For difficult passages and theological questions, don’t be afraid to take some time to prayerfully think it through. Be okay with leaving a text saying “I don’t know. I need to think about that more.” Rushing to a conclusion might make you feel better, but you might be missing something that you could have observed if you had taken more time to think or study. As a rule of thumb, the more uncertain a passage or the more viable interpretations of a passage exist, the longer you should take thinking it through.
Although there is almost nothing as basic as thinking, there are always ways to improve your thinking skills. This is especially important for Christians: you and I are called to read, meditate on, accurately interpret and apply Biblical texts that are often complex. Thinking well takes time and effort, but it is natural to try to short circuit the thinking process by moving too fast. One of my favorite secular authors who writes on how to think better is Edward De Bono. In one of his books I have been slowly working through, he helpfully lays out 3 distinct outcomes of thinking. Knowing which outcome you are seeking will keep you from trying to do all three at once and thereby make your thinking rushed or less clear.
There are many possible outcomes of thinking, but we can simply them into three types of outcome:
- Better map (exploration)
- Pin-pointing needs
- Specific answer
Edward De Bono, Teach Your Child How to Think pp 101
Getting to the Desired Answer Takes Time
When you sit down alone or with others to think or study, your ultimate goal is often some specific answer. Whether addressing a theological question or making a family decision, you and I very rarely think for no other purpose than to think. We have problems to solve, answers to discover, arguments to assess, decisions to make. However, when dealing with complicated questions or problems, the desired answer may take a long time to reach. If you spend hours or days thinking carefully through a topic and you haven’t reached a conclusion, is that effort wasted?
De Bono helps us out by giving two other outcomes of thinking beyond simply coming to an answer. Sometimes thinking about a topic gives you a “better map”. This metaphor points to the fact that sometimes you and I need to think about a topic just to understand it better. To make sense of the issues surrounding it. To understand what other people have said about it. By exploring a topic mentally, even if you haven’t come to a conclusion, you should have a better idea of the alternate options (or alternate interpretations in the case of most Bible study) and to simply learn more. Rushing to an answer or conclusion without actually exploring the topic can, in the end, cause you to make a poorly informed decision.
The other outcome of thinking besides getting an answer is “pin-pointing needs”. As you seek to answer complicated questions, oftentimes the process of thinking yields further questions to answer. Additionally, you may find that you don’t actually have the information you need to answer the question at hand. In this way, you can figure out what specific roadblocks exist that hinder you from reaching an answer. The key word here is specific.