter and be able to say, "But there is more to the story and here is where it is found in scripture...."


So what are we waiting for, church? Let's crack open that commentary! Check out the original Hebrew or Greek! Compare scripture with other scripture! And dare I say it - read points of view from people with whom we disagree! If we will learn to do these simple things individually, then the church will corporately be so much healthier in our discourses, our problem solving, and our overall love for God's word.