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The Fulfillment of Man: Relationship Versus Knowledge

“Knowledge puffs up but love edifies.” (1Corinthians 8:1)

At the heart of classical education is a clash of worldview. Classical education alone produces an intellectual, articulate, logical, but still depraved, man. The Greek (humanist) model of the fulfillment of man is knowledge. The Hebrew (Biblical) model of the fulfillment of man is relationship.

As students in a classical Christian school learn, the goal of their learning must never be knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It must always be for the purpose of ‘building up’ others. Others are specifically the household of faith, but also include all of mankind with its concomitant needs. (Galatians 6:10)

Scripture reveals that knowledge ‘puffs up’. That is, the accumulation of facts in the grammar stage, if not properly directed during the dialectic (logic) and rhetoric stages, will result in a student who has an inflated opinion of himself. He will not understand that when knowledge increases, the ‘field of ignorance’ – that which is unknown – also increases.

When Scripture is used to direct a student’s thinking into a Biblical worldview, the trap of arrogance – of pride- is avoided. A knowledgeable person, but one outside of the principles of God’s word, is a prideful person. To illustrate this one has only to look at the typical PhD in science. He has all the ‘facts’ of life but erroneously concludes that ‘chance, randomness, evolutionary means’ brought about life. Most negate our Creator God and show their supposed wisdom to be foolishness. Why foolishness? Because in the name of science (knowledge), they tear down and do not build up. They violate basic scientific principles like the Law of First Cause and the Law of Increasing Entropy (the second law of thermodynamics). These are principles that were established by an orderly God for the administration of an orderly universes. Primarily, though, scientists who disregard God tear down other scientists – both colleagues and potential scientists. God’s word says that the fool has said in his heart there is no God. (Psalm 14:1; 53:1) Knowledgeable ungodly men cause those who follow them to become foolish – the opposite of that which we seek, wisdom.

Using the Hebrew model, relationship is stressed. Knowledge is a means to an end; it is not the end in itself. In relationship the ultimate goal is to act in love. When a person acts in love, he takes the knowledge he has and uses it for the good of another person. In simple terms, he meets that person’s needs.

The best illustration of this is God Himself. The omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Lord of the universe took on human flesh, became a ‘son of man’, and humbled Himself to die on a cross to meet mankind’s fundamental need. Fallen man needed a redeemer, someone to buy him back – to cover- his sin. There was no way for man to save Himself. An imperfect unholy man can do nothing to make himself clean enough to meet the perfect standard of a pure God. The Law of Justice demanded that all men die, separated from God and forever forfeiting the joy and goodness of His presence.

If the Lord God had acted only in knowledge, that would have been the end of the story. The Law of Justice would have been satisfied. Mankind was doomed. But God did not act solely in the realm of knowledge. He acted on the greater principle, that of relationship. He desired a restored relationship with mankind, whom He created for His glory and pleasure. To reestablish that relationship, God met the requirement He had established: Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. He then, in His own Son, acted in love so that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us”. (Romans 5:8) Love built a bridge through Jesus Christ back to the God the Father; mankind could now know God again. (John 17:3) Love edified.

Great men of the faith have also followed this pattern. Most of them would have been educated in the classical model. Men like Polycarp and Augustine; Martin Luther and John Calvin; William Tyndale and Jonathan Edwards; David Livingston and William Carey; Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Francis Schaeffer. Doctrines were expounded; Scripture was translated; continents were opened to the gospel; hospitals were built; evil was confronted; truth was preached; texts were written. Some were martyred; all were servants. They had knowledge but, by the grace of God, had matured so as to walk in wisdom and love.

Classical Christian schools must be diligent to focus on relationship: a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and proper relationships with others and self. The final judgment on how well their students have been taught will not be weighed in terms of impressive scores on standardized tests, or how well they do in terms of oratorical and writing skills. These are important, but the final judgment of how well they have been educated comes when one looks at how they serve God and other people. In other words, how well are they building up the kingdom of God – because love edifies.

copyright 2002, revised copyright 09/2008, Cheryl Nester. All Rights Reserved.

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