[As a new semester of schooling is upon us I offer a portion of a recent letter to a student about academic planning]
My dear Son in the Lord:
You need a plan for your education from this point onward. You need to decide on which college, and which major. There are several variables that must be considered (your goals, your resources, the institution’s values, and the faculty’s depth; and always a God-shaped intuitive response to all of these things), but I will give you a response that will, I hope, serve you in whatever place of instruction you choose (or chooses you). I would give you what may be your first “academic plan” for college.
The preparation of this academic plan comes after some time of anguish and difficulty. It has been hard for you to this point. And it may very well be that this plan is destined to the dustbin, because another route to scholarly pursuits proves more advantageous or more acceptable. That is fine. A plan is a map towards a destination. I think of the Lewis and Clark journal, which reveals not only a plan, but constant evaluation of experience and observation of findings. When better routes through the forest are located they should, of course, be resolutely chosen. But without any plan at all the journey is in vain for the destination will be missed. So here is one plan to try and help guide a way through, for you, at least, hiterto unchartered country.
Let me begin this academic plan, however, with a Biblical passage to dedicate the journey before you.
The text that I use to dedicate this plan is from portions of Psalm 119:
“Teach me discernment and knowledge, for I have believed in your commandments (verse 66).” “You are good and you bring forth good; instruct me in your statutes” (verse 68). “If it good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (verse 71).”
In these few choice guides from God’s Word you have an infallible signpost for the future of your academic work:
(1) a prayer for “deeper learning” (“teach me discernment and knowledge”). Deeper learning is actuated when the student moves beyond the presenting facts of the course to discover the development of the fact, the application of the fact, and how the fact—the mathematical formula, the plot, the metaphor, the events, the biography, the treaty, the war, the research design, the statesman and his rise or the king and his fall─has been woven into the warp and woof of humanity through the years. Equally important, is to consider how aquired knowledge must be applied today in your own life and in your own community.
(2) There is, also, petition for “humble instruction” (“You are good and you bring forth good; instruct me in your statutes”). This is a veritable confession of faith that says “because Thou, O Lord, art altogether good I desire Thy precepts to bring such good to me, my life, my family, and my world.” It is right to remember that education without God’s statutes brings only superficial acquisition of information. But with God’s goodness as our portion we can be instructed about any subject and wash it with the divine solution of God’s precepts so that the product is suitable for living. This is the way to approach your schooling.
Finally, (3) there is, here in Psalm 119, a text that is a penitential plea: “penitential” in that the Psalmist desires not to waste the wanton years, the afflicted times, or the oppressive past, but, in perfect Gospel pattern, to transform the rod of rebuke into a pedagogue’s pointer. In doing so the things that came against him to harm him, by God’s paradoxical power, are catalytically converted into the fuel for ultimate success. He writes “…that I might learn…” And the “that” of the Psalmist’s sentence will wonderfully bring about the “therefore” of the believer’s satisfaction. This is the Christian Gospel, the life of Jesus, which is repeated throughout the sixty-six books of the Bible. This is the secret of secrets of the universe now revealed unto you and me! What is it? Only this: that the cross—the sign of suffering—, by divine fiat and passionate demonstration in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, has become, for those who believe, the sign of salvation.
Learn, then, by faith in Jesus our Lord, with His Gospel power in you (“the power that worketh in us” Ephesians 3:20) and you will be guided, by promises of the Spirit our Teacher (“strengthened with might by his Spirit” Ephesians 3:16), to wondrous new levels of learning. This is the way of the wise that transforms any school into the academy of the faithful.
Now let us attend to the rest of your academic plan. But do not forget to begin with this first part.
Yours in the Lord,