There are three elements in a wholistic Christian faith. “These three,” wrote Elton Trueblood, “are like three legs of a stool, the smallest number possible if the stool is to stand upright. The three necessary elements in any genuine Christianity are, first, the experience of inner vitality that comes by the life of prayer (the life of devotion), second, the experience of outer action in which the Christian carries on a healing ministry (the life of service), both to individuals and to social institutions, and third, the experience of careful thinking (the life of the mind) by which the credibility of the entire operation may be supported.” Elton was simply spinning off on Jesus’ own four-legged stool: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30-31).
Many Christians pray and many Christians give their lives in service to others and to society, but the third leg of the stool is sometimes ignored. The stool won’t stand with only two legs. The life of devotion is essential. The life of service is necessary. But we also have to think! And, according to Mark’s rendition of the first commandment, we must do all three with all our strength.
To pray without thought or to serve without thought will not suffice. “Service without devotion is rootless; devotion without service is fruitless.” We have to think. We have to be rational. We must not only read the Bible; we must study it and apply all our mind to what we find there. As the Apostle Paul put it, “I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (I Corinthians 14:15).
A mindless Christianity is not an authentic faith. Faith does not mean a blind acceptance without giving the matter any thought. A Christian must be a rationalist—a person who has sound reasons for his or her faith. We are called to pray, to serve, and to think, and we are called to do all three together with all our strength.
No stool can stand without at least three legs. Christianity will not stand if any one of its three elements are missing. Edith Hamilton suggested that “People hate being made to think.” In this day and age, it seems to me that Christians hate being made to think.