The Value of Education
Jaclyn Beck '07
“It is God’s prerogative alone to call out his workmen, but it is ours to recognize and encourage those whom he has called.” ~ A.J. Gordon
If we think of the Bible as the original textbook, God as the original teacher, and the Earth as our field for study, we can see that humans have been learning since the day they were created. We’ve been in a constant state of schooling from the moment of our existence whether we realize it or not.
When God created male and female, the first thing he did was instruct them: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” From that moment on, humans have been passing around knowledge about the world and the people in it to decipher right from wrong and truth from lie. Parents instruct their children how to walk, talk, and interact with the world around them, and we seek relationships with other people because we need them, in part because it is not good for us to be alone and in part because we have a desire to learn from each other.
The roles of learner and educator are such natural functions for us because we are designed for the responsibility. We live in a world that we didn’t create, but that we were created to be a part of. God wants us to be curious about it because if we are, we will find Him.
“Education gives us a small window into the mind of God, both its beauty and its fierceness,” says Elaine Phillips, Professor and Director of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministries at Gordon College. When I asked her why education was so important she replied, “The answer to that is simple: It’s God’s world. The answer to that is also complex: It’s God’s world. If we are going to live in it as His children, it is important. He reveals himself in it, and we must learn about it— its little intricacies and complexities. If we don’t, we’re just missing out on the ability to understand God and where we’re living; why it is designed this way.”
An indispensible textbook
We can find a lot of our guidance on the things of this world and not of this world by studying the Bible. The Bible is an endless mystery to be discovered and rediscovered, and contains story after story of timeless human experiences: Family, friendship, love, betrayal, sufferings, joys, sickness, blessings, and the list goes on. The stories in the Bible are there for us to learn from. They can show us how to interact with God, how to interact with each other, and the Bible also teaches us how to gain knowledge and wisdom for everyday life.
Professor Phillips says just the book of Proverbs itself is a book about education. “The first nine chapters are an illustration of a father teaching his child,” she says, “and it looks just like a syllabus, and sounds just like a class.”
Both Professor Phillips and A. J. Gordon emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit when either learning from the Bible or using it to educate others. Because the Bible is such a powerful resource of edification and training, the Holy Spirit is activated when we pour ourselves into it.
“Former Gordon College staff, Stan Gaide, once said, ‘The Holy Spirit is never as active as when we’re using our mind’,” says Professor Phillips. “If our own minds are gifts of God and we are apt to use them, then study is a high form of worship.”
A.J. Gordon says in Northfield Yearbook: For Each New Day, “This Bible is burglar-proof against unsanctified learning that seeks to penetrate into its mysteries. The violent have attempted to take it by force, the Holy Spirit alone has the key to this treasure-house, and he only knows the combination of prayer and faith by which it can be unlocked and all the treasures of wisdom and righteousness therein stored be found out and appropriated.”
A proper education
When I asked Professor Phillips what her responsibility was as a Christian educator by profession, she said, “My responsibility is to teach people to read and learn and write, and creatively think of ways to help students become better learners, listeners, and writers. If we can’t write clearly, we can’t communicate properly. We need to help our students become better people who are better learners, and we need to foster critical thinking, which is recognizing that there is agenda and that there are things that fit into a bigger thing. We need to prepare students to maintain that idealistic attitude of selflessness, continue to foster the ‘move to Haiti’ mentality, and prepare people for those dark moments of uncertainty by giving them a foundation for who God really is. Chance are, if someone knows how to really read, write, and think, and be curious about God’s world, they’ll want to keep doing it.”
However, Professor Phillips cautions that education can lead to an attitude of pride. “In 1996,” she says, “we took some students to Israel. There was one student who was very bright, a double major in biology and bible, and when we brought her there she said she realized just how little she knew. People call fall into a trap of pride when they acquire education, which can then be conveyed to the audience they are teaching, so humility is essential.”
A. J. Gordon also says in Northfield Yearbook: For Each New Day, that education for the sake of education will not result in wisdom or beneficial knowledge, but learning to get closer to God and His creation is what we should aim for. “God forbid that I should despise any kind of learning,” he says. “On the contrary, I put my strong emphasis on the importance of it. Modifying Augustine’s phrase, let us remember that the sufficiency of learning is to discover that learning is insufficient. Your responsibility is that you make the Spirit of God your private tutor, and then you cannot be led very far astray. It is one thing not to know, it is another thing through the pride of unsanctified learning to be led to forget, that the Word of God is not to be comprehended by secular learning but by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”