Why Critical Thinking is Important for Christians (And How to Introduce it to Your Church)

Oct 25, 2022 | Blog

I have been in church my entire life. I don’t remember where, but I do remember once being told that Christians should not think critically, because it’s never the right thing to be “critical” of others. 

Oh boy, do we, as the church, still have our work cut out for us.

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The Battle for the Bible Belt: The Forgotten Art of Christian Scholarship

It’s been said that it is easier to develop wholly committed Christians in areas of the world that are more liberal than others. 

For example, a Christian living out the truths of God’s Word in California or New York is going to be a bit more noticeable than the same person doing so in the hills of North Carolina. 

Don’t misunderstand me, the effects of sin are plenty noticeable here in North Carolina (plenty in the church, too).

But in the so-called “Bible Belt,” Christians are “a dime a dozen.” “Everybody’s” a Christian, “everybody” goes to church, “everybody” grew up in church, etc. 

I used to think that God wanted my family to be full-time in ministry traveling to other places, and maybe he’ll lead us in that direction in the future. 

For now, he has us blooming where we’ve been planted, and I’m convinced he’s right on target. 

In the Southern United States, at least, there is a need to rediscover the lost art of biblical scholarship. 

Christian living is important, absolutely, but there is a rational side to the Christian faith that I did not even know existed growing up. 

I mean, I didn’t think to question my own faith at all until I was in my late 20’s! Until I asked the question, I always thought most Christians throughout history were somewhat like me—“good old boy” just doing his best to make it through this world.

And let me be very clear that I don’t mean to minimize that mentality. In fact, we probably need more of that, too!

Still, it’s unwise to believe something when you don’t have good reasons to believe it. You would never treat your medicine bottle that way. 

Why treat your eternal destiny that way?

Defining Critical Thinking For the Rest of Us

Allow me to start with an example, then we’ll break it down. 

The subheading of this article is: “It’s critical to think critically, but don’t be critical of those who don’t.”

Right away—without any formal training in logic—the reader is aware something is up. 


A few reasons: 

  1. A fairly uncommon word (“critical”) was used multiple times in the same sentence. 
  2. You can’t quite pinpoint it, but something doesn’t seem right about the way the words are used in the sentence. 

  3. It sounds pithy. The very act of reading it elicits a curiosity to know more. 

If your mind went through an exercise like that when you first opened this article (even if quite quickly), then you—for a brief moment—began to go down the road of critical thinking. 

Critical thinking involves taking the time to consider that which has entered your mind. That’s really what it boils down to. 

If you’d like the dictionary’s opinion, it’s the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments to form a judgment.

So, what of my curious subtitle?

It’s a simple thing, really. There’s nothing wrong with it. But if you slow down, you see the same word being used in different ways. 

Again: It’s critical to think critically, but don’t be critical about it. 

We could reword it to: It’s important to think carefully, but don’t criticize those who don’t. 

The sentence doesn’t have much meaning behind it. But that was never the point. 

My point is that some people use the word in a fallacious way, called an equivocation. It’s when you trade one definition of a word for another definition of a word. 

So if someone said, “You shouldn’t think critically because it’s not nice to criticize someone else,” this statement would be absurd. Critical thinking is not the same thing as criticizing. 

Get to the Point, Steve

Ok, fine. 

The point is that Christians—especially those from the Bible Belt and/or who have grown up in the church—do not have a habit of thinking critically. 

And in a world where it’s hard to know which way is up, Christians who do not have a firm foundation for their faith will be at a serious disadvantage when they enter higher education, the workforce, etc. 

(Of course, dangerous ideas persist in Kindergarten too, but hopefully I’m addressing an audience with the sense to have their kids in Christian or homeschool education of some sort, if feasible.)

Critical thinking is no longer reserved for bookworms. It’s not a “nice to have.” It’s not “for the nerds” or the “smart guys.” 

If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your children.

Our world is no safe place for folks content to wander about in the darkness. 

The Real, Real Reason for Critical Thinking in Christianity 

In the discipline of apologetics, 1 Peter 3:15 is often cited: 

…but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.

Although I think it has broad enough application to be true when speaking in terms of pure logic, that’s not the immediate context of the passage.

The context is suffering.

To paraphrase the chapter, Peter is saying this: 

In times of suffering (which we all experience), you have the opportunity to be a persuasive witness to the goodness of God. To do so, you must be ready with an answer to explain to others why you have hope in Christ in the midst of your darkest moments.

Whoa! What a perspective! 

And so I ask: Does that apply to you? Are you a person who has experienced suffering? If not, do you think you ever will? 

What does suffering have to do with critical thinking, though? 

In the midst of suffering, even the most committed Christians often begin to doubt and question their faith. 

You won’t find a more committed Christian than Peter himself, who denied the Lord on three separate occasions for fear of suffering and persecution. 

When you become a critical thinker, you have the opportunity to show those in your immediate influence how God is good in the midst of suffering. 

Beyond Suffering: Critical Thinking and the Church

As I mentioned, though, it goes beyond suffering. 

The world is hurting not only emotionally and physically, but the world is also hurting intellectually. 

“Intellectual hurt” shows up primarily in two ways: 

  1. A perceived lack of information
  2. Rejection of information 

Do we have enough information?

The word “enough” is a moving target. After all, why create more information (e.g., this very newsletter) if there is already enough information?

Nevertheless, there is “enough” information to make an informed decision to trust Christ with one’s eternal destiny. 

And in fact, this is true regardless of access to the Internet, the abundance of scholarly resources, etc. 

According to the Bible, there is a witness in creation (Ps. 19:1/Romans 1) and a witness in conscience (Romans 2:14-15) that renders humanity without excuse. 

Put another way, it’s obvious there’s a God.

But—and more to the point of this post—it goes further than that. Most of us need not rely merely on those instincts, because we do have an abundance of resources and information which inform the veracity of our faith. 

The issue is that many Christians are in the same position I was. Once the scholarly world of Christianity was revealed to me, it was like the floodgates had been opened. 

But until that point, I had no idea that world even existed in the first place! 

Exposing this side of Christianity to the everyday believer is a big part of what we do here. I want every Christian to be a Bible Nerd! That should be normal! 

If we can do our part to awaken more Christians to the reality that there is no lack of information, we will begin to see even greater change. 

What about those who have the information?

“Deconversion” is a huge trend and problem in the church. 

At the core, what’s happening (at least in many cases) is that someone who grew up with the perceived lack of information eventually discovers it, but that discovery comes in the way of those questioning or attempting to refute it. 

It’s quite easy to be minding your own business on YouTube or TikTok and come across someone who’s creating content about how they used to be a Christian and discovered, usually through other online influencers, that it isn’t actually true. 

At this point, one of two things usually happens: 

  1. The person begins the process of critical thinking, engages scholarly resources created by Christians, and remains secure in their faith.
  2. Or, they either (1) don’t engage those resources or (2) find them lacking, and “deconvert” from Christianity into some form of atheism or agnosticism. 

(For the record, I don’t mean to oversimplify. There will be outlier cases that follow neither of the paths listed above and are much more complex. I sympathize, and am essentially summarizing trends, here.) 

What can we do? 

As we become ever more conscious of objections to Christianity, new arguments for the existence of God, and utilize new points of connection and technology to help shepherd people’s thought lives, I’d like to suggest a few ways we can make critical thinking a regular part of our church culture. 

1. Taboo Banishment: We must encourage, allow, and even raise important and difficult questions within the church. 

Do you ever get the sense that certain subject matter is just not “allowed” in church? 

If you’ve never been given that impression, you are a blessed individual. Most churches—no matter how theologically mature—have “off limit” topics. 

We dramatically reduce these to our benefit.

This is very important: Whatever we’re not willing to talk about, the world gets to dictate in our minds. 

By definition, any conversation we do not have control over, we have forfeited control over. 

Things like pornography, addiction, and yes—critical thinking—have long been dominated by secular conversation because the church isn’t willing to deal with them. 

We can change that! Little by little, one small group, local church, regional fellowship, denomination, and movement at a time. 

2. Pastoral Apologetics: We must approach this subject matter with an emphasis on pastoral care. 

Once people do discover this side of their faith, many times, the pendulum swings the other direction and there is no emphasis on pastoral care, love, etc. 

This, too, is error. 

Paul was quite clear on this point: 

If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

As we introduce critical thinking into our local church communities, let’s do so while ensuring we have a “God’s eye view” of people. 

Theology is important and informs our beliefs. But God is concerned with people coming to know and trust him, above all. 

As with most things, we should strive for balance. It is possible to come alongside a hurting person with pastoral love and care, while intellectually assuring them of God’s truth, love, and goodness. 

3. The Pastor-Scholar Ideal: We must return to the “scholar as pastor” and “pastor as scholar” ideals.

This—perhaps more than anything—is needed in our churches today. 

There was a time when the “smart guy” in the room was the local pastor. Can you believe that? Sadly today, there is almost the complete opposite assumption. 

Many Christians are, as we discussed, missing the scholarly historical context of Christian tradition. To be a Christian was not a “backwoods southern person” thing—it was the well-respected, default mode of operation. 

Much of this perception was influenced by the fact that the pastor was the scholar, and the scholar was the pastor. 

This ideal is possible today! A friend of mine who does this well is Marc Lambert. 

Marc’s YouTube channel is full of teaching he brings before his church, to—in a pastoral way—introduce the concepts of critical thinking and rationality. 

It’s also possible to accomplish this through staffing and volunteer work. 

If you’re a pastor but you are not inclined to the more philosophical side of things, perhaps you could get started by working with someone from your staff or congregation. 

Critical Thinking is Important for Christians

These days, it’s not a question of whether or not your faith—or the faith of someone you know—will be challenged. It’s a question of when.

The stakes are too high to act like the proverbial ostrich who digs his head into the sand. 

It is possible to introduce critical thinking skills into our local churches and everyday Christian experience. 

It should be—and can be—normal to be a Bible nerd.

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Meet Steve

Meet Steve

Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

I’m interested in the surprising connection between creation, theology, business, and storytelling. We explore those themes and more on this blog.

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