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Posts Tagged ‘Puritans’

How to use your brain.

Since I keep saying that I’m going to get back to things and never do, I want to return to a topic I’ve been meaning to bring up again. I think that a drastically overlooked aspect of spiritual growth is an understanding of the intellect, the affections, and the will. Understanding these elements of thinking and doing are like looking under the hood of a car. As Christians we cant rely surely on our pastor-mechanic to do all the work. We need to get our hands greasy and our knuckles bruised if we want to enjoy life as a follower of Christ.

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Lets talk about your brains, also known by our fine Puritan friends as the intellect. I’ll define the intellect as that part of the brain that is purely rational, concerned only with the processing of information. It is the intellect that assesses each situation we face and makes conclusions purely on fact. The intellect employs reason to help you make choices. When you are faced with a moral dilemma, the intellect works something like this:

“There’s Bob’s wallet sitting on the table. Bob’s not here. No-body’s watching. Stealing is sinful. I won’t take his wallet.”

Just like that, nice and easy. the intellect is your cold-blooded accountant looking across his desk at you telling you that you can’t buy that new car because there isn’t enough money in your bank account. It’s your mother telling you not to jump off of the roof because you can’t fly. It’s your car refusing to start because it’s out of gas.

I wish you people could meet my mortgage guy. Yeah, HE’S the intellect. No funny stuff. Just the facts, sir.

So how does the intellect fail lead the will correctly? Here are several suggestions:

  1. Sometimes the intellect can be deceived. For Christians this can be due to bad Bible teaching or mistakes in understanding the Bible. If your premise is faulty, your conclusions will be faulty.
  2. Sometimes the affections can override the intellect. You may know full well that you are considering sin and fail to act according to the counsel of the intellect because you don’t WANT to. Don’t like the conclusion? Don’t care! (I don’t like Bob so it serves him right!)
  3. Sometimes the intellect conspires with sinful affections. If you want to sin badly enough, you can convince yourself of a lie. Don’t like the conclusion? CHANGE the premise! (Bob owes me money, anyway!)

The most important part of all of this is that if Christians want to think through temptation correctly, they have to program their intellect with Scripture. If the intellect is like a computer, then refer to the old axiom “garbage in, garbage out” and vice versa. If you want to make good decisions, you have to set all your parameters with the Bible. Knowledge of the Bible is so important because the intellect comes first in the process. Ideally, the intellect should inform the affections and then move the will. If the process begins in error, it is doomed to failure. Likewise, starting the process with the Word is the only hope we have of pleasing God.

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Yes, you read it correctly. In college I majored in psychology with a minor in applied statistics. I originally moved to Nebraska as a graduate student in counseling psychology. Shortly after I was born again, and immediately began seeing the conflicts between the humanism of psychology and the Bible’s testimony about human nature. After a short period of trying to find a way to follow my Biblical convictions and maintain working in my field of training, I decided that as a Christian I had to leave the field entirely.

The place of Christians in the field of psychology is another discussion for another time. I believe that behavioral fields of psychology, while overly complex, do a good job at organizing and describing behavior. Biological fields of psychology, though they reduce man to a sophisticated animal, does a good job of studying the brain and how it works. Really, the main problem with psychology (and a fatal problem at that) is not in describing or even predicting behavior, but in explaining it. Since psychology depends on the basic principle that man is good, all explanations of motive and thought processes must be wrong. Psychology does well with the outside, but fails with the inside because its assumptions about human nature are wrong.

My reason for bringing up my education is this: I have been gaining a much greater understanding lately of how the Bible describes the inner working of the mind. There have been several sources for my increased understanding, such as Jonathan Edwards and my exposure to Puritan thinking. I’ve always seen that while psychological models for behavior are too complex in their human foolishness, the Biblical model is simple.

But what is that model?

In a word (no…three words!): intellect, affections, and will.

Or, as we call them in the Fudge household: the knows-it, the wants-it, and the does-it.

The division of the human mind in this way is implied in Scripture. John MacArthur, in “The Gospel According to the Apostles (Faith Works)” breaks it down beautifully from Hebrews 11. I’ll get back to the subject soon to break it down in greater detail, but in short it goes as follows:

  1. The intellect is the rational mind that assesses things on the basis of truth. Intellect deals in information. Intellect identifies things we know to be right and wrong and submits its opinion to the will. The intellect can be deceived or over-ridden, but is always a participant.
  2. The affections are the emotional element of the mind. Affections respond to the information gathered by the intellect as generate desire or repulsion. Affections also place pressure on the will to seek out or to turn away.
  3. The will is that part of the mind that produces action. The bases its decision on the appeals of the intellect and the affections.

Normally, the intellect informs the affection, and the affections move the will. the intellect tells the Christian that something is sinful, and the affections drive us to avoid that thing.

However, sin short-circuits this process. For example, the intellect may inform the affections that lust is sinful, but the affections sinfully long after that object of lust and motivate the will to pursue the object, and adultery is the result.

This understanding of the mind is invaluable as we seek to mortify sin, especially the MANY ways that sin attempts to interrupt and hijack the process. I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts with you as I seek to understand myself more.

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John Owen packs Puritan punch.

I’ve been picking my way, lately, through a Christian classic called “The Mortification of Sin” by John Owen, a Puritan. I remember being in the church bookstore with a few dollars left over on a gift certificate, seeing the book, and thinking “Hey! There’s an inexpensive little book. I’ve heard it’s pretty good.” So I bought it.

“Little” is hardly the word. Owen packs a wallop. He is thorough in picking apart the workings of sin in the heart of a believer. I strenuously recommend it to anyone who is deadly serious about spiritual growth, and no one else. Following is a quote to whet your appetite:

“Sin aims always at the utmost: every time it rises up to temps or entice, might it have its own course, it would go to the utmost sin of that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery, if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression; every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head. Men may come to that, that sin may not be heard speaking a scandalous word in their hearts; that is, provoking to any great sin with scandal in its mouth: but every rise of lust, might it have its course, would come to the height of villainy. It is like the grave, that is never satisfied. And herein lies no small share of the deceitfulness of sin, by which it prevails to the hardening of men, and so to their ruin. It is modest in its first motions and proposals; but having once got footing in the heart of men by them, it constantly makes good its ground, and presseth on to some further degrees in the same kind.”

Enjoy.

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