What Kind of Person Do You Want to Become? Education as Formation

1024px-Hortus_Deliciarum,_Die_Philosophie_mit_den_sieben_freien_Künsten

Philosophia et septem artes liberales, the seven liberal arts. By Herrad of Landsberg – Hortus Deliciarum, Public Domain

In his brief but extraordinarily helpful book, Basic Moral Concepts, the late German Roman Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann defines education as follows:

Education is the name we give to the process whereby a human being is led out of the animal preoccupation with self to a state where he is able to be objective about his own interests and differentiate between them, in such a way that his capacity to experience joy and pain is increased.

For Spaemann, moral reasoning is fundamentally about “ordering one’s priorities into a correct hierarchy,” that is, being able to discern what we truly want out of life and making judgments between higher and lower pleasures based on objective moral truth. Making these kinds of value judgments however doesn’t come automatically; we must learn to “regard our own interests in an objective way.” And this is the role of education.

All this got me thinking about how far education—from pre-K through graduate studies—has strayed from this classical perspective Spaemann articulates. Just take a look (if you dare) at the reading lists in elementary and secondary schools, or colleges for that matter. Tweaking Spaemann’s definition, we might summarize the common educational philosophy of our own day as follows:

Education is the name we give to the process whereby a human being is led further into the animal preoccupation with self to a state where he is able to have the skills and competencies (especially those associated with the STEM disciplines) needed to maximize his earning potential, in such a way that his capacity for consumption and self-gratification are increased.

Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But then again, maybe not. Even leaders of the supposedly “conservative” political party in the United States have a bad habit of denigrating the liberal arts. And stories in the Chronicle of Higher Education about schools cutting liberal arts programs are far too frequent. To be sure, the STEM disciplines are hugely important for our society and economy, and many people find their own sense of calling in precisely those fields. But even these students need the formation afforded by the liberal arts in order to flourish optimally in those callings. Employers are increasingly coming around to this fact.

When I sensed a calling to ministry as a sophomore at Auburn University, I decided to switch majors from chemical engineering to history as a better preparation for seminary (I learned classical Greek and honed my skills at researching and writing). I will never forget my first meeting with my new supervisor in the College of Liberal Arts, the charismatic and immensely popular medieval historian, Joseph Kicklighter. Dr. Kicklighter was eager to correct any misconceptions I had about what I could “do with a history degree.” He complained that he got that question all the time from students (and parents). I’m paraphrasing, but he said something to this effect:

The liberal arts aren’t about what you can do with them; they are about what kind of person you want to become.

Indeed.

John Behr on Nicaea, Trinitarian Language, and Vintage Bicycles

This episode is a conversation with Dr. John Behr of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. We discuss becoming a scholar (2:59), the beginning of the patristic tradition (8:30), Nicaea and Trinitarian language (13:22), John’s prologue (46:45), SVS Press (51:00), vintage bicycles (57:30), and more. Buy John’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


A Brief Post on Self-Doubt

We live in an age of self-confidence, self-assertion, and, indeed, self-worship. Social media, polarized political discourse, and online posturing feed these trends. But it’s my contention that self-doubt is actually where true virtue lies. Political pundits and religious polemicists thus prove themselves often to be more vicious than virtuous.

It actually requires all of the cardinal virtues to admit that you may be wrong or misguided: prudence for discernment, courage to risk ridicule, temperance to avoid self-indulgent pride, and justice to own that you may be unfairly misjudging things.

And it requires the Christian virtues to show where your true trust lies: faith in God’s judgments alone, hope in the ultimate righting of all things, and love for your fellow man who is on the same quest for truth.

But self-doubting does not mean truth-doubting. Chesterton is worth quoting on this score:

Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert-himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason… The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping: not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

Christians must lead the way in recovering a sense of our own limitations. It isn’t a matter of some kind of radical postmodern skepticism about the Truth, but an honest assessment of our own limitations and weaknesses. From this kind of posture, when we do speak with bold confidence about the Divine Reason, we may just offer a more winsome presentation of God’s truth.

Richard Bauckham on Christology, Jesus’s Eyewitnesses, and Poetry

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Richard Bauckham. We discuss becoming a scholar (2:04), early Christology (7:50), the theology of the Book of Revelation (15:10), the testimony of Jesus’s eyewitnesses (24:37), the city of Magdala (37:15), poetry (46:26), and more. Buy Richard’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


An Amplified Lord’s Prayer

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Lord's_Prayer_(Le_Pater_Noster)_-_James_Tissot

Tissot’s “The Lord’s Prayer,” Public Domain

There is a special power that accompanies praying the words of Scripture. It’s not matter of magic or superstition. It’s simply a matter of praying in accord with God’s revealed will—praying God’s inspired words back to him. The Psalter is given to the people of God for this very reason. And the Scriptures provide many other prayers to this same end as well, including the prayers of Moses, Solomon, Daniel, Jesus, Paul, and more.

This is also one reason why I think all Christians should pray the very words of the Lord’s Prayer every day, preferably several times a day, and why I think the Lord’s Prayer should have a central place in the corporate worship of the people of God on the Lord’s Day. Praying in unison the model prayer that our Lord gave to us is a moving experience of the church’s spiritual unity. The Lord’s Prayer is almost hymnic in its meter, giving us good reason to believe that this prayer was memorized in the earliest layers of Christian tradition. And it quite obviously has served as a formula for prayer down through the centuries of Christian history.

But the Lord’s Prayer also sets the agenda for the priorities of Christian prayer. It’s not a matter of either recitation or a pattern of priorities to be followed, but both/and. Still, the “Our Father” can be amplified in our personal prayers to great spiritual benefit. Here is one way that the Lord’s Prayer might be utilized in this way:

Our Father, the one who in your great love has sent forth your only begotten Son in the fullness of time to redeem us, and the one who has sent your Spirit into our hearts, leading us to cry out to you as our Abba, Father (Gal. 4:4-6),

Our Father, the one who has not saved us as isolated individuals, but who has incorporated us into the body of Christ,

Our Father in heaven, the one who transcends space and time as the almighty maker and sustainer and Lord of all that exists,

May your name be hallowed, sanctified; may you vindicate the holiness of your great name, despite the ways that we have dishonored it among the nations (Ezek. 36:23),

May your kingdom come; may your saving reign and rule in your Son, Jesus Christ, come in my life and in my family’s life and in the life of the church and among all the peoples of earth,

May your will be done, your saving, end-times will to redeem a people for yourself and to sanctify them for your service (1 Thess. 4:3),

May all of these things be done so that a taste of heaven might be brought down to earth.

Give us this day our daily bread; principally give us anew the Bread of Life, the life of the world, your Son, Jesus Christ (John 6:33); give us also what we need materially, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically in order to do your will this very day.

Forgive us our debts, our great sins and transgressions against you, and form us into the kind of people who willingly extend forgiveness to those who have sinned against us.

Lead us not into temptation, guard us from ourselves and from the indwelling sin that pulls us away from you.

But if we are to enter into temptation, into a time of testing, deliver us from the Evil One and from all of our spiritual enemies.

We ask all of this in faith and confidence knowing that to you alone belongs the kingdom, the power, and the glory, both now and forever. Amen.

Craig Carter on the Church Fathers, Premodern Exegesis, and Platonism

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Craig Carter of Tyndale University College and Seminary. We discuss becoming a scholar (2:35), coming to a new understanding of classical Christian theism (7:00), theological growth throughout the years (12:30), interpreting Scripture with the church fathers (15:55), Trinitarian theology from the Bible to the early church (29:27), Christian Platonism (38:15), and more. Buy Craig’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Michael Bird on Theology, Writing, and Advice for Ph.D. Students

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Michael Bird of Ridley College. We discuss becoming a scholar (2:00), advice for Ph.D. students (4:35), changing denominations (6:40), his new NT introduction with N. T. Wright (10:15), how to be a scholarly generalist (18:34), his writing style (26:35), the Trinity without hierarchy (27:58), and more. Buy Mike’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Stefana Laing on History, Being a Theological Librarian, and Kids at ETS

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Stefana Dan Laing of Beeson Divinity School. We discuss bringing your kids to ETS (2:28), becoming a scholar (6:40), how to understand Christian history (21:10), being a theological librarian (36:12), being a female scholar in evangelicalism (47:20), and more. Buy Stefana’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Hevel

             I look up:

             a cloud,

             a vapor,

fleeting.

             I look down, at

             my watch /

             my phone, it’s

vanity.

             I look up;

             the vapor

             is gone, like

breath.

             I look around;

             everything

             is here and then is

not.

             What remains?

Fear God and

keep his commandments.

Matthew Emerson on the Biblical Canon, Hermeneutics, and Auburn Football

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Matthew Emerson of Oklahoma Baptist University. We discuss developing interests in scholarship (2:40), the importance of the biblical canon’s order and shape (9:55), theological method and allegory (18:00), how Jesus influences and clarifies OT exegesis (31:35), Trinitarian theology and method (33:35), renewing Baptist theology (44:33), the legitimacy of Auburn’s football championships (49:40), and more. Buy Matt’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.