The Conquest of Thought


By Dr. Bryan Smith


Last summer my 17-year-old son took part in a medical internship for rising high-school seniors. It was a great experience for him, except in one instance.


“We had a lecture on ethics today. The man said you really can’t tell the difference between right and wrong.”


“Really? What else did he say?”


“People who base their ethics on some holy book aren’t thinking critically. That’s just circular reasoning. We need to base all of our thinking on human reason and science.”


“Hmm,” I said. “I wonder how he proves that idea?” My son gave me a confused look.


“I wonder how he proves that reason and science are the only way to prove something? If he says that it’s proved by reason and science then he has engaged in circular reasoning—the very thing he faults the Christian for doing. If, however, he says it is proved in some other way, then he has refuted the statement itself—he’s admitted that there is something other than reason and science that you base arguments on.”


The Challenge We Face

If you had difficulty following that conversation, don’t worry. My son did too. Only after we talked through it several times did he get what I was saying. My point in sharing the conversation isn’t for all of us to follow it carefully. My point concerns how parenting is different now than it used to be.


In order to help my son, I had to lead him through a discussion that was pretty philosophical. But if my son had been in a medical internship a hundred years ago (or even thirty years ago), I doubt we would have needed that discussion. That’s because the person assigned to lecture on ethics probably would not have leveled such a bold attack against Christian thinking—at least, not to high-schoolers in Greenville, South Carolina.


But things are different now. Why? Because Satan is always improving. He has at his disposal vast resources of intelligence and creativity that he diligently deploys to ensure he is more successful in this generation than he has been in previous generations.


And that fact puts a great burden on us as Christian parents. We, too, must be always improving. The answers that godly parents gave to their teenagers a few generations ago are no longer sufficient. By that, I do not mean that those answers were wrong. I mean that they, by themselves, are no longer enough. Satan is now approaching young people with ideas, claims, and temptations that seem strange and ridiculous to many of us. How could anyone spend seven hours texting? Why would someone want to explore the world of LGBT? How could a person conclude that we cannot know the difference between right and wrong?


If we think that these problems are not real, then we are not paying attention to what is going on all around us. And, more importantly, we underestimate just how hard Satan is working to ensnare our young people. It may be that twisted ethics and LGBT issues by themselves don’t offer much temptation. But once they are lit on fire by a devil who has “demanded to have [our young people] that he might sift [them] like wheat” (Luke 22:31), they become almost irresistible.


The Strategy We Have Been Given

If we are to do our job well, we will have to be even more earnest about saving our children than Satan is about destroying them. We will have to take more seriously the strategy that God has given us than Satan is about his own strategies.


What is our strategy? The New Testament states it in many different ways. One of the best statements—perhaps the best—is found in 2 Corinthians 10: “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (v. 4-5).


Here Paul compares the work of discipling others to the military task of overtaking a fortress. A fortress, or a stronghold, houses soldiers who refuse to accept the lordship of the one whose army has been sent into their land. A stronghold is armed and heavily fortified. It has thick walls and high towers. If the threat posed by the fortress is to be neutralized, bravery and hard work will have to combine to bring about victory.


This image—familiar to the Corinthians—is used by Paul as a metaphor for what discipleship requires. Discipling others is, first of all, a destructive task. Walls and towers must be broken down. This is how Paul chooses to speak of arguments and opinions that protect people from the lordship of Jesus Christ. We must be able to identify the contrary thoughts that our culture has constructed that make a Christian worldview seem implausible or even ridiculous. And we must know how to refute these ideas.


Do you know the music your young people love? Do you know the movies they enjoy? Do you know the books they can’t stop reading? Do you know how to help them identify what is wrong in those things and how they can refute the contrary thoughts in them?


But then there is the positive task of discipleship. Once the walls are breached and the towers are broken down, the soldiers must be taken. They must be led to accept the lordship of the one who has sent us to campaign for His glory. “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” So not everything is to be destroyed. Some thoughts are good. But even good thoughts need to be pointed in the right direction. They must be put to proper use. They must be used to serve Jesus Christ.


We need to be able to show our young people the ideas that should dominate their thinking. We need to take the lead in demonstrating what is good, true, and beautiful in this world of evil, lies, and ugliness. What ideas are worth singing about? What themes are worthy of hours of our time? What endeavors should drive our lives? And what does it mean to use these things for the glory of God? We should not define Christian thinking and living primarily by what we are against. We should define these things primarily by what we are for—how we wish to use our thoughts and our time in the service of Jesus Christ.


Getting Help

This is the strategy that God has given to us: refute contrary thoughts, while dedicating other thoughts to declare the glory of God. But keep in mind that this strategy is never exactly the same from one generation to the next. Satan is always upgrading the walls and towers he builds, as well as the indoctrination he gives to those that live inside. So we must always be improving as well. Sound challenging? It is indeed.


That’s one reason I believe Christian education is a marvelous gift of God’s grace. I’m obligated to raise my children according to the strategy of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. But, thankfully, I do not have to do this alone. There’s a whole host of teachers, staff, and textbooks that want to help me break down the walls and rehabilitate the thoughts that are inside. Since they are always improving what they do, I can always improve what I do.


Do you need help? Don’t be afraid to ask.


Volume 9 Issue 1 - The Renewanation Review