November 23, 1993
I thought I was back in high school for a minute when I heard some seminary students muttering, “Why do I have to learn this stuff anyway?”
By the time someone gets into graduate school (and in my case, it has been a long time), it’s assumed they know why certain courses are necessary; after all, this is supposedly preparation for a career. They have already selected what school to attend and sifted from the course catalog everything that does not fit into their plans.
So why the complaints? One student explained, “I’m doing this because I need the piece of paper, but it is not the best way to learn. In fact, I learn far more when I am involved in my local church.”
My curiosity aroused, I decided to look up what the Bible says about the best way to learn and came up with some startling information.
Aside from a few references to learning by asking questions or by observing others in action, almost every passage about learning had nothing to do with putting one’s nose in a book. In fact the only one that came close was John 7:15. Here, the Jews were amazed at the wisdom of Jesus and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?”
The rest of the passages about learning clearly linked two things together, hearing and doing. There was no time gap between the two either. In fact, the evidence indicates that if too much time lapses after hearing, the “learner” is actually considered disobedient to the “lesson” because “doing” is part of it.
When Jesus gave his disciples discourses about things they needed to know, very often they didn’t understand Him. He constantly chided them for being slow to hear. However, the lessons where Jesus showed them by His example what they were supposed to do, then sent them out on their own to do it, were different. After those training sessions, the Twelve were excited about what they had “learned.”
A related passage from Hebrews 5 says: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food.... But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
Slow learning does not necessarily indicate slow minds. These people didn’t learn because they simply failed in the business of “constant use.” They neglected to “do” what they learned.
Certainly there are some subjects (like history) that would be difficult to learn by doing. However, the simple reading of textbooks or hearing of lectures is not the best way to learn. The words so easily go through our heads without making any difference in our lives.
In contrast, imagine a school where the teachers made every lesson a “field trip” in which students were given opportunities to actually put the lesson into practice. Quantity of learning may go down but quality would make up the difference.
A final biblical way of learning is by undesirable consequences. Because those lessons are never forgotten, that kind of learning is better than theory. We call it learning the hard way. But if learning an easy way is possible, it has to include doing the lesson, not just hearing it.