In response to an earlier comment I made in the faithmaps discussion group, one of the ‘mappers asked me,
Stephen, can you expand/clarify your point about your experience from Christian education institutions? I’m very curious. My own interest is what you have stated ‘that my spiritual growth would be precipitated by information
While studying at Virginia Tech I decided that I wanted to teach Theology or New Testament at the graduate level. Accordingly, I transferred to Bryan College and ended up double-majoring in Bible and Greek (Classical and Koine). After I finished my undergrad work, I transferred to seminary to get an M.Div.
Halfway through my Masters I almost dropped out of school.
I had embarked on this course of study because I wanted to help prepare future church leaders by my teaching in some Christian institute of higher learning. That was my end in mind. But about halfway into my three year program, I came to the conclusion that seminary wasn’t preparing men and women to be spiritual leaders but rather preparing them to teach and to study. One day one of my professors even said, “We don’t train you how to be pastors; we train you how to answer Bible questions.”
Now don’t misunderstand; I don’t mean to depreciate the nonnegotiable necessity of academic study. But intellectual knowledge is only a component of spiritual change, albeit a critical one. So I didn’t believe the entire theological educational process was defunct; it was just that I had chosen this particular career path so that I might train future leaders.
But because I wanted to complete what I had started and because I believed that having an M.Div would give me more credibility in future efforts to craft a new (really an old) way of preparing future spiritual leaders, I decided to complete my course of study. And so I decided to do my Masters thesis on how pastors were developed in the first century and stayed in school.
The emerging church conversation and the pomoChristian critique of an inordinately modernized evangelicalism provided me a paradigm within which to understand my earlier concerns and a vocabulary to express them.
One can argue that a modern Cartesian epistemology, with its emphasis on certainty derived from the human mind, lays a framework for an overdependence on information. Descartes is considered the father of modernity. In his Discourse, he wrote,
all things…are mutually connected in the same way, and that there is nothing so far removed from us as to be beyond our reach, or so hidden that we cannot discover it….
The mind is presented as omnicompetent epistmelogically. There is no category of knowledge outside of its reach. And so we suggest that linear, sequential and propositional knowledge becomes all important.
One of the beauties of propositional knowledge is that it’s quantifiable and easily measurable. It’s understandable that many would greatly desire for spiritual development to be something that could be gauged by correct answers on a test. Assessing successful information transfer is quantifiable, measurable and certain.
But it’s far more difficult to evaluate me on, say, how I’m doing as a husband, as a father and as a son. Information transfer measurement doesn’t capture how I respond when I’m unfairly and harshly criticized. And yet it is at these moments and in these contexts that my true spiritual mettle is exposed.
Propositional knowledge, what we’ve called propositionalism, is necessary but not entirely adequate for spiritual change. We’ve suggested that the transpropositional is also necessary.
Transpropositionality is a concept that the ‘mapper community began developing three years ago. See Key faithmaps discussion group postings on transpropositionality
from the faithmaps discussion group. In a nutshell, transpropositionality designates reality which cannot be readily captured in lexical symbols. The term addresses what words cannot convey. A very simple example would be a kiss. A kiss wordlessly communicates what cannot be entirely conveyed by sentences. For another example, consider the difference between an e-mail exchange between two friends and the same conversation over a fine meal.
We do not believe this is a new concept, just perhaps somewhat of a new formulation of it packed up into one word. We believe that Jesus transpropositionally developed his disciples to be leaders and that his followers did the same.
When Jesus chose his principal proteges, he did so “so that they would be with Him” (Mark 3:14a, all quotes New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted and emphasis mine). When the Jewish leaders saw how confident Peter and John, though “uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4). Paul enjoined Timothy to consider the relational context of the things he had learned when he writes, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Timothy 3:14).
When we think about the seasons of our life when we experienced significant spiritual growth because of outside influences, we don’t normally think of books and lectures; we think of names. Similarly, first century spiritual formation wasn’t just propositional but also transpropositional because it was so often occuring in relational contexts.
Paul tells the church in Corinth, “So I ask you to follow my example and do as I do” (1 Corinthians 4:16, New Living Translation). Their learning came not just through Paul’s words but through Paul’s example. He similarly speaks to the church in Phillipi, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9, English Standard Version).
The relational, organic, holistic, transpropositional leadership development that we see in the first century is not collapsable to mere formulae. Rather, it’s variable, real, dynamic and living. This observation doesn’t imply a complete interdiction of structure. It does call for a skepticism toward the modern belief that the perfectly formed spiritual development program will yield the perfect result. Information is most definitely a component of this development. But it is only a component.
We’ve expanded on these thoughts in the “Delights and Dangers of Postmodernism” series and in “Christian Discipleship in Postmodernity: Toward a Praxis of Spiritual Friendship” found here.