Lifelong learning for the glory of Christ calls for continual growth in six habits of mind and heart. These are the habits we seek to instill in our students so that their education does not stop when their schooling stops. These are the habits we seek to grow in ourselves.
These habits of mind and heart apply to everything we experience, but most importantly the Bible, because the Bible provides essential light on the meaning of all other reality. Growing in these habits can be summed up like this:
We seek to grow continually in the ability:
- to observe the world and the word accurately and thoroughly;
- to understand clearly what we have observed;
- to evaluate fairly what we have understood by discerning what is true and valuable;
- to feel with proper intensity the worth, or futility, of what we have evaluated;
- to apply wisely and helpfully in life what we understand and feel;
- to express in speech and writing and deeds what we have observed, understood, evaluated, felt, and applied in such a way that its accuracy, clarity, truth, worth, and helpfulness can be known and enjoyed and applied by others for the glory of Christ.
So the habits of mind and heart are:
Whether you are looking at a passage in the Bible, or at the US Constitution, or the double helix of DNA, or a mysterious pattern of scratches on your car, the habits of mind and heart are the same.
We want to grow in our ability to observe the world and word accurately and thoroughly—as the world really is. We think it is crucial to see what is really there. If we fail in this, the failure is called delusion or blindness. Not to see what is really there with accuracy and thoroughness is to enter an illusory dreamworld. Such dullness to the facts before us is not a virtue. It is not only a fault in itself, but it also will result in the distortion of our understanding and evaluation.
We want to grow in our ability to understand clearly what we have observed. Understanding involves the severe discipline of thinking. The mind wrestles to understand the traits and features of what it has observed. We may observe that certain kinds of violent crime dropped from one year to the next. Then comes the step of understanding: Why did this happen? Or we might observe in the Bible that four women are mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. Then comes the step of understanding. Why these four?
The aim of understanding when reading the Bible is to discern what the author is trying to communicate. We aim to think the author’s thoughts after him. Or, more accurately, we aim to see the reality his thoughts are seeking to communicate. We aim to understand the author’s purpose—ultimately, God’s purpose. Otherwise, education simply becomes a reflection of our own ignorance.
We want to grow in our ability to evaluate fairly what we have observed and understood. We don’t want to make value judgments prematurely. But neither do we want to shrink back from the judgments that must be made about truth and value on the basis of careful observation and accurate understanding.
Here is where our Christian worldview will make all the difference. We believe in truth and goodness and beauty. We believe that with the guidance of the Scriptures and the help of the Spirit, we can know the truth. Not infallibly but really. God’s word is infallible. We are not. We believe that it is virtuous for right observation and right understanding to precede evaluation. The opposite is to say that our judgments do not need to be based on reality. This is called prejudice. We don’t like it when people evaluate us without true observation and understanding. Therefore, we ought not do it to others.
We believe in truth and goodness and beauty. We believe that with the guidance of the Scriptures and the help of the Spirit, we can know the truth.
We want to grow in our capacity to feel properly in response to what we have observed and understood and evaluated. Our feeling should be in accord with the truth and worth of what we have observed and understood. If we have observed and understood a terrible reality like hell, our feeling should be some mixture of fear and horror and compassion. If we have observed and understood a wonderful reality like heaven, then our feelings should be joy and hope and longing.
God is glorified not just by being known, but also by being loved, treasured, enjoyed. Therefore, our emotional response to his glory (and what opposes it) has ultimate significance. Some people think that emotions are marginal in the task of education. We regard them as essential. This means that prayer and reliance on the heart-changing power of the Holy Spirit are indispensable for lifelong education in serious joy.
We want to grow in our ability to apply wisely and helpfully what we have observed and understood and evaluated and felt. It takes wisdom, not just factual knowledge, to know how to wisely and helpfully apply what we are learning. Suppose a person is led by true observation and understanding and evaluation of his own life to feel earnestly that he should redeem the time (Eph. 5:16). Now what? What is the application of that insight? Only wisdom informed by Scripture and counsel and self-knowledge and circumstantial assessment and prayer-soaked meditation will lead to a fruitful application of Ephesians 5:16. A lifelong learner seek to grow in the wise life-application of all he learns.
We want to grow in our ability to express in speech and writing and deeds what we have seen, understood, evaluated, felt, and applied. Yes, the line between application and expression is fuzzy. Expression, one could say, is a kind of application. But we hope to show why the habit of expressing what we know and feel through speaking and writing is worthy of a distinct focus. In a Christian worldview, the aim of expression is that our observation and understanding and evaluation and feeling and application will be made useful for others. In other words, as with other kinds of application, the aim is love. Throughout our lives, we long to grow in our effectiveness in expressing ourselves in a way that helps others see and savor and show the glory of God.
Commitment to Lifelong Learning
This brings us back to our original reason for being. God created his world and inspired his word to display his glory. A well-educated person sees the glory of God in the word that God inspired and in the world that God made. An educated person understands God’s glory and evaluates it and feels it and applies it and expresses it for others to see and enjoy. That outward bent is called love. Therefore, the aim of lifelong learning is to grow in our ability to glorify God and love people. We think the six habits of mind and heart are a description of that process of growth.
This article is adapted from Foundations for Lifelong Learning: Education in Serious Joy by John Piper.
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