Prudence (a.k.a. Think Before You Act)

I’m about half-way through re-reading the book Mere Christianity, and what strikes me is that C. S. Lewis addresses the question I asked in my first post: why are some Christians not more excited about thinking? Lewis talks about this in his chapter on the Cardinal Virtues (Book 3, chapter 2).

There Lewis notes that the classic virtue Prudence really amounts to simply thinking before we act. In Lewis’ words: "Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it."

But then Lewis notes how unpopular such thinking is among Christians. Why? He says many of us use the idea of ‘coming to Jesus like little children’ as an excuse to not work at developing our minds. If true, this observation is really an answer to my question. According to Lewis many of us see thinking as a threat to authentic, childlike faith.

I would state Dr. Lewis’ observation a bit differently. As a pastor I often run across Christians who seem glad that there are a few in the church who care about theology, thinking, and using the mind (someone actually told me this once). But they don’t feel that the majority of Christians (including themselves) need to trouble much with serious thinking. Do you see the assumption behind this statement? Thinking is seen as a specialized activity for a select few. Beneficial to the church as a whole, perhaps, but not necessary for the life of the average Christian.

Lewis disagrees, arguing that "childlike faith" does not preclude developing our minds to their fullest potential – whatever that potential may be. He assures us that good Christians need not earn PhD’s or become professors. In his very British way of putting things, Lewis says, "It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any the less, or have any less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a very second-rate brain. [uh, thanks! I think…] He has room for people with very little sense, but he wants everyone to use what sense they have."

Lewis is far from seeing the mind as a threat to authentic faith. In fact he assumes just the opposite – that a mind developed to its full potential is a necessary tool for the Christian life. I, for one, couldn’t agree more.


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