Don't Ask The Fish

If you want to know what water is like, don't ask the fish!

This proverb, attributed to the Chinese, resonates with me. Immersed in its environment, the fish needs to get outside of the fish bowl to see the bigger picture. That's the aim of this devotional: To step outside of the fish bowl called "life" and then, peering back through the glass, evaluate what we are seeing and experiencing from God's perspective. In short, to “think biblically” about every facet of life, "to love God with our minds." (Matthew 22:37)

There's not a lot of this today. In his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, University of Notre Dame professor Mark A. Noll, opens his text with this pointed barb: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”[1]

Doug Marlette, the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the comic strip, Kudzu, uttered the same accusation albeit in a much more humorous fashion. Marlette delivered his message through the sharp-whited Rev. Will B. Dunn which you can see in the comic strip.


The purpose of this post isn't to rail against the lack of thinking. It is to present an alternative. That's what the Apostle Paul did in Athens. That's what God wants us to do as well.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man. (Acts 17:22-24 ESV)

I learn many things from Paul, here are four:

  1. Engage culture. It does no good to play the Ostrich. Believers are to be in the world, but lovingly distinct from it. We need to know our culture. Paul did. How about you? When was the last time you listened to a Top 10 Hit's List, watched a first-run film, visited a museum, sat down for the hottest show on TV, or participated in a local arts fest?
  2. Make a respectful assessment. Paul was quick to find the good in what he witnessed. We should do the same. I may not enjoy a musician's music, but I can appreciate her artistic expertise.
  3. Step outside the fish bowl and ask, "What does God say?" This is THE important question. In her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey writes, “We must begin by being utterly convinced that there is a biblical perspective on everything, not just on spiritual matters.”[2] Paul believed that. He evaluated everything he saw from God's perspective.  
  4. Give a thoughtful response. Paul does not scold or become sarcastic. He provides a very thoughtful response to those who were looking for God in all the wrong places. If we are going to do the same, it is going to take time, thought, and tact.

If you want to know what the water is like, don't ask the fish. Instead, take a cue from Paul. Get outside of the bowl and look at life from God's perspective!

TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER: If you want more help on thinking biblically, let me suggest two resources: (1) Everyday Theology, edited by Kevin Vanhoozer and others. I adapted the four points above from Kevin. (2) Visit the website, Warp and Woof, by my good friend, Mark Eckel. Mark is one of the best biblical thinkers I know.

[1] Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Eerdmans, 1994. P. 3.

[2] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Crossway Books, p.  44.