I have an aversion to running. No quintessential neighborhood, energetic race setting, or scenic trail can overcome the loathing I have for sending my feet on a frenzied search for pavement. But I do it. Why?
What draws this running-hater to the treadmill time and again? A desire for a healthier me? Sometimes. The svelte culture-goddesses on the cover of magazines. Probably a little of that too.
But mostly, I run because I love Malcolm Gladwell. More specifically, I love Revisionist History, the podcast that has become my treadmill entertainment.
The podcast is all very Gladwell—enthralling narrative, sound logic, controversial for a cause. But, mostly, Revisionist History makes me run because I like the kind of me it reveals. As the episode progresses, I sweat more than my pre-run water. I sweat my know-it-all-ness, my mental lethargy, and my social apathy. If you walked into the gym during my cool down, you’d find me frantically typing into my iPhone a multitude of questions about societal norms and education theories. In trendy t-shirt terms, the questions are my complacency crying.
Do we really reason?
I believe I value reason. But my reaction to a simple podcast makes me wonder if I possess a natural bent toward critical thinking. If I simply adopt the loudest narrative around me, like for the Toyota breaks scandal, am I doing the same with faith issues? Am I taking the time to examine questions of culture, politics, scripture, doctrine, and theology?
Probably not. And I bet it’s not just me.
This complacent Christianity should bother us. The Bible calls for a childlike faith, but it doesn’t ask us to exhibit passive acceptance or mental apathy. Instead, the Bible is an advocate for reasoning. It lavishes praise on critical truth-seekers.
Have you heard of the Bereans?
In Acts 17:9, Paul flees Thessalonica because of an angry mob and finds refuge in a little town called Berea. Berea is the biblical boondocks. It’s unlikely Berea was on Paul’s evangelizing bucket list. Regardless, Paul wasn’t the type to lay low, so he goes to the synagogue.
I am guessing that Paul was expecting more of the usual in Berea. His experience in Thessalonica wasn’t atypical—Paul used the Old Testament to preach the gospel. Some Jews believed. Most didn’t. That’s when a violent mob comes on the scene. Scant acceptance was the norm at a synagogue.
But that’s not what happened in Berea.
These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with quite a few prominent Greek women and men. (Acts 17:11–12)
The Berean Jews believe! Many of them believe. Paul does end up fleeing Berea, but not because Bereans are chasing him. He has to escape because those angry Thessalonians go looking for him in the boondocks.
What’s so different about the Bereans?
The Bereans are said to be “open-minded.”
We are in Acts 17, folks. Paul is a “big A” Apostle with an unmatchable Jewish résumé. Today, he’d have earned his undergraduate in Jewish studies at NYU with a master’s in theology from Duke Divinity School, whose PhD was from Jesus himself.
By this point in the story, the Bereans probably knew of Paul’s pedigree. And while they gave Paul their utmost attention, the enthusiastic Berean Jews chose to reason for themselves.
Their initiative stands in sharp contrast to the Thessalonians. In verse 11, the Bereans are explicitly said to be more open-minded than those in Thessalonica. If we back up just a few verses to Acts 17:1–4, we can see the difference. The account of Paul’s time in Thessalonica never mentions anyone doing the work of reasoning. Well, except for Paul. Paul reasons, Paul explains, and Paul proves. The Thessalonian Jews react strongly, but they don’t stop to look into things for themselves.
In Berea, it’s precisely the opposite. The act of reasoning never gets attributed to Paul, only to the Bereans.
Does reasoning really matter?
Somewhere along the way, general Christian consensus dismissed the way of the Bereans. We decided that personal reasoning proves problematic not praiseworthy. Those who look for verification, especially of information that comes from prominent pastors or authors, are called cynical. Those who ask us to look at scripture differently are sewing discord. To lend a listening ear to concerns or new thoughts means taking steps toward the ever menacing slippery-slope. Tsk, tsk.
“Open-minded” shouldn’t be code for troublemaker. The NIV translates “open-minded” as “noble character,” and the ESV translates it as simply “noble.” The Bible designates reasoning as a character issue. To listen and test claims is admirable.
Less than five years after his escape to Berea, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church. At the end of his letter, he chastens his audience with this: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22).
Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be Spirit-filled, open-minded, eager truth-seekers. He encourages them to be Berean.
Are we Berean enough? Do we reason with the motive of an eager truth-seeker? I don’t know. I think a more noble character awaits us.
Cover photo by Chris Coudron.