As we, professors at Tyndale Theological Seminary near Amsterdam, the Netherlands, were discussing problems about how to help our students understand our subjects, I thought of David Hesselgrave's teaching about these two forms of thinking, abstract – logical and concrete - relational.
Actually he advocates three forms. (My memory of 40 years ago is probably failing.)
1) The "conceptual postulational thinking" of the Western world.
2) The "concrete-relational/pictorial thinking" of China.
3) The ''psychical/intuitional thinking" of India.
I have attached an article he wrote which explains these ideas and how they can be used in missiology (and teaching).
It was interesting for me after forty years to think back on this material. We used Hesselgrave's first edition of his Communicating Christ Cross-culturally and his book on Dynamic Religious Movements which came out at the time.
I was struck that Russian thinkers are somewhat similar in their mindset to Hindus.
Nicholas O. Lossky, on whom I wrote my dissertation, had a three tiered approach to knowledge:
1. Sensual intuition - ("concrete-relational/pictorial thinking") which meant what Kant meant by our faculties, which process sense data and construct a "phenomenal" world. Everyone is engaged in this type of knowledge production. It takes no special training or giftedness. It is something everyone does "intuitively" without any thought.
2. Intellectual intuition - ("conceptual postulational thinking") Some, who are trained, can become logicians and mathematicians. These people must also have a native ability for this type of thought, but anyone can also improve their grasp and use of this sort of knowledge with training. (He does not mean what Kant means by intellectual intuition, which only God would have: thinkings something creates it.)
3. Mystical intuition- (''psychical/intuitional thinking") Only a few adepts can reach this type of knowledge which we might call intuitionism. Through spiritual exercises and asceticism, they reach a non discursive knowledge of God and spiritual things.
I think we as Western Evangelicals have traditionally focused on the 2nd tier. We (like Norman Geisler, for instance) give arguments and expect people to learn to think this way. (Geisler is actually using Thomas Aquinas' method.) Often average believers cannot follow such arguments. Fundamentalists eschew these arguments for a "simple preaching of the Gospel" or other theologians prefer some sort of fideism.
These days more Western Christians are enamoured of Eastern Orthodoxy and just these sorts of mystic experiences and exercises. Many feel that there is much more than simple rationalistic arguments. They hate apologetics. Many are reading the works of mystic saints, e.g., Theresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, et alia. Ignatian spirituality is gaining a lot of ground.
If Hesselgrave is right, we use all three types of thinking. Our students from Africa and some parts of Asia are using Concrete relational thinking. They tell stories and use discrete examples, simple examples. They often do not understand making an argument and simply continue "circling" around an idea without drawing conclusions and don't see the need for an explanation or a structure.
Our attempts to give rational explanations or logical structures (XYZ statements a la Turabian) seem unclear to them, if not pointless. We need to try harder to use concrete examples, but continue to teach logical argumentation and its importance.
Gary Habermas gave me a simple illustration to help people understand the cosmological argument. He would draw a caboose and a train car and ask, "What pulls the caboose?" He would continue on with car after car and then ask, "But what pulls the whole train?" “The locomotive... This is God. He draws all things towards himself.” (This is pure Aquinas, his First Way (proof) of his Five Ways; which is also Aristotle's Prime Mover argument.)
In Apologetics I would ask students to memorize the ontological, cosmological, teleological, moral or deontological and Francis Schaeffer's argument from the Trinity. They would memorize like anything. However, they often couldn't explain them at all.
The idea of the teleological argument and the moral argument are clear enough and easily demonstrated. Who created the eye? Who is the judge of the moral law within? But still I couldn't get them past raw memorization.
North American students and European students (even those without a BA) had no problem with logical arguments or understanding these arguments (even if they thought that they were dull). My children when they were in high school had a course called "Theory of Knowledge" at the Rijnlands Lyceum in Oegstgeest, the Netherlands. It was, in fact, a course in argumentation. They excelled in the class. When asked how they knew how to argue so well, they said, "Our dad is a philosopher. We argue this way every night at dinner." ;-)
Some professors give some assignments using mystic literature. But in general we as Evangelical eschew the "subjective." If the subjective is rooted in the scripture, it is not a problem, but as evangelicals we have no authorities, no way to limit such experiences to say which are legitimate.
In the Roman Catholic Church and in the Eastern Orthodox Church each monk or nun has a father confessor (a priest), a spiritual director (abbot/ abbess) and must submit to the rites of the church. They must confess the creeds or symbols of faith. They must make confession on a regular basis and do penance. There is a "rule" or “anchor” which directs their days:
- Matins (during the night, at about 2 a.m.); also called Vigil and perhaps composed of two or three Nocturns
- Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at dawn, about 5 a.m., but earlier in summer, later in winter)
- Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.)
- Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.)
- Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)
- None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.)
- Vespers or Evening Prayer ("at the lighting of the lamps", about 6 p.m.)
- Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, about 7 p.m.)
This arrangement of the Liturgy of the Hours is described by Saint Benedict.
There are also rules about working a physical job, a regular routine of the hours and taking the sacrament (Eucharist).
There are also the Pope and Magisterium which determine orthodoxy. A mystic can be disciplined, if they do not follow their Rule or do not take the sacraments or refuse to say the creeds.
In the end only the "profession of the lips" can be known objectively. If they refuse to say the creeds or promulgate known heresy, they are disciplined.
Having a Pope and a Magisterium has been appealing to some who left Evangelicalism (e.g., Thomas Howard, Elizabeth Elliot's brother). Others want an "Apostolic succession" and a bulwark against modernism (e.g., those who have become RC or EOC to protest ordination of women).
Since Protestant churches lack this sort of structure, mysticism is more dangerous and cannot be challenged except by appeal to scripture, though the interpreter can always be rejected (just start another church).
Some Reformed communities focus on creeds (and synodal decisions). James KA Smith is a member of a Christian Reformed Church NA congregation. He manages to stay "orthodox" by submitting to the creeds (I guess), though he attacks logic and "Enlightenment Reason."
I think we can learn from Hesselgrave and Lossky. Most people are on the Concrete - relational level. They need examples, pictures and stories. Some are Conceptual - postulational thinkers. We must teach logic and argumentation, rational belief. We dare not become fideists, which will lead as Hesselgrave says to liberalism and universalism. We can use psychical - intuitional thinking, but we must be sure to (as we do) ground students in the concrete - relational (OT stories, Gospels), but also insist on learning logical arguments and reasoning (Pauline epistles and apologetics / systematic theology).
We who call ourselves Evangelical apologists fall into two camps: Evidentialists and Presuppositionalists. I am an Evidentialist (like Norman Geisler or William Lane Craig, et alia (those who Smith calls the "California school" (Talbot))). We must be very careful to avoid giving the impression that anyone can interpret the Bible without a worldview (theism and a commitment to rationality, the laws of logic). We must avoid in my opinion falling into the sort of fideism which Hesselgrave speaks of which lead to the demise of the Japanese Evangelical Church.