Seeking transformation through the renewal of our minds
What is this?
How thinking like a Christian is inherently a loving act
by Jeffrey A. Schooley
I like to ask people I meet for the first time, “What’s your schtick?” Those with the slightest knowledge of Yiddish will know how to answer; those without—eh, not so much. I like the question, though, because it creates space for the person to answer more broadly than does the question “So, what do you do?” Maybe it’s because I’m still a young adult—or maybe its because people just, generally, don’t want to be defined by their job—but I’ve found that being asked “what do you do?” is more annoying than endearing. It reduces people to an employment function and presumes that this just must be the most life-giving aspect of their personalities. So, I ask “what’s your schtick?” in order to create space for them to tell me about their hobbies, their passions, or just the most interesting thought they have had in the last 20 minutes.
Since you’re meeting this monthly column for the first time, I suppose therefore, that it is only fair that I tell you what its schtick is. And I’d like to do so by explaining all of the titles I considered for this column. Here they are, in no particular order: Big Ideas; Big Head; Chewing the Fat; Dissertations I Can’t Write; Tangents; Correlations, Not Causations; I Want Malcolm Gladwell to Be Proud of Me; The One-Two-Two; and of course TLC: Think Like a Christian.
I knew that this column would be a “general” column, by which I mean that I wanted the freedom to pursue whatever topics I thought were important to the church at any given moment. Unlike my other monthly column, I needed room to explore a diversity of topics. Yet as much as I wanted freedom, I also knew that there would be a rather cerebral aspect to each piece. Hence why I thought “Big Ideas” might work. However, I’m not without a little humility, so I realized that “Big Ideas” might be a tad too bombastic. This revelation gave me the option of “Big Head”.
I really liked “Chewing the Fat” and even, for one very brief semester in my final year of graduate school, had a weekly radio show titled “Chewing the Fat.” I thought it was a witty blending of talk radio with my girth. However, that radio show had two listeners (my future wife and my best friend), and I really hoped that this column would get double that many readers, so I didn’t want to curse myself from the outset.
“Dissertations I Can’t Write” is a reflection of the PhD in Theology I’m pursuing (mine, for the record, is sex ethics, because if you have to write 250-300 pages on a topic, it should at least be a sexy topic. See what I did there?).
“Tangents” and “Correlations, Not Causations” are both a reflection of how my mind works. I regularly move through ideas without any logical connection except in my mind. Mine is a mind produced by reading much theology and Buzzfeed, watching ballet and Netflix, and preaching and ranting on Facebook. In this regard, I don’t suspect I’m very different from anyone else. But basing the entire theme of a column around my own special brand of neuroses seemed dangerous.
“I Want Malcolm Gladwell To Be Proud of Me” is just because Malcolm Gladwell is awesome. His is a beautiful mind. Nirvana for me would be Terry Gross interviewing Malcolm Gladwell (with maybe Nirvana playing quietly in the background?). (NOTE: NPR, please make this happen.)
As I kept scratching and trying to figure out what my schtick is, I came close to settling on “The One-Two-Two.” The idea came from Romans 12:2—“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This was my best idea yet because it made clear that all of my thinking is—ideally—part of a bigger transformation that Jesus Christ is working out in my life. It was the first title that made explicit my Christian convictions. It also struck me as a really hip, emergent-Christianity-sounding title. However, my beard and black-framed glasses not withstanding, I’m not emergent, and I’ve never once been accused of being hip (I threw away my last pair of blue jean shorts in 2008 . . . actually quad-pocket blue jean shorts. So, yeah, there’s that.)
And that brings us to my schtick: TLC: Think Like a Christian. Here is the best encapsulation of all I hope to achieve in this column. I want to think like a Christian. I don’t want to be boxed in by cultural presuppositions. I don’t want to be logical; I want to be theological. I eschew labels like “conservative” or “liberal” because both are based out of the same faulty system that presumes a certain human autonomy that is simply idolatrous in the Christian faith. Also, TLC—with its normal meaning of “Tender Loving Care”—reminds us that thinking like a Christian is inherently a loving act. It is generous, kind, and faithful. (Well, if you watch too much cable, TLC might be more about 600 pound lives and 19-plus kids, but lets go old school here, back to a time before this corruption.)
So that, dear reader, is my schtick. I try to think like a Christian. I do so—as I hope you’ll come to see over the coming months—by approaching everything with a healthy and faithful dose of skepticism (not cynicism, which is skepticism’s angry, drunken cousin with knuckle tattoos and a sketchy employment record). It also means seeing one’s self as formed by a story of God’s creative, sustaining, and redemptive work in the world. It assumes that who God is and what God has done and is doing is more authoritative, more normative than that which politics, philosophy, sociology, or the like can provide. To think like a Christian is to have an unfailing trust that Truth and truth-telling are holy activities that grant us freedom from cultural biases. It is to assume that the church has its own language and that the goal of Christian discipleship is not so much about translating that language to the rest of the world, but rather translating the world to that language—to that Word.
Finally, if the goal is to think like a Christian and to pursue the holy activity of truth-telling, then the first truth we must acknowledge is that we are created as a people in community and that individualism is just another word for unholiness. As such, I need you. I need to transform this column from Think Like a Christian to Thinking Like Christians. And as we do so, we can proclaim to the world (I mean, it’s the Internet, so—yeah—“the world” is not an overstatement) what TLC really is.
Jeffrey A. Schooley is a teaching elder at Center Presbyterian Church in McMurray, Pennsylvania. He is also a PhD in Theology candidate at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Biking, Netflix, reading, teaching, and spending time with his wife and dog round out the rest of his life. He can be reached at ThinkLikeChristians@gmail.com.