Thinking deeply is one of the reasons I am taking a doctorate in ministry. It is in questioning much of what it means to lead in a church that energizes me for leadership. Paul and Elder state, “Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improvement”. Improving the very process of thinking is the next step.
To improve the way we think is very different than just giving a topic thought. Mindless Christianity is popular. To analyze is to question and may be looked upon as troublesome or faith defeating. This, at least, has been my experience. Asking vital questions in a faith environment can be unwelcome. Being a critical thinker seems to be anti-faith.
But the pain people have experienced in life or as being a part of the church either pushes them to analyze and deepen their understanding or it moves them to be cynical and withdraw. My experience as a young man in an excessively emotional Pentecostal church has raised many questions for me. This was especially true when the church went through two church upsets. The nature of what true spirituality now became predominate in my thinking. In a faith community there needs to be a place where skeptics and analysts can question. The reason this is not welcome may be because leaders have not analyzed their own assumptions, prejudices and thinking processes.
Every week when I speak I can so easily fall into the same trap. When we surveyed the congregation about one thing they would ask God, we became aware of two things. One there is a lot of pain and painful questions that people live with every week. Secondly, people are thinking about very deep theological questions. This has challenged me to bring context to those questions and not pose simplistic answers. The answers are not black and white or fit into tidy categories. Also, the non-Christian culture around us is not an easy one for Christians to engage in. People are weary and wary of flippant dogmatic simplistic answers. Reasoning faith in the gray takes clear thinking and self-critical thinking. Clarity is needed.
The one thing would have strengthened this booklet would to say more on the process of dialogue in community for critical thinking. This may not be the purpose or possibility in a small booklet. One question I still have is where does faith fit into critical thinking. The authors quote William Graham Sumner on critical thought as saying “Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators… they are slow to believe.” While I think the point is not to be persuaded by thoughtless speech, the tone seems anti- faith. Does this allow for what Michael Polanyi calls “tacit knowledge”; knowledge that is hidden and not explained?
I found a good self-evaluation of critical thinking in Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates by Mike Wallace and Alison Wray. Here is a link to chapter one. Look for Table 1.2 on page 12. http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/41383_Wallace_&_Wray_Chapter_1.pdf