Beyond Criticism: Thinking About Thinking in the Christian Faith (drafted 11/08/05)


“Many highly intelligent people often take up a view on a subject and then use their intelligence to defend that view. Since they can defend the view very well they never see any need to explore the subject or listen to alternative views. This is poor thinking and is part of the ‘intelligence trap’.” (Teach Your Child How To Think, Edward de Bono, p.6)


This has likely been the PROBLEM in Christian thinking. A majority of us feel that ‘critical’ thinking is enough and all we have to know is ‘the truth’ after which we can expend all our energy defending this truth. Whilst this is important, I echo de Bono’s protest that this simply makes inadequate use of the repertoire of thinking tools at our disposal. It’s like the back left wheel of the car: important but far from sufficient.


I’d like to propose a THINKING CHART with some ‘codes’ to symbolize various focus-areas of Christian thinking, plus my (probably under-informed) views of how well certain theological groups fit the bill of each category of thinking. I am certain there will be substantial disagreement about the constitution of the groups, let alone the ‘ratings’ I’ve given for each group! Still, the point is neither the groups nor their ratings, but the exercise of thinking through the kinds of thinking we’ve emphasized (either as a church or as individuals).


FYI, I’ve drawn quite a bit from the work of Edward de Bono (especially his Six Thinking Hats and Attention-Directing tools) and a little from Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory in producing the chart.


Some key OBJECTIVES of presenting the chart is to encourage:


Richer thinking – the greater the variety of thinking skills employed, the better our ‘maps’ of the intellectual terrain and the more holistic and ‘bigger’ our perspectives. It also frees us from the ‘intelligence trap’ and promotes the exploration (as opposed to exclusion) of a subject.


Focused/Directed thinking – when we spend time on a certain thinking skill (e.g. “Look closely at Process Theology and list down at least three benefits of the worldview”), we can:

·         Improve our thinking and obtain better ‘results’ i.e. sharper ideas, more balanced evaluations, clearer analysis, etc.

·         Overcome our prejudices towards thinking about a certain topic in a certain way; this also helps us to move beyond mere criticism of views we don’t like!

·         Get ‘unstuck’ from using only a limited set of thinking tools and begin using thinking types unfamiliar to us


Some good QUESTIONS you may want to ask yourself as you go through the chart include:


a) What kind of thinking do I employ most frequently in my Christian/theological discourse?

b) What kind of thinking have I (or my church) neglected? What new form of thinking can I try within the next 24 hours?

c) What kind of thinking do I consider ‘true Christian’ thinking? Is there a kind of thinking which is ‘more godly’ than other kinds?

d) What OTHER kinds of thinking can be helpfully included to the list? What kind of thinking doesn’t belong there? (How can I improve on Al’s weird code-names?!) J



Rating Legend (this denotes my guess-timate of how much of this type of thinking is EMPHASIZED - it does not reflect any judgment of the group’s VIEWS on the issues)



Intensive thinking in this area (virtually defines group)

Occasional thinking in this area (helpful, but still secondary and sporadic)


Rare thinking in this area (possibly neglected)



Thinking “Code” Thinking Tool

Focus of Thinking (mental ‘triggers’ for deeper thought, analysis, questioning).

Let X be any idea, proposal or event which requires our thinking…


Traditional Reformed / Conservatives:

(Geisler, Carson, Helm, Piper, etc.)

Evangelical Reformists /


(Pinnock, Foster, Olson, etc.)

Emergent /

Post-Moderns :


(Grenz, Sweet, McLaren, etc.)


Systemic, coherency, ‘big picture’ thinking


·         What is the impact to our systematic theology of X?

·         How does it fit into our bigger picture? How coherent is the theology?

·         What kind of theism does X best fit into?

·         What innovations to theological concepts are there?











Critical-conceptual, cautionary, ‘boundary’, deductive thinking


·         To what extent does X demonstrate historical and traditional continuity?

·         Is X compatible with the great ecumenical creeds?

·         Are there (pseudo)-heretical elements in X?









Logical, conceptual-analytical, inductive thinking


·         How much philosophical (or theo-philosophical) support can be found in X’s favour?

·         How self-evident are the arguments put forth for X?

·         What basic beliefs is X grounded in?












Critical, pre-suppositional, logical, analytical thinking

·         What apologetics concerns does X highlight?

·         Can X be beneficially included into a discussion with atheist skeptics?

·         Is X among the most popular anti-Christian issues?










(Emergent-style apologetics is, however, different in kind from traditional apologetics and may fit ‘Newbigin’ thinking better)


Literary-Interpretative thinking


·         Does X do justice to the Biblical data?

·         How much exegesis is involved?









Experiential, existential, intra-personal thinking

·         How does X contribute to Christian spirituality, prayer, etc.?

·         What is the relevance of X to our present existential / emotional, ‘daily walk’ issues?












Historical, ‘abductive’, trans-categorical thinking

·         What is the Christological value of X? What does X show us about Christ?

·         Has X been shaped by a careful analysis and application of the life and person of Christ?








Institutional, activist, ‘deconstructionist’, ‘replacement’ thinking


·         What counter-society and ethical challenges can X bring about?

·         What is kingdom values can X bring to bear upon society?







Da Vinci”

Visual, dramatic, aesthetic, ‘chunk down’ thinking

·         To what extent can X be portrayed /expressed in symbolic, iconic, avant-garde ways?

·         How value can X provide to enriching the church’s use of the arts, multi-media?

·         How can X be presented using the latest technology?












Trans-cultural, ‘global’, questioning, contextualizing, design thinking

·         Can X be characterized as forward-looking with mission at its heart?

·         How does X help us communicate/embody the Gospel cross-culturally, build bridges, etc?

·         To what extent does X help us understand and engage contemporary culture?

·         Does X have parallels with Third-World theologies?













Design, intra- and inter-personal, aesthetic, practical thinking


·         What insights on ‘doing church’ does X produce?

·         Can X be used to enrich, augment, supplement the liturgy and/or worship experience?

·         How can X be improved to encourage greater warmth, sharing and growth among church members?










Dialogical, comparison, questioning, ‘openness’ thinking,

·         How much affinity is there between X and the work of non-Christian thinkers and/or religions?

·         Has X been shaped in partnership and learning with/from pluralism, paganism, etc.?











Still thinking…


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