Guests: Dave Thomas and Brant Berglin
Scripture: 1 Chron. 16; 1-36; Daniel 1, 3; Psalm 8, 73
Leading Question: Why should worship belong to a discussion of Adventist Education?
In the secular world, the goal of education is to train one’s critical capabilities, to learn how and when to ask the right questions, and to nurture one’s sense of curiosity. That stands in sharp contrast with a typical view of worship where one loses oneself in the sense of the divine presence. Speaking of music and art, Albert Camus made this striking comment:
“Truly fertile Music, the only kind that will move us, that we truly appreciate, will be a Music conducive to Dream, which banishes all reason and analysis. One must not wish first to understand and then to feel. Art does not tolerate Reason.” – “Essay on Music” (1932), from “Music” [#9] in Robert Andrews, ed., Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 611.
Music is such a contentious issue in worship circles because the true worshiper wants to be overwhelmed with a sense of God’s presence. And because we are all so different, different kinds of music move us quite differently, from all the way from adoration to disgust! As soon as one begins to think critically about music, the sense of God’s presence vanishes.
The author of this Study Guide (Alden Thompson) sees himself as a rather odd duck in “conservative” circles. As I said at the beginning of one of my books, “I’m a very devout person, but also very curious. Had I been at the burning bush where Moses met God, my shoes would have come off immediately. But then I would have been bursting with eagerness to ask a question: ‘How did you do that?’” – Escape from the Flames: How Ellen White grew from fear to joy and helped me do it too (PPPA 2005), 7.
In attempting to address the challenges facing Adventist education, this comment/question was included in Lesson #1: “In the university, one does not just learn information, but also grapples with facts, theories, and hypotheses. In the secular university one learns to challenge authority, not simply to acquiesce to authority. But the believer has to ask the question: Is it appropriate for believers to challenge that which has been vouchsafed to the community by ‘inspiration’?”
In this lesson, we will point to biblical material that can enable us to both worship and explore more wholeheartedly. And from an Adventist perspective, I want to cite Ellen White’s quotation about John Wycliffe. Found in her class work, The Great Controversy, this quotation fired my enthusiasm for education:
Wycliffe received a liberal education, and with him the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom. He was noted at college for his fervent piety as well as for his remarkable talents and sound scholarship. In his thirst for knowledge he sought to become acquainted with every branch of learning. He was educated in the scholastic philosophy, in the canons of the church, and in the civil law, especially that of his own country. In his after labors the value of this early training was apparent. A thorough acquaintance with the speculative philosophy of his time enabled him to expose its errors; and by his study of national and ecclesiastical law he was prepared to engage in the great struggle for civil and religious liberty. While he could wield the weapons drawn from the word of God, he had acquired the intellectual discipline of the schools, and he understood the tactics of the schoolmen. The power of his genius and the extent and thoroughness of his knowledge commanded the respect of both friends and foes. His adherents saw with satisfaction that their champion stood foremost among the leading minds of the nation; and his enemies were prevented from casting contempt upon the cause of reform by exposing the ignorance or weakness of its supporter. – The Great Controversy (1888, 1911), 80.
Interestingly enough, the 1888 and 1911 versions are identical. The earlier parallel in Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 86 is less polished, but gives the same thrust. These are the only passages in Ellen White’s published writings were Wycliffe is so praised. It would seem that this quotation inspired me, but not many others. See the Adventist Review article at the end of this lesson, “Whatever Happened to John Wycliffe?”
We can focus on Daniel, chapters 1 and 3, the stories of Daniel and his three companions in the court of the pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar. These three are described in Daniel 1:4 along with their educational mandate:
Daniel 14 (NRSV): “. . .young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans.”
No fear of education here, even pagan education. Could we call them the prototype for John Wycliffe? And in the case of the Judean captives, they were immersed in pagan literature. And they mastered the material – ten times better than anyone else. Here’s the verdict of Scripture:
Daniel 1:17 (NRSV): To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, 19 and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
Question: What are the major differences between our secularism and the paganism in Daniel?
Comment: Any view Scripture which expects to find “inerrant” knowledge in Scripture, is at risk from pure secularism. Nebuchadnezzar at least believed in a “god” or “gods.” Modern secularists do not. The Biblical world was a world full of believers. Our modern world is not.
Question: Does the Bible ever discuss, support or attack inerrancy?
Comment: The question never would have occurred to them. As far as the biblical perspective is concerned, it is a moral framework that provides stability. Within that framework, one could tell different stories with different supporting facts. But the really big issues never moved. In the New Testament we have four different Gospels, not one. In the Old Testament you have two different accounts of Israel’s history, one in Samuel/Kings, the other in Chronicles. There is no fear, nor horror in discovering the differences between the accounts. The differences are assumed to be essential and helpful.
Question: What else is important to “worship” and “education” in Scripture.?
Comment: Celebration of God’s goodness is crucial. Psalm 8 and Psalm 19 are two wonderful psalms that celebrate the goodness of God. Educators can revel in these psalms.
Question: Do believers in the Bible always celebrate? Don’t they ever have questions?
Comment: The psalmists are full of questions, even doubts. But they are believers’ doubts. Almost half the psalms are complaints. Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” was not just a cry from the cross. It was a real cry of a real person in the Old Testament! And Psalm 73 is one in which the psalmist admitted that his faith in Yahweh was at risk! The flow of the whole psalm is fascinating. It shows that one can ask the questions but still believe! The Bible gives us a safety net so that we can scream and shout, even rail at God – but still believe!
Psalm 73:1-28 (NRSV):
1 Truly God is good to the upright,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them like a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out with fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against heaven,
and their tongues range over the earth.
10 Therefore the people turn and praise them,
and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Such are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain I have kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all day long I have been plagued,
and am punished every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,”
I would have been untrue to the circle of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
on awaking you despise their phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was stupid and ignorant;
I was like a brute beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 Indeed, those who are far from you will perish;
you put an end to those who are false to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
to tell of all your works.
Question: Is there anything else that educators should remember when it comes to including “worship” in their work?
Comment: Gratitude is crucial. The English poet and artist, Daniel Gabriel Rosetti (1828-82) is credited with saying, “The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.” For the believer, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ is a wonderful gift worth celebrating. Not only did Jesus teach us about God, he was and is God and thus models “God” for humanity to see.
1 John 1:1-4 (NRSV): We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Finally, most importantly of all, God died for us. Philippians 2 tells it well.
Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV):
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
“The Fear of Education, or Whatever Happened to John Wycliffe?”
Alden Thompson, Adventist Review, 16 February 1989, 14-15.
I’m not sure just when it happened, but somewhere in my youth the story of John Wycliffe kindled a fire in my bones. Scholarly and articulate, fearless and devout, he was a key forerunner of the reformation and the first to translate the Bible into English.
Adventists will recall Ellen White’s ringing praise of Wycliffe in The Great Controversy. Observing that he was “noted at college for his fervent piety as well as for his remarkable talents and sound scholarship,” she goes on to tell how his “thirst for knowledge” drove him to “become acquainted with every branch of learning” (GC, 80).
That’s potent medicine for a young Christian headed for college and intrigued by the interplay of books, ideas, and people. Ellen White’s characterization of Wycliffe still quickens my pulse. Here’s more from the same paragraph: “A thorough acquaintance with the speculative philosophy of his time enabled him to expose its errors; and by his study of national and ecclesiastical law he was prepared to engage in the great struggle for civil and religious liberty. While he could wield the weapons drawn from the word of God, he had acquired the intellectual discipline of the schools, and he understood the tactics of the schoolmen. The power of his genius and the extent and thoroughness of his knowledge commanded the respect of both friends and foes. His adherents saw with satisfaction that their champion stood foremost among the leading minds of the nation; and his enemies were prevented from casting contempt upon the cause of reform by exposing the ignorance or weakness of its supporter.”
As the story is told in The Great Controversy, Wycliffe’s enemies got their revenge after his death by exhuming and publicly burning his bones, scattering the ashes on a nearby stream.
From stream, to river, to sea – the spread of those ashes symbolize the spread of the truths for which Wycliffe fought. The truths live on; so does Wycliffe’s story. But where are the champions to fight in his place?
That’s a sobering question for Adventists. What are we doing for our own talented young people in whose hearts the Lord has planted an insatiable “thirst for knowledge”?
Can we nurture and inspire young Wycliffes at our Adventist schools? I should hope so. I can’t think of a better reason for our existence. But I worry about our bright students, for many will have to cope with a certain intellectual and spiritual loneliness in the church.
In 1872, in her very first counsel on education, Ellen White observed that “close reasoners and logical thinkers are few” (3T 142). I fear that those “few” are always at risk in the church, viewed with suspicion because they know too much or think too much. And our schools are viewed as the culprits.
The logic goes something like this: Education teaches people to think. Thinking people ask questions. Asking questions destroys belief. If the church can’t believe, there’s no church….
I don’t know that I’ve heard it put quite that bluntly, but that’s the drift. The reasoning is flawed, for thinking and asking questions is the way we uncover error and affirm the truth. As Ellen White wrote during the 1888 era, “When no new questions are started by investigation of the Scriptures, when no difference of opinion arise which will set men to searching the Bible for themselves to make sure that they have the truth, there will be many now, as in ancient times, who will hold to tradition and worship they know not what” (5T 707).
But among American Adventists, the fear of thinking simply reflects the prevailing culture. A powerful anti-intellectual undercurrent tugs at our society in general; it may be even stronger in the conservative Christian circles to which Adventism belongs. It seems to me that we hear more than our share of rumors about “heresy” and “wickedness” at our colleges.
Given my own exposure to Ellen White’s exciting agenda, I have been perplexed by the lingering fear of education in the church. To be sure, many of us can point to some who have “lost” their faith while getting an education. And Ellen White spoke eloquently against the wrong kind of education. But it seems to me that the ideal – typified by John Wycliffe, for example – is something we should pursue with vigor and enthusiasm. Tragically, some of our brightest young minds are being caught in the cross-fire between their God-given love of learning and the fear of learning which they sense in the church.
There is a story worth noting, however, behind that “fear of learning” in Adventism. In 1931, when the church finally voted to allow its colleges to seek accreditation, the General Conference urged that advanced degrees not be listed in the college bulletins and that teachers not be addressed by the title of “doctor.” The report of the General Conference action in the Review and Herald (26 Nov. 1931) reflects a certain fear of education – as though education in itself were too “worldly.” Ellen White is quoted as saying, “Those who receive a valuable education, one that will be as enduring as eternity, will not be regarded as the world’s best educated men’ (RH, Nov. 10, 1891 [FE 169]).
What did she mean? Had she forgotten John Wycliffe? Not at all. The statement originated in 1891 when Battle Creek College was struggling to establish a truly Christian educational program. Can you imagine a BA degree requiring seven years to complete, demanding mastery of both classical Latin and classical Greek (not biblical Greek), and including only two required religion courses during the entire seven years? That was the situation Ellen White addressed at Battle Creek College in 1891. Strong words were in order.
But Ellen White’s unhappiness with the tedious classical education at Battle Creek College by no means meant that she favored ignorance over education. Indeed, at a time when cultural forces seemed to be pressing Christians to choose between education and unbelief, on the one hand, and ignorance and faith, on the other, Ellen White was affirming that education and faith belonged together. “Ignorance does not increase the humility or spirituality of any professed follower of Christ,” she wrote. “The truths of the divine word can be best appreciated by an intellectual Christian. Christ can be best glorified by those who serve Him intelligently (Counsels to Parents and Teachers, 361).
Ellen White’s influence, however, was not sufficient to prevent Adventists from sharing the general distrust of education prevalent among other conservative Christians in the first half of the twentieth century. Although church leaders reluctantly agreed in 1931 to allow our colleges to seek accreditation, they remained uneasy and four years later actually reversed their position, arguing that the earlier decision had been a mistake. They voted to allow senior college accreditation only for Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University) and Pacific Union College. Ironically, accreditation had already been received by Pacific Union College (1933) and Walla Walla College (1935). EMC did not receive it until 1939.
The 1935 vote could not stem the tide; all the North American senior colleges (six at that time) sought and received accreditation. In following the path to accreditation, Adventist educators were strongly influenced by the counsel Ellen White had given at the founding of Loma Linda.
Speaking to the ability of the feeder institutions to prepare students for entrance into medical training, Ellen White had written: “The very best teaching talent should be secured, that our schools may be brought up to the proper standard. The youth, and those more advanced in years, who feel it their duty to fit themselves for work requiring the passing of certain legal tests, should be able to secure at our union conference training schools all that is essential for entrance into a medical college” (Counsels to Parents and Teachers, 479).
Providing that kind of education will cost the church, and will cost dearly. But shouldn’t our commitment cost us something? If we just wanted to be thrifty, we could close down all our schools, conferences and churches. Just think of all the money we could save!
That’s foolishness, of course. We support Adventist schools and churches because of the good they can do. And to the extent that we allow God to touch our hearts, we are committed to the task He has given us.
Charting a course through the wilderness of modern culture is always a challenge. The flamboyant demons of secularism overshadow the more subtle but equally dangerous demons from the religious world – until they grab us from behind by surprise.
Something like that happened in the great accreditation debate. Adventists got taken for a ride on the pendulum that had been swinging wildly ever since the Renaissance and Reformation had broken up the highly structured medieval world. Freedom newly found led to open revolt against all authority. The Enlightenment proclaimed the individual as the final authority.
By the late nineteenth century, devout Christians were aghast at what the “thinking” person had done to God and religion. The American “Fundamentalist” movement in the early twentieth century was the reaction to “critical” attacks on evangelical faith.
The result? Scholarship died in conservative Christian circles. Kenneth Kantzer, former editor of Christianity Today, described his search for a seminary in the 1930s: “I sought an accredited school committed to a consistent biblical theology, with a scholarly faculty, a large library, and a disciplined intellectual atmosphere. I couldn’t find any (Christianity Today, February 4, 1983, p. 10).
Just as we are easily swept along today in the fun-and-frolic approach of contemporary American Christianity, so in the 1930s, we shared the general fear of education. Momentarily we forgot our true heritage and the ghosts of that memory-lapse still haunt us.
In 1891, in the context of a full Christian commitment, Ellen White wrote: “It is right that you should feel that you must climb to the highest round of the educational ladder. Philosophy and history are important studies.” And she saw our day: “In the future there will be more pressing need of men and women of literary qualifications than there has been in the past” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, 192).
To potential medical students she wrote: “Let not intellectual slothfulness close up your path to greater knowledge. Learn to reflect as well as to study, that your minds may expand, strengthen, and develop. Never think that you have learned enough, and that you may now relax your efforts. The cultivated mind is the measure of the man” (Counsels to Parents and Teachers, 475).
John Wycliffe would have liked that.