Author: Ron Graham
Chain thinking is something we all do constantly. There's a progression of thought through a series of links. There are three kinds of chain thinking. All three have an important place when we are trying to understand and follow the Bible.
I don't suggest that chain thinking is superior to lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is great for solving problems and for creativity and invention. But we are talking about understanding the Bible. The Bible is about what God has created, what problems he has solved, and his marvelous plan that has unfolded down through the ages. We are talking about understanding this —and helping others understand it. This is where chain thinking is helpful.
This is the kind of thinking in which the links are stages. Paul, for example, thinks about the process by which "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13-15). He has been thinking about how the word of God, which he preaches, enters people’s heart, they believe in their heart and call on Christ’s name, and that then leads them into salvation (Romans 10:8-13).
Paul then clarifies the chain. "How will they call on him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in him of whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:13-15). Paul as he went through these links probably thought of how Ananias had been sent to him and commanded him to call on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:12-16).
Anything in the Bible that involves a process can be examined and understood by this kind of chain thinking. We simply seek the links in the chain making sure we don't miss any links, and that we don't add any links by mistake. We could examine a number of questions this way. What has God done that I might be saved? What must I do to be saved? How can I grow and mature as a Christian? How could I, on the other hand fall away? How has God worked in this world since creation? What is going to happen to me in the future?
This is the kind of thinking in which the links are logical conclusions, one based upon the former. Paul, for example, uses this type of thinking in his support of the doctrine of resurrection. "How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is empty and so is your faith... you are still in your sins. If that is so, then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hope in Christ in this life only, then we are of all men most to be pitied " (1Corinthians 15:12-19).
We can understand the doctrines of the Bible better if we seek logical links from one proposition to another. These take the form, "If this is true, then that is true, and if that is true, then another thing is true..." This same manner of thinking will help us uncover the weaknesses in the doctrines of men —as Paul did above. Of course, we have to make sure each proposition necessarily implies the next. For example you could not say, “If I must love my enemy, then I must love Satan, and if I must love Satan, then I should try to be reconciled to him”. Nevertheless, by a chain of necessary and valid inferences, we can understand and show whether teachings are true or false.
This is the kind of thinking in which the links are eliminations, one reducing the next. Your postal address is such a chain. It reduces the world to a nation, then the nation to a state, then the state to a city or town, then the town to a street, then the street to a house, and a house to a person.
Paul, for example, provides a statement of qualifications for shepherds in the church (1Timothy 3:1-7). If you look carefully at this, you will see that it very quickly and simply defines the suitable men by a process of elimination. Instead of listing every person in the congregation as a candidate, you just list those who are husbands and fathers. Then you cross off any who are new converts, or whose character and reputation is not good. Then you tick the ones who are able to teach. That's your short list.
As another example, suppose we are seeking a fellowship of believers who are truly Christ’s church, we don't have to conduct an exhaustive study of every fellowship or denomination. We know the true church, which Jesus himself established, has certain unique marks. If we are very careful to discover those marks in the scriptures, then we can quickly eliminate any fellowship or denomination who substitutes something else for one of those marks.
If you looked for the mark of a Christ-like love, and you knew of a fellowship that did not have such love, you would not need to examine that fellowship on any other mark. It is not the true church. If you looked for the mark of belief in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and you came upon a fellowship who rejected that article of faith, then you would not need to examine that fellowship on any other mark. It is not the true church. If you looked for the mark of baptism in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you found a fellowship who rejected the necessity of baptism, you would not need to examine that fellowship on any other mark. It is not the true church.
We can use this kind of thinking to escape all kinds of confusion and direct ourselves on course for truth. For example we read in the scriptures that Christ is now reigning on David’s throne while David sleeps with his fathers (2Samuel 7:12-13, Psalms 89:3-4, Psalms 132:11, Acts 2:29-36). Yet many are saying that Christ is not yet on David’s throne, but will sit on that throne on earth, after David has been raised from the dead. So will we believe this that many are saying, or that which the scriptures say? We say, “Not this, but that” —and so we proceed, through various questions, knowing the way of the Lord more perfectly as we go.