September 4, 2015

In Other Words

Not long after Seventh-day Adventists got organized, they began building schools and hiring educators to teach their youth. Now, more than 140 years later, Adventists operate the largest Protestant educational system in the world. Their colleges and universities regularly appear in secular publications that catalogue the finest educational institutions in the world. And research at these institutions is regularly cited in scores of scholarly publications.

As a product of Adventist education, I’m proud of what I learned in nearly 20 years as a student on Adventist campuses. But I’m more proud of the fact that I still like to learn things. Learning turns me on.

So even at my advanced age, I love learning about history, sociology, economics, science, religion, astronomy, health, art, music, and literature. I’m way past having to write papers or take exams; I like learning just for the thrill of knowing something new.

My heroes include people like Sir Alexander Fleming, whose curiosity led to the development of penicillin; George de Mestral, who invented Velcro; Louis “Studs” Terkel, who, before he died at the age of 96, was acclaimed for his efforts to preserve American oral history.

How pathetic would be our existence if we weren’t constantly improving ourselves by learning new things. The world is full of mysteries to be explored and discoveries to be made.

That’s why I’m a little frustrated with those whose concept of education is simply to rehearse the traditions of the past, or those who confuse education with indoctrination. Education teaches us to be thinkers; indoctrination assumes that curiosity is dangerous, and that most of us are more likely to be deceived than not.

Thanks to exploration and discovery we live in a world where organ transplants, hip/knee replacements, space travel, and instant, portable communication is not only possible, it’s commonplace.

The same is true with spirituality. Thanks to informed Bible study, the church is more grace-oriented than it was 40 years ago. We’ve continued to hone our sense of justice, equality, mercy, and compassion. And that’s a good thing, because the world is more complex than it was even a decade ago, and it’s becoming more so.

Of course, some things never change. Love and respect for God and humanity will always be necessary parts of our learning experience. But more and more we will be challenged to put God’s kingdom principles into practice in a world in which they are increasingly rare.

Taking the gospel to our communities doesn’t require a knowledge of Hebrew or Greek; it isn’t necessarily accomplished through a collection of Bible texts. But we surely need to know and be challenged by the words and ministry of Jesus.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14, 15). The life and teachings of Jesus is a course from which we’ll never graduate. And the more we learn, the more we’ll realize how much there is to learn.