Chris Thayer is the Director of Discipleship at Good Shepherd Church in Charlotte, NC where he oversees adult life groups and Biblical education. On Thursdays I share his weekly “Thayer’s Thoughts” for small group leaders, which are based on the previous Sunday’s sermon. Click HERE to watch or listen to the accompanying sermon.
Two and a half years ago I took a class in seminary entitled “Christianity and Classical Philosophy.” It was my favorite class. Contrary to the popular understanding of philosophy (and to a large extent what philosophy has become) – most philosophers over the last two millennia were Christians. Philosophy wasn’t seen as a way to disprove or think outside of God. Instead it was a way to think deeply and learn more about Him and His creation. Most of the men we would call the “church fathers,” those who’s writing greatly influenced and continues to influence the church, were philosophers.
One of my favorite philosophers was a man named Boethius. He lived in the early sixth century and wrote his most popular work, The Consolation of Philosophy, while awaiting execution for a crime he was falsely accused of. While I learned much from wrestling with his ideas, perhaps the greatest lesson I learned while reading his treatise was how I think.
My final paper for the class was on a topic addressed in one of the chapters of The Consolation of Philosophy. The chapter was about 15 pages long. The first several times I read through it I had a hard time following Boethius’s reasoning. Particularly, I kept encountering the same problem as I approached his final pages. At the end of the chapter he gave an answer to a question I never saw asked. Even after reading the chapter four or five times, I couldn’t figure out why he was giving this answer. It felt like I was listening to somebody lecturing about math for thirty minutes and finishing by saying: “And this is why the answer is blue!”
Finally, after reading it more times than I care to admit, I realized he was circling back to a question he posed in the very beginning of the chapter. There were thirteen pages separating where he asked the question and his circling back around to the answer. What shocked me as I realized this was that Boethius expected this question to stay in the reader’s mind the whole time he or she read the chapter. It was at that moment I saw not only how short my attention span is, but how much our culture has fostered and catered to sound-bite thinking.
We don’t typically listen to drawn out arguments and thinking. Instead, we’re drawn to quick quips and sayings. One of the many downfalls of this is that it negatively affects how we read and study scripture. This is one reason we are more apt to think about a single verse of the Bible by itself rather than in the context which it is set.
Luke, the author of Acts, thinks much more like 6th century Boethius than 21st century us. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells the apostles (now 11 men after Judas had betrayed Jesus) they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Right at the start we wonder how only eleven men will be Jesus’ witnesses ‘to the ends of the earth.’ Luke begins Acts by teasing us with this question and then takes us on the journey of answering it throughout the rest of the book. We start in Jerusalem and by the end of the book we see Paul preaching the Gospel of Jesus in Rome where it can reach ‘the ends of the earth.’ Luke asks the question in chapter one and answers it in chapter 28.
These are the kinds of things we tend to miss when we don’t consistently challenge the way we think. So how can we make ourselves aware of something we do (such as how we think) without even realizing it? Community. Unless you surround yourself with people who challenge you, stretch you, and help you grow—you’ll miss out on so much. Jesus brought (and continues to bring!) the Gospel to the ends of the earth through eleven people united in His name. What could He do through you when you’re united with others in His name?