I’ve been thinking a bit about our instincts — and what place (if any) they have in Christian living and thinking.
How are our theological instincts formed (and re-formed)?
I guess that almost by definition instincts are hard to bring into the cold, rational light of conscious thought.
This isn’t necessarily a drawback. I’m post-modern enough to be suspicious of pretty much every aspect of cold, rational conscious thought.
But it is something to factor in when it comes to trying to get a grip on our theological instincts — and potentially work at developing and honing them.
Something I find helpful is picturing instincts as more like muscle groups that you isolate, exercise and work on than like ideas you research (read: ‘Google’), weigh up the arguments for and against, then assimilate more or less directly.
That said, I think I have begun to become aware of some of my own theological instincts.
To begin with, I have long noticed how I start to squirm internally when some other Christian I’m listening to starts talking about how they’d answer a question about their faith — perhaps cataloging the evidence for Intelligent Design but not once mentioning or even getting close to talking about Jesus.
In contrast, I instinctively find myself wanting to start with and talk a lot about Jesus.
It just feels more ‘natural’ for me to adopt an approach that says, ‘Hey – I know this whole Christianity thing seems foreign and strange. But most worthwhile things take time understanding and becoming familiar with. Why not come in, take a look around, try out the furniture in here? You know, give Jesus a chance…’
Likewise, I’ve recently been struck by the way my theological instincts were on display in this article I wrote about guidance for the Bible Society.
The article began life as a pretty raw blog post, where I tried to put something I’d noticed about my own prayer life into words.
But when I was invited to expand it, I realised I needed to say more about the vision of Christian ‘adulthood’ I was fumbling towards — inexpertly in my original post, and (hopefully) slightly less inexpertly in my article.
And this is where my theological instincts kicked in. Because almost before I knew it, I’d reached for Galatians 5 and Ephesians 4.
The first is a passage about the work of the Spirit in creating Christian character. And the second is a passage about the work of the risen Christ (by his Spirit) in creating Christian community.
Pneumatology and ecclesiology. The Spirit and the Church. These weren’t so much carefully considered topics — calculated for maximum punch and polemical usefulness — as they were just the things I instinctively reached for when asked to flesh out my vision of Christian growth and maturity.
So I’ve isolated Jesus (and the Trinity and union with Christ), the Spirit and the Church as a few of things I instinctively turn to when I’m asked to approach something as a Christian.
The challenge is now to figure out how to exercise and work on them. (Or maybe to compensate for any lop-sidedness by working on some other theological ‘muscle groups’.)