Attitude Adjustment

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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"Remember, students: P.M.A.! P.M.A.!" That was the mantra my 7th grade science teacher would recite ad infinitum throughout class each day. He was of the conviction that a "positive mental attitude" could help one be successful in any situation. His name was Mr. Smart (yes, really); who was I to argue?

It is axiomatic that positive energy and spirit advances our enterprises and enhances our prospects for success. A cheerful disposition, when balanced with honesty, is a constructive contribution to any venture. Of course, lacking such mature balance, positive thinking can devolve into a saccharin optimism that is too rich for anyone's blood.

New Testament faith has much to say about attitude, but the instruction found in that document is a far cry from the "sunny side of life" cheerfulness our culture at large so glibly commends. The "mind" that St. Paul finds so captivating is not merely a general state of good, happy thinking that we can assume on our own power.

Rather, it is the mind of Jesus Christ.

This kind of attitude can only be discovered through willful, intense, and intentional discipline of our minds. Over and over in the pastoral writings of Paul, he calls his fellow Christians earnestly to seek this kind of attitude, as if it were something to be sought and discovered from outside ourselves, rather than an outlook we can achieve or manufacture on our own. This is not an arcane distinction. It is absolutely essential to achieve the kind of beloved and peaceable community that our faith calls us to build.

Paul tells the Romans to "be of the same mind toward another" (12:16), and "to be likeminded toward one another according to Christ Jesus." (15:5) He tells the Corinthians to "be of one mind." (2 Cor. 13:11) He tells the Galatians, "I have confidence in you through the Lord that you will be not otherwise minded." (5:10) He tells the Philippians "be likeminded . . . of one mind" (2:2), and "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (2:5), and "be of the same mind in the Lord" (4:2).

Such repeated injunctions can mean only one thing: our unity in the Body of Christ cannot be found in doctrinal conformity or like affiliation or positional affirmation, but only in the centrality of Christ, crucified and risen.

The conventional wisdom in the church today is for us to seek similar views on the respective thorny issues facing contemporary Christianity. This approach will only lead us to further disunity and decline. We simply have too many competing viewpoints represented in our faith communities to locate our unity in this kind of homogeneity. My Baptist tradition historically has received members from churches only "of like faith and order." This designation is a quaint anachronism today. No such churches exist.

Is it not possible for us to trust the mnd of Christ to reconvene us into communities marked by common purpose and mission? Is it not enough for us to welcome with joy any person who dares to trust Christ for forgiveness of sin and resurrection of life?

This convocation and welcome will not happen because of a "mental attitude" on our part, positive or otherwise. It can only be accomplished by the One who died for our sins and rose again in triumph over death. Only an imagination of love like this can produce such a mind in us.

So, do not look inside yourself for an "attitude adjustment." The self-help shelf at your local bookstore will not solve your attitude problem.

You'll need a brain transplant instead.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • How do you feel about the idea of "positive thinking"? Do you find it helpful, annoying, or irrelevant? Why?
  • What are some practical ways you can discipline your mind to be like the mind of Christ?
  • Read Philippians 2:4-11. How can you have the mental attitude of Christ toward your work? Toward your family? Toward the churches in your community?
  • For more on attitude, read "Get Your Attitude Right" and "Working Well: A Theology of Work."

Image by J. K. McGuire. Used with permission.