Thought is conduct


Thought is conduct[1]

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?

  1. 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”.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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”[2]

On the conduct of our minds.

[1] Clifford Geertz, quoted in Fred Inglis “Thoughts Unbecoming” Times Higher Education, No.2196, 26th March 2015, pp44-47, 47.

[2] James ch.3 v1.NIV.

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8 Comments on “Thought is conduct”

  1. Thank you Graham, another stimulating piece. Too often we divorce the world of the mind from the world of behaviour/conduct and justify ourselves. This is a great reminder to us of the radical demands the Gospel places on us. It is also a reminder to some of us us as we seek to explore how the practical elements of our theological education relate to the more theoretical elements that we are perhaps exploring a rather tenuous dichotomy after all.

  2. Thank you Graham for another stimulating piece. Quite apart from the reminder to watch our thought life as much as our externally perceived conduct this is a great challenge to us to remember the radical demands of discipleship. It also provides a timely contemplation for us who think so much about how the practical elements of our delivery of theological education should relate to our more theoretical elements that perhaps we are pursuing something of a tenuous distinction after all.

  3. Jennifer Greene Says:

    I can’t remember how I stumbled upon your writings, but am so very glad that I did! Thank you!!

  4. edithvilamajo Says:

    Reblogged this on Training to Transform and commented:
    Worth the read. What is our conduct? Does it mirror what we teach/say?

  5. edithvilamajo Says:

    Thank you Graham for an important reminder. If teaching is to be effective, then the teacher as such needs to reflect what he teaches, believes, says.

  6. PAUL COOKEY Says:

    It is obvious that why as teachers and educators we do not match thought with conduct is because we see thinking as ‘mere academic exercise’ and so divorce it from our day-to-day engagements. Secondly, we fail to follow the example of the Teacher the Christ whether as christian or non-christian educators.

  7. Sarah Says:

    Wow, this blog post was so powerful. I’m afraid not just in theology professers’ lives, but in theology students’ lives and in ordinary Christian lives we have a tendency to separate our thoughts and doctrine from our conduct. In the end, I believe many people in the world find us hypocritical. The message of this post serves to convict me that while it’s important to learn proper theology and to give my mind to thinking about proper concepts, I also need to follow those thoughts with actions and proper living. It also helps me to realize that my thoughts control my conduct, so that I should make sure that my thinking is in line with my doing. Thank you for this reminder.

  8. Ochi C. Enyioha Says:

    I do quite agree with Mr Graham that there should be no dichotomy between thoughts and conduct. This is because many times ones actions/conducts are manifestations of one’s thoughts and vice versa. For consistency safe j therefore, creating a dichotomy between the two in this sense may appear contradictory. However, the dichotomy seems to come from the fact that there may be no way a person will be able to put all of his thoughts to action. A lot more goes into the thought process and the workings of the mind that it is often difficult to reflect all that in one’s actions. There in seems to be the difference.
    I think that the task for us will be in stricking a good balance between the two, making sure that our observed actions do for the most part reflect the core of our thinking.

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