Thought is conduct
Theological educators tend towards living in a dichotomy between thought and conduct. As teachers and researchers we are skilled at categorisation. We like to do the thought and send our students out to do the conduct. We separate the academic from the practical, the head from the hands and locate our job in the first so they can do their job in the second.
Or we link the two together as cause and effect. If we are traditional evangelicals, we say “get the theology right and the conduct will follow” (though it often does not). Or, if we are more liberation theology inclined we say the opposite “Get the conduct right and the theology will follow”.
But we do not consider thinking as conduct itself and that is a pity. What would be the result of affirming that our thinking is a part of our conduct?
- We would consider bad thinking immoral. Careless thinking becomes as bad as careless living in other respects. To break the laws of right thought becomes as evil as breaking the laws of right living. Yet spinning politicians, disingenuous advertisers, careless preachers and sometimes theological educators are guilty of what we falsely assume is a “lesser crime”.
- We would want to think as enthusiastically, openly and passionately as we want to live – the complete opposite of how we “thinkers” are thought of in society and even the church today. Some teachers are passionate thinkers and the students know them.
- We would consider the way we think as much a part of our discipleship as the way we live in other ways. If how we act is a part of worship to God, so is how we think. It is also what we owe God.
- We would realise that, if it is right to live in such a way as to love and benefit others, so also this as an end and objective of our thought life. It does not mean that we only discuss “useful” theology, but it does mean that we have no mandate for an ivory tower mentality for our thought life. We must have an eye for the value to, and effect on, others as we do in other forms of conduct.
Is there a theological undergirding to all this? Yes, in creation and redemption. Our minds were made as an integral part of us, to be used rightly as any other part, such as hands and eyes. And, for all the effects of sin, we please God, says Paul, by the renewing of our minds.
Teachers have to do a lot of thinking so, if thinking is conduct, it is a very large part of our conduct before God. Perhaps that is why James in his epistle says “Not many of you should presume to be teachers my brothers, because you know that we who teach with be judged more strictly”
On the conduct of our minds.
 Clifford Geertz, quoted in Fred Inglis “Thoughts Unbecoming” Times Higher Education, No.2196, 26th March 2015, pp44-47, 47.
 James ch.3 v1.NIV.