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A Tale of two mindsets

What’s the point of knowing creeds and liturgies but walking around with a scowl?

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This is a tale of two mindsets. We may call them the Hebraic and Greek mindsets or perhaps it would be more helpful and less partisan to strip out the ethnic labels and call them the Biblical and Worldly mindsets. There are two very good reasons to do so:

  • They explain, in general terms, where these mindsets come from:

You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?(James 4:4-5) 

  • We don’t unconsciously (and wrongly) associate the mindsets with ethnic groups otherwise we could be in danger of putting Jews on a pedestal and burying Greeks in the foundation of the pedestal.

Yet, on the other hand, the Greek and Hebrew labels are useful and there are two good reasons for this too. 

  • They identify with the group most associated with the mindset.
  • They are the terms most often used for the mindsets (e.g. the Matthew Arnold essay, my previous two books and elsewhere).

For the latter reasons I will continue to use these terms.

It is time for a cross-over. By now – especially if you have read earlier articles – you should be thoroughly acquainted with the Greek mindset. I have probably analysed it to death. I have allowed my own natural-born Greek mindset to pull itself to pieces and lay it bare for all to see. It is time to move on.

The Hebrew (or Hebraic) mindset. What exactly is it?

We start with Matthew Arnold. He called it the obligation of duty, self-control, conduct and obedience, right acting, strictness of conscience, following the will of God and becoming conscious of sin.

What does this remind one of? Our response to the Gospel, which is not surprising, as the Gospel of Jesus Christ came from a Hebraic mindset, from Hebrew thinking, as we already read from Arnold’s essay.

Remember what we concluded in an earlier article, from looking at the Golden Rule, the Sermon of the Mount and the Book of James.

Faith in God underpins our wisdom, which compels us to perform our deeds.

This is Hebrew thinking, the Hebraic mindset. The key to the Hebraic mindset is faith in God and the result of the Hebraic mindset is the performing of deeds.

Faith and works, they are at the heart of our Christian faith, our Hebraic Christian faith.

Now this ain’t brain surgery. For many of you I am stating the obvious but perhaps it needs to be stated and re-stated and re-re-stated.

Faith and works. Let’s remind ourselves what James had to say:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)

Let’s be honest, how many Christians do we know who have all the theory, can recite creeds and liturgies, but walk around with a scowl / frown / superior smirk and would no more put themselves out for someone than entertain a few bum notes by the worship group?

This will be driven home when we look at the following series of contrasts between Hebraic thinking and Greek thinking, in the way we understand God and His ways. Then we must seriously consider where we put our personal priorities. 

  • The Greek mind says that man is at the centre of life; the Hebraic mind says that God is at the centre of life.
  • The Greek mind says that the things of God must be deduced from our logical minds; the Hebraic mind says that the things of God can only be understood by faith and revelation.
  • The Greek mind says that we should strive for knowledge about God; the Hebraic mind says that we should know God.

These are just words and concepts. We need to let them really sink in and soak us in their truths. It may take time, but it will be worth it. Just think of that last one again. I will repeat it.

The Greek mind says that we should strive for knowledge about God; the Hebraic mind says that we should know God.

Think about it. The Greek part of us inclines us towards building ourselves a whole library of books, podcasts and sermons that help to build up a systematic theology of God, an understanding of His attributes. The Hebraic part of us inclines us to drop to our knees and ask Him to teach us His ways. The Greek part of us inclines us to read Bible commentaries, benefiting from the wisdom of scholars. The Hebraic part of us inclines us to read the Bible alone and pray for revelation and illumination.

There’s another way to look at the differences. It was said that Socrates, the acknowledged mighty man of Greek philosophy, had a unique way of thinking through problems. He just stood still for ages in deep thought until the solution presented itself. This couldn’t be more different to an Orthodox Jew, listening to the reading of Scripture, or deep in prayer. He would rarely keep still, swaying his body to and fro, davenning it is called, an expression of devotion to Almighty God. The Greek way is of stillness, rest, self-control; the Hebraic way is of movement, emotion, power, life.

We can go further. The Hebraic and Greek mindsets can be summarised in single words. The Greek way is the way of man, but the Hebraic way is the Biblical way, is the Christian way, is the way of God. We all become Hebraic at the point of conversion, this wonderful New Creation when God in the person of the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, but the World drags us back to our Greek ways, the way of man, to the degree that we allow it to.

The truth is in plain sight, but perhaps we have lost it. The Christian faith is not about man at all, it is about God. It is His initiative. God chooses us to become His people. The goal of sanctification is to become like Jesus in this life; the goal of justification is to be with God in the next life!

This is the ideal we must all strive for, but sometimes we lose sight of it. Perhaps we have forgotten how to strive for it. In the next few articles we will consider this as we start to move from theory to practice.

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