3. Way of Thinking

Clifford Denton

The things that occupy our time, our reading, our interests, our activities, influence our ways of thinking and the way in which we determine our priorities and perceptions of life. In addition, there are ways in which we train our minds to think. This can subtly influence our lives and perceptions of truth, as believers in Jesus the Messiah. A scientist has a certain world view, a philosopher an other, an artist another, a comedian another, a person whose main interest in life is the training of dogs another, one who is a compulsive gambler another. A Muslim thinks and acts differently from a Hindu. From the complex issues of life to the everyday and simpler issues, there is a characteristic of the human mind which is orientated to particular ways of thinking, and these ways of thinking are related to our beliefs and actions.

Thus, in our exploration of the roots of the Christian Faith, the issue, “ways of thinking”, is of fundamental importance. What is the framework from which we consider the issues in our lives? How do we reason? On what does our faith depend? Have we been influenced by certain things in the background to our lives which it may be important to reconsider? If there are alternative ways of perceiving reality, what is the most appropriate for us as believers in the Jewish Messiah?

As we begin to consider these and a thousand related questions we might realise that this is not only an important topic, but that it is also quite complex. Thus we can only begin to open up the issue in this edition of the Journal.

When we become a Christian we become a member of a family that goes back to Abraham the Patriarch. We enter this family by faith, of course, but there are many characteristics of the family that will have a bearing on how that faith was founded and how it might be exercised. Jesus came as the fulfillment of the Jewish law and prophets. He came as Yeshua, the expected Messiah, taught the Jewish people in the language of the Jews, in the cultural and social setting of the Jews, a message which had specific meaning to these people. Could it be that unless we discover the right frame of reference, the right way of thinking, then we will be in danger of working out our life of faith in the shallows, or even of being deceived?

It is not physically possible to go back to Judah at the time of Jesus and rediscover our roots at first hand, but if we were able to do this we could examine the background influences such as culture, language and tradition more clearly than books allow: we could enter into the experience to which our faith was first related. Certainly the Jews were a particular people who had been under the hand of God for many centuries before the coming of Jesus.

The Scriptures give us all that we need to understand from this and also a foundation of understanding of the irrelevant parts of Judaism to the life of faith of a Gentile convert. Nevertheless, there must be a considerable amount from these early days that is relevant, particularly when set against the conflicting influences from other cultures and ideologies in this world, which would take us away from the roots of our faith.

It is not possible to go back to the time of Jesus and pursue this route of discovery, but the present day Jews are going back to their land in great numbers today, which signals to us that the time is here to pursue this route of discovery as far as we are able. Indeed, the fact that the Jews are being gathered from exile in order that they will be saved in great numbers and fulfill their role as a light to the world, causes us to consider the separation of the ways that has taken place over the centuries (to the shame of the Church). However, if some of the early disciples were accused of being Judaisers in the early church, when they tried to impose too much of ancient Judaism on Gentile converts, beyond teaching them a way of faith which had come from the Jewish heritage, then we must be doubly conscious of a parallel thing in our generation. Indeed, we are in a different generation. Many modern Jews are not even religious according to the old traditions from Sinai, while modern Judaism is the result of centuries of development since the time of our Lord, and has branched into many strands, under the same influences that have eroded into the life of faith in the Church.

The modern Jew returns to a secular state with memories of years of survival among the nations and influenced by the pain of the Holocaust. In general, the Jews are not returning to carry on where they left off nearly two thousand years ago. Thus, though we have an important issue to face concerning the true roots of the Christian faith, the task is not particularly easy.

Because it is not easy it does not mean that it is not important We do need to restore an appropriate way of thinking, of being, if our faith is to be rightly rooted and secure. It is not necessary for us to understand the ‘mechanics’ of how a human being functions, emotionally or spiritually, to realise that influences abound in this world which cause us to think and react in the way that we do.

Sit, for example, and listen to someone reading a poem or playing some music and realise that something of our inner person is stirred to respond to what is heard. Watch a film or a play or a television programme, and perceive how one is drawn, as if into a tunnel of experience, which can mould one’s personality as well as bring a kind of emotional or spiritual escape to a different reality. Then consider the various influences of culture and media in which we live from day to day in order to perceive that there are influences around us which seem to mould our perceptions of reality.

Many of these influences have developed through the centuries until they have established themselves as the norms of our existence, framing the curricula of our schools and universities, so that we enter into a certain framework of thinking and being which influences us from childhood on. No wonder that Paul taught that we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12). We must not become fearful over this issue, but we should become alert to the need to rediscover the roots of our faith and appropriate ways of thinking, taking it as a joyful exploration in the coming days.

The roots of our present societies have been molded on far different principles than those which came from the Jewish heritage. Philosophy, Art, Politics, Science, Psychology, Logic, and so on, are generally based on the humanistic heritage of Greece and Rome. If we were able fully to assess the influence of these things we would know how far we are from the life of faith which was founded on the life of Abraham and others recorded in Scripture (Hebrews 11) and expressed by Habbakuk, Paul and the writer to the Hebrews, and then rediscovered by Martin Luther: “The just shall live by his faith”.

The very language that we use has a bearing on our way of thinking. Much of the Scripture is lost on us without the understanding from the original languages and the means of speaking, To think in Hebrew is quite different from thinking in English, although we shall see that there are certain complications in this area when we read the articles in this issue of the journal. To think and speak and to live as a Bible believing Middle Eastern Semite, however, even in the modern day, is quite different (and a lot closer to the cultural origins of our faith) to living as a Western Christian.

To demonstrate just how immense the implications are we can consider the findings of Ted Hughes, the present Poet Laureate. He has written a book entitled ‘Shakespeare and the Goddess of Being’ (1992, Published by Faber and Faber). We have already mentioned the fact that there are powerful means of influencing our ways of thinking in the Arts. Shakespeare is particularly powerful in the English speaking world, and often put alongside the Bible as a foundation of literature. To consider the influence of Shakespeare on society and its thinking is to find a massive doorway into the consideration of the influence of the whole art world. If the influence of Shakespeare, while we thought it to be good, turns out to be bad, then a significant point has been made concerning the way our society and ways of thinking are seduced and eroded.

Ted Hughes has written an extensive work on the background influences on Shakespeare which came from Greek mythology, and has shown how he pursued a course of weaving plots together to enhance the influence of the Greek Gods and Goddesses on the Western mind:-

“Shakespeare knew the myth of Venus and Adonis from Greek and Latin contexts…, . he knew of the related Egyptian myth of Horus, Isis and Osiris through Roman sources, and was familiar with the mythographer’s game of interrelating these deities. For Shakespeare, as for Plutarch, Venus was a token in the vast Goddess complex, behind the various religions, where his aptitude for symbolic language and metaphor played with great ease” (p5).

Shakespeare interwove Greek and Roman mythology through his plays systematically and in such a way as to pervade the thinking of his audiences, and to leave a way of thinking which competed for the minds of those who were being stirred to the life of faith in the Protestant Reformation. In other words, it was part of a subtle plot of using the arts to resist the work of the Reformation. It is summarised thus, in the introduction to the book by Hughes:-

“identifying Shakespeare’s use of the two most significant religious myths of the archaic world in the poems of ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, Ted Hughes argues that these myths later provided Shakespeare with templates for the construction of every play from ‘All’s Well that Ends Well’ to ‘The Tempest’; and that this development in turn, represented his poetic exploration of conflicts within the ‘living myth’ of the English Reformation.”

This demonstrates the immense impact of the subtle influences on our life of faith which take us away from our true roots, and opens us to consider, equally, the numerous other influences that have pervaded our society.

On Philosophy, for example, Anthony O’Hear wrote in his Foreword to “What Philosophy Is” (1985, published by Pelican):-

“In this book, I attempt to introduce philosophy, as it is currently practised in the English-speaking academic world, to those with little or no background in the subject and also to those already embarked on some course of philosophical study. The issues I deal with are, I believe, such as to be of interest and importance to any reflective person. What there is, what we can know, how language relates to the world, the nature of human beings and how they should organize their lives, individually and socially: to wonder about these things, and to attempt to do so rationally and systematically, has been part of our culture, and one of its glories, since the time of classical Greece.”

The philosopher, like the scientist, the historian, the sociologist or the linguist, seeks to make observations of the interacting world around himself and make logical deductions, predictions or explanations in the light of this. Each can frame a complex and convincing argument about the good that can be done within that society through their particular discipline, and create a way of thinking to that end. On the jacket of another book, The Social Construction of Reality (Berger & Luckman, 1984, Published by Pelican), a set of aims is set out which would lead us to consider reality in certain social and philosophical terms:-

“This book is concerned with the sociology of ‘everything that passes for knowledge in society; and particularly with that ‘common-sense knowledge’ that constitutes the reality of everyday life for the ordinary member of society. The authors are concerned to present an analysis of knowledge in everyday life in the context of a theory of society as a dialectical process between objective and subjective reality. Their development of a theory of institutions, legitimations and socializations has implications beyond the discipline of sociology, and their ‘humanistic’ approach has considerable relevance for other social scientists, historians, philosophers and anthropologists.”

Yet, speaking on the topic of history, for example, an honest and objective author can highlight the difficulty of even getting beyond the simplest of concepts:-

“During the past fifty years a good deal of serious work has been done on the question ‘What is history?’… All history is ‘contemporary history; declared Croce, meaning that history consists essentially in seeing the past through the eyes of the present and the light of its problems, and that the main work of the historian is not to record but to evaluate; for, if he does not evaluate, how can he know what is worth recording? In 1910 the American historian Cad Becker argued in deliberately provocative language that ‘the facts of history do not exist for any historian till he creates them,”‘ (What is History?, E H Carr, 1987, Published by Pelican).

The author demonstrates how difficult it is even to get started in understanding what a major subject is, yet he does not leave the potential importance of the subject behind for framing our ways of thinking. He goes on to say, quoting another historian by the name of Collingwood:

“The philosophy of history is concerned neither with ‘the past by itself’ nor with ‘the historian’s thought about it by itself’, but with ‘the two things in their mutual relations. The past which a historian studies is not just a dead past but a past which is still living in the present. But a past act is ‘dead’, meaningless to the historian, unless he can understand the thought that lay behind it Hence ‘all history is the history of thought’, and ‘history is the enactment in the historian’s mind of the thought whose history he is studying’.”

We can draw on example after example to demonstrate that out of the empires of Greece and Rome emerged disciplines which take the reality in which we live and analyse “facts” about that reality in certain definable ways, in order to mould our ways of thinking. Ultimately we can be so caught up in these analyses that we are controlled within the framework which they design. Indeed the control can be intentional particularly, as we have seen, in the area of art and drama, whjch can be subtly allied to the skill of linguistics.

In a chapter with a provocative title, “Literature as Magical Art”, of a book by H D Duncan (Language and Literature in Society, 1953, Published by University of Chicago Press), the author wrote:

“If the end of great art is the creation of forms through which we consciously explore means and ends of action, the purpose of magical literature is to inspire us to practical actions held desirable within institutions controlling society. We can be inspired to action through the use of imagination in the service of reason; but once imagination is brought into partnership with reason, ends as well as means are open to analysis.”

Thus there can be a background motive behind the many influences on our ways of thinking, namely, to shape the society in which we live. When we analyse any of these systems, including religious systems which are purely philosophical, we discover that observations are made within the framework of the created universe and logic is confined to the processes of the created mind. This could be thought of as being parallel to a goldfish in a bowl, which is trying to explain the world in which it lives, quite unconscious of the dimensions of life outside the goldfish bowl, of which we, the observer, are a part. So the philosophies of mankind are contained and finite, even circular. If they influence the life of faith of the Christian then the consequent ways of thinking will be in line with and restricted by the world’s systems.

Have we not seen these things affect not only our social lives, but our theologies? The philosopher wants final answers to all questions and will propose conditions even if the evidence is incomplete. Yet the life of faith, from our Jewish heritage, should leave us vulnerable before our God who does not leave us as goldfish in a bowl, but interacts with us from outside of our physical reality.

His revelations to the people of Israel over the centuries are part of our heritage, and what He has chosen to make us as people of faith is to be rooted in a particular way of thinking that He has imparted through the centuries. It is influenced by language, by tradition, by the testimony of people of faith, by their history, but in a framework which the living God Himself has chosen, which is vastly different from the systems invented by philosophers from other kingdoms and empires. The outworking of this in our lives should make us what we must be for this last phase of church history, and we should be molded by these things rather than the traditions of men. The results will affect every part of our lives profoundly, our personal lives, our family lives, our social lives, the life of the fellowship of believers, and also frame our priorities.

The world’s agenda is strengthening in its influence on people of the world, through the power of the media and the need to maintain the institutions which are founded on the very principles that have been allowed to dominate those institutions. Furthermore, there is a growing and subtle deception that is creeping in alongside many, if not all of the world’s institutions. It has an antiChristian spiritual influence which tries to capture the mind, and persuade each person that they can ‘create their own reality’. It is the subtle influence of the New Age Movement. The time could not be more important for us to be people of faith and make our position secure through the rediscovery of our true roots.

To bring this down to a simpler level, after exposing the depth of what this topic really means, I quote from a well known pilgrim to Israel. Even if we cannot fully understand the forces around us, we must realise that there is a route of discovery which we are able to take in many practical ways. This example will help us to understand that it is attainable and simple enough in its outworking. Mark Twain set out on a vast expedition in 1867, just 100 years before the reuniting of Jerusalem under Jewish control. He discovered a considerable amount about the background to the Christian Faith by going on an expedition to the country of Israel, which he had not realised was to be discovered, and by considering some of the simple aspects of this along with the other ‘pilgrims’, as they toured the ancient sites. In his travelogue “Innocents Abroad”, he wrote: “One must travel to learn. Every day, now, old Scriptural phrases that never possessed any significance for me before, take to themselves a meaning.”

Are we willing to learn as we travel on this critical stage of our pilgrimage? Our ways of thinking may have gone a little off course (or a lot), but there is a direction to go in which to put things right We will touch on just a few of the relevant topics in this issue of the journal.

We include a number of articles on linguistics because of the need to open out this fundamentally important (and complex) issue. The study of the creationist way of thinking is included, demonstrating the depth of the issue before us, particularly when contrasted with other studies such as family and attitude to orphans, which we also take up, together with an article on the role of women, our first in the Contemporary Issues series. We have a testimony from the “pilgrimage” of a Hebrew teacher which brings freshness to our study, as does our regular devotional item from Dov Chaikin. In particular, we have found it timely and appropriate to include some extracts from the work of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research in this edition of Tishrei. Many of the articles in their bimonthly report Jerusalem Perspective help us to understand the ways of thinking at the times of Jesus. In the first issue of the report (October 1987) the editor, Mr David Bivin, wrote:-

“A revolution in Gospel scholarship has been quietly taking place in Jerusalem. For the first time in history, Jewish and Christian scholars in Israel are working together to examine Jesus’ sayings from a Hebraic perspective. The results are providing fresh insight into the words of Jesus.The work of the Jerusalem School for the study of the Synoptic Gospels is revealing Jesus to have been not only Jewish, but a rabbi who spoke Hebrew and used Hebraic teaching methods. As a consequence of this research, many Christians are gaining an enhanced appreciation of the Gospel, and a renewed respect for Chnistianity’s Jewish roots.”

Jerusalem Perspective is a popularly written journal which presents the results of Gospel research being carried out in Israel. We reprint a selection of articles with the kind permission of the author. This illustrates the importance of our study and it is also anticipated that this will create an interest in the work of the Jerusalem School.

Subscription enquiries to Jerusalem Perspective should be addressed to PO Box 31820, 91317 Jerusalem, Israel.

(First published in Tishrei Vol 1 No 2, Winter 1992. The Journal Tishrei was launched in 1992 to highlight the need for the Church to return to its Jewish roots)

Tishrei is the seventh month of the Biblical calendar and the first month of the Rabbinic year. A number of the appointed days of the Lord take place during this month. On the first day of Tishrei the Shofar is sounded. The festival of Rosh Hashanah begins on that day. Later in the month of Tishrei comes Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), followed by the festival of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). There is a theory suggesting that the Messiah was born during the month of Tishrei, at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is generally believed that this harvest feast will also be fulfilled spiritually on His return. Tishrei is the month in which Ezra read the law to the people of Israel who had rebuilt the ruined walls of Jerusalem after the return from exile (Nehemiah 8) and explained the principles of the Scriptures to them clearly (Nehemiah 8:7).



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