Part of SEND U’s vision is: “Every SEND missionary will be proactive in creating habits of lifelong, intentional learning focused on both character and skill development.” What attitudes does a missionary need to cultivate in order to get personal buy-in to this vision? I suggest that cultivating attitudes of humility, openness, civility, and commitment provide motivation for personal buy-in. Moreover, these attitudes are the soil in which habits of lifelong, intentional learning will grow.
Humility is an essential attitude for learning, for without it we will not recognize the need to learn. Furthermore, humility helps us remain teachable. On my desk I have a quote from John Calvin as a reminder to stay teachable:
For no one will ever be a good teacher, who does not show himself to be teachable, as no one will ever be found who has, in himself alone, such an overflowing in respect to perfection of doctrine, as not to derive benefit from listening to others. 1Commenting on 1 Cor. 14:31, “… so that all may learn and be encouraged…” John Calvin, Commentaries, vol XX, p462.John Calvin
Additionally, habits of lifelong learning are nurtured by recognizing that our knowledge is partial (1 Cor. 13:9). That is, we do not know as God does. See another post on this blog that talks about Job’s humility as part of the “fear of the Lord.” Even with advanced degrees and extensive experience, there is still more to learn. Even when we get to heaven, we will not be omniscient. I suspect that we will continue to learn throughout eternity. So, humility acknowledges our creaturely limitations and paves the way for lifelong learning.
Cultivating humility leads to the learning attitude of openness. For if we recognize our limitations, then we should be open to correction. Unfortunately, we may develop what some call “hardening of the categories.” We may see openness as a door to compromise. Lack of openness has its source in pride rather than humility. Openness humbly considers new information and perspectives without prejudice. That is, we want to understand before we make judgments. Understanding needs to be integrated with previous understanding.
In my seminary days, I remember a chapel speaker saying, “the purpose of opening one’s mind is like the purpose of opening one’s mouth, to close it on something solid and nutritious.” So, cultivating openness does not mean we never reach a conclusion. Having one’s mind open without discernment would be as silly as having one’s mouth hanging open and never eating. The Apostle Paul warned us of openness that never reaches a conclusion (2 Tim. 3:7). Cultivating openness means that we will take the time to consider and understand different perspectives before we make a judgment about them.
Lifelong learning is often interpersonal in nature. For this reason, civility is a third learning attitude that needs to be cultivated along with humility and openness. In our interaction and debate, this means showing respect even when we disagree. Unfortunately, today the public square is characterized by vitriol and name-calling. However, Christians are called to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Indeed, Paul’s description of love (1 Cor. 13:4-7) is a helpful guide for civility. Civil discussions speak to the issue without attacking the person.
Proverbs 27:17 uses the imagery of iron sharpening iron to describe interpersonal learning. I have observed that sparks fly when sharpening an axe on a grinding wheel. But when you slow the process by using a file or stone there are no sparks. This provides an illustration for not rushing to judgment. Part of civility involves slowing the process to develop understanding and reduce conflicts in the relationship. I have seldom seen rushed learning (think of cramming for an exam) produce character or skill of lasting value.
Lifelong learning is not open-ended. For evangelical Christians, a commitment to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible has a controlling influence.2see D.A. Carson, ed. The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, Eerdmans, 2016. and Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Crossway Books.Indeed, God has revealed himself in the Bible so that we may know him and walk with him. This knowledge of God is the standard by which we evaluate every thought (2 Cor. 10:5). In contrast, without this commitment to the authority of the Christian Scriptures, we will never be able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7).
Commitment to the authority of the Bible quickly raises the issue of interpretation. This, too, is a matter of lifelong learning requiring humility, openness, civility, and commitment. While I will not explore hermeneutics here, there are good resources available.3see ch. 8 “A Hermeneutics of Humility and Conviction” in Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There A Meaning In This Text? 1998. and Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority After Babel, 2016.
In conclusion, I have identified four attitudes that support lifelong, intentional learning: humility, openness, civility, and commitment. What are some attitudes that you would add to the list?