Conformed or Transformed? (Romans 12.2)


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During my first year of graduate school, I read A Black Theology of Liberation by James H. Cone. For me—a conservative, white, suburban kid—reading Cone’s book was an unsettling experience. Cone thought about God and society very differently than I did. Indeed, he argued that my theological methodology and conclusions served racist purposes. One of the most formative moments in my theological education happened when I stopped and asked myself whether he was right. 

Why am I telling you about my unsettling experience? It’s not because I came to agree with Cone’s specific conclusions about white theologians. In my opinion, his conclusions were driven more by quasi-Marxist assumptions than by biblical imperatives. On the other hand, Cone was on to something. Sometimes, not always, but nevertheless all too often, we let our cultural assumptions shape our theology rather than the other way around. 

An interesting case study of this tendency can be found in the September 18th cover story of Time magazine: “Does God Want You to Be Rich?” For some well-known television preachers, the answer is undoubtedly yes. And they have a point. I sincerely doubt that God wants anyone to be poor. That’s why the Bible contains so many commands to be generous to the poor and to do justice by them. But is the so-called “prosperity gospel” really biblical? Or is it, as the article suggests, “the latest lurch in Protestantism's ongoing descent into full-blown American materialism”? Do we emphasize what the Bible teaches us about prosperity because we—as a nation—are so rich, and we want to justify our lifestyles? Perhaps. I certainly like reading what the Bible says about God blessing me more than I like reading about (or actually putting into practice) what the Bible says about helping the poor. 

The problem is that our culture’s way of thinking easily becomes our way of thinking. And then we—Christians, anyway—find creative ways to read our way of thinking onto the pages of the Bible. The end result is that we deceive ourselves into thinking we’ve acted biblically about some issue when in fact all we’ve done is found those verses in the Bible that validate our preconceived notions about God and society. 

Romans 12.1 talks about offering our bodies as living sacrifices to God. Romans 12.2 goes on to explain how that living sacrifice applies to our minds: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” 

The purpose of sound thinking is godly living. In order to live a godly life, we need to think like him, to let his thoughts become our thoughts. That can only happen when we are alert to the subtle ways in our which our thinking about God conforms to our social prejudices, rather than our society being transformed by what the Bible teaches us about God.

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