Have you ever seen one of these? I’m referring to the photo above. If you know your shrubs you know these are arborvitae (arbs). They adorn many gardens and yards as natural barriers. These in the photo are not sick, but neither are they healthy. They’ve been the meal of choice for a small herd of deer that travel the narrow stretches of woods in my suburban town. However, notice how the deer have only eaten the arbs to a certain height. This is called a “browse line”. In this particular row of arbs there are over fifty trees, so there’s plenty to choose from. The deer just worked their way down the row eating up to the height of their heads.
I’ve actually walked up on these deer eating the arbs while out walking my dog, Kozmo. The first time I walked up on them was about three years ago. There were three of them standing between the shrubs and all I could see were their heads. I thought it odd at first just seeing their heads and wondered what they were doing there. I came to realize that deer love arborvitae. However, as soon as they saw Kozmo they’d run off. Little by little I noticed this browse line as the deer were eating up to a certain height. More than a few times I stood in front of those arbs looking at the browse line thinking there’s an illustration here. Then one day it hit me.
I realized Christians are a lot like deer eating arbs (or any other shrub). We eat up to a browse line of material when reading books, listening to our favorite preachers, or even surfing the web. We seem to keep going back to the same places exerting as little energy as possible. Few people read books that stretch their understanding. We know it is good to read; we may even think we’re supposed to read, but we keep reading the same material. We read on subjects we like and ones we understand. Few of us wrestle through new concepts, or concepts we don’t agree with. This is eating at the browse line.
If we want to grow spiritually and dare I say, intellectually, we have to move beyond this. Many of us do not like challenges and we would rather maintain the status quo. We would rather keep doing the same thing, maintaining the same position eating up to the browse line. However, we have to ask: Is this what God wants?
Before I give you a few benefits of eating at the browse line let me mention what maintaining the status quo has produced in the church. There’s a kind of lethargy that sets in when we aren’t stretched. There’s a mentality that we do just enough to get by and take the path of least resistance. It’s defeating in the long run. The church becomes shallow and anemic. Here’s three benefits you can gain by breaking out and going beyond the browse line.
1. Loving God with your mind. This is actually a commandment found in Matthew 22:37: “And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’”
Christians like to talk about growing spiritually, but not intellectually. Face it: there is an anti-intellectual bias in the church. Somehow we think being smart or intellectual works against our spirituality. I’d like to see someone have that conversation with the Apostle Paul.
2. The second benefit that you gain by stretching your mind is learning to think critically. By critical, I don’t mean judgmental, or fault finding, but exercising skilled judgment or observation. A more technical definition of critical thinking would be to employ a wide range of cognitive skills needed to identify, analyze, and evaluate truth claims. Few of us use our minds to think through problems as we often look for the quick answer. Growing intellectually, reading widely, and challenging our own beliefs helps us to think critically. This also involves being able to be objective about our own thoughts and prejudices - something rarely found today.
3. If we learn to think critically we can also learn how to engage those who walk in error. The church in general has a lot of hokey beliefs. Perhaps, “unsound” is a better word. During my tenure as a pastor I heard a lot of weird interpretations and strange beliefs. There is a lot of teaching out there in print, radio, and especially the internet. There’s so much to digest. However, when we come upon believers who hold to unsound beliefs we need to be able to engage them and help them see their error. I know some people will recoil or react to this. However, there are plenty of Scriptures to back this up. Here’s one: 2 Timothy 2:25 says, “correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
One of the first sermons I preached in Bible school was from 2 Timothy 4:2 which says: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction.” This verse is lost on so many today because we are not critical thinkers who eat above the browse line. We’re seduced by tolerance and an all inclusive mentality that cannot discern truth from error.
If we want the church to be active in a world that is steadily moving further away from God, a church that admittedly has the answer to life’s biggest questions, then we have to dig deeper. We have to eat above the browse line. Below are two links for the average Christian to go deeper into apologetics without signing up for seminary. Both are affordable and well worth the investment. Go deeper.
Southern Evangelical Seminary has a course called SEALI -
RZIM has a course to learn apologetics called RZIM Academy