The Discipline of Study
The Dutch scholar Erasmus quipped “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” But perhaps you may feel like the author of Ecclesiastes: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” How should the Christian approach the topic of study?
Why should we Study?
In Romans 12 Paul urges us “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” How are we to achieve this? The answer is found in the discipline of study. Christian philosopher JP Moreland states that “Study is a discipline that strengthens the mind and enriches the soul.” Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, notes that “The purpose of the spiritual disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life giving habits”.
What should we Study?
For the Christian the primary focus of our study is Scripture. Psalm 1:1 reminds us “Blessed is the man who meditates on the law of the LORD, day and night.” We can also use good Christian literature and benefit from the labours of others. In addition to written books, we can study “non-verbal” books. Psalm 19 directs us to the wonders of creations as they display God's glory. And in Proverbs 30 we are urged to consider “ants, conies, locusts, and lizards” in the pursuit of wisdom. James Montgomery Boice interprets Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true ... noble ... right ... pure ... admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” as guiding us to reflect upon “the best in music art, literature and architecture”.
How should we Study?
Richard Foster suggests that study involves four steps; repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection. Foster notes that “Meditation is devotional; study is analytical.” Although, if study is to be viewed as a spiritual rather than merely academic discipline, the two are clearly closely linked. Eugene Peterson also views study as a four stage comprising reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation.
The Dangers of Study
Study is a high risk enterprise! The Pharisees were well versed in the study of Scripture. However they possessed information but without submission to God's will. In John 5.39-40 Jesus rebukes them: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life ... yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Becoming more knowledgeable about Christian truth and doctrine without being transformed to be more Christlike will only result in pride.
We have looked at study: its goal, focus, methods – and its risks. But let me conclude with discipline. As Chris Evans, Radio 2, comments “It's the motivation that gets you started, but the habit that keeps you going!” Study must become part of our daily routine if it is to be effective in renewing our minds and transforming our lives.