Chapter 3: “The Mind’s Role in Spiritual Transformation”: Live Blogging JP Moreland’s LYGWAYM

Continuing the live blog of JP Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind, there were so many headings and subheadings that I decided to keep his most of the time. His headings are in bold and italics. If there’s a heading I’m adding, it may be bold, but I won’t put it in italics.

Chapter 3, “The Mind’s Role in Spiritual Transformation,” starts with a personal story of Moreland’s struggle to install a ceiling fan–a task for which his training and aptitude are not ideally suited–and then installing a second fan with the same halting, uncomprehending process. He contrasts his level of understanding with his father’s. His father didn’t need instructions and understood the world in ways that made installing a fan seem simple. What is the mind? What role does it play in transforming believers spiritually? Without answers to those questions, Moreland is concerned that the material covered in chapters 1 and 2 will be as easily lost as his own fan-installing ability was lost right after his first install.

New Testament Transformation and Old Testament Wisdom

Scripture: Romans 12:1-2 “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”

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Moreland zeroes in on Romans 12 as the key advice from Paul about how to grow. He defines anakainosis as “to make new.” Nous, the word for mind, is “‘the intellect, reason, or the faculty of understanding.'” Moreland considers important alternatives that Paul did not say: he did not ask us to stir up feelings, practice cheerful obedience, worship, or fellowship. Paul did clarify that our bodies need to be actively involved in our service to God, which Moreland extends with examples of needing a tongue to talk, a mouth to smile, and feet to carry us to someone in need among other things. However, he points out that habits become unthinking, and the only way to interrupt an ingrained habit is to gain new information that will change our view and perhaps new skills that will enable us to change the pattern of behavior; these are works of the mind.

Weaving together multiple scriptures from the Old Testament, Moreland presents the case that wisdom can come from many kinds of subjects, for example, art, nature, culture, and literature. But he admits the wisdom God put in the world, like the wisdom in the Bible, must be mined with diligence and humility.

After posing a series of questions, Moreland lays out the thesis for this chapter in an entire paragraph. Part of it asserts that the mind, by God’s design, is the interface between man and God. The mind is also what God created as the interface between a person and an object of thought. He says, “the mind’s structure conforms to the order of the object of thought,” meaning if you have a full understanding of a concept, then that concept is reproduced in the soul’s mind and becomes part of it (which is why he later will caution us to be careful what we set our minds to understand since there are certain things that we may not want as part of our mind’s very structure). Reason and truth are valuable to the mind; therefore, we need to study and improve our minds in order to align ourselves with how God created us.

As a reader, at this point in the book–or maybe because of experiences that have little to do with the book–I’m already convinced of the value of a trained mind in the service of God. I’m certainly no expert in philosophy, but I have a passing familiarity with fallacies, and it has seemed to me that some of the most weird, divisive ideas I’ve encountered have hinged on sloppy reasoning, which is not to say the point couldn’t be made in a different way, but it does mean the promoter of the view either hasn’t thought it through or doesn’t have the training to think it through. Although I’m already convinced Moreland has good reason to encourage us to be careful with our minds, I can see the value in taking this time to link care of the mind to the spiritual life because reason and faith or reasoning and being taught by the Spirit are so often put in opposition to one another, as he mentioned previously.

The Structure of the Soul: The Soul and the Body

Understanding personhood

When Moreland’s young daughter expressed her desire to see God sitting in a chair to facilitate her prayers, Moreland responded that not only was she unable to see God, but she was also unable to see him, her own father–or anyone else for that matter. Since she could not see his thoughts or his internal self, she saw only a body, not a person. Moreland insists this is nothing but the historical Christian view of the person, that we are souls, but we have bodies, an idea called “substance dualism.”

This is a great window into what it must have been like to have a philosopher for a father. Ask a disconcerting question about the spirit realm, and get an answer that destabilizes what you think you know about the physical realm, ha. The idea of a person’s essential self came up in our last club meeting. We seem to always be one step ahead of where we are in the book.

What Am I

Though a secular view of human beings is that they are evolved animals, Moreland contends the Bible describes us a different way. But we’re described though a number of different terms that can be confusing because the terms have more than one meaning within the Bible and many meanings in our culture, so in order to put our finger on the ideas, he adds that we need to exercise a bit of care.

What’s Inside My Soul?

Two concepts emerge here:

(1) the soul can have “different types of states,” states such as feeling or thinking

(2) the soul has faculties

The Five States of the Soul

Sensation, awareness external or internal: Our soul sees a tree through the use of eyes; the eyes are the tools, not the seers.

Thought, “mental content that can be expressed in an entire sentence and that only exists while it is being thought.”

Belief, an idea about reality, the strength of which determines how ready the person is to act, for example, by believing it will rain and grabbing an umbrella based on that belief. Beliefs need not be currently contemplated to be held.

Desire, “a certain felt inclination to do, have, or experience,” which could be conscious or not.

Will, “volition or choice, an exercise of power,” pursuing something.

The Faculties of the Soul Include the Mind and Spirit

We have capacities in our souls, Moreland explains, like an acorn has capacities to grow roots and a tree trunk. He says our capacities come in hierarchies. First-order capacities are expressed, like the ability to speak English. Somewhere behind that is an untapped second-order capacity to speak Russian (if you don’t speak Russian); yet somewhere behind those is a capacity for language acquisition itself. We can group these capacities naturally into faculties, like the faculty for sight and the faculty for reasoning. Faculties, then, are described as “compartments.” Any capacities that are needed for an activity will be in the corresponding compartment or faculty.

Moreland mentions faculties of will, emotion, and senses, and adds to them two more: the mind (thought and belief) and the spirit (means of relating to God). On the latter, he argues that all people have spiritual faculties that might help the person be aware of God, but the existing faculty does not fully awaken until after the new birth, at which point God pours new capacities into that compartment.

An example from him: one who lacks the first-order volitional ability to say no to ice cream can develop a second-order capacity of self-reflection that allows the person to reconsider the need and the means of addressing it; thus it is, Moreland says, that a person can grow in making better choices through spiritual disciplines (second- or higher-order) rather than directly by duct-taping the freezer door (first-order).

Faculties influence each other, potentially for bad but also potentially for good as the godly transformation in one compartment affects nearby compartments. The mind is the paramount faculty for obtaining the orderly soul, which is the picture given by church fathers and the ancient Greeks for one who is mature and virtuous.

Reading this, I struggled most with the idea that the hierarchy has a counter-intuitive (to my mind) numbering system. It would make sense to me that language acquisition as a capacity would be first order, and how it fragments and develops for certain language would be a later order indicated by a higher number. This is exactly opposite to how it’s described. It’s not clear to me if it’s possible to even know the number of the order assigned to language acquisition if every unexpressed capacity has a number–unless every other language one doesn’t know is second-order, and then the ability to learn language then is third-order, period. Nevertheless, I think I’m following him enough to grasp his point that order matters and that we have certain back-door opportunities to grow by developing capacities that might not seem related at first glance.

The Mind’s Role in Transformation: Beliefs, Behavior, and Character

Whatever we say, whatever we think we believe, whatever we tell ourselves and others, our actions are the fruit of and the evidence of our real beliefs. Beliefs shape our minds in five ways.

(1) The content of a belief: what we believe, which also influences how important the belief will be. The content of the belief is either true or false, and we are held responsible either way.

(2) The strength of a belief: how likely a belief is to be true. The more one approaches certainty, the more the belief influences action.

(3) The centrality of a belief: a belief’s position of relative importance for one’s worldview. The more central, the more one’s understanding of life is altered by changing the belief.

(4) How we change beliefs: Imaging something is not the same as believing it, and while we cannot willfully change our beliefs, we can study to challenge, refine, or change our beliefs’ content, strength, and centrality.

(5) How beliefs form the plausibility structure of a culture: the context of what someone in a culture might be willing to entertain as possibly true.

On this last point, Moreland returns to his argument for the importance of apologetics because it is possible for Christians to believe based on a felt need alone, but if they, like the rest of secular culture, lack a “plausibility structure” that allows them to consider why and how Christianity might be true, it will keep them from growing. How important, then, for churches to sow idea seeds into secular culture that fit within their existing plausibility structures and cultivate a plausibility structure that will support believers’ rational inquiries. He sums up the section by recounting how everything we do (behavior) and everything we are (character) are influenced by the five-fold structure of belief; therefore, we must attend to our minds to make spiritual progress.

For me, this concept of a plausibility structure may be addressing my main confusion when I speak with other Christians about solutions for secular problems that come straight out of the law of God. It’s as though they have no plausibility structure that would allow them to entertain the idea that perhaps God already anticipated certain human failings and also already provided solutions for them–solutions that are satisfying even to non-believers. I’m amazed at how much overlap there is between some of the suggestions that come out of anarcho-capitalist ideas that stem from Austrian economic property theory yet align so closely with what God designed for his nation and the future kingdom of God when it covers the earth. Those laws were to attract the nations with how wise they were, and I see this when I speak of them to atheists and agnostics, but Christians just blank out as if it’s impossible that the law of God could even be attractive to them, much less people who don’t believe in God.

The Mind’s Role in Seeing, Willing, Feeling, and Desiring:

(1) How three types of seeing feed our minds.

The mind will play a role in how these other four faculties function, so Moreland wants to lay out three kinds of seeing.

A: Simple seeing, no concept needed, just the appearance of, for example, a dog that you notice in your view.

B: Seeing as, when the dog is recognized as a dog, so I already have the concept and can apply it to the object in view.

C: Seeing that, when I judge whether or not the belief perceived is true. His example is “seeing that the dog is the neighbor’s favorite pet,” which he can judge as true or false.

(2) How a developed mind helps us see:

Though we can all simply see, our concepts and beliefs informs the other two kinds of seeing, seeing as and seeing that. This is why a botanist will see more on a hike than someone who isn’t, or a doctor will see more in a skin blemish than Moreland will. He gives an example of a political argument that sounded good to the hearers, but that he, as a philosopher, sees as mixing two concepts, positive rights and negative rights. The argument had suggested that since the government protects the negative rights of children (to not be molested, in this case), that it had a similar duty to provide a positive right (day care). But, Moreland points out that if people encounter that argument and have no concept of the distinction between positive and negative rights, they won’t see the distinction.

Like those uninformed hearers, we might be missing an awful lot that would be available to us in our Bibles and sermons if we had studied more, Moreland suggests. In fact, he notes that if we get little out of them, it might be because we lack the knowledge of the categories that would allow us to make sense out of it.

Another concern, though, related to our minds, is that the minds also “forms habits and falls into ruts.” He tells of a impromptu experiment where people watched a missionary’s video, listed what they saw, then watched it again and made the same list: given the opportunity to see something new, our minds would rather verify what we already ascertained previously. By applying ourselves to gaining new categories of concepts, Moreland suspects we will not fall into intellectual boredom, especially with familiar texts, like the Bible might be after multiple reads.

(3) How the mind interacts with other parts of the person. What about how the other faculties are influenced by the mind? Here Moreland says that we must know about an option to choose it, we must know the valuable traits of something to desire it, and so on. Yes, Moreland admits that the other faculties ought to be developed for their influence on the mind, yet it seems to Moreland that the mind more than the other faculties is most likely to be overlooked by Christians, leading to “starved,” “impoverished souls.”

As a personal note related to point 2, I basically hit the point where I gave up on trying to cast down my imaginations. I remember telling the Lord that I was throwing in the towel, so to speak. I felt so defeated by years and years of ruts in my imagination, and I didn’t want to run on those tracks, but I could not see any way out of them, and (I rarely tell this to Christians, so just stand by, it’s by testimony, I’m not making a theological point here, just talking about an experience) I heard the Lord say, in response to this decision, “I hate you.” Now, that is not what anyone would want to hear, and it jolted me out of bed. I remember panicking, and asking what on earth I was supposed to do because my heart was engraved, rutted, by decades of horrible thoughts–there was no way to spackle over those ruts. When something is engraved, the engraving and the engraved are the same thing–the heart and the thoughts on the heart are one. So the end result was he offered me a new heart if I would give him my rutted one, like it had to be a full trade: I couldn’t slip back to those thoughts for entertainment, distraction, or whatever other purpose. He would give me a heart without those, but I had to completely delete my ownership and my current heart. Under the circumstances, it seemed like a good trade. He really did take out that heart and give me one that did not have those ruts in it at all. It was weird–I’m talking about decades’ worth imaginations: poof, gone. And I tested it; I thought, wait, like this thought isn’t there anymore? And it seemed like putting a fresh footprint in the mud, and I was utterly amazed and well aware that I did not want to tread down new ruts in this new heart. To me, this is a testimony of hope for all of us with defiled minds. He makes all things new, even if it means creating an entirely new mind rather than spot-healing our old ones.

The Mind, Truth, and Reality

But another reason to invest in the mind, Moreland points out, is because of its role in how we encounter reality and “judge truth and falsity.” Here Moreland returns to the idea of our minds conforming to the objects of thought. He quotes Richard Foster who cites Paul that we are to think about things that are “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely , and gracious.” Moreland says to grasp this, we need to understand the intentionality of the mind and its internal structure.

(1) Intentionality: what our mental state is about or of what it consists. Our minds contact the object of our thoughts directly, Moreland explains, for example, a thought about London puts him in contact with London through his mind even if he is in Los Angeles.

(2) Internal structure: our minds create a concept for a thing as we grow in understanding it; thus, the concept in the mind for how a car functions will conform to the understanding of how the car functions. In the case of virtue, he says that by grasping the concept, we also gain a power to seek and acquire the virtue. Spiritually speaking, if we have fuzzy concepts of what spiritual development is, we will not have the power to develop toward a clear target.

Truth, Moreland emphasizes, “allows us to cooperate with reality, whether spiritual or physical , and tap into its power.” The implication is that as we can live in the kingdom of God only to the extent that we have gained true concepts about it. Moreland ends the chapter by inquiring about how readers are reacting to the book so far. He says people commonly harbor hesitations about how important developing the mind is despite acknowledging the anti-intellectual problem (chapter 1), the biblical support for mental development (chapter 2), and identifying the main ways developing the mind helps transform Christians spiritually (chapter 3). He assures readers that he will address remaining concerns Christians might have in the next few chapters.

I experienced some sadness as I worked through the last part about why we might heed the advice to think on the true, good, lovely, etc. There’s a tendency to take the idea of “exposing works of darkness” to mean something along the lines of “create YouTube channels for Christian audiences that are streams of filth, wickedness, and soft porn.” If it’s a shame to speak of what happens in darkness, it’s also a shame to upload videos about it, too, no? Also to watch them? And what happens when the mind orders itself into those structures under the guise of knowing the enemy? That’s an extreme example, but it’s worth thinking about this idea of how the mind’s structure is affected by what we think about. On the other end, that may help explain why thinking about the kingdom of God, seeking the kingdom and his righteousness opens our minds to an entirely different view of people and places and circumstances. We’re either gaining more godly minds or we’re gaining a different kind of mind.

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Photo by Yoosun Won on Unsplash

That’ll do it for the third chapter. The book club may or may not be meeting weekly after this session. At worst, that’ll mean I’m no longer under pressure to churn these out weekly, so other things may take priority. At best, I’ll keep it up for my own development. It’s been extremely helpful so far, and I can already see how some of this information will help me in other areas of my life.

All the best, everyone!




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