What to think or how to think?

I had a conversation with an upper classmen at a Bible college recently, and he was giving me the sales pitch for why his Bible college was so wonderful. He said a line I have heard frequently: “they teach you how to think, not what to think.”

I asked him what that meant and he gave me two other common lines:

1. “Other schools” tell you what to believe and don’t tell you why, which makes you a parrot of someone else’s beliefs. (When I asked him to give an example of a school that did this, he couldn’t…)

2. The teachers present all sides of an issue and let you decide for yourself instead of telling you what’s “right”. (I asked if this was done in freshman courses, and he said “yes”.)

I didn’t say anything to him since we were going our separate ways, but I was really troubled by what he said because it was so utterly untrue.

For starters, the phrase “we teach you how to think, not what to think” was something he picked up from someone else (i.e. a professor or an older student); he was simply parroting reasons he was told to say for why his school was so good.  That statement is most likely self-refuting.  Slightly ironic?

Secondly, laying out a sea of ideas and then sorting through them only works for someone who has a way to sort through them.  99.9% of Bible college freshmen don’t have a robust theological framework through which to evaluate ideas, which basically explains why so many twenty-somethings who have spent time at a Bible college have a diversity of beliefs that includes at least one major historical heresy (and why emergent church literature sells so much).

Most Bible colleges who claim to teach “how, not what”, do the exact opposite of that by throwing freshmen in the deep end of the pool of ideas, where they have no ability to swim.  That leaves them flailing and trying to sort through the pool of ideas, and the only one who’s around to help them swim is their professor…or their own subjective feelings about what they like.  Either they become parrots or pick favorites based on their preferences.  Neither option involves teaching students how to think.

So how do you teach students “how” to think?  You need to give them a  framework for evaluating ideas.  You need to teach them what to think, in the sense of giving them a biblical framework for evaluating ideas. Someone can reliably evaluate ideas only when they have an objective standard of evaluation.  With a robust biblical& exegetical framework, a person can evaluate any ideas and come out with right beliefs.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “The Armchair Objective Thinker” Unger


6 thoughts on “What to think or how to think?

  1. I’ve been thinking about this recently from some conversation in the ministry. It’s a great aim to teach people how to think, but that requires teaching what to think in the first place, which hopefully comes from the Scripture, and the teaching of discernment on the basis of the contents of the Scripture.

  2. I am respectfully requesting could you please do an essay on the basic of “How To Think”. Reason being entire life have been told I analyze and ”think too much”. An outline for the layperson, if you will, please. In context with the Bible, it is difficult for me to comprehend how so many do not see the Old Testament and New Testaments fit together as if hand-in-glove. Thank you, will understand and accept if you can’t provide due to other priorities. Thanks much, marj

    • Well, I could try to lay out some basic things, but you’re sort of asking me to write a fairly substantial book. Speaking of fairly substantial books on this topic, I would recommend the following:

      Think Biblically

      Still, I may write something on some basics of “thinking like a Christian”

      • I’m so grateful for the timing of your response to my question. Two major life-altering situations occurred today, neither appearing good. After posting the question, it did occur to me “he’s going to say: The Bible”. What a comfort your post is to me today. Thinking Biblically saved me today. He has such Blessed Timing and turns all thing to good and only wants the best for us, these Biblical thoughts and others, such as honesty/transparency, spared me additional and unnecessary stress. “Trust in The Lord…” Thanks, Pastor MennoKnight. marj

  3. Probably this is a rhetorical comment yet I am moved to state the fact so many denominations ”teach how to think” in context of The Word of God has placed us in a sorry state, as one would logically think Genesis confirms easily The Bible Is The Word Of God And The Word Is Christ. Therefore, should not the ”thinking” be focused on The Word itself rather than man’s interpretation resulting in the equivalent of yet more dogmatic laws as were the Chosen given to follow, as a precursor to Grace??? Context is crucial. Just my opinion. Guess I can still actually step on a soapbox. Time to step down.

  4. “You need to teach them what to think, in the sense of giving them a biblical framework for evaluating ideas.” Yes. There is the answer as to thought when concerning Biblical study. One profound experience I recall is where Christ said a man could do no greater thing than lay down his life for others. Contextually, this could mean a life of service to Him. It could also mean throwing yourself on a grenade to spare the fellow service members surrounding him. This led me to thoughts regarding suicide and I was able to conclude suicide is for the the self, not in-service to and for others’ lives. Very good mini-sermon for whatever my opinion is worth. Thanks.

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