Cultivating a Love for Learning: Wisdom

Education, classically understood, is about the formation of the soul by cultivating virtue and wisdom. In our last post, we saw that in pursuit of virtue we ought to exercise our affections like muscles, training and stretching ourselves to grow a greater capacity to appreciate and delight in works of excellence.

Augustine said that the character of the soul is assessed not by what a man knows, but by what he loves, because you can know the right thing to do, but if you don’t love the good more than you love what you’re being tempted by, you’ll stray from goodness every time.

Related to this understanding of virtue is Thomas Aquinas’ articulation of one of the key goals of education as the ability to “order things rightly.”

But in order to order things rightly, you must know their relative worth, and in order to know the relative worth of things, you must know their true or ultimate worth. As Aquinas also pointed out, you cannot say that anything is “better” or “worse” unless you have some ultimate standard that gives meaning to those terms. Something is “better” if it approximates whatever good you are relating it to better than the thing which is “worse.” — Martin Cothran

This principle refers to what is often known as the transcendentals—Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. That is the idea that there are transcendent, (meaning outside or beyond human experience and limits), objective, absolute standards of truth, goodness, and beauty. And so a common definition of education in the classical education world is “the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty.”

This brings us, then, to wisdom.

Wisdom teaches you “not only the distinction between the true and the false, but how to tell the more important truths from the less important ones; not only the difference between the good and the bad, but how to distinguish between the more important goods and the less important ones; not only the difference between the beautiful and the ugly, but how to determine the difference between the more and the less beautiful.” — Martin Cothran

Allow me to use King Solomon as a paradigm for this discussion. The modern utilitarian would find Solomon foolish because he chose wisdom over wealth. When Solomon became king of Israel, God told him to ask what he would of God and God would grant it. Solomon asked for wisdom, and an understanding heart, to discern between good and evil so that he could govern God’s people justly. The Scriptures say that it pleased God that Solomon asked for this, and God blessed him because of it. Solomon in his many writings extols the virtue of seeking wisdom, of prizing understanding and discernment.

In the introduction to Solomon’s Proverbs, where he states the purpose of his writing, he says, “to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing… to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance… The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom and instruction fools despise.”

Notice that one of the marks of wisdom is to value the pursuit of wisdom. Solomon returns to this theme throughout his writings, and I’d like to draw a few applications from this in the next post.

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Cultivating a Love for Learning: Virtue

As I mentioned in my previous post, part of Richard Weaver’s solution for how man can get out of the hole he’s dug himself into is to return to a classical understanding of education as the cultivation of virtue and wisdom. So then, just what are virtue and wisdom?

Our English word virtue comes from a Latin word that can mean strength, courage, character, worth, or merit; but its basic meaning points to a human being attaining excellence in some area.

Practically speaking, a specific virtue can be defined as a refined faculty. Andrew Kern defines a virtue as “a God-given, natural ability trained to a pitch of excellence. Humans have the natural faculty or ability to speak. But that ability refined becomes the virtue of eloquence.” [1]

There are four basic categories of virtue: Moral virtues, intellectual virtues, physical virtues, and spiritual virtues. But I’m focusing on a specific kind of virtue—a meta-virtue, so to speak—and that is the virtue of loving the right things in the right way.

Anyone who finds happiness and fulfillment in the mere acquisition of money, or fame, or food, or comfort, or the like, may feel fulfilled, but only in a very shallow way. He is fulfilled only in the sense that he has exhausted his inadequate ability to be fulfilled. His glass may be full, but his glass is very small. Part of what it means to grow in virtue is to expand your capacity to love—to expand the number and kind of things you can appreciate—to heighten the quality of the things in which you delight. That’s what training the affections—one of the essential aspects of a good education—does for you. By cultivating the taste in higher things you would not otherwise be able to appreciate, you are not just obtaining more things to appreciate; you are expanding your ability to love the right things.

We could illustrate this point with literature or music. I may find immediate gratification in a substandard novel, but not be able to appreciate Homer, or Stevenson, or Tolkien because I have never adequately prepared myself to appreciate their greatness. Or I may like the immediate pleasures of some form of pop music, but because of my lack of experience and knowledge of any other kind of music, I not only don’t like more sophisticated forms of music, but I’m not capable of appreciating the great composers such as Strauss, or Schubert, or Zdeněk Fibich—because my taste for these other, higher things has not been cultivated. So there could be things that are deeper and richer that my sensibilities simply aren’t able to delight in because I have not cultivated my appreciation of them.

It is so easy for us, sometimes through sheer laziness, to be content with less significant things—to be content with being unable to delight in works of true excellence. This is not necessarily always a problem with the things (it’s not wrong to find enjoyment in the cheap story or the pop song), but it is a problem with the inadequacy of our contentment—the limited capacity of our affections. The hard truth is that it takes a little work to be able to delight in the right things, in the right way; so we have to exercise our affections like muscles, training and stretching ourselves to grow a greater capacity to appreciate and delight in works of excellence.

Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris—that is, rightly-ordered affections, wherein every object is accorded that kind of and degree of love which is appropriate to it. This reflects the teaching of Aristotle who said that the aim of education is to train the student to like and dislike what he ought. Why is this so important? Why is training our loves—our affections—such an integral part of education?

Well, because education is about the formation of the soul.

Augustine said that the character of the soul is assessed not by what a man knows, but by what he loves. The reality is that you can know the truth, but if you don’t love what you know to be true more than you love a lie, you’ll betray the truth every time. You can know the good—you can know the right thing to do—but if you don’t love the good more than you love what you’re being tempted by, you’ll stray from goodness every time. So it is essential that you pursue virtue.

References:

[1] Andrew Kern, “What is Virtue?” Memoria Press.

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Cultivating a Love for Learning

I used to think I hated education. I didn’t hate learning; I just hated school. But I’ve grown to appreciate and value my schooling, and to apply myself better, because I learned that I had the wrong understanding of what education is.

If you leave your high school years and haven’t gained a love for learning, your schooling was not a success.

I think that’s true whether you go to college or enter a trade. It doesn’t have to do with whether you’re in school or not. In whatever area of life, you ought to know how to, and be passionate about, pursuing virtue and wisdom.

Let me begin with a quote from Richard Weaver, a professor at the University of Chicago in the early to mid 20th century. Weaver was one of the most important political and social philosophers of his time, and you’d do well to read anything by him you can get your hands on. In a 1956 essay from In Defense of Tradition, Weaver writes this about modern education:

If educators really want to know why they have fallen so low in public esteem, they need only to wake up to the fact that they have abandoned concern with the very things which educators are traditionally the custodians and expositors. There are teachings concerning the nature of reality, the validity of knowledge, the meaning of goodness, and the origin and final end of man.

In response to the question “What is man?” Weaver says,

The answer is that man is a body and a soul. Consequently, education has as one of its controlling considerations man’s supernatural destiny. It cannot be exclusively for the objective of ‘adjustment to the environment.’ Even biology now teaches that a perfectly adjusted organism ceases to develop. Neither should it be exclusively for ‘success.’ Failure is just as truly a part of reality as success, and a complete education equips one to survive that…

That modern progressive education is an apostasy, not only from all faith but from all learning, is apparent to anyone who takes the trouble to examine its premises. Man is continuous with nature, and nature is eternally changing—toward what, nobody can say, because the universe is regarded as self-existing. And since man is only an atom in this vast flux, free will is not only intellectually untenable but also practically undesirable. The upshot is a picture in which there are no eternal moral values or moral standards… no conduct intrinsically good or bad, no moral responsibility; there are no good men or bad men; no heroes, no honest men, no scoundrels; there are only ‘cases’ (neurotic or badly conditioned). Well, having dug himself into a hole that deep, how is man ever going to get out?

“How is man ever going to get out?” Part of Weaver’s solution for how man can get out of the hole he’s dug himself into is to return to a classical understanding of education as the cultivation of virtue and wisdom. So, in the next couple of posts, I’d like to unpack just what virtue and wisdom are.

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Facility Use Policies for Your Church

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d like to share a couple of statements and policies we use at my church, with the hope that they may be of some interest or help to you as well. Below, you’ll see my church’s facility use policy. If you have any questions about why we included certain elements, or excluded others, feel free to inquire. The importance of such a policy, I believe, is made plain in the policy itself. So then, the policy:

By God’s providence, and through the generosity of the membership, the Lord has blessed FBC with a building and property useful for the work of ministry, the fellowship of the saints, and the glory of God. With that provision comes the need to establish certain guidelines for the use of the facilities in order to preserve and further the mission of the church—to know Christ and to make Him known. This policy contains basic guidelines for the use of our facilities, and is subject to careful emendation at the discretion of the elders.

Use of FBC facilities will not be permitted to persons or groups advancing, advocating, or explicitly holding beliefs, or advancing, advocating, or engaging in practices that conflict with the church’s faith or moral teachings, which are primarily summarized in the church’s constitution. Nor may facilities be used for activities that contradict, or are deemed by the elders as inconsistent with, or contrary to the church’s faith or moral teachings.

This restricted facility use policy is necessary for two important reasons. First, the church may not in good conscience materially cooperate in activities or beliefs that are contrary to its faith. Allowing its facilities to be used for purposes that contradict the church’s beliefs would be material cooperation with that activity, and would be a grave violation of the church’s faith and religious practice.[1]

Second, to allow our facilities to be used by groups or persons who express beliefs or engage in practices contrary to the church’s faith would have a negative impact on the message that the church strives to promote. It could also be a source of confusion and scandal to church members and the community because they may reasonably perceive that by allowing use of our facilities, the church is in agreement with the beliefs or practices of the persons or groups using the church facilities. It is very important to the church that we present a consistent and pure message to the community.

Approval for Use

  • Use of FBC facilities will be approved by the senior pastor as the schedule allows and in accordance with this policy. In the case of potentially difficult decisions, the elders are jointly responsible as the final decision-makers on whether a person or group will be allowed to use the church facilities. Priority will be given to members and official ministries and sponsored activities of FBC.

Cleaning and Damages

  • Anyone who uses the facilities is responsible to see that the area used has been cleaned, any moved furniture or equipment returned to its original placement, and the facility left in no worse a condition than they found it—or to make arrangements for this to be done.
  • The person or group using FBC facilities will assume legal, material and financial responsibility for any damages incurred during use.
  • All lights must be turned off and doors locked upon departure.

Fees

  • The church generally does not charge a fee for the use of our facilities.
  • However, a fee may be requested on an ad hoc basis at the discretion of the elders.

Bible Studies and Other Ministry Activities

  • Bible Studies and other ministry activities conducted at the church will be limited to those official activities of FBC facilitated by a member and under the oversight of the elders.
  • We encourage members to study Scripture together as often as possible, and to seek the counsel and advice of the elders when considering a topic or direction of study. However, studies and small groups are not to be conducted in the church building unless specifically approved by the elders and conducted under the oversight of the elders.

Weddings

  • We believe that the only biblical marriage is the formal union of a man and a woman in a lifelong, exclusive covenant.[2] Any other sexual activity, identity, or expression outside of this definition of a biblical marriage, including those that are becoming more accepted in the culture and the courts, are contrary to God’s natural design and purpose.[3] FBC facilities may only be used for weddings that are in accordance with this biblical standard.
  • Weddings conducted at FBC will be restricted to those in which at least one member of the couple getting married is a member in good standing of FBC.
  • Additionally, in accordance with the teachings of Scripture, FBC facilities may only be used for weddings by couples in which both the man and woman are believers.[4]
  • Only officiants approved by the FBC elders may officiate weddings at FBC.

Showers, Birthday/Graduation Parties, and Other Non-Ministry Events

  • Non-ministry use of FBC facilities will not be prioritized over ministry use, but will be approved on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the senior pastor and elders, as the schedule allows.
  • Events run by or for members of the church will be prioritized, followed by regular attenders, and finally non-attenders.
  • The restrictions enumerated in the opening paragraphs of this policy apply to all activities conducted at the church facilities.

Miscellaneous Guidelines

  • Smoking in any indoor church facility is prohibited.
  • No alcohol may be served at any function on FBC premises.
  • Groups are restricted to only those areas of the facility that the group has reserved.
  • Abusive or foul language, violent behavior, and drug or alcohol abuse are strictly prohibited while using church facilities. Any person exhibiting such behavior will be required to leave the premises.
  • Food is prohibited in classrooms and worship space except for special events pre-approved by the governing board. Snacks for classes served by teachers are an approved exception.
  • Beverages with tight-fitting lids are permissible in classrooms and worship space.
  • A facility usage request form may be required.

__________________________________________________________

  1. 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Thess. 5:22
  2. Gen. 2:18–25; Mal. 2:14–16; Matt. 19:4–6; Mark 10:6–9; Rom. 7:2–3; 1 Cor. 7:10–11, 39; Eph. 5:22-33
  3. Ex. 20:14; Lev. 18:1–30; Mark 10:6–9; Rom. 1:26–29; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:9–10; 1 Thess. 4:3–8; Heb. 13:4; Jude 7
  4. 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14

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The “Barbaric” Bride-Price, and Saul’s Sinister Motives

In 1 Samuel 18:17, Saul offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to David. Now, remember that Saul had promised this for the man who killed Goliath, so he’s really just getting around to something he has already promised. He offers his oldest daughter, Merab, to David, asking in return for David to continue to fight his battles, because Saul thought to himself, “Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.”

Saul is still focusing on how he can get rid of David.

But David declines the hand of Merab, and she’s given to another man.

Verse 20 explains that Saul’s younger daughter, Michal, loved David. And when Saul found out, it pleased him—not because his daughter might then be happy… not because he could then reward David the way he had promised… but because he assumed she would then be a distraction to David, and perhaps at last the Philistines would prevail against David. Saul sends his servants to suggest this marriage to David, and David replies, in verse 23, that he has no way of paying the bride-price.

Now, I would say the concept of the bride-price is salt in the wound of our sensitive, politically correct, romance-is-everything society. Daughters being rewarded to warriors and arranged marriages are barbaric enough. But then the groom has to pay the father-of-the-bride money as compensation? This is basically purchasing yourself a wife like she’s a piece of property, right? Well, no, it’s not that simple—or that barbaric.

We have to understand that the family, for most of history, was an economic unit of society. Your household was your livelihood. And children were a blessing not just because they’re a delight to have around, but because they contributed to the household economy—and with numbers come stability and security. Well, when you had a daughter, she was loved by the family, and she participated in the household enterprise, but it was understood that she was at some point going to leave and become a part of someone else’s household; and she was then going to be contributing and benefiting their family, and their clan. So, as a gesture of gratitude and good faith, the groom would give a sum of money to the father of the bride as a recognition that as he gave his daughter to be married, his household was also losing a valuable contributor to their welfare. That’s the point of the bride price—that’s most of it. The other side of it was that it proved that the groom was, as they say, all in. It was a way of showing that he had skin in the game. He showed he was serious. He really was going to take care of his bride.

David is saying that he can’t give a gift of the amount that would be appropriate for the king’s daughter. That’s what he means when he says, “does it seem to you a small thing to become the king’s son-in-law?” He’s saying: it’s not. To marry Michal, propriety would demand a gift to Saul that David could never afford. So, Saul replies that he’s perfectly fine with receiving no money from David if David is able to deliver to him the foreskins of a hundred Philistines. Now, that seems bizarre, and it is… but collecting a body part of the men you’ve killed was a fairly common practice in order to count the dead, or sometimes as a temporary trophy; and collecting foreskins was the way to ensure that it was actually Philistines he killed, and not fellow Hebrews. Yes, it’s gross. The point, though, is that Saul is simply trying (still) to get David killed. This is stated explicitly in verse 25: “Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.” So this whole time, Saul is just trying different things to get David killed. After he couldn’t do it himself, he’s now tried several ways to get David killed by the Philistines. But David always finds success and victory. In this case, David takes his men and kills twice the number of Philistines Saul required.

Now that’s a way to get a wife!

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Is Hell Forever? [part 3: defining life and death]

In my previous two posts, I shared some of my interaction with Peter Grice, of Rethinking Hell. I laid out my basic argument against conditional immortality, and shared Mr. Grice’s initial response. One item that surprised me in his response was how he shied away from defining death as the cessation of existence. Now, read their defining statement, search around on their site, and see how you think they are understanding life and death. This seems to be one of the basic tenants of their view, and yet Mr. Grice pushed against it. They may want to nuance it more than I am, certainly; but it’s difficult to get around the fact that the basic claim is: death means the annihilation of body and soul; the penalty for sin is death; thus, the penalty for sin is the annihilation of body and soul (destruction/cessation of existence). Well, I sent a short reply to Mr. Grice to see if he would more clearly explain his understanding of life and death. Here it is, with his response, below.

Mr. Grice,

Thank you so much for your response. That was helpful on some fronts. I am curious though: if you would not define death as the cessation of existence (annihilation), how would you define life and death?

Thanks again.

His Response:

I think that the concepts of life and death are normally left undefined, because everybody already understands them. I’m alive right now, and my grandfather is dead. This is consistent with how the Bible speaks. Though the “dead in Christ” could be considered conscious in death, on one view of the intermediate state, nonetheless they are reckoned “dead,” not living. The dead come alive in resurrection (Rev 20:5).

It’s only when we get into theology and philosophy that we start to feel the need for definitions. In Christian theology we often hear people try to define death as separation, as if death is the splitting apart of one thing into two. And maybe that occurs, but that’s no justification for loading it into the definition of death.

When I say that my grandfather died thirty years ago, I do not mean that he split in two, or that half of him died and half didn’t. Rather, I mean that one moment he himself was living, and the next moment he himself was not living.

Hence, death is the cessation of life. That was my working definition below. Life is just what Adam and Eve had in the garden, but do not have until the resurrection.

So to me the cessation of life isn’t about annihilation, or the cessation of all aspects of being. It’s an embodied thing. A human being / living creature is not a disembodied spirit. That’s not how Genesis portrays us at all. Whatever immaterial aspects we may have are only part of what we are, not the whole.

What do you think? Is this a satisfactory answer? The reason we “start to feel the need for definitions” when we get into philosophy and theology is because we’re seeking to really understand things. Do you think that “everybody already understands” life and death if we can’t even define them (without begging the question)? I’ll try to summarize a few of my concluding thoughts in another post. Until then, keep studying, keep doing theology, and keep defining your terms!