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Learning versus living: Foes or friends?

Ancient Scholar

One of the things that has divided people of Christian faith over the centuries has been the tension between learning and living. It is not a divide of denomination but of value.

On one side of the divide are those who say the essence of the Christian faith is knowledge. Jesus says, “If you know the truth, the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The more knowledge a person possesses the better Christian he or she must be. Tied to this idea is that maturity is defined by longevity. It takes time to learn things, and the more time a person has been around the more a person must have learned. This is seen in the massive tomes of the great Catholic scholars, and in the endless Bible studies of the Evangelical and Protestant believers.

Standing in tension to this focus on knowledge are those who declare that people don’t need to know more, they need to do something with what they know. For these people the spiritual life gets muddled in endless discussions that are meaningless and pointless unless they somehow affect one's day to day life. Social justice and life reformation are primary concerns, and maturity is defined not by what people knows or how long they have known it, but by what they do and how well they do it. Jesus says, “If you love me you will obey me.” (John 14: 15) and “Faith without works is useless.” (James 2: 14)

People are always pushing the pendulum to one side or the other, when what is needed is balance. The purpose of knowledge is to inform the journey of life. A life consumed with accumulating knowledge, but never using that knowledge to actually go somewhere or do something becomes a stagnant and boring life. But a life always acting and never learning can easily follow a path that will go a wrong direction. The balance is found in both understanding and embracing the reality that God calls people to follow him on a journey. A life on the move always needs to be learning in order to inform the choices and directions taken. So perhaps the questions to ask are where is this life going, and is it the right way? Both questions matter, and neither means anything without the other.

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