Throughout my 13 years at Covenant, I have taught every grade level from 6th Grade to 12th Grade. During a few of those years, I actually had the privilege of teaching Bible Survey and Logic to 7th Graders, while also teaching Greek to 12th Graders. The shift from a 7th Grade to a 12th Grade class within one or two hours was always an enjoyable and encouraging, albeit slightly jolting experience. While all students are in different places in different areas, even within the same grade level, it would perhaps surprise no one if I were to admit that the general learning environment of a 7th Grade class and a 12th Grade class differ in some noticeable ways.
When I write of the general learning environment, I am not referring so much to the distinction in academic rigor nor to the erudition of the students, although there was a clear distinction here, as one would hope. I am rather speaking more of the way the students approached their studies and engaged in class with the material.
Some common questions, imperatives and corrections that I have directed towards 7th Grade classes are as follows: “Why are you sitting in his seat?”, “Are you looking for your homework?”, “You need to get your missing assignments into me ASAP; we have a test coming up in a few days.”, “Why are you poking him?”, and “You seem quiet. Any thoughts on how would you go about refuting this argument?” (My inclination to use masculine pronouns in these examples does not condemn all male students nor vindicate all female students; this parenthetical is my attempt to avoid committing a hasty generalization fallacy while writing about reasoning wisely, which would seem ironic!)
Now, it would not be a stretch to say that these questions and exhortations were never used with my seniors. The question then is, “Why not?” Did my 7th Graders not understand that they should sit in their own seats, not poke people, turn in their assignments on time and engage regularly in the in-class conversations? I believe they did understand these truths, and I will add that some did this better than others. So, the distinction between my 7th Grade classes and my 12th Grade classes was not in the realm of knowledge or mere reasoning, but in the area of rightly applying the knowledge that they had. That is to say, from 7th Grade to 12th Grade, I was seeing clear growth in the area of reasoning wisely.
While reasoning is simply the ability to come to or recognize true and valid conclusions on the basis of other known truths, wisdom demands the right and consistent application of such knowledge for the right reason(s). That is, while right reasoning in and of itself deals with the “what” (the science of argumentation), wisdom brings the “how” and the “why” into consideration. It is one thing for a student to be able to cognitively deduce from the fact that all persons of the Trinity are fully divine, and Jesus is a person of the Trinity, that Jesus is fully divine. However, for a student to then take this cognitive process (reasoning) and apply it to themselves, necessitates wisdom (the right application of the knowledge that they demonstrably possess).
For example, students know that they should do their homework. If a student does not finish an assignment in class, the student knows that it becomes homework. When these two propositions, which the students already know to be true, are put together, it clearly follows that they should do the unfinished assignment in their possession. This would be the right application of the knowledge that they possess, which would accord with wisdom. However, it is much easier to apply logic to external issues and others than to ourselves.
It is worth noting that hypocrisy is an enemy of wisdom. Perfect wisdom is applied consistently. Obviously, none of us mere humans walk with perfect wisdom. But while we rest in the righteousness of the only One who is perfectly wise, we also strive to grow in obedience and grace, even in this area.
Dallas Willard, in his article “Jesus the Logician,” writes, “A practicing hypocrite, for example, will find no friend in logic, nor will liars, thieves, murderers and adulterers. They will be constantly alert to appearances and inferences that may logically implicate them in their wrong actions.”
So, what is the cause of this growth in wisdom from 7th Grade to 12th Grade?
According to Scripture, the primary cause is the Holy Spirit working through families, churches, this school and the other means of grace God has given us enabling us to more clearly behold Christ. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
The Spirit grows us in our knowledge of who God is, what He has done for us and who we are. This produces humility, which enables us to exalt God’s perfections and recognize our imperfections, even as we grow in Christ-likeness. We are then more willing and able to reason wisely, to reason consistently, even when there are implications for us that may be difficult to embrace, and this of course provides opportunities for further growth.
Additionally, Paul states in Romans 5:5 that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” As we grow in God’s grace, this love overflows and results in a love for others and ultimately a love for the God who is the source of this love. Indeed, as John writes in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.” It is this that helps us to begin to love God with all of our being and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).
I end here because I believe this is the end or telos of reasoning. The human mind can learn how to validly deduce conclusions from given premises, but why then should we reason? As our love for God and our love for others increases, we should desire to reason, and in particular to reason from the Scriptures in the power of the Spirit to defend and communicate who God is, what He has done, and in so doing, help our brothers and sisters grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
All that we do, including reasoning, should be done for God’s glory and accord with God’s revealed will (1 Corinthians 10:31). Therefore, humble, consistent and zealous reasoning that is lovingly done for God’s glory and the good of others is wise reasoning.
In summary, we certainly want our students to reason well. We want them to be able to define terms, to build valid and sound arguments, and to recognize fallacies, etc. However, my prayer is that they would not merely be able to reason well, but that God would make them into men and women of God who reason consistently and with humility. My prayer is that God would make them into men and women of God who reason for the good of their peers, for the maturity and growth of the Church, for the salvation of the lost and for the glory of God! My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will continue to take our students at CCS – from Kindergarten to 12th Grade – and turn them into those who reason wisely.
by Jeremy Sturdivant, CCS Theology & Philosophy Department Chair