The apostle Paul writes, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Elsewhere he tells the Corinthians, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor 10:5).
Thinking differently from the "world" has been part of the Christian's responsibility and agenda from the beginning. The language Paul uses intimates that this independence of thought will not be easy. The assumption seems to be that the world has its own patterns, its own structured arguments, its own value systems. Because we Christians live in the world, the "default" reality is that we are likely to be shaped by these patterns, structures, and values, unless we consciously discern how and where they stand over against the gospel and all its entailments, and adopt radically different thinking. More: our response must not only be defensive (Rom 12:2), but offensive, aiming to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God," aiming to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor 10:5).
These precise challenges never faced Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Turretin. But what does it mean not to let the world squeeze us into its mold in the opening decade of the twenty-first century?
I shall not here review the Christian resources God has kindly lavished on us to enable us not to conform to the pattern of this world. If we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, then we must be reading the Scriptures perennially, seeking to think God's thoughts after him, focusing on the gospel of God and pondering its implications in every domain of life. We need to hear competing voices of information from the world around us, use our time in the digital world wisely, and learn to shut that world down when it becomes more important to get up in the morning and answer emails than it does to get up and read the Bible and pray. We may also learn much from church history, where we observe fellow believers in other times and cultures learning the shape of faithfulness. We begin to detect how easily the "world" may squeeze us into its mold. We soon learn that adequate response is more than mere mental resolve, mere disciplined observance of the principle "garbage in, garbage out" (after all, we are what we think), though it is not less than that. The gospel is the power of God issuing in salvation. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and living in the shadow of the cross and resurrection, we find ourselves wanting to be conformed to the Lord Jesus, wanting to be as holy and as wise as pardoned sinners can be this side of the consummation.