Celebrating Education

Several streams flow into this post, and I am uncertain where it will end.

Last week my classes started again after a long summer holiday, and I was happy to be back; enjoying the prospect of soaking into another term of hopefully meaningful studies. But also with a certain melancholy that I’m entering the final year of my Master’s degree. I know I will miss the university when time comes.

Niels Tvesok has previously written (in Danish) about the potential flaws of science, and the apparent pointlessness of analysing just for the sake of it. He seems to have grown tired of academia; I, however, have enjoyed discussing the philosophy of science with him on numerous occasions.

Part of my holiday reading this summer has been “A Victory of Reason” by historian Rodney Stark. His thesis is that the ‘success’ of the West is in fact not due to our getting rid of Christianity, but that the pursuit of education and rational thought is inherent in the teachings and history of Christianity. Stark argues that “The Christian image of God is that of a rational being who believes in human progress, more fully revealing himself as humans gain the capacity to better understand. Moreover, because God is a rational being and the universe is his personal creation, it necessarily has a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting increased human comprehension. This was the key to many intellectual undertakings, among them the rise of science.” (Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason. Random House 2005, pp. 11-12, original emphasis.)

The belief that God has endowed us with the ability to explore the world and a charge of doing so was echoed by Andrews University president Niels-Erik Andreasen, preaching last week in Denmark at Vejlefjord’s alumni weekend. A fitting theme for such an occasion, he talked about the merits of education, and the need for always promoting learning as a part of God’s plan for this world.

I believe in education. I marvel at the feats of engineering, for instance. And I cherish engaging in deep thoughts or dialogue about how the world and its inhabitants interact, and how different scholars provide different means of looking at the world.

But for perspective, I turn to a brilliant post by my cousin (alas, also in Danish). Lars has recently embarked on studying theology, and his remarks are focused on this particular field, but I think they can be applied to other sciences as well. “But theology, i.e., the science, is just one way of learning about God. And in my opinion not the most important one. If you want to know God, the essence is not knowledge, but love.” (My translation)

Which, of course, is essential. I may get closer to God by studying him, but only by experiencing his love in a personal relationship can I actually know God. I may learn more about the world by studying its many facets-and I will keep on doing this for as long as I live-but if I am to be a force of good in this world, I need to put that knowledge into action. So to expand on Lars, if you want to serve the world, the essence is not knowledge, but love.

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3 responses to “Celebrating Education

  1. On theology, lots of people consider it to be a scientific method to approach the systems of Christian beliefs. Particularly in Denmark we tend to define it as scientific since theology is mainly taught by secular teachers at public universities. This (mis)conception of the term has very much influenced me and even that particular quote. I think it’s a great statement, but it doesn’t take deeply into consideration whether theology can actually be considered as science or not. I would encourage people not to consider theology as such but rather as “fides quaerens intellectum” – meaning “Faith seeking Understanding”. Because without faith (or love for that matter) there is no theology. Thus, theology should probably not be compared to philosophy, either.

  2. It probably depends on your understanding of theology. I do not know the internal debates in this field, so I can’t really say with conviction.

    But as I understand academics in Denmark, Theology is defined as a science (i.e., subject to scientific method), whilst the spiritual matters are delegated to other places (pastoralseminariet, menighedsfakultetet). This is mostly a matter of definition imo. When you say “without faith, no theology”, you have a wider definition of theology.

    I think you are right in a sense, but also that theology purely as a science has its merits, as do other sciences. But they are not everything. Brian McLaren’s take on theology is that it was especially a phenomenon of the modern era. He compares systematic theologies to the cathedrals of the medieval era, monuments of a time. This i believe falls closer to the scientific approach to theology than to the faith-based, semi-intellectual approach I hear you advocating.

    Am I making sense?

  3. Certainly, theology is subject to scientific method. But it is much more than that. Theology is by majority understood to cover “Biblical theology”, “Systematic Theology”, “Church History” and “Practical Theology”. Even these can be split into numerous areas. Sources are different. So are the ways of approaching.

    By saying “without faith, no theology” I simply meant to say that if theology was just a science, everybody would be able participate, believers and non-believers alike. But I don’t think that is the case. It makes absolutely no sense to discuss “what God may be like” if one does not believe God to even exist. Why bother? Theology has its roots in faith caused by some kind of experience.

    One problem with Brian McLaren is that he serves as lay-people’s introduction to these subjects. I’m convinced people would get a greater kick out of reading “New Kind of Christian” if they had been studying some theology prior to being exposed to McLaren’s controversial ideas about conservatives actually being liberals and what not. At least, I would. 😉

    But this doesn’t touch the messages in your post, so we might leave this for some interesting conversations some other time.

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