Posted by: naccm | May 26, 2010

Paradigms of Plausibility – Building an Apologetic for Multiple Intelligences

by Tim Hawkins

I would not necessarily recommend the book, but one section of Howard Gardner’s Changing Minds has become a paradigm of plausibility in organizing how I share the hope I have in Christ in a pluralistic, information-saturated, skeptical world.  Gardner is a Harvard professor in the Graduate School of Education and the primary theorist on multiple intelligences.

The theory of multiple intelligences has received mixed acceptance; however, the organizing of how students think can be a helpful tool for us who pastor and teach college/university students.  Especially in the way we help students discern and receive sources in an information over-loaded world, multiple intelligence theory can help us teach students in a way that more reflects their discovery than our own.

Changing Minds was an attempt by Gardner to translate the theory of multiple intelligences into the world of business, sales and marketing (published by Harvard Business School Press), but was not an overwhelming success.

However, Gardner outlines 7 factors or “levers” that are at work in changing minds.  Now, let me say up front I do affirm the role of the Spirit to lead people to truth…what I am saying is this structure has given me a more organized way to understand where a student is coming from and how to best do my part in sharing the hope that I have that God is doing something redemptive in the world through Jesus.

Here are the 7 factors:

  • Reason
  • Research
  • Resonance
  • Redescription
  • Resources & Rewards
  • Real World Events
  • Resistances

Reason – A rational approach taking in all of the pros and cons, weighing the factors and information by use of logic and/or rationality to arrive at a conclusion. This reminds me of how Luke describes Paul’s approach in Acts 17.  The key is that there is a BASELINE for reasoning…an agreed basis of trustworthy/rational/logical thinking.

Research – Sets of relevant data that support the reasoned argument.  In the case of sharing faith it might include archaeological findings, re-creation of manuscripts, historical criticism, primary source information.  The Case for Christ & Evidence That Demands a Verdict are both examples of this kind of material.

Resonance – Resonance speaks to the affective component of our minds…our emotional/gut response.  Garner argues that resonance often is most effective when we find the one sharing information to be reliable…that we have some connection to them.  This is the basis for what many call relational evangelism.  A book like Humble Apologetics is an example of this approach, and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity I would argue falls most into this category, especially the argument of moral law.

Redescription – Gardner argues that this is the ability to talk about something in a variety of representations.  This seems to me to be exactly how scripture describes our relationship to God and why the parables are such powerful teaching tools…they take the principles of truth grounded in God’s nature and character and capture them in redescriptions about farming, family, and weddings.  None of the redescriptions are the EXACT thing…they really enhance the our resonance.

Resources & Rewards – During the particularly individualistic modern period the reward offered as an apologetic and reason to convert was “heaven” or “escape from hell”, really a focus on what you gain by accepting Jesus.  The entire gospel, however, is spoken of as good news for the world.  The good news is not just that “I get a better life”, but that God is doing something to restore the world…and that includes me…that I’m invited to be a part.

Real World Events – We all know the statistics about how church attendance skyrockets on the heels of tragedy.  Real world events drive us to look for answers, drive us to think about the who/why of the world in which we live…they force us to wrestle with questions of mortality and existence.  Current offerings by Tim Keller, The Reason for God & Counterfeit Gods and NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope seem to be attempts to respond to real world events to reshape our understanding of identity in relationship to God.

Resistances – Sometimes even if we resonate with what we are being told, and come to being convinced by reason and research that is validated in our experience…the idea of LIFE CHANGE is enough to keep us locked into our current way of thinking.  This is particularly a factor in issues of family, cultural pressure, and affluence.

I attended a conference recently where they repeated a mantra with their leaders:  There are 3 parts to sharing your faith – YOUR part, THEIR part & GOD”S part.  The only thing you can do is YOUR part…so do it well.

You can reason and throw research at an artist all day long…but if it doesn’t “resonate” with them…it won’t take root.  You can throw resonance and real-world events all day at a scientist, and they will still want to follow your logic.  I LOVE that Jesus was not a one-trick-pony when it came to the way he taught and helped people discover life in His Way, in His Kingdom, life in His Family, life in His Economy.

Ultimately, God is not just in the business of changing minds, but changing lives…changing the world.



  1. Thanks for the post Tim. I’ve got a former student who is struggling with God’s existence and we’ve had some great dialogue. This article helps me see him from a different perspective so that I can share with him on the level he resonates with.



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