Transcendental Education: An Objection

How do we get out of the loop of thinking as we’ve always thought? How can we know if we’re thinking true thoughts? How do we evaluate our own experiences and those of the people we interact with?

In the last post, I argued that we must encounter something that transcends our worldview for us to be shaken from thinking that is not grounded in reality and truth. Until we acquire that “new affection,” as Chalmers put it, we’ll continue to take in information as we’ve always done, sifting what fits into already formed categories and leaving what doesn’t for the garbageman to pick up on Monday. This assumes that right thinking does exist (that there is truth and we can know it) and that right thinking must be acquired (we aren’t born with it).

But my conclusion–that to learn, think and behave as we ought, that transcendental truth is the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ–did not explicitly follow from my premise. An educator friend I’ve learned a great deal from would argue that it’s experience with new things that break our customary molds of thinking. And this is surely compelling to anyone who has spent any time in a foreign country and experienced the beauty and depth of another people’s culture. Having experienced it myself to different degrees with Germany, Mexico and Haiti, I do not deny that there’s truth in that and the experience is powerful. You see more of humanity and what we’re capable of and you almost can’t help but be changed.

In the same way, to use the example from the last post, addicts beat their addictions all the time outside of the explicit application of the gospel. My friend at work spent twelve years of her life addicted to heroin and cocaine, and she came out of it because she hit rock bottom and realized she very literally couldn’t live like she was living for very much longer.

One might object then that there are many ways to seek and find wisdom. People grow as they experience new things or as they tire of the status quo and are forced to change. So why do I bring religion into the conversation? And, indeed, if we are discussing religion, surely I can’t ignore the droves of people who are born and raised in the church and then go to college, see more of the world, and no longer associate with any kind of religion. Doesn’t this drift away from the faith fit the idea of transcendental education just as well as conversion to Jesus Christ?

The answers to these questions are why I feel like this discussion is essential to the purpose of this blog. If I’m aiming at worship, it will be good to have a nose for grace. And grace is exactly what it is that allows an experience of the cultural Other to end in love, or an experience with drugs to end in clean living. It’s by grace that people do their jobs well, believers and nonbelievers both. It’s grace by which athletes play sports and by which artists create.

I don’t want grace to be some kind of catch-all term, but I don’t think I’m over applying it yet. Consider Matthew 5:43-45.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Love your enemies is one of Jesus’ most famous commandments, but notice how he illustrates it. Our example for loving our enemies is God loving without discrimination in his providing warmth, light and rain, which is to say, the conditions necessary for life and flourishing. What does this mean? It means that God loves believers and unbelievers alike through his creation, and that this love is a reflection of who God is, “namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20).

So how does this help us answer the objection that even if worldview education is transcendental, the secular individual may seek truth/fulfillment and find it? While we’re at it, we might as well admit that this secular individual may even be wiser or more accomplished in their field than their born-again Christian counterpart. The Bible answers that the secular individual lives in a distinctly non-secular world. If you’re a secular person, your love for people, high moral standards and excellence in whatever it is you do are gifts from God. The Bible asks prideful Christians (and it might as well ask unbelievers as well), “what do you have which you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

So maybe it’s been traveling. Maybe you’ve triumphed over a destructive habit–be it dope or donuts. Maybe reading books has been a catalyst to new and wonderful things. Or watching bee societies. Or a million other things. But there is one who has given you these experiences and triumphs and insights. To really know and to really be wise, we must deal with Him.


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