Christ is the Savior, and He is the Teacher. Jesus instructs me. He teaches me how to think, how to speak, and how to walk every day. When I reflect on His Word, my affections for Him grow. In part, this love is the reflex of my soul, as I see that Jesus’ Word is good. He is the Shepherd, who leads me in paths of righteousness. Christ’s instructions awaken my affections because through them I see His supremacy. I see how He reigns over all creation, and how all things hold together in Him (Col. 1:17). As an image bearer, I was made to behold this glory. My soul longs to look upon Christ and the unity of the cosmos according to His kingship. His teaching is a roadmap towards such beauty. Thus, as God’s Word instructs me, I love Jesus the Teacher.
Understanding the Skill of Learning
Some of my favorite memories include my greatest teachers. I am indebted to these people. Interestingly, I do not always find the same affection when I think about other figures in my childhood—many of whom helped me in equally significant ways. If you had a positive education experience as a child, I trust that you know a similar appreciation. You are thankful to many who played an important role in your upbringing, but you may have a particular appreciation for those who taught, instructed, and illuminated your mind. The importance of this experience is found by considering what it means to learn and seeing how instruction is a means by which we behold beauty.
In the early stages of education, teachers focus on basic realities about the world around us; truths about nature, history, science, and geography. At its most basic level, this involves the accumulation of data. We learn that adverbs can modify verbs, that conifers are always green, and that the Romans followed the Greeks. Although we likely didn’t recognize it at the time, this accrual of knowledge also serves as an introduction to the art of learning. As our understanding of the world around us increases, so does our apprehension of how we understand. For example, by memorizing the definition of an adverb, we also learn that grammar categorizes words. Words that end in -ly can’t perform the action in a sentence.
In the subsequent stage of education, although we continue to accumulate knowledge, we are also asked to contribute. Frequently, we are required to respond to a question, write an essay, or participate in a discussion. To begin with, the topics are not altogether taxing. Further down the line, however, we are called to employ the tools that facilitate learning. For example, debating the contribution of Richard Nixon’s presidency necessitates the ability to draw causal inferences from certain events during that period in U.S. history. Discussing the tragic nature of Macbeth requires the ability to interpret the language of the drama. Broadly stated, success as a student in the latter parts of education depends on a readiness to exemplify the art of learning. We are required not simply to state the way the world is but to explain why.
Finally, after formal education has finished, we continue to learn. We may no longer have professors asking for essays and exams, but hopefully we continue to ponder the world around us. And it is here, perhaps, that we find the greatest value of those tools of learning. Stated simply, our ability to discern, reason, and debate not only equips us to understand a topic in isolation from all others, but it also becomes the means by which we apprehend the whole. Freed from the dogma of learning according to “subjects,” we start to see how individual spheres of learning complement one another. We begin to see that there is indeed a relationship between philosophy and economics, that mathematics and debate are cousins, and that the gap between politics and chemistry is not nearly as great as we once thought. So as we think carefully about the world around us, the skill of learning gives us a deep-seated appreciation for the way life is.
An excellent instructor is not one who merely communicates the facts with clarity. He is good not just because he possesses a competency in his field and an ability to instill the data in the minds of his students. Rather, his proficiency as a teacher showcases the art of learning. He labors the relationships that underpin reality and leads students to grasp those as of the utmost importance. Moreover, a good teacher will work hard to situate his subject on a bigger canvas. He will resist the temptation to present an isolated version of his material. Rather, his frequent appeal will be to see how his topic correlates with, corresponds to, and complements other areas of daily life.
For example, the good math teacher shows how imaginary numbers are not imaginary. Rather, they have been used to forge important engineering solutions, which have enabled the safe exploration of space. The passionate geography professor bridges his study on coastal erosion and the principles of economics and explains how the relationships affect political decisions regarding income tax. The exemplary biology teacher connects the dots between marine life, the fishing industry, and the seasonal menu at seafood restaurants. Education boards and teacher training programs have long recognized the need to equip students with the tools to learn. They intuitively recognize the value of studying a given subject according to a broader perspective. When my wife earned her teaching credential, a significant concern of the assessor was whether she successfully explained the relevance of her subject matter outside the classroom.
Bearing God’s Image, Beholding Beauty
When God created humanity, He did so in His image (Gen. 1:26–27). This truth implies our role within creation: we are His representatives on earth. We are to steward the created order, subduing it and ruling over it in a manner that reflects the Creator’s character (Gen. 1:28). To accomplish this mandate successfully, we must know God. We must understand His ways to bear His image well. Furthermore, we must know the world around us. It is difficult for us to steward the earth if we do not understand it. Embedded in the narrative of Genesis 1 is the value of learning.