Why do so many of the oft repeated quotes about attitude suggest that it is more important than money, education, circumstances, skill, and success? Perhaps it is because it somehow determines all of that and more, but most importantly it may be that attitude flows from the root of our character. Many motivational speakers today even go so far as to say that attitude is everything, especially when they speak of it as a kind of magic cure to everything that eludes us. They promise us that (for a fee) they can show us how to use attitude to get money, success, or whatever we want. Even if we do not accept their assumptions and offers, we must reckon with attitude’s profound role in our hearts and lives, that even if it is not everything, it does affect everything.
Psychologists consider attitude a “predisposed” state of mind, and its orientation/expression (positive, negative, or ambivalent) towards its object, that is acquired (learned and formed) through various experiences. It could in this way be said to reflect who we are as persons, and so it is even more important than all external success in money and education and circumstances. It is also universally recognized that our attitude determines how we weather our hardships and failings in each of these externals. Surely, we have all observed that destructive and convoluting attitudes bring trouble, and worse, into our lives. Contrarily, it would seem, that rightly constructive attitudes relate to that which enable us to flourish regardless of externals of life circumstances, and also enable us to face hardships and failure with grace and peace. Because of this profound impact on our lives, many conclude that if we just get the right attitude then we will succeed in all these things, even totally changing our circumstances. That is understandable, but is this not just a “positive thinking” idea that fails to grasp the full complexity of attitude in our mostly unpredictable lives?
We speak often of the primary role in our lives of our ideology, worldview, or convictions based on propositions or ideals and beliefs, and that is a fundamental truth. But, do we reckon adequately with the role of attitude in that, as well? But what exactly is attitude? We sometimes say, “[so and so] has attitude.” Or that someone’s attitude is what caused a particular decision, either good or not good, and that had a profound impact on some outcome in their life. Anyone who has raised children has observed that attitudes are caught as easily as the common cold, and that one is constantly battling to arm them against the many ways even what appears to be an innocuous attitude can change the course of one’s life. A particular attitude that subverts one’s entire life direction may have even come from a single comment made by a disapproving third grade teacher, after years of our cogitating (stewing and internalizing) about it. Or, disparaging peer-comments about education, certain vocations, or particular companies, can unwittingly impact the course of our life and choices.
Attitudes are the hidden rudder, appearing to us only rarely, but all-the-while guiding the whole ship. In this sense, they can be notoriously difficult to identify and address, yet failing to do so can have cataclysmic consequences in the long-term. Attitudes determine how we view our work, colleagues, neighbors, property, authority, even our own families, and life itself, and so commonly without much basis in factual reality. It might be said that human conflicts and even wars are frequently the result of attitudes run amuck, and since we might conclude that attitude is a matter of the heart it is thus one that is not easily remedied. Why then does it seem we do not often address this? I have not been able to find in all of my theological dictionaries any more than one short entry on the word attitude.
It could be said that attitude is the sum total (or result) of combined values, beliefs, experiences, values, ideals, perceptions, moods, and can be either true or false, or contain a mixture of both. Attitude may also be described as an accumulation of all of the above that compounds in interest as one mulls and ruminates. Attitude often is applied to a person who has such a strong feeling, disposition, or perspective on something that they are not able to see any other options; that they have an attitude that has closed their mind. When this is the case, we might conclude that they are not oriented by reason or logic but by an unguided attitude. Could it be described in this case as one’s feeling overpowering reality and the truth?
I recall in my youth how negative attitudes about so many things governed our perspectives on life, institutions, money, work, family, people, government, and the war. I am not saying that there may not have been some truth to our perspectives, but rather that so frequently I recall being unable to see things in any other way, meaning that my attitude determined my whole perspective, and not the truth, and it prevented consideration of other valid possibilities. Yes, the heady ideologies of that time were the air we breathed, and the many philosophies we entertained seemed to hold out promise. But, I came to wonder whether it was my attitudes that determined those philosophies more than the facts. So many of our generation had the blindest of certitude about so many things, that we really were right about everything that really matters, and so we could not seriously consider the chance that we might not be.
This is an example of what I think can be considered a fruit of attitude. That attitude, admittedly, was powered by much disdain and disgust and dislike, yes even hatred for any opposing ideas, even if they might be true. There was an attitude that the whole system was bad and everyone connected with it was bad, even though we had no true moral compass to determine good from bad; it was only assumed and determined by an attitude about the system, the politics, the capitalists and the economy, the military and the technocrats, and the old orders of belief that reflected what we thought was outmoded largely because it was older. Similarly, I have heard that the Punk Rock culture, Heavy Metal, Goth and Grunge, all express an opposing attitude by design, as does the skateboarding culture which they tell me extolls reckless rebellion. Indeed, this is in part the problem of every new generation which must grapple with the messed-up world before them and face the failings of those who preceded them. All the same, in our generation, unlike any before, all across the globe there developed an attitude that was totally and violently disruptive because it was not measured by reality of the truth about things; it was more the product of an attitude of unreasoned rejection. It was as though a predisposition took hold of our perspectives, an emotive reaction that governed our reason and mind-set and therefore our responses to people and problems, and thus prejudices developed that were entirely unwarranted. I began to ask then how such irreason could take hold of so many people, including myself?
The heart is the factory of all our idols, it has been said, and so it is certainly the source of our attitudes. It is often said that we need an “attitude adjustment” and that Happy Hour is just the remedy. Some say we must just “check our attitude at the door,” as if it is a pistol or weapon of self-defense. But if this is a heart matter, neither a gin and tonic nor a pretension to laying them aside will remedy our attitude issues. Ironically, this is seen also wherever there are reversals of discrimination demonstrated against those from whom people have experienced, or perceived, bad treatment. For example, when we see the poor nursing angry attitudes of hatred towards the rich they perceive as responsible for their own hardships, or reversals of racial discrimination seen when an ethnic group returns the favor on those who (or their ancestors) have mistreated them. Or when two good friends or lovers part ways unhappily and speak ill of one another the next day. When we speak of something as a “heart” matter, we refer to issues of character, and biblically speaking what is in view are the heart-attitudes, the orientation of one’s loves, hates, and indifferences. The attitude is the characteristic of our virtues, as for example in pride or humility, righteousness or unrighteousness, honesty or dishonesty, kindness or unkindness, forgiveness or resentfulness, whether we are merciful or unmerciful.
Though there are not many particular biblical terms describing all that we mean in English by attitude, it can certainly be said that this concept can be found in many contexts, and is central to all texts related to the heart, its problems and corruptions, and its need to be made new. Wherever we see motives and perspectives governing a person’s life we are in the realm of attitude. And this is where the gospel of Christ is most prominently applied in that we are to cultivate and pray for the attitudes that exemplify those who are in Christ and claim him as King, Savior, and Lord. That is, our attitude is one that enables us to live with grace and peace in a frequently graceless and un-peaceful world. It is evident that good attitude is not just something easily taken in hand or drummed up in human strength, as every human heart is evidently misaligned. A broken heart cannot heal itself. A corrupted orientation of the heart cannot uncorrupt itself. All sinful attitudes need a sinless Savior to restore and renew them according to his joyous disposition and merciful temperament that forgives through forging the virtues of humility and compassion. Positive thinking does not suffice in creating virtuous attitudes that enable us to weather this life of trials, nor does it necessarily change one’s circumstances; but it is his grace that enables us to flourish regardless of external circumstances, and also to face hardships and failure with grace and peace. This develops an attitude of hopeful expectation that he who began his good work in us will complete it on the day Christ Jesus returns (Phil 1:6). This is not the negatively blinding kind of attitude I discussed above, but one that walks by faith and not by sight. It is a renewed eyesight that allows for the vision of God to determine our attitudes, thus guiding our steps according to his truth and not our version of it.
The idea of a properly biblical attitude is as follows:
Phil 2:5-8 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
1 Pet 4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.
Eph 4:17-23 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Rom 15:5-6 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 It might be added that both positive and negative attitudinal dispositions about something might have a blinding force, as for example in the Christian Science religion that tries to overcome the reality of sin, sickness, death, etc., all through adjusting one’s attitude and perspective towards them (as in “mind over matter”). Indifference can even be considered an attitudinal stance.
 Louw and Nida define 26.16 φρονέω “to think in a particular manner.” Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition, Vol. 1, p. 324). New York: United Bible Societies. See also διάνοια which refers to the mind, understanding, intelligence Mk 12:30; Eph 4:18; Hb 8:10; insight 1 J 5:20; disposition, thought Lk 1:51; 2 Pt 3:1; attitude Col 1:21; sense, impulse Eph 2:3. [dianoetic, of reasoning process], Gingrich, Greek NT Lexicon, p. 46.
See Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius, Hebrew English Lexicon, ] יֵ֫צָר4095) [Hebrew) (p. 428. 4. of what is framed in the mind) cf. יָצַר 1 c, 2 b(, imagination, device, purpose: יצר מחשׁב(ו)ת לב(ב) Gn 6:5, 1 Ch 29:18; י׳ מחשׁבות 28:9; לב י׳ Gn 8:21; יֵצֶר alone Dt 31:21); יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ Is 26:3 a steadfast purpose or frame of mind. In NH יֵצֶר is common in sense of impulse: יצר הטוב and יצר הרע of good and bad tendency in man.