I enjoyed reading, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. As I read through their book, three main thoughts came to me.
First, the authors pair ‘Universal Intellectual Standards’ with ‘Intellectual Traits or Virtues.’ I’m not sure which is more difficult to acquire, but the later is probably least desired in our society. Words like humility, fair-mindedness and empathy don’t play well in a culture that values the 30-second sound bite, verbally bludgeoning your opponent and always getting the last word (anyone watch cable news recently?). People who can do both are rare, even inside the church.
Second, many evangelical churches (in the US South anyway) don’t connect critical thinking and faith. They’re afraid if you begin to think critically you might loose your faith. The two are like fire and water; they just can’t coexist. The old mantra of, ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it,’ reigns supreme. Many assume that to have a ‘child-like faith’ means to not ask questions and always take statements/values/norms from church leaders and church culture at face value (sociocentric thinking). There is a lot of danger in that kind of thinking. How do we really challenge Christians to get beyond the tired bumper sticker phrases that keep many from thinking critically about their faith? For me, thinking critically about my faith deepened and maybe even saved my faith. In fact, I think it could actually draw people to faith.
The third thought that stuck out to me would seem to be the opposite of the second. Corinne Ware writes in Discover Your Spiritual Type, that there are four major types of spirituality: heart, mind, soul, and body. Critical thinking is a skill that any spiritual type can have, but I think it’s probably most associated with a mind spirituality. While I greatly value critical thinking and the life of the mind, I certainly don’t think God designed that to be everyone’s dominate form of spiritually (or body or heart or soul, for that matter). Yes, we need people who are critical and can effectively think through issues, but we also need people who are dominate in the other spiritual types and may actually struggle with being a top tier critical thinker. Being in a church with people of the same spiritual type would limit our growth and understanding of God.
For those of you who are looking for a short read that will help you strengthen and stretch the critical thinking part of you, grab Paul and Elders book. Don’t just read through it, but think of a real life issue, and see how their insights can help shape and form your thoughts. You’ll probably be better off for having done so.