Formation

Stupid is Repairable: Growing as Thoughtful Followers of Jesus

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You can’t fix stupid. At least that’s what people say. But I beg to differ.

Comedian Ron White made the phrase popular, but “you can’t fix stupid,” was originally coined by Jim White, legendary late-night radio DJ at KMOX in St. Louis. [1] It has become the sarcastic zinger we let loose in the face of ignorance. We have learned to tuck it away in our arsenal of insults to express our derision behind the backs of the unsuspecting fool. It has found its way on bumper stickers, T-shirts, and social media memes. We utter the phrase when we are frustrated when another person’s incompetence has driven us to the limits of our patience. I have said it, or at least the line has darted across my mind, on more than one occasion. We have all shared in the sentiment at some time or another, haven’t we? Whether we expressed that exact  line or not, haven’t we all allowed our frustration with people to spill over into a bit of comedic cynicism, at least for a moment?

Stupidity and Discipleship

You can’t fix stupid. Feel free to laugh. It’s okay. Just realize it isn’t true. Stupid is repairable. I have devoted my life to serve the church by making disciples of Jesus and when I run up against stubborn stupidity and I begin to hear the voice of cynicism saying, “People will never change,” I hear another voice saying, “With God all things are possible. Stupid can be fixed.” I make it my aim to listen to that second voice, most of the time.

Everyone has a capacity to think, but some people have a greater capacity than others. As we each seek to grow as thoughtful followers of Jesus, we don’t do ourselves any good by comparing ourselves to others. I know when I am in an average social situation, I am normally not the most intelligent person in the room. I nearly always assume there are smarter people out there than me. We gain nothing by comparing ourselves to other people. The question is not: “Can I become the smartest guy in the room?” The question is “Can I reach my full capacity in my ability to think and, perhaps, can my capacity be increased?”

I hear another voice saying, “With God all things are possible. Stupid can be fixed.” Click To Tweet

I believe people can grow in their capacity to think because I believe in spiritual transformation. I have experienced first hand the effect God has in people’s lives when they participate with the Spirit in their own transformation. I have experienced this in my own life. If we practice certain things that enable us to work with, and not against, the Spirit, we become better thinkers, clearer thinkers, thinkers who think with the mind of Christ.

Renewing Our Minds

The process of spiritual transformation includes a renewing of our minds so that we are enabled by God’s Spirit to think, as it were, in Christ. Spiritual transformation is not “spiritual” in the sense that it merely has something to do with the human spirit. Furthermore our modern world tends to separate and compartmentalize the spiritual from the religious or the spiritual from the physical or the spiritual from the intellectual. N.T. Wright observes that such dualism pits spirituality against the life of the mind. He writes,

“Part of the problem in contemporary Christianity, I believe, is that talk about freedom of the Spirit, about the grace which sweeps us off our feet and heals and transforms our lives, has been taken over surreptitiously by a kind of low-grade romanticism, colluding with an anti-intellectual streak in our culture, generating the assumption that the more spiritual you are, the less you need to think.” [2]

These dualistic divisions between spiritual and physical or spiritual and intellectual is not how Paul used the word “spiritual” in his letters. “Spiritual,” for Paul, is not the ethereal, immaterial, or the mystical, as we commonly use the word. Paul uses the word most often as an adjective to describe that which has been animated by the Spirit. We can find no use of the word “spiritual” in Paul’s letters that does not have a deep connection to the Holy Spirit. In a similar way, when we talk about spiritual transformation, we are talking about transformation accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus for the joy of God the Father. The Spirit does this work by, and through, our participation in the community of the baptized as we walk together down the ancient and sacred pathways of prayer, Scripture, communion, fasting, silence and solitude, confession, repentance, and the other classic disciplines of faith handed down to us from the saints of old. In short, spiritual transformation is becoming like Jesus.

As the Spirit continues the slow and steady work of transformation we find ourselves become more like Jesus is word and deed, in character and motivation. Included in this work of transformation, the Spirit is also renewing of our minds, enabling us to think in Christ and to think like Christ. The same Paul who encourages us that we already “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) is the same Paul who challenges us to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  

Scripture continues to be a primary tool in the hands of the Spirit. We have to be careful not to be seduced by the faulty assumption that Scripture general, or the teachings of Jesus is particular, are simple. If we believe the Scripture is inspired, authoritative, and sacred, then we certainly cannot claim to “take the Bible the way it is” or “discover the plain meaning of text” as if the meaning of Scripture is simply black or white.

Rejecting Anti-Intellectualism

Consider just one book in the Bible, the Gospel according to Matthew. This first book in the New Testament captures for us the holy and very sacred words of Jesus our Lord, our master, our teacher. But these words are not a simple as they seem. Jesus grew up in a Jewish home where he learned Hebrew Scripture and prayers in the Hebrew language. He became a Jewish teacher whose mind was shaped by a Hebrew worldview. In his public ministry, he taught in Aramaic. (Only a view words from Jesus are recorded in Aramaic and left untranslated in our English translations.) These words in Aramaic were captured by the Apostles and passed down through an oral tradition until, like the Gospel of Matthew, they were recorded in the Greek language.

Unless you have learned Koine Greek from the first century, you read one of many English translations. So to point to a modern English translation of a Matthew’s Gospel and say this is all “black and white” is to oversimplify the issue. We have to carefully work through at least four layers of culturally-conditioned languages to get at the heart of what Jesus is meaning.

This work is difficult, but possible. What it isn’t is simple. We need to reject the idea that we have reached the limit of our ability to think. We need to reject, once and for all, the anti-intellectual streak still alive in modern evangelicalism. Conversely, we need our minds renewed and minds alert when we listen to, or read, the words of Jesus. We need the entire church to help us read and interpretation Scripture, so that together we can be fully formed in Christ.     

We need to reject the idea that we have reached the limit of our ability to think. Click To Tweet

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[1] The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles C. Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred Shapiro, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.

[2] N.T. Wright, After You Believe, New York: HarperOne, 2010, 158.

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