“God is in control.” This is a phrase I often hear within the evangelical circles in which l live and work, and it has always bothered me. It seems as if it is expressed not in times of great movements of the Spirit but rather in resignation, trying to make sense of a wrong decision or in times of disappointment after something bad has happened. Is this because phrases such as “God is in control” have become part of our vocabulary not because of faith, but, because of the lack of critical thinking?
A Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking suggest that we don’t question enough, that we don’t look at a problem from different points of view and that we don’t dig deep enough into the issues that shape our thoughts and behaviors. If we applied that line of thinking into our daily lives, we might not utter some of the phrases that are so common in evangelical life. Roger Olson, in the book Questions To All Your Answers, states that “if we apply critical thinking to our faith and the particular phrase “God is in control,” the conclusion might be different.” Even a strict Calvinist applying some critical thinking might agree that a better expression of faith would be “God is in charge.”
Toward the end of A Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking the author also suggests that much of our thinking is unsettled because of Egocentric and Sociocentric thinking. This type of thinking is characterized by belief systems not built upon facts or thorough examination of information, but rather, on a person’s desire to believe a certain way or because they have always believed in that certain way. These ideas and beliefs are then reinforced through one’s culture, the failure to think beyond one’s limited philosophy and a blind conformity to a group – or in some cases, to a church denomination or faith expression.
An example of Egocentric and Sociocentric thinking can be understood by another phrase that is prevalent in America and generally seen as a bumper sticker. It reads, “God said it, I believe it and that settles it.” Perhaps this philosophy is the outcome of someone who has wrestled with faith, studied scripture, history and come to this conclusion. But more often than not, I believe that it’s a lack of critical thinking, where isolated scripture verses are taken out of context, with no regard to the culture in which they were written, oblivious to the audience for whom it was written and then blindly applied to a current situation – usually because the person already “believes it” and wants concrete affirmation!
A possible remedy to this type of “folk religion” as many call a belief system based upon catchy phrases and statements, would be to understand why we think a particular way. Is it because of the influence of culture, history, family or groups, which have in turn determined our values and beliefs, rather than through self-evaluation and thought? If so, we need to first admit that most of our beliefs are “hand-me-downs.” We could then take steps to more critical thinking which would allow us to develop our own personal belief systems and values.
This is a challenge to myself, but even more challenging still, is to have these conversations without assuming a posture of intellectual arrogance. Critical thinking is difficult and can be upsetting, but with humility and courage, possible.