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A New Spin on “Taking Thoughts Captive”

By December 1, 20108 Comments

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 2 Corinthians 10:5:

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.

This verse has sustained me during a LOT of tough times. Whenever I have felt depressed or despairing, this verse has helped me to steel my mind against the lies that undoubtedly start to creep in–lies about myself, my friends, and God. So much of the way I think, feel, and see the world begins at the level of the mind. My perspective all hinges on what kinds of thoughts I dwell on, because those thoughts shape me in subtle yet profound ways. Which is why I have worked hard to fight off any thoughts that conflict with the character of God. By guarding my mind I also guard my heart, and my life.

This week, however, I noticed a completely different way of reading 2 Corinthians 10:5. Rather than interpret “thought” as an idea that originates in my brain and inhabits my personal thought life, it can also refer to a public teaching or societal set of beliefs that is outside myself, such as a secular worldview.

Why does this matter?

Have you ever noticed that the church is generally about 10 steps behind the culture? We like to say that we’re just preserving ourselves amidst secular moral decline, but in all honesty we’re usually just behind it. The reason the church often trails behind society is that many Christians refuse to engage  ideas, methods or trends that are not explicitly Christian. Instead, we read Christian books and Christian magazines, listen to Christian music, and study Christian thinkers. We horde together in a Christian bubble and shelter ourselves from the outside world.

As a result of limiting ourselves to this relatively small circle of experience and thought, Christian culture does not benefit from the same range of ideas in the world. That’s why Christian contributions to the arts and the academy are so often looked down on by the rest of the world. It’s not a secular conspiracy. It’s because Christians aren’t exposing themselves to the wealth of artistic and intellectual resources out there, and our “fruits” betray us. In general, there isn’t the same depth or creativity that one finds in the mainstream.

In the face of this dilemma, 2 Corinthians 10:5 is a great reminder that we don’t need to hide from the culture. We shouldn’t feel pressure to preserve ourselves by existing in the spiritual equivalent of a padded room. Rather than hide from non-Christian ideas or trends, we are to engage them and even learn from them. If there is anything about an idea or practice that is hostile to the gospel then we can take those particular thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. We can tweak them and grow them, but we don’t have to fear them. Maybe then instead of trailing the culture, we can finally get ahead of it.

What do you think? Do you agree?


  • Blake says:

    I really like the idea, but I wonder if the Greek allows such an interpretation.

  • Sharon says:

    I believe that it does. The Greek word “logismos” has an abstract dimension to it–such as an idea, thought, judgment,or imagination–which certainly fits this interpretation. What’s more, the Greek word “Kathareio” which can also be translated “to take down” or “destroy” is an action verb that implies our active engagement with these thoughts. Rather than hide from them, we engage them and destroy whatever sets itself up against the cross.

  • Aurasoul says:

    I totally agree. As Christians, we need to get on the innovation edge of the culture. And when we run from it, we do not know it or understand it to change.

    We are still in the world, but definitely not of it.

  • Susanne Gonzalez says:

    I like this a lot. It’s a bit of a chessy analogy, but it reminds me of taming a wild animal- left by itself it seems out of control, but once it’s tamed (taken captive, if you will…) it can be used for a much greater purpose. Yes I am a preacher’s kid.

    And thanks for the Greek lesson!

  • Susanne Gonzalez says:

    Whoops…”cheesy”. Not a board game. 😛

  • Chris Pappa says:

    I actually think that the context leads more naturally to “thoughts” as ideas from outside than from within. But, as you point out, both seem legitimate.

  • Gingy says:

    This post strikes a chord with me. As a young adult, when the church does not engage with culture, when the youth ministry is not lively and vibrant, church seems very boring compared to the many more exciting things out there in the world. Perhaps, boring is not the right word. Church seems airy-fairy and is seen as a place that people go to escape from the realities of the harsh world, instead of being a place where people find solution and strength to tackle real world problems.

    The narrow-mindedness of some Christians, with the standard, politically correct answers that dismiss the controversies of many issues too quickly, can be frustrating and is seen by non-christians as overly simplistic solutions. The typical Christian answer is often unrealistic and insincere, and is not representative of how the Bible is the living and active Word of God. (Hebrews 4:12) Sometimes, people simply quote from the bible to show moral superiority and real empathy is missing. Why will people even listen to the church, when sometimes the church is not trying to understand and empathise more deeply with their concerns?

    Of course, in many different churches, there is a wide spectrum of the degree that they try to engage with society. What I am trying to show here is one extreme end.

    The real question is how the church can engage with culture without compromising on God’s truth? Culture seems to be changing too fast, and the church body, which in some churches can be bureaucratic, simply CANNOT move fast enough to deal with the fast-changing culture.

    Just my two cents’ worth of thoughts.

    I just want to end off this comment, with an appreciation of your work here. I am often inspired by what you write. Keep it going, Sharon!

  • Sharon says:

    Chris, I agree. The context really backs up this particular interpretation as well.

    Gingy, thanks for the insights and thanks for the encouragement!

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