Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Purpose of Knowledge

I just finished my last qualifying exam (click here to read it at my writing page) in time to begin a new semester at PTS. With a new semester starts I often get in the mood to ask about the purpose of study. Why grow in knowledge? What is its purpose? I have a lot of pat answers, but few satisfy me.

Then I came across this little verse near the beginning of Paul's letter to the Philippians:
"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:9-11)

According to Paul, the purpose of knowledge is discernment. Knowledge is not an end in itself. There is no direct line between knowledge and the glory of God, though we often act like there is. Rather, we glorify God by bearing the fruit of righteousness, a.k.a., living holy lives. But living a holy life includes making good and right choices. And in order to make good and right choices, one needs discernment: the skill of making complex judgments. We store up knowledge and deep insight in order to have maximal resources at our disposal when choices are thrust upon us.

What does this look like? Well, it at least implies that study is not necessarily immediately applicable. Perhaps a story or a concept or a model will not produce a virtue or a program or a sermon. However, if one grows in knowledge she will have more to draw on when a touch choice is put before. At a bed side, in a board room, or on a platform, one may be pressed to make a decision without the time to read and reflect. It is for such times that knowledge has been stored up so that we may be able to discern.

Any thoughts?
Do you see the connection between knowledge and discernment?
Would you think through this connection differently?
How has your pursuit of knowledge increased your discernment?


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Who was it that said that those who lack knowledge will be "slaves"(or something to the effect)? It is for this reason that one learns, to be a free person, for not only in knowing that there are alternatives, but even having the ability to re-direct the "course of discourse" with wisdom...A "free person" (one who is educated) has resources available that are means of bringing in an educated response, so that besides JUST a decision made, everyone goes away wiser...And the "educated person" realizes that there are "other" options other than the ones placed before him...Discernment is indeed a good analysis of what knowledge is for...Such was Esther's task.

In you papers, which I will read more thoroughly later, is an excellent example of understanding John Wesley within the historical context he addressed. Even though John Wesley was a man useful in God's service, that does not mean that the way and means of his usefulness is pertinent for today...Nor does it mean that we are to understand the biblical text in the same way he did. But his example might give insight into principles of handling difficulties, challenges, or crisis with wisdom..

I think Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzche would all agree...A free person is a mature person for they have developed their own "personal standards and values" and can't be coerced (even with spiritual jargon!).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I HOPE (but fear) that I don't have enough knowledge to "draw from"...and am wanting ever so desparately to grow in understanding and wisdom...even Jesus grew in wisdom and knowledge and in favor with God and man...that is how he knew how to answer his opponents!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

John, you do believe that knowledge is also for the development of the person's abilities in development of in education, technology, medical expertise, etc...ARE YOU pursuing your degree for discernment....I would think so, to help the Church to understand her place at this time in history...People need a reason for hope....AND, faith seeking understanding is such a task.

Keith Drury said...

Reminds me of the quip from one of my college professors (who was a wonderful teacher).

STUDENT: "How long did it take you to prepare that lecture?"

PROFESSOR: "About 35 years."

I've used the quip since in responding to similar questions about sermon prep. Your column on Philippians says it well!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

John, because I believe that we must have a framework around "faith" understanding of our faith, so that we can with "reasonable" reasons respond in situations according to that paradigm...."Love" is response to that commitment.
I am personally not in a place where I can respond with "faith" in the sense of understanding God's intervention in life. So, before commitment can happen there must be a "reason" for that commitment....I am not in that place right now...But, I do believe that commitment is the manifestation of love. But, it is becoming clear to me that my faith has been reduced to humanism. And I am trying to understand if ther is a difference in Chrisian humanism and "secular" humanism...There doesn't seem to be a I am asking myself "why be a Christian"...I mean, why be committed to the Christian community?

For what is it worth, my identity had been in Christianity, but I don't find that my identity is found in that paradigm. I guess that paradigm is more in the attributes of God....not necessarily Jesus.

vanilla said...

One is saddened indeed when she/he encounters a person who has struggled mightily to gain knowledge in order to enhance discernment, but suffers instead shipwreck on the rocks of humanism.

mamak said...

did I miss something here? the scripture passage in Philippians begins in love:
that YOUR LOVE may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.

Knowledge acquired in a context other than love will fail to produce righteousness...

JohnLDrury said...

Yes, knowledge must be borne of love. There is in fact a long chain here: from divine action (asked for through prayer) through love to knowledge to discernment to righteousness, all to the glory of God. This particular post was just focused on one link in that chain: the move from knowledge to discernment. This is particularly interested b/c this link is made by the phrase "so that", which indicates purpose. Knowledge is not an end in itself, but has the purpose of increaseing discernment. But the other links in the chain are vital too.

Knowledge without love is empty;
Love without knowledge is blind.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Love is a "nice" "ideal", but different situations call for a reasonable choice in ethical commitment, which is a personal "decision" of value...

I believe "context" which Mamak pointed out is what 2 Peter says in the building blocks to love is "the revelation of Jesus Christ", which is the Church. But, what happens when "the Church" has boundaries or definitions around itself that alienates certain parties? Doesn't that mean that the Church being responsible for an environment that is inclusive is necessary? And what happens to those who have been "alienated" or ignored in their journey of faith? I believe that it becomes necessary at that point to find an inclusive community of faith.

Beginning the conversation in Scripture limits also the purpose of knowledge...which I do not believe should be limited...because the whole educational process is one whereby freedom of information is a pivot point of a "free society", which I believe the Church to be...Propaganda (limiting information or steering information in a certain way) is NOT what the Chruch should be about! That means that knowledge is a LOT more than "love"...Love, in fact, is expressed through knowledge, otherwise communication could not happen...

Communication is much more than "love" when it comes to political engagment. We cannot just "love our enemies" when it comes to national issues such as national security, human rights, etc....that would be absurd. Communication of "love" is what Scriptures tell us is "the gospel"..which is the "special revelation" of Gnosticism...

Scott Hendricks said...

I agree. Almost always, the answers to life come not from our most recent thoughts, but from thoughts we have received or had in the past.

For example, when I was at Cedar Point this summer, out of nowhere I engaged with a high school senior in a conversation about the sinlessness of Christ and the definition of temptation (what it entails, and what it doesn't): must temptation involve desire. While I know that most church people won't be as curious or skeptical as this girl, it was a refreshing reminder that what I was studying matters.