Critical thinking and the Church

Clinton
Chisholm

Thursday, December 27, 2018

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Nonsense or sloppy reasoning is not sanctified because it happens in church. It is still deserving of criticism and correction.

Pastors and lay preachers need to be committed to modelling from the pulpit and cultivating in the pew at-easeness with and love for critical thinking. After all, thinking deeply and well is encouraged in texts like Isaiah 1:3 and 18; Acts 17:2, and Christians ought to love God progressively with all their mind.

If feedback and guided interaction are necessary in the teaching-learning process, then these ought to be utilised in Christian education. A few suggestions may prove useful.

Since the early 1990s, while serving at Phillippo Baptist Church in Spanish Town, I began experimenting with what I called then 'afterglow'. Basically, I told the congregation that I am open for their questions after each sermon, and I reserve the right to call on anyone to answer questions about the main points of the sermon/study. At first, folk did not like the idea, because for some “it's an intrusion in worship”, but after a while they recognised the value of the exercise for learning.

I still do that as a guest preacher here and abroad and find that the youth and young adults especially welcome it.

I know that in certain quarters this idea would not even be prayed about, but that is because the tradition that “Pastor is God's representative” is taken to mean pastor is always clear in mind and sensible in argumentation. But even in such quarters folk know that this is not true.

The obsession with “saying nothing noisily and stylishly” is far too popular with pulpit and pew alike. I told a good friend of a Pentecostal persuasion that her church is guilty of a species of blasphemy, always associating God with what is “loud, late and long”!

God can speak through a 'still small voice', and Christians need to value punctuality and brevity/conciseness in oral presentations.

Why the shouting from the pulpit? The microphone already amplifies your natural voice. Don't ask me to tell my neighbour or repeat an inanity after you or give you an “amen” for some trite or unclear notion you just spouted. Not happening, but then maybe I just need Jesus!

If the sermon/talk is constructed as well as any speech should be, there are main points and subpoints to aid memory, all in a logical flow bookended by an arresting opener/introduction and a purposeful conclusion. Planned feedback forces better sermon preparation regarding content and structure.

Another aid to critical thinking in the pew is case study discussion in groups. Yes, it can work in a morning worship session if the case-study is interesting, and if it deals with issues that church members are struggling with it can be more effective educationally than a straight sermon.

Though a tad unorthodox, showing a carefully selected didactic (teaching) movie, followed by an open discussion, can be very effective in fostering critical thinking.

I would encourage the use of PragerU video clips for Sabbath/Sunday School class, youth fellowship or even 'big church'. They are brief, single-topic issues of importance and well packaged for discussion. See https://www.youtube.com/user/PragerUniversity.

Planning, in advance, discussion/debate on topical even controversial issues using the research skills of youth and young adults can be a win-win situation for all.

Church leaders must have a vested interested in fostering critical thinking and this should include re-examining the lyrics of the choruses we sing in church. I have heard of some embarrassing things sung in church. Just one for the road. The song My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord has a line “even death could not hold Him captive, even in the grave He is Lord”. A clergy colleague told me that he heard a lady in church singing “even death could not hold 'im casket…”

Let's offer sensible worship to our Lord via critical thinking because nonsense is still nonsense even in church.

Rev Clinton Chisholm is academic dean at the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology. Send comments to the Observer or clintchis@yahoo.com.

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