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Redeeming Every Thought


Old Testament Reading: 1 Samuel 18:6-7

New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 2:14-17

Text: 2 Corinthians 10:5


Today I would like to delve a little more deeply into the implications of a passage I preached on a couple of weeks ago. Then I spoke to you concerning Paul's determination to assault and conquer every fortress mentality using the cross of Christ as his weapon. Then I said that for Paul the message of Christ is far from the barricade to new knowledge and opportunity that some would make it. Christ is not the builder of fortress mentalities, but rather their scourge and foe. But I have to admit there was one sentence in that passage, which I did not much like the sound of, which threatened to over throw the case I sought to make. It is this: Paul  proposes to "take every thought captive to obey Christ." And that does at first glance have about it the unpleasant ring of brainwashing. But I make bold to hope that there is another way to understand his words. Let's see what this imagery implies against the broader background of the Bible.

First we need to remember those distinctly unedifying tales in the Old Testament in which the deity commands Joshua or Saul to exterminate an enemy, to leave no Amalekite or Canaanite breathing. The texts are uncompromisingly clear: they are to slay and smite every man, woman, child and animal. "Nothing that lives shall survive!" The policy was "No prisoners!" The foe was merely wheat to be cut down with a bloody scythe.

Now it looks like Israel never actually waged such a genocidal war, if knowing that helps you. It is hindsight theology, armchair strategy marked out by later writers who rued the fact that the pagans were not so dealt with, since if they had been, Israel would have been less likely to learn their wicked ways. (Though if there are any ways more wicked than genocidal warfare, you tell me!) But at any rate, it is against this background that we might see the taking of every thought prisoner to Christ as an image of Christ's mercy. I mean, we are lucky we are hearing about captives being taken, when we could be hearing the words Jesus makes a parable character speak: "Bring in my enemies and slay them before me!"

Of course there are Christians who believe that it is the Christian policy, when it comes to intellectual matters, to "take no prisoners!" They will hear no evidence on any scientific theory the Bible does not teach.  They will not countenance the possible truth of an alien religion. Once you are safely in their fold you will be told you cannot entertain any non-Christian ideas, read any non-Christian books. You will hear that Satan would use such devices to sow poisonous seeds of doubt. Let me tell you something: if you can convince me that Christians must take such a position, you can finish the sermon. You can have my job. I will be out seeking another religion. Because I think it is not the Christian stance to obliterate all else but Christianity. It is not like Jesus Christ to "take no prisoners."

I believe that in all matters of the mind, one must admit the truth from wherever it comes, no matter how strange and exotic its point of origin, no matter how threatening it may seem to your inherited ideas, no matter how unable you may be to make sense of it now. You must let it have its voice and give it a place in your ongoing synthesis of your developing beliefs. You may be forging a Christian creed with an admixture of ideas from Eastern religions. You may be trying to synthesize a Christian ethic that accommodates some of the advances of genetic research. You may be a Gay man who cannot believe God created you as you are as a mistake and must somehow build that belief into a Christian ethic, despite the fact that the organized church tells you that you can't. 

In all such intellectual work what is happening is that you are abandoning the collapsing ruins of a fortress mentality, for which God bless you, and you are trying to enable all these new thoughts and ideas to serve Christ. To take them captive to Christ, rather than to sacrifice them to Christ, as if destroying them somehow served Christ. To take every thought captive to Christ is to refrain from closing your mind to all truths that come from elsewhere, which would be to exterminate them as the Israelites were pictured destroying the Canaanites. That would be, and is, the procedure of Christian fanaticism. But to see how new thought might enrich and ennoble the Christian synthesis is to welcome new ideas and facts as servants of Christ.

This is certainly what Paul did! His writings are swimming in terminology and conceptuality drawn from the Hellenistic Mystery Religions, from the Cynic philosophers, from Gnosticism. You would never recognize Christianity if it were stripped of all the wonderful images and ideas from other quarters which made it what we know today!

Paul speaks elsewhere in 2 Corinthians of Christ making us his captives. In Chapter 2, verse 14 he thanks God that Christ always leads us in triumph. What he seems to mean is that Christ, having triumphed over the forces of evil on the cross, now rides, so to speak, through the capitol in his chariot, receiving the cheers of the crowds, much as in 1 Samuel, when Saul and David are met with the cheers of the multitude for their victory over the Philistines. What role have we in the triumphal procession of Christ? We bring up the rear, captives on display, living spoils of war. We who once served sin are now brought over to the service of Christ. We are his captives, as Paul says in Romans, "slaves of righteousness." We are duty-bound to do righteousness, which we will find a great freedom, now that the conquering Lion of Judah has freed us from the slave master Sin.

In other words, on the Pauline metaphor, the one taken prisoner by Christ is redeemed by Christ! Now, really, hasn't Paul stretched a metaphor beyond all normal, recognizable meaning? Has there ever been a prisoner of war who was happy to be taken prisoner? As it happens, our own recent history supplies us with the best of examples! Remember how Iraqi soldiers kissed the hands of the Desert Storm troops who accepted their surrender? They were as happy to see the Allied Forces as the Kuwaitis were! And why? Because to serve their ruler was to serve a slave master! Saddam had them out in the field with guns pointed at their backs! For them to be taken captive by Desert Storm troops was to be liberated! And so with Christ! To be taken captive by him is to ­win­ the war, not to lose it! And it is in this way that Christ and his field marshal Paul mean to take every thought captive. Christ means to redeem every thought, not to destroy it!

Paul says in Romans 12, "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may determine what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable and perfect." We are to renew our minds as a service to Christ, not to shut them down! Does Christianity require a sacrifice of the intellect? Well, yes, provided you mean the kind Paul specifies: the service of a mind renewed by means of baptism in the truth, freed of the biases and the propaganda and the distortions of a crooked age!

But let me get specific for a moment: precisely how is Christ going to renew your mind, to redeem your thoughts? Personally, I do not think he is going to pour new revelations into your head to replace old false ideas. Sorry, it's not that easy. I don't believe there is any Christian shortcut to finding the truth. The clerics and theologians that tell you there is a magic book full of inerrant truths are just using that illusion as a cover to get you to believe whatever they tell you.

You must find the truth for yourself, like it or not. Christ will not do it for you. But here is what he will do for you. Here is how he will renew your mind, redeem your thoughts. He will enable you, by his Spirit, to speak what truth you find ­in love­. Christians, I hope, are people who are excited about truth, interested in truth, on fire to find the truth. And once you think you've found a piece of it, and you're bursting with it, you want to spread it, and your headlong pace may sweep all else aside!

Perhaps God has blessed you through a 12-step program. Amen! But is your first reaction to insist that everyone else needs the same thing whether they know it or not? Have demythologizing and historical criticism made the Bible come alive for you, as they have for me? It is very easy to thrust these controversial methods on people who aren't ready for them or do not need them! Have you found meaning in a particular ministry of the church, whether the Film Series or Human Needs or the Bible Studies? You will be tempted to look askance on others who just do not see the same value in them. Have you had a charismatic experience with Christ that has renewed your spiritual life? Praise God! Now are you going to insist that everyone else have the same experience, or else you are going to brand them "nominal Christians"?

You may, in your enthusiasm over the truth that has renewed your mind, become a living example of the maxim of Paul, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." You may have become Exhibit A illustrating what the great agape-hymn says, "If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and I have all knowledge, ...but I have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). But Christ will give you the love you lack. He will enable you to use your knowledge to build up others rather than running rough shod over them. He will enable you to speak your prophecies and mysteries and knowledge with love so that you will be more than a crashing gong and a tinkling cymbal.

And if, perchance, you elect not to speak the truth in love, let me venture to tell you that you are not speaking the truth of Christ, no matter how the facts may back you up! You see, it works both ways! On the one hand, there is no truth, no fact, no discovery which cannot be the truth of Christ! He is Truth's other name! No truth can offend or injure him! If it is true, a Christian should be first in line to believe it! What makes it Christ's truth, though, is whether it is spoken in love!

Darwinism, atheism, revolutionism, may be Christian affirmations if they are true, but they cannot be if they are spoken without love! If they serve the truth, Christ can take them captive to serve him, and if he takes them as his servants, they will be spoken in love.




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