Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Does critical thinking help one to better reflect Christ?

Written by: on October 9, 2014

Although it is a fact we may not like to admit, egocentric or sociocentric thinking is a common for many individuals. We tend to be biased based on our experiences, knowledge, and education. Our worldview can be very limited, as we don’t often look at the world through a more objective lens. It takes purposeful action, on our part, to appreciate and consider points of views other than our own.itisexam.com
In Paul and Elder’s book, Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, critical thinking is defined as “the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.”[1]

Have you ever met someone who seems so smart and articulate, yet at the same time has a humble and fair spirit? They are the one who always seems to have the right and appropriate thing to say. They have the ability to truly listen, and when they speak it is with much wisdom. Elements of Christ’s nature are evidenced. Paul and Elder provide a list of traits that are typically exhibited by one with higher-levels of thinking: humility, courage, empathy, autonomy, integrity, perseverance, confidence, and fair-mindedness.[2] Reading the list of traits, I was immediately reminded of the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22, ESV) This led me to consider how my thinking habits help me to better reflect Christ, and areas where my thought practices need to be improved.

I’ve often chastised myself when I speak without thinking, or when I am lazy in my learning endeavors. It can take a lot of energy or attention to engage with people and information in manner that contributes to one’s own learning. In haste, I’ve made false assumptions or spoken out of turn. Scripture reminds us to make our ear attentive to wisdom, incline our heart to understanding, seek insight like silver, and to look for hidden treasures.   Through this, we will understand righteousness and justice, and will gain knowledge and discretion (Proverbs 2).

It can be a bit overwhelming when you look at all of the elements that go into the critical thinking process. Elder and Paul provide practical techniques to help one focus on becoming an accomplished thinker. However, our development in this area requires much more than implementation of a process. It requires experience. When we move out of our comfort zone and engage life through new experiences, our worldview is expanded. Before we can even hope to gain significant value from a book like Paul and Elder’s, we must be willing to hear and respect views that are different than our own. By removing our personal barriers and admitting our preconceived notions and prejudices, we will position ourselves to grow. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to struggle with difficult ideas or concepts. In the same way that healthy conflict drives innovation on a team, wrestling with difficult topics breeds increased knowledge.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the privilege to engage with some amazing people while on a trip to Cape Town, South Africa. Not only was I exposed to a new culture, but my ideas and beliefs were also challenged. I was able to rub shoulders with leaders who challenged me to look beyond my own world. They encouraged me to see, listen, dialog and experience.

Romans 12:2 (ESV) says, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I encourage you to get to know people that are different than you, and genuinely listen to them. Question concepts and ideas. Evaluate your beliefs and refuse to “go along with the crowd”.   Lastly, know what you believe, and why.  Ask Christ to guide you on a journey of revelation.

[1] Paul, Dr. Richard ; Elder, Dr. Linda (1999-01-05). Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools (Kindle Locations 41-42). Foundation for Critical Thinking. Kindle Edition.

[2] Paul, Dr. Richard ; Elder, Dr. Linda (1999-01-05). Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools (Kindle Location 179). Foundation for Critical Thinking. Kindle Edition.

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

18 responses to “Does critical thinking help one to better reflect Christ?”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Dawnel. Thanks for the helpful connection between the elements of critical thinking and the fruit of the Spirit. I had not connected those dots.


    • Mary says:

      Jon and Dawnel,
      It might be an interesting discovery to see how each fruit of the spirit corresponds to the ability to think more effectively. Similar to how we think about God, our lives function a certain way. Curious thought as you link the two together.

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Dawnel…Thanks for comparing Paul & Elder’s high level thinking traits to the fruits of the spirit. I really appreciate the reminder that this journey is a journey to be more Christ like and it doesn’t start with trying to think harder. I loved you concluding by encouraging us to “Ask Christ to guide you on a journey of revelation.”

    • Mary says:

      Nick and Dawnel,
      What a great reminder that this journey of following Christ isn’t about working harder at being good thinkers. It’s about availing ourselves to the work of the Spirit as we participate in our intentionality with the use of our mind.

  3. Over the years the most striking reality to me is how difficult it is to really get outside my own way of seeing. One of my favorite authors described the limit like this: “The mind only takes pictures using the film with which its loaded.” Our bias, based on our current experience and our ability to engage risk (really empty ourselves) is powerful. It’s not easy to change the color of the lenses we wear – to reset the drive – to change the film. In fact for many it will never happen.

    One of the most basis insights of systems theory is that systems seek stability – homeostasis. We resist change. We resist partly in wisdom – we have already found what worked for us, both a way of seeing the world, and a way of practicing life within in. Thus change is a big risk.

    Keeney writes that “the deepest order of change is epistemological change.” He then talks about first order change, which is common sense change. This is the kind of change that happens when your spouse has to cut back at work. It will mean an adjustment in your family. Either you spend less, or someone else works more.

    This works fine when there aren’t powerful emotional and psychological dynamics involved. However, when someone has become dependent on something and it shapes their very identity, this first order strategy will not succeed.

    The second order of change involves becoming open to reevaluating the presuppositions that govern first order strategies. This is usually experienced as a crisis and one’s world view may be in shambles. Then comes the clincher:

    “In comparison with the rules and premises that previously governed their system, these new ones often seem paradoxical in nature. Instead of the commonsense idea that out of control drinking should be addressed by choosing in-control behavior, second-order change says that the complementary position of honesty is better. Instead of continuing to engage in the first-order strategy of exerting more willpower in a determined effort to prove their control over alcohol, it becomes important for alcoholics to recognize and admit that they are [powerless.] To genuinely make this admission, a shift in self-perception is required. Rather than exulting in pride, bowing in humility becomes appropriate. Such a change is generally made possible through the gift of hitting bottom.”

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Len, Very well said…maybe I get this, though, because I’ve had to hit bottom several times in life. Each time has been life changing and I’ve grown a little stronger, closer to Christ, and my worldview becomes a little wider.

      • Mary says:

        Len and Dawnel,
        When I read the part about hitting bottom, I cringed as I know it is the most effective tactic that leads to change. In fact this morning as I was praying for three folks who just found out they have cancer that has gotten worse, not better, I remember the words of someone in Cape Town who said, “God doesn’t promise that things will get better, only that we may see the glorious riches of God’s kingdom,” or something like that. I wonder if in the “seeing” we become better thinkers versus when everything turns out the way we wanted.

        • Dawnel Volzke says:

          Thank you for stating that so eloquently. Matthew 22:37 (ESV) reminds us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We often seek to love Him with our heart and actions. I believe that most of us are in this doctoral program to serve Him with our whole being, including our minds.

  4. Dave Young says:


    I appreciate the scriptures that you refer, Paul’s call to renew the mind and reflect the fruit of the Spirit. I would say that critical thinking is certainly a boon to spiritual formation. That a well analyzed and tested faith is better then blind acceptance – generally speaking.

    On the other hand I still believe that in questioning, sorting out and discussing what well formed life in Christ is, that we who hold to the authority of scripture would weigh it more heavily, allow it to shape our thinking. I see that in your post and appreciate it.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Dave,
      I believe that critical thinking allows us to more deeply hold to the authority of Scripture, as we learn to internalize it at much higher levels of understanding. I think to my own understanding of Scripture….I’ve come far, but I still have much more to learn. I am thankful that He reveals Himself to me as I seek a deeper understanding of Him through His word.

    • Mary says:

      Dave and Dawnel,
      When you mentioned spiritual formation, Dave, it made me also think of spiritual freedom in Christ. That when we are critical thinkers that aspire to live into the fruits of the Spirit we experience a greater freedom to think and act.

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, Great question posed! I do not think I have ever thought of Jesus as a critical thinker. This is definitely something I will spend some time thinking about. Words like strong, obedient, humble and such come to mind first when I think of Jesus and his life. But how that integrated into his thinking is a very interesting thought. I get that you were saying if we think more critically maybe we look more like Christ, but that in itself does imply to some degree that maybe Jesus was a critical thinker as well. Interesting stuff. Thanks for surfacing the thought!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Phil,
      I have to believe that critical thinking helps one to gain wisdom. Jesus had a “knowing” about people and situations that we don’t have. It seems that as we seek to open our minds to better understand others and their ideas, we do become more like Christ. In this way, we can seek to relate to them more like He does.

  6. Travis Biglow says:

    God bless you Dawnel,

    I really like how you view critical thinking. I really loved how you incorporated powerful scriptures in your comment. I must do the same i love it. I agree that being humble and incorporating the fruit of the spirit will help a lot in critical thinking. It takes patience and a consideration for what other people think to arrive at good decisions and meaning. In our lives we can be in rush and we need to take more time listening, learning from others and evaluating if we want to be great thinkers. Blessings

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thank you Travis…Being a good thinker requires more than just knowledge. I appreciate your reminder that it includes listening, learning, and evaluating. This is my weakness – I need to spend more time listening and evaluating. Thank you for this reminder.

  7. Mary says:

    I appreciate your words, Dawnel, as a reminder of how being “smart and articulate” also requires a “humility and fair spirit.” I think you demonstrated that combination while we were together in Cape Town. It was such a joy to watch you come alive in the contexts we experienced, especially watching you with the children of Khayelitsha.
    Something that struck me was your statement about how wisdom and critical thinking requires experience. It was a sober reminder that we can do all we want when it comes to book/web-based/research learning. But it is when we actually go through the experience that the depth will change us. It’s not a quick fix, easy access wisdom. It’s an intentional and slow process.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thank you Mary. I appreciate that we can come together as a group, and have a safe place to dialog and to help each other to stretch our minds beyond what we could do on our own. You are right that this is an intention and slow process. It will be exciting to see where this journey lands each of us in twenty years…

  8. Brian Yost says:

    Thanks for reminding us that our academic lives are not separated from our spiritual lives. It is easy to view critical thinking in a selfish way that helps us learn, helps us better process and evaluate information, or helps us become more efficient in our tasks. It is a very different thing to desire to become better critical thinkers in order to know God better and serve his church.

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