The Disciplines of Knowing: The Humanities (1)
Understanding people can help us in knowing Christ.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ… Philippians 3.7, 8
The mature mind
As we round the backstretch of this series on increasing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the question that should be occupying our mind is: Just how precious, how truly valuable, is the knowledge of Christ to me? Because, as will be clear by now, we don’t increase in the knowledge of Christ without considerable effort. There are skills to be acquired, disciplines to be mastered, new routines to be established, and new ways of using our time to be embrace.
Paul understood this. He knew that Christ had “laid hold” on him for the “upward prize” of the Kingdom and glory of God (Phil. 3.12, 14; 1 Thess. 2.12). He determined that he would do whatever was necessary to “lay hold” on that prize, knowing that the reward that awaited him was Christ Jesus Himself – the King of glory. He resolved to “press on” against every obstacle so that he might increase in “the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3.8). His purpose was to “gain Christ” (Phil. 3.8) – to become so intimate with Him, so ensconced in Him, so constantly in His presence and filled with His power, so spent in His service, that what he insisted on in Philippians 1.21 would be increasingly so in his life: “to me, to live is Christ”.
But to achieve this objective, to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3.10), Paul would have to work at it. He would have to give up things he’d done for years, apply himself to new disciplines, learn more about the world and its people, and fill his time, as much as possible, with the disciplined pursuit of Christ (Phil. 3.7, 8). But so excellent did Paul consider this goal, that he rejoiced in pursuing it. He was forever reaching out to learn new things, grow in new ways, increase in his relationship with Jesus, expand his work for Him, and make the most of all the time God gave him each day. He said that living this way is the mark of a mature mind; and he exhorted all who would “have this mind” (Phil. 3.15) to join his example and take up the company of others who did so, as well (Phil. 3.17).
That’s how excellent, precious, valuable, glorious, delightful, and joyful Paul found the knowledge of Jesus to be. Can we say the same?
What could be more desirable, more delightful, more satisfying and rewarding, more fraught with fruit-bearing potential, and therefore more exciting to our soul than to increase in the knowledge of Him Who sits at the right hand of God, upholds the cosmos and everything in it by His Word of power, is putting all His enemies under His feet as He builds His Church and brings His Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, and Who is the Treasury of all wisdom and knowledge?
Don’t let the rubbish that clutters your familiar lifestyle rob you of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Work out your salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2.12), beginning with a working regimen of disciplines that allows you to look through all the windows of theological study onto the riches of divine revelation in His Word and His works.
What is man?
At the same time, realize that God, by the grace which He extends even to those who despise or deny Him (Matt. 5.45), has made it so that His goodness can be found in all the earth (Ps. 33.5) – in the works of creation, but also in the works human beings from every time and culture have wrought. The humanities are that branch of study which, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “concern themselves with human beings and their culture.” It continues: “As a group of educational disciplines, the humanities are distinguished in content and method from the physical and biological sciences and, somewhat less decisively, from the social sciences.”
To simplify, while the sciences – which we shall consider a bit further on – seek “objective” knowledge of the world through widely-acknowledged and carefully-observed protocols and means, the humanities provide a more “subjective” look at life and the world, through a wide range of ever-changing disciplines and practices. The humanities allow us to see the world through the eyes and minds of people as they express their understanding of the world. The humanities are “human studies” and so, in a certain sense – given that Christ is the end of all true knowing – can help us in answering the psalmist’s question, “What is man”? (Ps. 8.5)
If you watch the evening news, surf the Internet, try out new recipes, subscribe to a magazine, watch TV, listen to music, go to school or take a course, laugh at a good joke or funny story, watch movies, keep a garden, decorate your home, follow trends in fashion, read books, or any of a thousand other activities, you are involved in the humanities. That is, you are already fully and happily immersed in the products of people’s thinking and workmanship; but I wonder how often you stop to consider how the goodness of the Lord might be known through such things?
In this part of our study I want to demonstrate the value of the humanities for helping us press on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Necessarily, our survey will be limited. My goals are to heighten your awareness of the ways you are already involved in the humanities, and to stimulate you to a more discerning use of such disciplines as music, art, literature, history, and philosophy. Further, I hope to show you how to connect the fruit of these disciplines with the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the hope of further enriching your experience of knowing, loving, and serving Him.
In a sense, the humanities represent a sub-discipline of creational theology. What we learned about practicing that discipline – together with our increasing mastery of all the disciplines of theological study – will help the humanities come alive for us in new ways, so that they enhance the way we use our time and brighten the path that leads to the precious and valuable knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We’ll only have space to look at a few examples; however, I hope to point you to a wide range of resources, awaiting your exploration and perusal, to help you grow in knowing, loving, and serving the Lord of glory and King of life.
1. What “rubbish” (Phil. 3.7 8) is holding you back from a more exciting and fruitful pursuit of Jesus Christ?
2. How many different ways can you see that you are already involved in “the humanities” – the use of things with are the product of human thinking, imagining, and creating? How can you see God’s goodness in these things?
3. What would you be willing to do to take up a more disciplined and fruitful study of the humanities, so as to increase in the knowledge of Jesus Christ?
Next Steps – Preparation: For one day, jot down your answer to question 2 above – for everything that fits the category outlined there. Try to find one reason to praise the Lord for His goodness in each of the things you list. At the end of the day, praise and thank Him for them all, and talk to Him of how they help you think about Him more clearly.
T. M. Moore
The humanities involve us in understanding culture. Our book, Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars offers concise guidance in understanding and using culture for God’s glory. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.