Substituting Indoctrination for Education: Idolatry, Silliness, & Pseudo-Prophecy
We may now turn to our third major danger warning for self-designated traditionalists: the danger of substituting indoctrination for education. We have already noted problems associated with a disguised ‘parent-child’ notion of authority, and with de-relationalisation. Our third area of concern flows out of the substitution of indoctrination for education, and breaks down into three closely related points, as follows.
i) Idolisation of Tradition over Growing in Biblical Understanding
Our first point relates to the idolisation of tradition over and above growing in biblical understanding. Biblically, of course, none of us yet thinks as Jesus thinks, and so we all need to keep being transformed by the renewing of our minds, such that our traditions of interpretation develop towards ‘biblical understanding’.
If at any point we say, ‘now I can stop learning’, we are negating the need to keep growing towards Christ-likeness. Therefore, if at any point we fix our traditions, we effectively idolise them above Scripture (a big problem in the ‘Reformed’ tradition, and so unlike the Reformation!). Thus, what we need is education in which horizons are continuously allowed to expand towards Scripture, not indoctrination into a fixed idolised tradition in which thought beyond a certain point is disallowed.
And yet, these days, you would think that it was sin to ask advanced questions the way some people react. One is tempted to retort, ‘do you think knowledge is evil?’ There is no end of emphasising verses like ‘lean not on your own understanding’, Proverbs 3:5, as though verses like Proverbs 4:7 were no longer biblical: ‘get wisdom, get understanding’. You would think that knowledge was considered sinful to hear people go on about ‘God’s power’ and ‘spiritual discernment’ (1 Cor. 2:5, 14) as though they were set over and against ‘a message of wisdom’ or ‘thinking like adults’ (1 Cor. 2:6, 14:20). All these emphases, however, have to be held together. Alas, though, as D.A. Carson says, ‘today’s culture is not one which likes to think, but one which when threatened by thought, turns up the volume’.
Discipleship, however, according to Romans 12, is transformation through the renewal of the mind, and not only through God’s pouring of his love into the heart (Romans 5). The two emphases have to be held together in order to avoid a dualism that splits heart from mind and only emphasises the former.
I can fully sympathise, in the light of our earlier comments about the ‘abstract rhetoric’ of certain academic traditions, with those who speak of ‘mere academic knowledge’. However, to dismiss all academic learning as ‘abstract’, ‘unrelated to life’, or ‘specialist only’, is to throw out the baby with the bath-water.
We remember from earlier Jesus’ attack on unedified or uneducated judgements and pronouncements. So then, it is no surprise that Martin Luther promoted the university education of pastors and clergy. Even a humanist education was better than no education at all. Learning how to think is crucial, even if the content of what is thought is also important.
On several occasions I have come across those who dismissed me as ‘academic’ before even listening to what I had to say. This is not ‘biblical’, but simply bad relating. Therefore, to idolise tradition – even (and some would say especially) evangelical tradition – over growing in biblical understanding is sin.