It’s been said that people are either followers or leaders. I think that’s pretty true. I know people who are leaders and others who are followers. But I contend that there is another group which is a subset of either, critical thinkers. I think it would be tough to be a leader while not being a critical thinker, but I know leaders who were not quite what I would call critical thinkers. And I have had people who worked for me who were critical thinkers, and they really added to the team. I have also had people work for me who were not critical thinkers, they were often frustrating to lead.
I think Paul was a critical thinker who encouraged critical thinking. The most explicit example of this is, perhaps, when he taught the people in Berea. Luke (the writer of the book of Acts) says that “the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” One can infer that Luke and Paul discussed this incident since Luke was often nearby and travelling with Paul. Indeed, we can imagine Paul, an incredibly well read, highly trained figure in first century Judaism, discussing this with his friend and historian, Luke the physician. Not only was there this comparison of spoken word to written Scripture, but this resulted in “prominent Greek women and many Greek men” believing in the message and becoming followers of Jesus. These are examples of followers who were critical thinkers. Paul, clearly, was a leader who was a critical thinker.
The last 2000 years of the history has seen the rise and fall of many movements made up of followers of Jesus. When one reads the history of Christianity, one reads of these movements: their rise, establishment, slippage and their ultimate fall. One considers the result of a movement, what other movement may have been impacted by it, a movement that may have come from it, etc. But these movements of men in the name of Jesus are nonetheless movements. They come and they go. They often stood in opposition to other movements and books were written to clarify positions in juxtaposition to another group. Many make great claims about results in numbers. They count numbers of people who become followers of the movement, results seen in the works of the movement, results seen in supernatural events connected with the movement.
Today, with the Internet, it is easy to attack a group by creating a website. The more you criticize another group, the easier it is to get ‘hits’ on your site. If you are part of a group and target another group, those who listen to your podcast, streaming website, or open letters on your blog agree with you will say “YEAH.” Those who disagree will yell “NO” and long threads of comments will ensue. It becomes a competition not unlike a political race. In fact, it often looks just like a political site. People respond to one another using the same words their leaders use to describe another group who they disagree with. This is not biblical. Paul spoke clearly against that which was not of the Holy Spirit, but Paul, Peter, James, the writer of Hebrews, John, et al, were inspired by the Holy Spirit. We should look and listen carefully and critically of anyone today who makes such a claim for himself or he who that person follows.
My plea is that these followers of Jesus would be of more noble character and act like the Bereans, go check the Scripture. And as one steeps oneself in the Scripture and thinks critically, read very carefully the parts of Scripture which talk about division in the church. I awoke the other day with 1 Corinthians on my mind and carefully looked through the teaching. I was really struck by the message of the Holy Spirit through the great apostolic missionary. Here is just a bit of it from chapter three:
8Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (ESV)
Whether we are leaders or followers, let us be faithful to the God who gave us His image and use the mind and His Scripture and be critical thinkers like the Bereans.