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berlin-book-burning

The Power of Ideas

Have you ever thought about the ideas you have and how they shape your life? The philosopher Dallas Willard says our ideas are the assumptions we have about reality. They are the ways we think about and interpret life.

The great British historian, Arnold Toynbee says that a society’s actions are a result of its ideas. For instance, if its actions are destructive we need to ask what the ideas are that cause it to behave destructively.

I remember an interesting story told by the great theologian R.C. Sproul, that took place back in the 1950’s. He was in college and was hired to work at a large hospital for the summer. When they learned he was a philosophy student, they handed him a broom and informed him he was to keep the grounds and the parking lot clean.

Right next to the hospital was a large office building, with a big parking lot. One day he noticed an older man was sweeping the parking lot of the office building and the two of them struck up a conversation. Dr. Sproul was asked by this man what he was studying in college and of course he responded “philosophy.” As the man began to ask him questions, Sproul began to realize that this guy knew more about philosophy than anyone he had met in his life. And yet this man was sweeping parking lots for a living.

As it turns out, the man was German, and held a doctorate in philosophy and had taught at the University of Berlin. When Hitler came to power, the Nazis sought to remove all college professors whose ideas were at odds with the values of the Third Reich. He therefore lost his job.

The man then told Sproul that he began to publicly speak out against the Nazis. His wife and all but one of his children were then arrested and executed, but somehow he and the other child miraculously escaped and eventually made it to the United States.

With tears in his eyes the man said he would never teach philosophy again, because his philosophical ideas had destroyed his loved ones and had ruined his life.

To this day R.C. Sproul remembers vividly this encounter and observes:

“We live in a culture that gives little thought to its ideas, but here was a man who was pushing a broom because he lived in a culture that gave great weight to a person’s ideas. This man’s family was destroyed because Hitler understood that ideas are dangerous. Hitler so feared the consequences of this man’s ideas, that he did everything possible to eliminate him as well as his ideas.”

Think about these questions:

  1. What is the source of true happiness?
  2. How do we determine what is moral and immoral?
  3. What is success?
  4. What is true masculinity and femininity?
  5. What is the purpose of sex?
  6. Where do we find real security in life?
  7. How does one get into heaven?

These are some of the most important issues of life and every single one of us has beliefs and ideas about them. Hopefully from this you can see how our ideas about life are powerful because ultimately they impact our decisions, choices, and priorities.

What is most significant about all of this is that our ideas can be rooted in the truth or rooted in falsehood. The problem with false ideas is that they have the potential to really mess up our lives, and often we are not aware that these ideas are false until we get burned by them.

C.S. Lewis clearly saw the significance of this. He recognized that if we are to live our lives in harmony with reality, we need someone trustworthy to guide us. In his opinion there was no better guide than Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. He is the light of the world and John tells us that He came into the world to enlighten every one of us.

If we do not look to Him, to whom shall we look? Who will guide us to what is true?


If you’re interested in reading more by Richard E. Simmons, check out his newest book Wisdom: Life’s Great Treasure available on our online bookstore and Amazon.com. Other titles by Richard include The True Measure of a Man, Reliable Truth, A Life of Excellence, Sex at First Sight, Safe Passage and Remembering the Forgotten God.

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