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Posted on Feb 1, 2021

Double Knowledge?

Double Knowledge?

2020 was a tumultuous, discordant year in so many ways; from conspiracy theories on the pandemic to a sitting US President questioning the validity of election results, we witnessed much public discourse about knowledge. Christian schools, too, are engaged in conversations about knowing related to curriculum, instruction, and policy development. We welcome guest author Dr. Rod Wilson, who shares with us reflections on the important topic of knowledge and knowing.

When I was a little boy in church, I remember the shock finding out what ‘know’ really meant. Adam knew Eve (Genesis 4:10) and had a son meant they did that?! As I got older, I began to understand that the Hebrew word for know, yada, is not about cognitive knowledge but actually about intimacy, commitment, involvement, shared love, or knowing by experience. Ironically one can be involved sexually and not experience genuine yada.

‘To know’ is not straightforward; there is ambiguity and mystery in it. So, when educators are asking—what do we want our students to know?—we are in an endeavour that has complexity and requires wisdom.

Is the right knowledge ensured by having devotionals before every meeting? By increasing the number of Bible classes in our curriculum? By frequent prayer meetings? By a disciplinary policy that enforces particular Christian behaviour? Does the phrase ‘teaching for transformation’ capture all that we want to say about knowing? When we draw distinctions between discipleship and education or piety and scholarship, what kind of knowledge are we referencing?

When schools in a provincial jurisdiction are required to follow particular ministry guidelines, what does the adjective Christian mean in front of the noun school? Is there knowing that is distinctly Christian and not in step with government directives or does Christian knowing encompass all that is human and not necessarily only that which is ‘spiritual’?

While some might argue that Calvin’s Institutes have no relevance to SCSBC education in 2021, I would propose that his articulation of double knowledge is a good place to start in any discussion on knowing as it applies to Christian education.

Central to Calvin’s understanding of double knowledge are the following:

  • All wisdom is comprised of two parts—knowledge of God and knowledge of self.
  • If something is good or true, its roots can be traced to these two types of knowledge.
  • While intimately connected, it is not always clear which knowledge precedes and produces the other.
  • The perfections of God may well lead us to an understanding of our own imperfections, while our imperfections may move us toward God.
  • Knowledge of ourselves incites us to seek after God and understand who He is.
  • Knowing God is helped immeasurably by an understanding of ourselves.

Even though the Institutes were written over four centuries ago, double knowledge is particularly relevant in some of our current Christian sub-culture tensions where there is a fragmentation between knowing God and knowing self.

Some would have us believe that the negation of self is a prerequisite for following God. The second verse of the chorus, We Have Come Into His House, captures this well:

So forget about yourself and concentrate on Him and worship Him
So forget about yourself and concentrate on Him and worship Him
So forget about yourself and concentrate on Him and worship Him
Worship Him, Christ, the Lord.

Not sure what it means to forget about yourself, as in reality, that is all I have! When I come to worship, who I am, what is going on with me, what I am experiencing, all combine together in my understanding of God. Knowing myself in my full humanity and knowing God in his fullness, come together so I can worship.

There are Christian schools where a lack of double knowledge shows up in this form. Knowing God takes the primary place and there is little integration with the human experience and the self. Bible is more spiritual than sports. Behaviour has more value than belonging. The self is threatening and needs to be submerged under a particular theological understanding. Students learn that ‘who they are’ takes a back seat to ‘who God is,’ and that true humility is being down on yourself.

Another expression of this kind of fragmentation is found in the elevation of the social sciences to a place where theology—faith seeking understanding—is muted and the self becomes a preoccupation. There is no question that disciplines like psychology, sociology, and the like, have greatly aided our understanding of the human condition and the self in particular. In many cases, these disciplines have stumbled on true truth even though it did not come about through careful biblical understanding.

The risk is that, with the elevation of disciplines that help us understand the self, God who created humanity can be removed from the equation. There are Christian schools where a lack of double knowledge shows up in this form. Developing a sense of self can ignore the need to frame this important emphasis within the context of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Self-discipline, self-awareness, self-respect, self-understanding, and sexual identity all have their appropriate place in the educational enterprise, but a knowledge of God needs to part of the fabric so the weaving actually reflects double knowledge and not simply a single strand knowledge of self.

What would happen if:

  • Parents put their legitimate concerns with adherence to particular beliefs and compliance to specific behaviours in perspective and asked—is my child experiencing deeper understanding of what it means to know themselves and God, both at home and at school?
  • Teachers put their legitimate allegiance to a particular academic discipline in perspective and asked—is my teaching and the embodiment of that teaching enhancing double knowledge of my students?
  • Superintendents, principals, and vice-principals put their legitimate responsibilities around hiring, supervision, evaluation, and administrative systems in perspective and asked—is this school bathed in, and expressive of, knowledge of God and knowledge of self.
  • Boards put their legitimate mandate around governance, mission oversight, and fiduciary stewardship in perspective and asked—is this Board leading with a fundamental concern around double knowledge?

If these questions were grappled with wisely, more students would graduate from our schools not just with content mastery, personal piety, and skill development, but with an embryonic sense that the best way to live their life is to cultivate double knowledge.

Rod Wilson

Rod Wilson served as President of Regent College from 2000–2015. Originally trained as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Wilson has been involved in the field of counselling and consulting for over 30 years. He is currently Teaching Pastor at Capilano Christian Community, as well as Senior Advisor with A Rocha Canada, and consultant with various organizations, including SCSBC.

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