Don’t downplay the role of devices in dumbing down your thinking. Digital distractions aren’t the only factors eroding skills like critical thinking and deep reading, but they play a big role. And the stakes are high. Is it possible for focused thinkers like Luther to emerge in this world of frazzled, sloppy, shallow thinking?
What if Reformation hero Martin Luther had picked up his phone? On one hand it’s a ridiculous thought. But consider: how would today’s digital age have shaped the life and legacy of someone like Luther?
Would Luther have found soul-strengthening camaraderie listening to podcasts, or would he have been enraged by unorthodox voices? Would the gospel have advanced through his social media, or would Luther’s tweets—as his pen often did—get him in trouble? Would the internet have opened helpful theological resources for Luther, or would its glut have distracted him from the focused intellectual intensity his theological work required?
Asking these questions is more than an amusing hypothetical. It’s an opportunity to consider how our minds are shaped by our technological environment today—and what that might mean for potential ministry effectiveness.
Luther’s Deep Thinking
Luther’s theological insights, which fueled the Reformation, were not the result of light thinking about Paul’s words in Scripture. They were the result of hard mental work.
Paul’s words in Romans 1:17 nearly undid Luther:
I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words. . . . There I began to understand the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith.
While Luther’s legacy is chiefly about what he discovered, modern Christians could benefit from considering how he discovered it. Phrases like “I beat importunately upon Paul at that place” and “meditating day and night” describe a man who spent hours hunched over his Bible, painstakingly poring over Paul’s words.
We can imagine the furrow on Luther’s brow as he turned Paul’s phrases over and over in his mind. We can see Luther pacing in his room, lost in thought. We can hear his whispered breath as he recites Paul’s words to himself in hopes of finally understanding them. And we praise God for the insights that resulted from this deep mental work.
Deep Thinking and Discovery
Christians are meant to think deeply. The psalmist regularly recalled his practice of meditating on God’s truth (Ps. 119:15, 48, 78). Paul commanded Timothy, “Think over what I say” (2 Tim. 2:7). Even Peter described Paul’s words as “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16).
Deep thinking precedes rich theological discovery. Shallow thinking produces shallow theology.