While the term critical thinking does not appear in any English translation of the Bible, the Scriptures do emphasize qualities such as wisdom, discernment, prudence, and even a healthy level of skepticism. Critical thinking encompasses these qualities by involving the careful analysis of facts to draw well-considered, objective conclusions. A critical thinker is skeptical when he or she approaches new information but intends to discover the truth.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:21, God commands us to “test everything, hold fast to what is good.” The Greek word for “test” is dokimazo, which also means “examine” or “prove.” Like a scientist in a lab carrying out experiments, we should believe something only after examining it, including Christian claims (see Proverbs 14:15).
Fortunately, Christianity is built on robust evidence that withstands critical thinking. There are two essential points to ascertain concerning biblical truth:
Both points can be subjected to examination. Regarding God’s existence, evidence includes transcendental objective morality, the universe’s origin necessitating a First Cause, the fine-tuning of the universe, irreducible complexity in cells, and the presence of immutable immaterial laws, et al. Jesus’ resurrection rests on credible eyewitness accounts. These witnesses transformed from cowards to martyrs and from foes to friends. A thorough analysis of these facts leads to a reasonable conclusion that Christianity is true.
In certain Christian circles, critical thinking is erroneously viewed as carnal, particularly in the context of examining Bible teachings. In environments where spiritual leaders hold unquestioned authority, any form of discernment might be considered sinful. However, Scripture commends the Bereans for not merely accepting Paul’s words but for being of “more noble character than those in Thessalonica” in that they “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Given the rise of false preaching (1 John 4:1), we should embrace critical thinking in churches.
It is worth noting that the Bereans didn’t engage in critical thinking to discredit Paul’s teaching. On the contrary, their motivation was enthusiastic validation. Similarly, when analyzing sermons, blog posts, books, or songs, the goal shouldn’t be to discredit individuals but to ensure their teachings align with Scripture.
Another challenge some Christians face is the perceived conflict between thinking critically and being “led by the Spirit.” However, this concern is valid only for a mind unfamiliar with God’s Word. Romans 12:2 encourages us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As we delve into Scripture, we better understand God’s nature, His purpose for us, and His rules for life. Renewing our minds aligns our thoughts with what pleases the Spirit, distinct from worldly thinking. Believers who regularly feed on the Bible can use their minds rightly.
Critical thinking proves particularly vital in a post-Christian culture where vices masquerade as virtues. We are regularly bombarded with various messages, many contrary to biblical values and some even irrational. These messages appeal to emotions, making it easy to be swayed by worldly philosophies. For instance, the saying “do what makes you happy” sounds gratifying, but critical thinking reveals that prioritizing personal happiness might harm others; doing what is right is a more reasonable choice.
Beyond assessing Christian claims, teachings, and cultural messages, critical thinking enhances decision-making. Relying on Scripture as our ultimate authority and the Holy Spirit as our guide, we should evaluate crucial life decisions concerning education, marriage, job opportunities, and investment opportunities. It is unwise to make rash decisions (Proverbs 21:5).
Since God is the Source of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (Proverbs 2:6), there’s no reason to shy away from exercising critical thinking. Nevertheless, we must also heed Proverbs 3:5–6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”