The Integration of Faith & Learning
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see
And what I do in anything,
To do it as for Thee
All may of Thee partake;
Nothing so small can be
But draws, when acted for Thy sake,
Greatness and worth from Thee:
So wrote George Herbert in his poem, The Elixir (1633). In this poem, he beautifully conveys the truth that all spheres of life belong to the Living God and therefore can be done and experienced for His glory. Since all that exists was created by God and for God (Rom. 11:36), the Christian should value every opportunity to learn more of the revelations of God. Both the study of theology and study for the marketplace should and can mingle together, as they overflow in worship to God. In this short essay, I have set out four points which I believe sum up how faith and learning can integrate in the Christian worldview.
An education is first of all a privilege. Having taught many young pastors in Africa, it is inspiring to see their love and passion for learning. Their steady quest for knowledge is often accompanied by the humility with which they receive it. They come to class hungry, not taking anything for granted. Books are cherished as gold is in the West, and moments in the classroom are seen as part of redeeming the time (Eph. 5:16). In light of these enriching experiences, I have come to believe that an essential part of Christian education begins by teaching students not to take for granted their years of study. It is the first lesson upon which any further lessons are built. The vast majority of humanity does not have the benefits and opportunities that young students in the West have today. It is a gift from God to have the time, money and health to study in the particular field to which one is called. Students and teachers alike must learn to treasure this gift, regularly coming before God with thankful hearts that He has given the grace of learning to them.
An education is second of all a journey. A lifetime of learning does not happen in just four years. A proper Christian education is an opportunity to learn how to learn. Where does one go to find a particular kind of information? How does one know if that information is reliable, trustworthy, and of good quality? What writings and authors have stood the test of time, proving they are of great quality? How does one maximize their time by moving efficiently through a large amount of information? These are questions a good educator asks and guides each student in answering. A successful educator not only teaches in the moment, but more importantly equips and teaches students how to learn for a lifetime.
An education is thirdly an act of worship. Using and exercising our mind is an act of worship before the Lord. Numerous times in the Scriptures, we see a connection between our minds and our worship of God. In the Jewish Shema, we read, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the, “renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2).” We are to always be growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).” Unfortunately, there are some who advocate that worshipping God with all our mind and worshiping God with all our heart exists in opposite camps. For them, the light of the intellect and the fire of emotion cannot exist together in the Christian life. The sad result of this attitude is that the things of the Spirit and the things of the mind are not forged together so as to make us stronger. When the spiritual world and the material world are separated, an incoherent understanding of reality is soon to follow. It is the Spirit of God that seeks to grant us understanding; not only in the facts we come to know, but also for larger purpose to which we are called to use that knowledge — namely the glorification of the Author of all knowledge. In other words, as far as the Christian life is concerned, knowledge has a greater purpose beyond itself — that is, worship. It is by way of the Spirit, that our intellect comes to have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).”
B.B. Warfield gives good advice on this matter:
"Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soliders should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “Why not ten hours over your books on your knees?” is the appropriate response. Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?”
Fourthly, an education is an equipping for a battle. The modern Church is beginning to recognize that there is a spiritual battle raging for the minds of its next generation. This recognition, however, is slow in coming and many remain unaware of what is at stake for the culture at large and the Church in particular. The risk is not only the degeneration of our culture, but even greater than that an erasure of the glory of God. The goal of a Christian education is that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14); and the church has a frontline role to play in this war for the heart of a godless culture. If the church refuses to call upon its rich history of education, and chooses to recluse itself into a holy huddle for the present, hoping the winds of cultural change will blow over with minimal damage, then it has put itself at a stark disadvantage for the current battle at hand. The church with vision and foresight ought to be on the offensive, actively equipping the saints for their various roles in the world at large. By integrating faith and learning, the church contaminates the world that God loves with the truth of His Gospel in every sphere of life — including the sciences, medicine, the arts, and literature. Integrating faith and all manner of learning is central to the mission of the Church.
The lure of the enemy to the safety of shallowness is strong, his persuasion too abdicate our intellect is powerful, and his weapons to blunt our minds are numerous. Never before has a generation been able to access so much information so fast. What would have taken a week to discover before is now available in a matter of seconds. More than ever, this generation needs to focus on taking these technological advances and rather than being used and controlled by them, employ them with strategic purpose for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. A Christian education is not solely for the benefit of the recipient — it is equipping oneself for the task of bringing glory to God. It is the call to go out into deeper waters (Luke 5:4), a recognition of our dependance on Divine revelation (Ps. 36:9), and a summons from the King to fight a spiritual battle for the furtherance of His Kingdom (1 Timothy 6:12)..
A Christian education has the power to help change a generation. The Psalmist commends having clean hands and a pure heart before the Lord, nor being one who trusts in idols. He longs for that to be a chief characteristic of his generation, for “such is the generation of those that seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob (Psalm 24).” As they enter into a fallen world so desperately in need of “salt” and “light,” the goal of a Christian education is to equip students for the good works that have been prepared in advance for them to do (Eph 2:10), in whatever field they may have been called.
May the God whose glorious thoughts outnumber the grains of sand (Ps. 139:17-18) grant a grander eternal perspective to all who are called to educate, as well as to those who are called to learn — for His glory and His glory alone!