Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Noetic Effects of the Fall and What it Means for Christian Ministry

When press by the religious elites to identify for the greatest commandments, Jesus famously identified two: love God and love others. Love, he said, must encompass our whole selves: all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength, all our souls. As a pastor, I have found that many Christians gravitate toward the heart and soul parts of that command which, we assume, encompasses our emotions and pathos. Rarely, in my experience, do Christians contemplate what it means to love God with all our minds.

Add to this Paul's exhortation in Romans 12:1-2 to be transformed "by the renewing of our minds." What does all of this mean?

The reason the gospel must be wholistic is because the effects of the Fall are. It is not surprising, then, that the New Testament reveals how the gospel transforms our words, actions, deeds, emotions, and even thoughts. It is the latter category that Christians have neglected the most.

This came to my mind recently after listening to Dr. Albert Mohler on the subject of the noetic effects of the Fall. "Noetic" comes from the Greek word nous meaning "mind." Thus when theologians speak of the Noetic effects of the Fall, they are referring to ramifications of the sin on the mind.

In the book Thinking, Loving, Doing: A Call to Glorify God with Heart and Mind (download pdf here), edited by John Piper and David Mathis, Dr. Albert Mohler offers 14 noetic effects of the Fall. They are (from pages 56-58):
  1. Ignorance 
  2. Distractedness 
  3. Forgetfulness 
  4. Prejudice 
  5. Faulty Perspective 
  6. Intellectual Fatigue 
  7. Inconsistencies 
  8. Failure to Draw the Right Conclusion
  9. Intellectual Apathy 
  10. Dogmatism and Closed-Mindedness 
  11. Intellectual Pride
  12. Vain Imagination 
  13. Miscommunication 
  14. Partial Knowledge*
In the book Fallen: A Theology of Sin (read my review here), Douglas Moo describes the same thing:
It is also important to note that sin involves not just our actions; it is rooted in our very pattern of thinking. as we have seen, the sinful actions that humans commit (or the things that they sinfully fail to do) are the manifestation of a more fundamental condition - being "under sin." And this condition, as we would expect, affects the mind. When people turned away from the knowledge of God, God "gave them over to a depraved mind" (Rom. 1:28). Their minds are hardened (2 Cor. 3:14); they are "darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them" (Eph. 4:18). They have a pattern of thinking, a mind-set, that is "set on earthly things" (Phil. 3:19; see Rom. 8:5-7). We should not be surprised, then, when non-Christians have trouble understanding things that seem very logical to us believers, such as that taking the life of a child in the womb is wrong or that labeling a homosexual union "marriage" is a fundamental category error. Non-Christians are incapable of thinking rightly about many such issues.  A critical part of God's new-covenant work, therefore, is the "renewing"" of the mind (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). (117)
So what does this mean for the theology, the pastor, the evangelists, and the Christian? One clear implication is clear: our presentation of the gospel must be wholistic. No doubt most readers are familiar with preachers who manipulate the emotions of their congregations and hearers in order to elicit a response. To do so is fairy easy especially by charismatic speakers.

In light of the noetic effects of sin, our presentation of the gospel must be more than emotional, it must also be intellectual. We must present the gospel and expect the sinner to embrace it wholesale - heart, soul, strength, and mind. Furthermore, discipleship and sanctification must be intellectual as well. Sermons ought to challenge the thinking of the congregation and lead them ever closer to righteousness.

* For more from Mohler on this issue, consult his Ask Anything: Weekend Edition on May 17, 2014 and the following address delivered at the 2010 Desiring God conference entitled The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace which was published in the book Thinking, Loving, Doing: A Call to Glorify God with Heart and Mind (download pdf here) pages 47ff.

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