By Pastor David M. Choi
Marilynne Robinson once said the humanities (e.g. theology, philosophy, history, literature, classics, arts) are well-named because they do just that. They humanize. In a bygone era, educators used to believe that central to the task of human flourishing was to educate students in such a way that they become ardent pursuers of what’s known as the transcendentals, namely, the good, the true, and the beautiful. However, with so much of today’s society now being driven by capitalistic impulses, students are now trained in a manner that is radically different. Instead, they’re now taught to pursue the modern ‘transcendentals’ of the market economy, which, of course, are none other than money, power, and fame (or we may say virality). In short, rather than pursuing what is good, we’re taught to pursue what sells – with the good, at best, only being ancillary. (For example, “I want to be a doctor, so I can make good money, have a prestigious job, and also help people in need. Or, “I want a huge following on social media so I can use my platform to shine light on social justice issues.”)
All of this now comes as a detriment to the moral formation of citizens, and by extension Christians, including their abilities to articulate the deepest longings of the human heart, clearly evident in today’s cancel culture, identity politics, partisan divides, and rancorous disputes. Students are taught to indulge their most selfish ambitions by justifying it with what appears to be altruism. In effect, we no longer have the ability to discern the vision of the highest good, nor the ability to articulate such a vision, which is, at the same time, undergirded by the moral virtues. And, like everyone else, if Christians are not immune to this, then perhaps we can better sense what sort of conundrum the church now finds herself in (which is to put it ever so mildly).
At the very least, we can begin here, and ask how the apostle might stand as a counter-witness to our current educational (mal)formation, as he demonstrates what it means to be educated in the humanities of the gospel. We see that Paul goes to those in Thessalonica with a clear vision of our humanity’s highest good, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Next, we see something about the manner in which he does so. As he engages non-believers, notice, Paul does not impose the gospel, but he reasons with them about it; that is, a gospel vision of true life in Christ is articulated in the process of cogent reasoning (v.2). And thereby just as important is that Paul does so in a way that does not betray the content of what it is he is preaching. In articulating the gospel vision of God’s love in Christ through Christ-like reasoning, he goes about doing so as one who has himself been and is being transformed by this very love. Thus, the three things we need to know how to do as Christians: (1) discerning God’s vision for human life, (2) knowing how to listen and speak to others, while (3) embodying the life of Christ throughout.
If we’re going to help this world move closer towards its own humanity in Jesus Christ, then we must first be captured by the gospel and its vision. This not only means believing in it, but also moving beyond mere belief to understand the gospel in all of its wonderful complexities and mesmerizing depth. Therefore, it means knowing the scriptures, as well as learning subjects, to the degree we have access to them, that are most likely not being taught to you in your (public) schools, such as theology and philosophy, in order to acquire communicative skills that pervasively lack in broader society, like logic and rhetoric. In the outworking of his preaching ministry then, we see something of the fruits of Paul’s own education in the humanities, not only in his clear articulation and argumentation of the truth, but in his ability to demonstrate the truthfulness of what he has to say by virtue of how he lives, loves, and embraces.
Indeed, even if we never take formal courses in philosophy and the like (though I think all Christians should), the gospel is nonetheless a sufficient education in humanizing us. Christ has come to humanize the dehumanized, so that we in turn would humanize others, by effectively conveying, in word and deed, the truth of God’s Word, as we point people to Jesus Christ, the sum of all that is good, true, and beautiful.
Jesus Christ, all things are from you, through you, and to you. Help me to understand my place in this world, by knowing you and all things in relation to you. Equip me with the light of your truth, and equip me with every good skill of learning that would help me to communicate and embody this truth to those who are in need of your gospel. As your Spirit walks with me, I ask that you continue to help me grow in wisdom and knowledge, and virtue and strength. Amen.