Much effort is put forth in Evangelical homes and churches instructing today’s youngsters to be tomorrow’s leaders. We do our very best to inculcate them with the right doses of charisma and self-esteem and all that je ne sais quoi jam packed into the leaves in the leadership section of your local bookstore.
It’s not really limited to the youngsters, though. Men’s “studies,” women’s “studies,” group “studies,” marriage “studies,” family “studies”: all packed with instructions on leadership. It leaves one with the impression that “leading people to Jesus” is pretty complex stuff. What, then, do we make of it when Jesus tells us that He, Himself, is not a leader, but a follower? Him to whom “all authority in Heaven and Earth” was given (Matt. 28:18), also tells us that he “…is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing…” (John 5:19)
That doesn’t sound like the kind of leadership we teach, but that’s not what’s on my heart today.
We have an all together different type of problem when it comes to being students. Perhaps we do not explicitly teach counter-intuitives the way we do with the type of “leadership” exhibited in Jesus, though I’m rather certain we aren’t guilt-free in this regard, too. But, mores than the explicit is the implicit teaching we give about being a student.
Most well-intentioned Christians think they’re good students, if they give it any thought at all. We tend to think it’s our default position; that since birth we’ve been taught, therefore we must have gotten good at learning.
Most of us consider our preacher to be our primary instructor, and we give him more or less 30 minutes per week to tell us a bit about the most important truths ever pondered in the hearts or heads of any creature ever made since the beginning of time. But we’d prefer he take a lot of that 30 minutes and pepper it with some personal stories, too, because we’d like to know him a little better. And hopefully it’s funny, so we stay engaged, of course.
But, I submit to you that there is no entitlement to an education because of the very thing described above: without your own investment, you will learn nothing and thus, cannot be a student.
Being a student requires that you:
Studying scripture demands of us a medieval thing that doesn’t get much press these days, though the words are perhaps always ringing in our ears. Scriptural study requires “university.” That is not to say that studying scripture requires us to go to seminary, though it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you can swing it.
No, it requires “university” in the ways the Medievals thought which formed the word as we use it today.
“University” means “the whole” of the thing. A study of scripture means we take it in its parts, but we do not ignore the whole. We do not limit ourselves to that most common and sickly question when left alone, “What does this mean to me?”
The study that starts and ends with the questions, “What does this mean to me?” is no study of the text at all, but a study of one’s self. And that is useful, but its use is limited. After all, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, and he was probably right.
The text meant something to the author when he wrote it. What it meant to the author has been revealed by history and Spirit to have been and to be true and “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, [and] for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16)
The text meant something to the reader who originally read it. The cultural context, the political context, the personal context: they all meant something and informed the author and his text. Study then, nearly 2000 years removed from these contexts, compels the extra work. While yet “the Word of God is living and active” and is surely meaningful to me today within my own (strikingly similar) cultural, political, and personal contexts, I’d ask you to seriously consider two important things.
First, consider that “there is nothing new under the sun.” We moderns have the sick fantasy that we’ve invented heresy, cruelty, and sinfulness. Or, at least we’ve dug ourselves deeper into new depths of depravity. The truth is more revealing and draws us closer to the real Gospel: we’re a part of a long human misadventure that, since our father Adam, has been marked by self-indulgence and sinfulness.
Second, that is our community. We belong to a community of the redeemed from the beginning of history. That great Cloud of witnesses is not made up of übermensch; the ones that never sinned and somehow deserved it. Salvation is truly personal, but the body of Christ is a community of the eternally saved. To know that first community is to know our own, and that has tremendous value.
“University” means something opposite of what we normally associate with it today. The word even betrays it, if you’re attuned to that sort of thing.
A study of scripture means that our studious intent is for a single – uni – focus: we are in pursuit of Truth. We are not pursuing merely “more questions,” or some sort of therapeutic effort alone. We may yet find more questions and we may yet find therapy in scripture, but we find them in our relentless pursuit of the Truth; a Truth revealed by God to His people first in Eden, through the prophets, and in these final days, in our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “Uni” means One, and “vers” means “to turn around” and thus it is around this one thing – Truth – that our effort revolves.
Today’s Universities are perhaps best known for their relentless pursuit of “diversity” (of a sort). But whereas “Uni” means one, “di” means more than one, and that is not our intent.
We seek the One. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord,” and it is in this great confession that we find, through our study, that we find a great diversity of mankind brought to the bosom of the Lord Himself.