Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

What Does “Thoughtfully Christian” Mean?

The reflections offered in this blog are:

Christian: They view life from the perspective of Christian faith.
Thoughtfully Christian: They exercise the human capacity for thought, and,
                                         they are meant to be kind and respectful of all people.

To use a biblical expression, in this blog,
I seek to speak the truth in love.

When people see the main title of my blog, “Mark D. Roberts,” they
pretty quickly figure out that this is my name. I admit that it’s not a
very catchy title for a blog, but it’s the one I chose when I started
blogging in 2003 and so it has become my “brand,” if you will. At least
“Mark D. Roberts” is a fairly clear and straightforward title.

I
can’t say the same thing for my subtitle, however. “Thoughtfully
Christian Reflections on Jesus, the Church, and the World” raises a few
eyebrows. More than one person has wondered if a typo slipped into my
subtitle: “You mean ‘Thoughtful Christian Reflections,” don’t you? Not ‘Thoughtfully Christian,’
right?” In fact, though I hope my reflections in this blog are both
thoughtful and Christian, I have intentionally chosen to call them
“Thoughtfully Christian Reflections.” Allow me to explain why.

Reflections

Frio River ReflectionFirst,
however, I’d like to say something about the word “reflections.” This
blog includes my reflections on all sorts of things. Many will be about
specifically Christian topics, especially “Jesus” and “the Church.”
Others will be much broader in scope, focusing on “the World” (which
pretty much includes just about anything, except, I suppose, for outer
space). In my blog, unlike in my books, I am not publishing carefully
composed thoughts that have been cleaned up by a team of editors. Nor
am I posting dissertations or decrees. No edicts from on high here or
finely tuned syllogisms. Rather, this blog is composed of my
ponderings, musings, and ruminations, in a word, my reflections. (Photo: Laity Lodge and surroundings reflected in the Frio River.)

Because I’m putting up reflections, rather than more polished presentations, I reserve several rights:

• The right to post thoughts before they are fully formed.
• The right to be wrong more frequently than I’d like to admit.
• The right to learn from my readers through comments and emails.
• The right to change my mind as needed.
• The right to share a bit of my heart and not just my head.
• The right to have fun.

I was first inspired to use the word “reflections” to describe this blog because of the “Daily Reflections” I write for TheHighCalling.org.
And sometimes my reflections on this blog will be quite literally
visual reflections, photographs that entertain, inspire, or inform.

Christian

I will be posting “Christian
Reflections” quite unapologetically. I am an orthodox Christian, by
which I mean that I affirm the core essentials of the Christian faith
as passed down through the centuries. To be even more specific, I can
say the Nicene Creed
without crossing my fingers. In the tree of Christian tradition, I have
made my nest on the Protestant branch, and am a Presbyterian pastor
with generally Reformed and Evangelical convictions. But I have deep
appreciation for other branches of the Christian tree, from which I
have learned much and upon which I have many friends. Nevertheless,
though I highly value Christian tradition and the wisdom of the Church,
I am committed to the superlative authority of Scripture, much as you
would expect from someone who nests on my particular Christian branch.

I
also have great respect for and many friends who embrace other
religious traditions besides Christianity, or no religion at all, for
that matter. During my years of blogging, I have had open and helpful
online conversations with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and
atheists. I have tried hard to listen attentively to those who don’t
believe as I do, yet also to speak plainly as a Christian. I believe
that the world will be a better place if people with differing and even
contradictory opinions learn to speak the truth as they see it and also
to listen fairly and respectfully to those with whom they disagree.

This is one major reason that I accepted Beliefnet’s offer to publish my blog here. For years, I have admired Beliefnet’s
effort to promote conversation among people about matters of faith,
including a wide range of believers and unbelievers in the discussion.
You’ll find material on this website written by Christians of all
theological stripes, not to mention Jews, Muslims, pagan, atheists,
and, well, you name it. For an example of Beliefnet at its best, see the online dialogue between Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright on the problem of suffering: “Is Our Pain God’s Problem?” In an unusually successful way, Beliefnet fosters intelligent, heartfelt discussion of the deepest issues of life.

So, I hope to join the Beliefnet-sponsored
conversation as a one among many Christian voices. Several of my
favorite voices already blog on Beliefnet, including Scot McKnight and Ben Witherington. In my writing here, I hope to offer, not just Christian reflections, but also thoughtfully Christian ones. I’ll explain what I mean in tomorrow’s post.
__________

Yesterday, I began explaining the subtitle for this blog: “Thoughtfully
Christian Reflections on Jesus, the Church, and the World.” Here’s the
executive summary: In this blog, I will write “reflections” that are
not polished treatises so much as “ponderings, musings, and
ruminations.” I will write as a Christian, that is, one who looks upon
life from the perspective of Christian faith.

Thoughtfully

But I am hoping to offer, not just Christian reflections, but thoughtfully
Christian ones. Yes, I am using the adverb “thoughtfully” rather than
the adjective “thoughtful.” Let me clarify this use of language that
might, at first, seem odd or even incorrect.

The governing adjective for my blogging is “Christian,” as I have noted already. But I seek to offer thoughtfully Christian reflections. The adverb captures the way in which I hope to write as a Christian, and I’m using it in two senses.

First, I intend to blog thoughtfully in that I will be thinking about my subject matter from a Christian point of view.
Though my posts will sometimes express emotions, and though I hope
occasionally to delight you as well as to inform you, my primary
approach will involve the intellect.

Rodin The Thinker ParisNow
I realize that some critics of religion believe that faith is
completely separate from and even opposed to rationality. But this
seems to me to be obviously wrong. Those of us who approach life from a
theological perspective might be patently incorrect in our thinking,
but at least we are thinking. In college, I spent four years of my life
majoring in philosophy, where I was expected to be a thoughtful. The
same was true for my time in graduate school, where I studied the New
Testament and its environment from a secular, historical perspective.
So I do know something about thinking. And I’m pretty sure that I am
still using my intellect when I reflect on life as a Christian. Whether
I’m right or wrong in what I think is open to critique. (Photo: “The
Thinker” in the Musée Rodin in Paris. By Andrew Horne, public domain)

I
am convinced that Christians today are in desperate need of more
thinking, not to mention better thinking. Many of my fellow believers
react to things in an exclusively intuitive or emotive manner.
Intuition and emotion aren’t necessarily bad, to be sure. But they need
to be guided and tethered by the intellect. Too often, the church has
been swept along in the tidal waves of sentimentality and subjectivity
that have pummeled our culture. Worship, morality, and even theology
become nothing more than an exercise in feeling. (See, for example, the
fascinating and chilling study by the sociologist Christian Smith, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.)
We are created and redeemed to be fully human, creatures of emotion,
intuition, actions, and thinking. We live most fruitfully when we
utilize all of our God-given capacities.

So, I’m using
“thoughtfully” in the sense of “Christian reflections that employ the
intellect, both mine as writer and yours as reader.” But that’s not the
whole story.

I am also committed to offering thoughtfully
Christian reflections in another sense. Usually, when we say that
someone is thoughtful, we do not mean that he or she thinks a lot.
Rather, thoughtfulness is about caring for people. It’s showing
consideration for others and treating them well. In this sense,
thoughtfulness often requires thinking about other people and their
needs. But it goes beyond thinking to a certain kind of action. Thus, I hope that my thoughtfully Christian reflections will be kind as well as insightful, gracious in addition to judicious. To use a phrase from the New Testament, in this blog I intend “to speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

I have attempted to do this ever since I began blogging at markdroberts.com
in December 2003. I’d be the first to admit that I have not always
lived up to my intentions, however. Sometimes, for example, I have let
anger influence my writing, especially when some blogger or commenter
treats me in a way that feels unfair, if not downright nasty. I don’t
find it natural to walk the second blogging mile. At other times, my
critiques have been less than charitable. But I remain committed to
treating all people with respect and kindness, even if I often miss
this mark.

Why do I seek to blog thoughtfully in this sense,
especially when anger-laced commentary tends to get more attention,
especially in the blogosphere? First, I am convinced that the world
doesn’t need more angry invective, more character assassination, and
more distortion of the ideas of those with whom we disagree. To put it
positively, I believe that the world will be a better place if we can
learn to treat each other thoughtfully, listening well and speaking
kindly even and especially when we disagree. Civility is a virtue that
is sadly lacking in almost every arena of life. I am committed to
making it part of the ethos of my blog, both in my writing and in the
conversation that follows in comments.

Second, I intend to
offer thoughtfully Christian reflections because, in the end, I am
seeking not only to think as a Christian, but also to act as a
Christian. In every fact of my life, I try to imitate the love of
Jesus. To be sure, I often fail at this, not only in my blogging, but
also in my relationships at work, at home, in my church, and in the
wider world. Still, I want to blog as one who has been called to love,
not only my neighbors, but also my enemies.

Is this possible?
Is this realistic? I actually think it is both. In my next post on
“Thoughtfully Christians Reflections?” I’ll explain why, and tell a few
stories of events that illustrate what a thoughtfully Christian
conversation might look like.
__________

When I talk about offering thoughtfully Christian reflections in this
blog, I don’t mean to suggest that I’m the only one who seeks to do
this. In fact, others who contribute to the Beliefnet blog conversation
do this very thing (see, for example, Scott McKnight’s Jesus Creed or Ben Witherington’s The Bible and Culture). But I began to learn about thoughtfully Christian communication many years ago.

It
started when I was a teenager. In my church, the First Presbyterian
Church of Hollywood, thoughful preaching was the norm. My pastor, Lloyd
Ogilvie (who later became my boss and mentor), preached sermons that
were thoughtful in both senses in which I have been using this word.
They were full of thought and delivered with kindness. I first learned
from Dr. Ogilvie that one could be unapologetically Christian without
communicating in an emotionalistic or strident manner.

Yale UniversityThis
lesson was reinforced many times during my years as a student. For
example, while in college, I attended a series of lectures at Yale
University. The speaker was Os Guinness, a prominent Christian thinker
and writer with an impressive academic pedigree. Guinness was lecturing
on the topic of doubt and faith, having recently written a book on the
subject (In Two Minds). His audience was diverse, including more than just Christians or students. (Photo: Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut)

After
one of his lectures, Guinness fielded questions from the audience. One
man stood up and, rather than asking a question, made an impassioned
statement contradictory to much of what Guinness had been saying about
faith. I can still remember the questioner’s taut face and angry tone.
All of a sudden the auditorium became eerily quiet, as people sensed
the potential for an unpleasant argument. I felt a knot in the pit of
my stomach. How would Guinness handle this awkward moment?

In a
thoughtfully Christian way, that’s how. He spoke to his challenger with
clarity and kindness. He emphasized their common ground while pointing
out where they differed. As Guinness spoke with a cool mind and a warm
heart, everyone in the room breathed a deep sigh of relief. He ended
his statement by inviting the man to come forward after the session if
he wanted to discuss things further. The questioner seemed to be
satisfied and sat down.

Ten years later, I was serving as
Associate Pastor of Educational Ministries at the First Presbyterian
Church of Hollywood. In this capacity, I invited Dallas Willard to
deliver a series of lectures on Jesus and the kingdom of God. (His
material was later published in Willard’s outstanding book, The Divine Conspiracy.)

When
it comes to thoughtfulness in the sense of “full of thoughts,” there
are few people in the world who are as thoughtful as Dallas Willard. In
his day job, he’s an accomplished professor of philosophy at USC, with
world-class expertise in phenomenology. Yet he is also a careful
student of the Bible and an influential writer of weighty but popular
Christian books.

So, not surprisingly, Willard was full of
thoughts as he lectured at Hollywood Pres. But he also exemplified
thoughtfulness in the sense of kind consideration for others. His
lectures were substantial, but not too academic for a lay audience.
Where Willard demonstrated kindness most dramatically, though, was in
his responses to questions. As I recall, he never faced an accusatory
inquisitor such as Os Guinness encountered at Yale. But many who asked
questions of Willard spoke simplistically. I found myself embarrassed
at times. After all, I had invited one of the world’s leading
philosophers to lecture at my church, and he was getting questions that
seemed more appropriate for a third-grade Sunday school class.

But
Dallas Willard didn’t share my perspective. He answered every single
question as if it – and the questioner – were worthy of the utmost
respect. He never spoke down to a single soul. Nor did he try to
impress us with his brilliance. His answers were meant to explain, not
intimidate the questioner or wow the rest of us.

I came away
from hearing Dallas Willard’s lectures at Hollywood Pres not only with
new insight into the kingdom of God, but also with a deep appreciation
of Willard’s care for people. I resolved to try to be like him in my
teaching. I wanted to be a person of full-orbed thoughtfulness. Of
course, in 1989, I did not vow to be a thoughtfully Christian blogger,
because blogging had not yet been invented. The Internet was in its
infancy and the World Wide Web wasn’t just a gleam in its inventors’
eyes. But, as a pastor, an adjunct seminary professor, and a speaker, I
tried to emulate the thoughtfulness I had observed in Lloyd Ogilvie, Os
Guinness, and Dallas Willard. Their example convinced me that it is
possible to speak and write in a thoughtfully Christian manner, even in
potentially conflictual settings.

So, when I began blogging in
2003, thus engaging in a wide conversation with a diverse body of
discussion partners, it felt right for me to aspire to thoughtfulness
in my blogging. Now, over six years later, I am even more convinced
that my calling as a blogger is to post thoughtfully Christian
reflections. As I have said before, I am committed to speaking the
truth in love.

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