No mind left behind
To grow in faith, Christians must understand the faith and move beyond simple answers to life’s most difficult questions
By Chip Hardwick
Throughout history, Presbyterians have been committed to education—sometimes to our own detriment, it seems. When the country was expanding westward, Presbyterians continued to require that clergy be educated. The fact that there were no seminaries on the frontier made it harder and harder to find pastors for new churches. As a result, the cultural dominance that the denomination had exhibited during colonial times began to wane.
However, this demand for educated clergy stems from a core conviction from the Reformation that if Christians are to grow in faith in Christ, they must understand the faith. And if they are to understand the faith, they must be educated in the faith. In Reformation times, this conviction took shape in a commitment to literacy, so that the saints could encounter Christ directly through the biblical story. The revolution of the printing press led to a revolution of biblical knowledge, which led in turn to a revolution of faith.
As literacy became more widespread, Presbyterians’ commitment to education took a different form inspired by Paul’s words in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As God uses education and study to renew and to strengthen our minds, we are able to discern the divine will for us and to claim our vocation: a life transformed by the Spirit that does not conform to the pattern of this world.
When we are at our best, this is what happens in congregational Christian education programs. Learners are challenged to grow in their faith by moving beyond easy, quick or simple answers to life’s most difficult questions. Academic pursuits offer additional means for us to renew our minds. Students at Presbyterian-related colleges and seminaries are encouraged to pursue degrees with academic freedom that parallels our understanding of the church as “reformed and always being reformed.”
Some education feeds the mind while leaving the spirit untouched. But at their best, Presbyterian congregations, colleges and seminaries function like crucibles in which the Holy Spirit transforms lives. When we remember that we are not studying for the sake of learning facts, but rather for the sake of getting to know the One whom we study, our lives are changed—or, in Paul’s words, “transformed.” More important, when our lives are changed, we can better live out our calling to share God’s love with others.
God’s call comes full circle. Part of this calling is that we will reach out and educate others, so that they too can be transformed by the renewal of their minds, leading them in turn to reach out to even more people. Articles in this issue of Presbyterians Today tell how Presbyterians are doing just that. The Presbyterian Church’s commitment to education benefits us all, as we participate in God’s transformational mission in the world.