Learning as a Christian Discipline
We live in a country highly focused on education. New educational systems, standards, and practices are consistently being pushed as the next great development in helping students prepare for the challenges of today’s society. But this focus on education is not new. While much could be said about contemporary educational programs, it is even more important to focus on the deeper reality that education has been around since the beginning.
The Biblical Basis of Learning
Since God first gave humanity the ability to understand the world around us, human beings have been instructing one another and being instructed. Genesis 4 describes in its lineage of Cain the many trades that the first peoples learned from working with the resources God provided. Throughout Scripture--from the repeated admonitions given to Israel to instruct their children in the ways and works of God to the practices of the early church in fulfillment of the Great Commission--we see God's people using God’s grace of wisdom and learning to grow and build more Christ-like communities. Although the biblical basis for Christian education can be clearly established, there appears to have been a decline in the centrality of learning in many local churches.
Churches that rightly emphasize outreach may sometimes be prone to neglect a rigorous emphasis on discipleship and theological training. This is something to be mourned, because a church that lacks learning is one that is lacking a full understanding of what it means to be Christ-like. Consider, for example, Luke's version of Jesus' Great Commission. After appearing to his disciples, Jesus encouraged them with the knowledge of Scripture: “Then he told them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (HCSB, Luke 24:44-45) While most people tend to focus on the words of the Great Commission that Jesus spoke, it is also vital to point out that the Messiah desired that his followers should first learn the biblical and theological significance of his identity and mission. Only then would they be fully equipped to do his work until he returned.
Implementing the Discipline of Learning
While it is necessary to understanding the biblical foundation for any focus in our lives, I also would love to give the Church some practical ways to work this out so that we may “be complete and equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17)
First, those who seek to enact the discipline of learning more deeply in their life need to seek the eternal wisdom of Scripture. One cannot learn and gain wisdom in this world very effectively if he is not beginning with the source of all knowledge, that is the Word of God. Not only does the study of Scripture help us learn as Christians, it also begins to mold us into people of the Gospel. As I recount the many Christians I have had relationships with over the years, the ones I had the most respect for were the individuals that overflowed with the wisdom of the Gospel that came from years of learning. They didn’t even have to be academically educated, but they rightly knew that true learning began in the many folds of God’s Word.
Second, and I would say just as important, is a life of prayer around the Scriptures. Many strategies for discipleship encourage Christians to seek out spiritual mentors, and this is certainly sound advice. But through Scripture-informed prayer, a Christian is allowed the greatest mentor, and that is the wisdom and communion of God himself. Whether one is seeking wisdom about a potential change of occupations, praying for healing from a physical ailment, or anything in between, the growth that God gives through a life of prayer is indispensable, even when our prayers are not answered in the ways we might wish.
Third, building a community of learning within the local church is also important, especially in that it helps the church grow through reciprocal wisdom. Due to our different giftings and experiences, we all have been blessed with unique wisdom to share. The more we are surrounded by people who are seeking learning in the light of the Gospel, the more we will be blessed with opportunities to see the glory of God through our growth together.
Lastly, the grace that comes from learning from the writing of other authors is a blessing that is especially known in the United States. I would encourage anyone who is seeking to grow in the discipline of learning to read widely and deeply. Read books on Scripture, history, theology, philosophy, etc. The list could go on, but the ultimate point is to take advantage of the wisdom that many people would never be able to receive if it weren’t for books.
While more could be said about our duty to learn as part of our growth into Christ-likeness, it is important to understand that God never intended for us to be stagnant with our spiritual growth. One way we can avoid spiritual stagnation is to seek out ways to be a steward even in what we learn.
Austin Donahoo is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity. He has a B.A. in Christian Ministry from North Greenville University. Austin is from Greer, SC, and his passions include reading, discipleship, and Christian Community Development.