The Danger of Reductionism

People don’t like to think. The reasons why are not surprising when we consider what it takes to actively engage the mind. Thinking takes work, time, energy, concentration, and can even cause a modest amount of discomfort. I believe that we can all relate to some degree that it is often easier to find reasons to do anything else but think when we are faced with the need to think. Thinking is simply hard to do.

Knowing that it is difficult for people to actively engage their minds in mental exertion, we can see why people would rather believe in something “simple” even though it is wrong, rather than do the work of asking questions and seeking out the answers. It is more comfortable to believe in a simple explanation because it doesn’t require thinking.

However, quite often simple explanations focus only on a limited point of view, and reject anything that challenges such an explanation. Oversimplified explanations often get in the way of understanding the whole truth of a matter. This oversimplification is reductionism. Reductionist explanations sound good, but can be very misleading to people when a deeper understanding is needed.

Reductionist explanations can do great damage when applied in situations when more completeness is necessary. For example, if we believe that all we need to do to maintain a car is to put fuel in the gas tank, it won’t be long before no amount of gas will make it go. It is true that a car requires gasoline, but relying on an overly simplified solution that “for cars to function, they need gas” doesn’t paint the whole picture. We often need to consider more information when looking to understand how things work.

When we look at secular so-called Christianity today, it is easy to recognize reductionist reasoning in effect. People will hang all of their beliefs on a handful of Scriptures and ignore the others that contradict their belief without even realizing it. People can read over Scriptures, passages, chapters, and books in the Bible without taking the time to think about what the words mean, because thinking is hard work. For example, it is common for nominal Christians to quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” and stop there. It is appealing to read one Scripture and build an entire body of doctrine around it. Taken alone, one would think that all a person has to do is believe in Jesus Christ to have everlasting life. Yet people don’t ask what it means to believe in Christ. As we know, there is a lot more to becoming a fully converted Christian than a mere belief in the existence of Jesus. But asking questions that challenge such an appealing and simple belief structure is inconvenient.

Of course, we cannot place all of the blame on people who don’t take the time to think about the teachings of the Bible. Not everyone is called in this age to understand the Truth. God calls whom He will today, which excludes the vast majority (compare John 6:44-45, John 6:65). However, the warning of falling into the trap of reductionist explanations applies even to converted members, and gravely so. If we choose to pass too quickly over the teachings of the Bible and the Church, through God’s ministry, without taking the time to make sure we understand why those teachings are true, we place ourselves in a slippery place. Developing our understanding of the Truth that will lead us to salvation requires searching the Scriptures for more collaborating evidence, not reducing explanations to less.

Developing our understanding of the Truth requires the entire Bible. You don’t need to take my word for it either! The Word of God expresses this instruction with great clarity. In Jesus Christ’s response to the temptation of Satan, He said, “… ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”’” (Matthew 4:4). We must take this to mean that all of the words of the Bible are there for us to use, and not ignore when the teachings are inconvenient to us, or when we might not yet understand what we learn. By using the entire Bible to help us build a complete understanding of the Truth, without corrupting it with the bias of our carnal nature, we will grow spiritually. But it takes some work to do it. “… For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:9-10).

Whether it is easy for us or not, it takes work to think and ask questions about what we learn if we want to develop our spiritual understanding. It is undoubtedly hard work to do. But we didn’t answer our calling from God because it would be an easy path for us. We answered our calling out of love for the Truth, knowing that this is the better way to live. We can be reassured that the work is worth the effort when we consider the instruction of Jesus Christ, “‘Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it’” (Matthew 7:13-14).

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