What role do our minds play in connecting and experiencing God? Christian Schwarz, the researcher who categorized the nine styles of spirituality, was recording sessions on his laptop computer with three different men. One of them was of the enthusiastic style, one of the Scripture Driven style and one of the rational style. The computer began to experience a malfunction in its cooling system and began to make a sudden loud hum that threatened to disrupt the recordings. The man with the enthusiastic style said, “The enemy is trying to hinder our discussions.” The man with the Scripture driven style faced the problem simply by speaking louder. The man with the rational style went out and bought Christian a new cooling fan for his computer. Each of these men saw the problem in a different way. I don’t think either one was wrong. I’m just not surprised that the man with the rational style did what he did.
Today we are going to be looking at the RATIONAL style of spirituality. For the last few weeks we have been looking at the Nine Spiritual Styles or the nine ways that people encounter God. Some of you might immediately think that this message isn’t going to apply to you at all. Perhaps you don’t consider yourself to be very intelligent. Perhaps you don’t like reading. Maybe you didn’t do well in school. Perhaps you have little patience for intellectual pursuits because you have heard too many people argue about things that in your mind don’t really matter. I read a story about how the city of Constantinople was being besieged by Islamic forces in the mid 1400s. What I found interesting is what the Christian authorities in the city were busy at during the time of the siege. Were they busy preparing their people on how to live as Christians under an Islamic regime? No. They were debating a question of unparalleled theological importance. If a fly landed in some holy water, would the holy water be polluted or would the fly be made holy? Who cares? Sometimes the questions debated by intellectuals don’t really seem to matter. So that’s why some of you might feel that this message doesn’t really apply to you. If you are feeling this way, believe it or not, I understand. I struggle with intellectual pursuits. In High School I worked hard and only made average grades. I even came within a whisker of failing Grade 10 math. Even in Bible College, where my grades dramatically improved over high school, I struggled in a course called “Historical Theology.” This was a course where we studied philosophy as it related to the study of God. We studied a German Philosopher and theologian named Immanuel Kant and to this day I “Kant” understand what he was talking about. Studying the works of Jeremy Betham, Frederick Hegel and Soren Kierkegaard taxed my mental abilities to the limit. However, the rational spiritual style is not so much about intelligence as it is about loving God with all of our MINDS.
Mr 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Not all of us have an IQ of 164 or over. Not all of us have gone on to higher education and university. All of us, however, have MINDS. All of us think to one degree or another. We reason things out. We made decisions based on the information that he have acquired. So, although you might not consider yourself particularly intelligent, you might actually have the rational style of spirituality. Although you never set foot in a University, or even a high-school classroom, you might well relate to God best through you mind. You might understand what it is to love God with your mind. And if you do, you wouldn’t be alone.
Albert Einstein kept pictures of well known scientists on his desk. One was Michael Faraday, a brilliant 19th century scientist whose inventions of electromagnetic rotary devices formed the foundation of electric motor technology. It was largely due to his efforts that electricity became viable for use in technology. Another was James Clerk Maxwell, known in the scientific communities for his discoveries involving electromagnetism. Two of his discoveries helped usher in the era of modern physics, laying the foundation for future work in such fields as special relativity and quantum mechanics. Both of these men held strong Christian beliefs. I have reason to believe that they both had a rational spiritual style. James Clerk Maxwell, for instance, said this:
"Those who intend to pursue the study of theology will also find the benefit of a careful and reverent study of the order of creation."
He also said:
"I think Christians whose minds are scientific are bound to study science that their view of the glory of God may be as extensive as their being is capable of."
And so Maxwell’s participation in the development of scientific understanding was for him an act of worship, part of a careful reading of God’s revelation in nature.
A biographer of Michael Faraday, wrote this about the time just before he died:
When his faculties were fading fast, he would sit long at the western window, watching the glories of the sunset; and one day, when his wife drew his attention to a beautiful rainbow that spanned the sky, he looked beyond the falling shower and the many-colored arch, and observed, "He hath set his testimony in the heavens." On August 25, 1867, quietly, almost imperceptively, came the release. There was a philosopher less on earth, and a saint more in heaven.
Both Maxwell and Faraday did not see faith and thinking as opposites. Yes, they had faith - but it was a REASONABLE faith. It was not a blind faith. They searched things out. They made inquiries. They looked for evidence. Their faith had to make sense to them. The study of science actually brought them closer to God. If you relate at all the Faraday and Maxwell, perhaps your spiritual style is the Rational Style.
I. Do we find the rational style and the Bible?
Please take a look at this picture. This picture represents a person with the rational style of connecting with God. Notice how the man is pointing to his brain. In the background is a blackboard with what appears to be mathematical equations on it. His motto is, “understanding the nature of God.” In seeking to understand God’s nature, he explores both the Bible – leaning toward the doctrinal style – and nature – leaning toward the sensory style. He seeks to connect with God through his mind. And he is not without Biblical support.
The theme verse for the rational style is
19 By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; (Proverbs 3)
There are many other verses that he could appeal to. Some appeal to God’s work in creation. Others appeal to God’s specific revelation of himself in His Word.:
Jer 10:12 But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.
In Special Revelation:
Pr 9:10 "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
And so, people with the rational style are trying to understand the wisdom of God as found in creation and in revelation. They seek to know God through contemplating and thinking about both his WORD and his WORKS.
The Apostle Paul clearly displayed evidence of this style in his life and in his writings. After Paul was arrested by the Romans, we read in the book of acts that he was given an audience with King Herod Agrippa, his wife Bernice and the Roman Governor, Festus, in the city of Caesarea. It was in front of these powerful people that Paul made a defence of his faith. During his defence, however, Festus interrupted Paul and said:
"You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane." (Acts 26:24)
I must admit that when I was up to my neck in papers, reports and exams, I related to this. But Paul didn’t. He replied:
25 "I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable."
Paul definitely related to God through his mind. His faith was a REASONABLE faith.
II. What can we learn from people with the rational style?
Nobody can accuse people with the rational style of having “blind faith.” People of this style don’t take things for granted. They research them, think about them and strive for explanations.
A few years ago when the government was debating including sexual orientation into the charter of rights, many well-meaning Christians attended those meetings to give a Biblical point of view. The problem was that all that many of them did was quote what the Bible says. Now, that should be enough but to the people listening, it looked like these people had a blind faith – that they accepted things without thinking. In fact, one person who was supporting the inclusion of sexual orientation said that these people actually helped his cause because they sounded like they hadn’t really thought through what they believed.
The strength of the rational style is that believers with this style think through their faith. They dig deep to find support for it. They believe the Bible, yes, but they seek arguments as to WHY they should believe the Bible. And they look for those arguments not only in the Bible but in logic and science.
That is another strength of the rational style – it is willing to work with science.
Some Christians feel threatened by science. People with the rational style, however, see scientific exploration as an opportunity to gain an understanding of how God put this world together in his wisdom. As I said before, some of the greatest scientists in the world like Michael Faraday and John Clerk Maxwell have not only been strong in their scientific endeavours but also strong in their Christian faith as well. What is interesting is that they maintained that faith even in the face of the growing popularity of Darwinian Evolutionary thought in the scientific circles of their day. This was quite a testimony. Nobody could say that these men parked their brains at the door when it came to their faith. Even today there are a number of scientists who profess the Christian Faith. We don’t hear much about them but we can read about them on the Internet. One website you can go to is called Christians in Science. Another is called the Faraday Institute. There are scientists out there who are people of faith.
The third strength of the rational style is that it helps us stay anchored.
I would like you to notice that the opposite styles of the rational style are the ascetic and enthusiastic Styles. The rational style can provide a needed balance to those styles.
The Ascetic style, if out of balance, can lead people to do some very strange and unbiblical things in the name of developing discipline for God.
The Enthusiastic style, if out of balance, can lead people to do some very strange an unbiblical things in the name of experiencing the power of God.
I heard a story about how a lady was convinced that the Holy Spirit told her to leave her husband and children to become a missionary to Africa. Well, someone with the rational style would be inclined to test that claim and would likely point out to her that the Bible teaches that husbands and wives are supposed to stay together – that God wouldn’t tell someone to do that.
People with the rational style can help us to evaluate if things we experience are really of the Lord.
21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5)
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14, urges the Corinthians to worship God with their minds engaged. He urges them to BALANCE. In this passage, we see that Paul definitely was open to God working in ways that were trans-rational. However, at the same time, he told the Corinthians that their minds had a place in worship as well. In teaching them about the gift of tongues – a trans-rational phenomenon, he said this:
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
15 ¶ So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. (1 Cor. 14)
Paul was arguing for balance. People with the rational style can help us stay anchored in our faith.
III. What are the Perils of the Rational Style?
The first peril of the rational style is that there is the danger of making our understanding as the yardstick by which we measure everything else.
In other words, there is a danger of accepting as “authentic experiences with God” or as truths of God only those things that make sense to us.
One example might be the virgin birth. Many people absolutely reject the idea that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Christ. After all, everyone knows that a baby takes two people to make. It doesn’t make sense. To believe this, we have to be open to God working in a way that is miraculous and beyond our understanding.
To avoid this peril, we have to recognize that we are not wiser than God.
13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? 14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? (Isaiah 40:13)
In other words, just because something doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense at all. We must understand that our understanding and brain power is limited but God’s is not. Again, as Isaiah says:
8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. 9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8)
Augustine was walking by the sea shore. He was greatly perplexed about the doctrine of the Trinity. He saw a little boy with a sea shell running to the water, filling it and then pouring it into a hole which he had made in the sand. “What are you doing, my little man?” asked Augustine. “Oh,” said the little boy, “I am trying to put the ocean in this hole!” Augustine learned his lesson, and as he walked away, he said, “That is what I am trying to do. I see it now. Standing on the shores of time I am trying to get into this little finite mind of mine things which are infinite.”
And so, the danger of the rational style is the temptation to reject things of God that we don’t understand or that don’t make sense to us or can’t be objectively verified.
If we really believe the Bible, we must be open to the Holy Spirit’s work. Just because some people have done some bad or extreme or just downright weird things and credited the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean that we are to reject everything we don’t understand.
Paul warns that in the last days, many people will be characterized as
5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Timothy 3)
We must be careful not to rationalize God’s power away. At the very least, we need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s power to change lives, to speak into people’s hearts and to give them the gifting and the power they need for ministry.
Yes, we need to be alert to the dangers of the enthusiastic styles.
There are certain bad things that can happen when blue spirituality is not anchored to the green or the red. The dangers of the enthusiastic and mystical styles are definitely a prevalence of the subjective, the emotional and the spectacular, which can lead to very questionable results. Yet we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
If we believe that God can’t work in ways that transcend our rationality, then we are telling God how he should work. Those of us with the Rational style need to realize that God is not limited by our understanding.
A second peril of the rational style is intellectual pride.
a. It is very easy for intelligent people to look down their noses on those who do not live up to their lofty intellectual standards.
It has been my misfortune to have run into a few of these people – especially in Bible College and Seminary.
The Bible teaches, however, that true wisdom will result in humility.
Jas 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
Jas 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
IV. How might you know if you have this style? Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do you think that the study of science can be a wonderful way to learn about God?
2. Would people say that you love the Lord with your mind?
3. Are you curious to find truth wherever it might appear?
4. Is learning something new about God a deep spiritual experience for you?
5. Do you consider it a positive thing to have a critical mindset towards spiritual questions?
6. Are you sceptical toward a faith that constantly offers easy solutions?
7. Is it important to your faith that your mind is regularly stimulated?
8. Do you find your faith nurtured by several hours of uninterrupted study time?
What should we do about this? Well, first of all, if you suspect that this is your native spiritual style, I would suggest that you explore it further. Learn more about it. However, you also need to remember that there are other ways to connect with God than simply through your intellect. The opposite styles to the Rational style are the Ascetic and the Enthusiastic Styles. People with those styles have much to teach you. You, in particular, may need to be more open to the Holy Spirit’s work in your life. Explore the other spiritual styles as well.
Now if this is NOT your native spiritual style, I am not suggesting that you work until it becomes your style. However, I would suggest that you gain an appreciation for it. Again, those of us whose spiritual styles lean more to the red/blue and the blue may want to go through the Scriptures that speak of encountering God through our minds. If your style tends more toward the enthusiastic, you might benefit from the Rational Style’s tendency to test everything and be discerning to determine if spiritual experiences really are from God or not. In the end you will not abandon your native style, but you will become more effective, more joyful, more contagious, and more mature in your own style. Your spiritual style brings so many needed things into the body of Christ. If you could come to grips with your shadow areas, it would be an enormous step ahead of becoming the very person that God had in mind when he created you.
C. 2010 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.