R.I.P. Deep Thinking

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At the risk of not keeping your attention I won’t make this entry too long.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the state or lack-there-of of critical thinking abilities among people, especially as a pastor. People today tend to process many ideas and information without seriously thinking about anything in particular except in regard to the day-to-day getting along and what that entails.

For years now professionals have been cautiously leery about the internet and social networking fearing how it is affecting the our ability to process things deeply not merely with a shallow once over and moving on to something else without full cognition of what they just read. I remember back in my youth ministry days when I researched and presented “Gen X” to our leadership in order for them to better understand the teens in our church. Back in the mid 90s already psychologists and sociologists were claiming that this forming Google generation is able to process a lot of information not necessarily holding to any one opinion and actually being able to hold two opposing views at the same time. Scary but true.

Recently in the winter addition of Leadership Journal I came across this gem affirming my concerns of which we should be aware and counter act for the sake of the church.

“As we cultivate the skill of scanning screens, many of us find it more difficult to read a book word by word and line by line. We seem to cultivate either the skill of deep reading or the skill of scanning… but it is difficult to maintain both skills.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt publicly worried about the effect this kind of reading — and about the impact of the internet as a whole: ‘I worry that the level of interrupt, the sort of overwhelming rapidity of information — is in fact affecting cognition. It is in fact affecting deeper thinking.’

A good portion of the Christian life requires the ability to concentrate and focus on ideas over long periods of time. Spiritual depth requires the ability to pray for more than a few minutes, to read and memorize Scripture — not to search for it online, and to love God with our hearts AND minds. This means that we must be careful to cultivate and retain the skill of deeply reading and deeply contemplating the things of God, something the Internet and digital technologies do not seem to foster.” — John Dyer in From the Garden to the City: the Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology (Kegel, 2011).

So think about going deep with your spiritual walk. There is so much value in practicing spiritual disciplines in order to grow as a disciple.

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Hey Allen, thanks for starting the discussion. A couple of things come to mind.

First, some people are more inclined to "deep thinking." Anyone who's taken a personality/spiritual gifts/strengthsfinder survey or test will remember seeing traits like "deep thinker," "learner," "theological reflection," "strategic thinker...." I happen to be one of those people, so I find lots of things on the screens that surround me that inspire and cause a stir within my heart, soul, and mind.

Second, what if we used the medium that seems to pose the challenge to deep thinking to actually foster it? Take, for example, this blog post; it appeared here on The Network, but also on your blog. You were hoping that someone reading this would be spurred to deeper contemplation.

But that doesn't really get at the skimming syndrome. One of the things I've tried to do is resource people with thought provoking, challenging, resources in a blog format that fits in a sort of skim format: http://cccfaithathome.wordpress.com/ I aim to post about ten minutes of material (time spent reading a post or watching a video), each week. I choose material that is pertinent to everyday life, and therefore has the potential to influence the way that readers live out their faith.

You're right, though, none of it matters unless the Spirit makes it take hold in someone's heart. Our job as pastors is to facilitate that work, helping people be open and ready to receive, walking alongside them as they put on Christ and faithfulness. It may start as a skim, but God can use the window shopping technique to strike a deep desire within.

 

I appreciate your concern about the seeming decline in "deep thinking". But I also noted with interest that you find it scary when you run into people who are able to hold two opposing views at the same time. Is it possible that by standing firmly in our confessional tradition we are often more inclined to provide the "right answers" than to ask the right questions? (I think that it what John Suk is trying to get at in "Not Sure") A wise mentor of mine, Fr. Richard Rohr said this in his daily blog today, under the title "Paradox":  "I don’t think the important thing is to be certain about answers nearly as much as being serious about the questions. When we hold spiritual questions, we meet and reckon with our contradictions, with our own dilemmas; and we invariably arrive at a turning point where we either evade God or meet God. Mere answers close down the necessary struggle too quickly, too glibly, and too easily. When we hang on the horns of dilemmas with Christ—between perfect consistency and necessary contradictions—we find ourself in the unique place I call “liminal space.” Reality has a cruciform shape to it then—and we are taught best at the intersection of order and disorder, where God alone can make sense out of the situation and we must surrender. All real transformation of persons takes place when we’re inside of such liminal space—with plenty of questions that are open to God and grace and growth." Is this at all relevant to your concern about the decline of "deep thinking"?

Participant

 

Good comment, John.  In addition, I see people who go in the opposite direction of what you mention- they chalk everything spiritual or theological as being totally mysterious and unanswerable so that they either they never attempt to resolve these deep questions or they settle for whichever 'mere' answer gives them a warm, fuzzy feeling.

To be sure, there are solid answers to deep theological questions simply because God has revealed so much to us.  Some answers come easily, and some never at all - God preserves mystery! - but most answers are attainable through a combination of deep thinking, prayer and study.  As has already been mentioned, technology both fosters and inhibits these skills.

I'm also intrigued by the comment about younger generation’s ability to hold two positions simultaneously. This ought to be welcome news for those of us in Confessionaly Reformed camps!  We describe God as being both totally transcendent yet totally imminent; We ourselves are at the same time saints and sinners;  We state God has fore-ordained everything that occurs, yet hold individuals responsible for their actions; on and on I could go. Good theology always is fraught with inherent tensions and we need to fight our impulse to try and resolve these tensions. I love John's language about grasping the horns of dilemma with Christ... when we preserve theological tension we are held in that 'lingual space'. (Again, solid answers do exist to these deep questions... I don't think you're saying answers aren't possible, just that we should push past 'mere' answers and dig deeper, right John?)

Sadly, there's too much elbow room in this lingual space as most of our fellow church members want nothing to do with the place.

Participant

John,  

Those are great comments and insights.  I would agree with you in that it is good for us and especially youth to be questioning things.  I mean postmodernity is all about challenging what society has always accepted as the norms.  I have always challenged people to know what they believe and why, to ask the hard questions.  In fact that's exactly what we do in our Theology Pub on Thursdays; ask the hard questions allowing for everyone's responses and testing each others' premesise.  It's part of how people become deep thinkers and become more certain of what they believe.  We even have some atheists in our group who challenge the Christian premesise.

My intention with "scary stuff" is more in regard to people holding opposing views but not necessarily evaluating them or critically processing them in order to see which stands and which falls to finally rest on a particular belief.  Now it may change or be sharpened down the road once it is reasonably challenged, but the scary part is to go through life in somewhat of a schyzophrenic mode of believing this that and the other thing.  It's perhaps the uneasiness we often feel with relativism.  I certainly appreciate the fact that we should all be asking the questions necessary for faith formation or as some would call it, belief formation -- not necessarily Christian.  For that reason I appreciate the Socratic method during such discussions.

My concern for wrting the article in the first place (including the poor grammar) was that I meet so many people who let everyone else give them their opinion.  Nothing says it more clearly than listening to people discuss political issues, or religious, especially Christian,  beliefs.  The lack of critical thinking amongst adults and children and youth is on the increase as far as I can tell and it is truly saddening.

Kudos on this blog. I have been thinking along the same lines. I read an article by Carl Trueman on Reformation21 dot org (I tried linking direct to it, but it triggered The Network's spam filter) entitled "Transcendental Meditation" and while it's more on the apologetics of Van Til, I think it highlights many of the same things you have. When I preach or counsel, I nudge people to see the depths of the issue, rather than just the surface discussion.

Also, I would like to disagree slightly, or maybe just finish Chelsey Harmon's thought. It seems incomplete. I agree that many are not naturally gifted at deep thinking. Then what? We can't let that be it. We can't just relegate all the deep thinking to the deep thinkers because then we are propagating the same thing we are railing against. If there's anything that the makeup of the Apostles can teach us, it's that non-deep thinkers (fishermen) can become deep-thinkers (A fair assumption on my part, I think). We must lead people into deep and serious thought. It's a skill that can be learned and even mastered. It's a point that Trueman makes about the Young, Restless, & Reformed movement. They defy the common conception of their generation.

Keep thinking, sir & thank you!

Hi Richard,
Thanks for the comment. I don't disagree with you at all. We are called to encourage and equip people to think more deeply and reflect on the wonders of our God in the world and in their lives. That's why I created the blog in the first place.

Perhaps I fell prey to the need to be short and to the point in my commenting... :)

Thanks, Allen. However, it's not just Google and the internet that can hamper deep (critical) thinking.  It's also polarized thinking, hedonized thinking, reactionary thinking, politicized thinking, pragmatic thinking, secularized thinking, and slothful thinking.  These may or may not be aided by the internet.

On the other hand, some of my deepest moments of insight were midwived by resources that only the internet could synergize.