Learning is crucial to the Christian life — lifelong learning. The discipline is essential for local churches. So much so, I’m reminded of episode 1804, where you, Pastor John, encouraged pastors to build a lifelong-learning habit into their churches, so that as God’s people disperse out into the world, in all their various professions and fields of influence, they can learn how to bring biblical truth to bear in the world — at school, at work — without expecting the pastor to be the expert, to answer all the ethical challenges they will uniquely face. Pastors are equippers, getting their people ready to make wise and discerning decisions in their lives. To do this well, it all requires a congregation to learn how to learn on their own.
For the next few weeks, we focus on this discipline of lifelong learning. We focus here because, well, it’s important — and because it’s the theme of your brand-new book, titled Foundations for Lifelong Learning: Education in Serious Joy. In the new book, as to be expected, you employ hundreds of Bible texts to make your points. It has over five hundred citations. Of the most frequently cited texts in this new book are Matthew 13:13 and Psalm 34:8 — texts that also factor prominently in your book Reading the Bible Supernaturally.
In your mind, how do these two books and two themes work together? What are the similarities and differences between talking about Bible study on one hand (as in Reading the Bible Supernaturally) and the purpose of education more broadly (the theme of Foundations for Lifelong Learning)? How does the wise study of Scripture set the stage for us to be wise Christian students of all of life? In the new book, you write that “if we never observe the world through books, especially the Book, we will be very limited in what we can know.” Expand on that.
Let me see if I can take all those different threads and weave them into some kind of coherent fabric of an answer. Let’s start with quoting those two passages. I found this really helpful, the way you posed the question. It was really helpful for me to think on how the books relate and how those texts relate to the two books, so let’s start by quoting those two passages and relate them to the two books.
‘Seeing’ Versus Seeing
In Matthew 13:13, Jesus says, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” I’m pretty sure that the reason this text is a common question for our APJ listeners is because Jesus says that he’s actually aiming to conceal things, through his parables, from people who are resistant to truth.
A couple of verses later, he says this: “This people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears” (Matthew 13:15). Then Jesus says to his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16). The point is that there are two kinds of seeing: “seeing they do not see” is one kind of seeing, and “seeing” — that’s another kind of seeing.
“There is a seeing that is also a tasting of the goodness of God.”
Psalm 34:8 is the other text you mentioned, and it gives the key to the difference between a seeing that does not see and a seeing that sees. It says, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” I take this to mean that there is a seeing that is also a tasting of the goodness of God. So, tasting of the goodness of God is the other kind of seeing.
Some people read the story of the gospel of Christ, how he dies for us, how he rises triumphant, how he reigns, and they “see” these facts. They see them, but they taste no goodness at all. These facts don’t taste good and delightful and pleasing and satisfying. They don’t taste anything pleasant. Their spiritual taste buds are dead. The only kind of seeing they have is natural seeing — seeing with the eyes of the head or the mind, combined with nothing supernatural, nothing spiritual, nothing from the Holy Spirit.
Someone else reads the story of the gospel, and that person tastes the sweetness of it, the goodness of it. They “taste and see,” and this is the second seeing. Paul calls it seeing with “the eyes of your heart” (Ephesians 1:18). Here, God has worked a miracle; he has made the taste buds of the soul alive.
It’s not nonsense to say, “Taste and see.” Suppose I tell you, “This dessert is really rich,” and you say, “Well, I’ll take your word for it.” I say, “No, no, no. Taste it.” You taste it, and you say, “Oh, I see.” Now, that’s not nonsense, right? This is what happens when we hear the gospel, and God makes our spiritual taste buds alive. We taste and say, “Oh, I see. This is wonderful.”
How the Books Differ
Now, here’s the connection between those two verses and the two books that you mentioned. The new book is called Foundations for Lifelong Learning: Education in Serious Joy, and the older book is Reading the Bible Supernaturally. There are two main differences between the books.
The new book, Foundations for Lifelong Learning, is built entirely and explicitly around six habits of mind and heart that form the foundations of lifelong learning or education. These habits are only assumed and implicit in the earlier book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally. That’s one difference: assumed in the earlier book, made explicit in the second book.
The other difference is that the newer book applies these six habits of mind and heart not just to the Bible, but to both of God’s books — the Bible and the world. Reading the Bible Supernaturally is about how to read the Bible, and Foundations for Lifelong Learning is about how to read the Bible and how to read the world. This book is built around the question, What habits of mind and heart are necessary for lifelong learning from the world as well as from the Bible?
The six habits of mind and heart that form the foundation of lifelong learning are observation, understanding, evaluation, feeling, application, and expression. There’s a chapter on each of those and how they are (at least to my taste buds) a delicious challenge for a lifetime of learning from the word and from the world. This is what we try to do at Bethlehem College & Seminary. We aim to build these six habits of mind and heart into our students so that they are catapulted into a lifetime of fruitful learning. That’s what I hope is happening on every APJ as well.
How the Texts Relate
The reason those two texts — Matthew 13:13 and Psalm 34:8 — are relevant to these two books is that the problem of seeing but not seeing is a problem not only for what we see in the Bible, but also for what we see in the world. In other words, not only do people look at the gospel and fail to see the beauty of its reality, but people also look at the birds, the lilies, and the ants digging in the ground and fail to see the beauty of the reality that God has designed for them to see and what he means to communicate.
Some people will say that if we would just study our Bibles more and more carefully, we wouldn’t have to study the world. Not to put it too strongly: that’s crazy. It’s crazy because the Bible assumes on every page — I mean, virtually every page! — that we have looked at the world and learned from it.
This way, we know what the Bible is talking about when it refers to vineyards, wine, weddings, lions, bears, horses, dogs, pigs, grasshoppers, constellations, businesses, wages, banks, fountains, rivers, fig trees, olive trees, thorns, wind, bread, armies, swords, shields, sheep, shepherds, cattle, camels, fire, green wood, dry wood, hay, stubble, jewels, gold, silver, law courts, judges, and advocates — for starters. Right?
The Bible assumes that we have our eyes open and are looking carefully at the world and at society, learning what things are and how they work, that we have a great store of knowledge of things of the world when we come to the pages of Scripture.
Not only does the Bible assume that we have paid close attention to the world that we live in, but it commands us to go back to the world and learn. Proverbs 6:6 says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” In other words, learn from her diligence. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus says to “look at the birds of the air” to learn how your Father will take care of you. “Consider the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:28), and learn how your Father will clothe you.
“If you see the world accurately, you will bring a fund of knowledge to the Bible.”
The relevance of those texts — Matthew 13 and Psalm 34 — is that there are millions of people who seeing, do not see when they look at the world. They see birds and lilies and ants and sunrises and stars, bright blasts of God’s glory everywhere, and they don’t see it. They don’t see God. They don’t see his glory and what he’s revealing. So, the good effects of Bible-seeing and world-seeing go both directions.
Taste and See for Yourself
If you see the world accurately, you will bring a fund of knowledge to the Bible that will enable you to know many of the kinds of things it’s talking about. Even more importantly (and you picked up on this, Tony, in the last part of your question), if, in reading the Bible, God gives us eyes to see the glory of Christ, to taste and see that he is good, then when we turn to the world and look with these new eyes, the birds and the lilies and the ants and the sunrises and the stars — they all have a new message. They have a new glory. They show us something of God.
That’s what I want for myself. That’s what I want for our students at Bethlehem College & Seminary. That’s what I want for everyone who reads my new book. That’s what I want for our listeners every time you and I talk on this podcast, Tony. I want us all, when we see the word and when we see the world, to really see, to taste and see that the Lord is good, the Lord is glorious.