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Extra-Biblical Material in Transformative Teaching and Learning
Paul describes transformation as a process occurring in the life of all believers (even the immature Corinthians).55 He prescribes that the believer be active in this process of transformation through the renewing of the mind.56 Transformative learning, from Paul’s description and prescription, would simply be the renewing of the mind, and would not be merely a mental thing, but also one that involves the spirit.57 It would involve putting aside the old man, with respect to its manner of conduct,58 and putting on the new man,59 which is designed for good conduct.60 For Paul, then, transformation involves a mental process that effects the spirit, engages the will, and is manifested in conduct. This transformative renewal is designed to be a practical outworking of the position reality of what was accomplished by the Holy Spirit in believers at the completed work of their positional salvation (justification).61
While not addressing spiritual implications of education and learning, Jack Mezirow observes that meaning is often absent in learning models. He suggests, “There is need for a learning theory that can explain how adult learners make sense or meaning of their experiences…These understandings must be explained in the context of adult development and social goals.”62 Mezirow does recognize that learning should be more than a mental process, and that there must be some context and purpose for the learning if it is to be impactful and transformative. He further noted that a learning theory centered on meaning could provide a firm philosophical foundation for goal setting, needs assessment, program development, instruction, and research.63 For Mezirow, this theory of transformative learning suggests a robust pedagogy for change. He recognizes the role of hermeneutics in the learning process—implying that learners must be able to effectively exegete their experience in order to achieve their desired outcomes. Mezirow observes, “it is not so much what happens to people but how they interpret and explain what happens to them that determines their actions, their hopes, their contentment and emotional well-being, and their performance.”64 Appropriate interpretation and explanation are necessary for transformation to take place.
Beyond that, “All transformative learning involves taking action to implement insights derived from critical reflection.”65 For Mezirow, transformation is first hermeneutic, then practical. Despite his inattention to the Biblical roots of transformative learning, he has brought to the forefront a theory of learning that is more holistic than the (Friere-coined) deposit method of learning, and in its more comprehensive impact on the person, comes closer in scope to a Biblical model of learning. Consequently, this writer uses the term transformative learning (which Mezirow popularized), to refer to the holistic learning process described and prescribed in Scripture, and not to refer directly to Mezirow’s ideas, though there are similarities in the two learning frameworks.
Three Categories of Extra-Biblical Resources and Their Degree of Complementarity in the Transformative Process
In B+T, extra-biblical materials are often perceived as divinely authorized and animated to cooperate with Scripture. Some of these include the Tradition of the church, the bread and wine of Eucharist in transubstantiation, and the Pope’s ex cathedra proclamations. These do not merely facilitate a setting in which transformation can occur, but rather they are a necessary part—co-equal with Scripture—in transformation. In B+t, some extra-biblical materials are used as the lens through which to view Scripture, and thus as a hermeneutic device for undergirding transformative learning. While theoretically these hermeneutic keys are not attributed divine authority, in practice they are given the weight of the divine. However, in the B+Ø approach, the Bible is the exclusive source of authority as God’s revelation. While Christ is, Himself, both the revealed God and the revelation of God, the Bible is His commissioned work to record His instructions for those who would have transformed lives, and the text provides its own hermeneutic principles for the reader’s understanding. Still, even within Biblical contexts it is evident that extra-revelatory resources can legitimately function in complementary roles, helping to provide a setting for transformative learning.
Experiences in General (2 Timothy 3:10-11)
Paul reminded Timothy of the value not only of Paul’s teaching, but also of his conduct, purpose, faith patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and suffering. While he never implies that these bear any revelatory authority, Paul cites particular happenings that Timothy observed, and evokes illustrations in Timothy’s memory of Paul’s exhibiting the fruits of transformation in those events. Illustration and remembrance are part of Paul’s pedagogy in training Timothy. They are not, in themselves, the content that Timothy needs to be passing along,66 but they are tools that Paul uses to help Timothy contextualize that content.
Bread and Resources for Sustenance (Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3)
During His temptation at the hands of Satan, Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, reminding readers that God had provided bread (manna) to His people, but that bread was not the source of their sustenance, God was. This was an important lesson that even when we lack physical sustenance, we can remain confident in Him, for He has provided His word—that which equips us. The believer’s strength and hope, then, is not found in physical provision, but in reliance upon Him based on what He has said. This event was a vivid illustration of the sufficiency of God’s word. Still, there was value placed on the physical sustenance. God did, after all, provide manna for the people of Israel. He does indeed understand the physical needs of the people He created.67
The challenge Jesus explains in Matthew 6 is the exclusivity of authority. One cannot serve two masters.68 In the same way, I believe it is an appropriate application of that principle to say that we cannot hold to the authority of His word, while also pursuing another resource as an equal authority. We must serve one or the other. At the same time, while Jesus critiques the pursuit of money, He recognizes that it has an appropriate context in life.69 After all, it is not money that is the root of all sorts of evil—it is the love of money,70 and the believer’s character ought to be free from that love.71 In the same way, it is not food or drink or clothing that is the problem—it is the idolatry that results when we pursue those things rather than Him.72 But if these things are used in their appropriate contexts, then they can be very good and useful in helping us achieve the big picture things He intends for us to accomplish.
Helps Beyond Scripture (Matthew 4:11)
At the conclusion of Jesus’ temptation, angels ministered to Him. This is a remarkable happening, and one that is not presented in detail. Still, it is evident that Jesus had declined Satan’s aid, instead focusing on the Scriptures as the way through the temptation. The angelic help that was present afterward seems an affirmation that God indeed understands the importance of physical needs, and has designed that those who would follow Him—as Christ exemplified—should consider their physical needs as secondary in priority to the need to understand and properly apply God’s word.
There are other similar instances in which extra-biblical helps are offered. James suggests that when one is struggling and is sick, prayer of the elders should be accompanied by an anointing of oil.73 There seems an acknowledgment that medicinal aids should not be ignored, but do play a role. Paul doesn’t send Timothy to Scripture nor does he encourage Timothy to pray about his stomach challenges—Paul tells Timothy to drink some wine.74 Paul also challenges Timothy to understand that while godliness is valuable for everything, physical exercise is worth little. Not nothing—but little.75 God didn’t teleport Jonah to the shore (like he seemingly teleported Philip to an evangelistic appointment76), he used a sea-creature to carry Jonah to shore.77 Jesus didn’t simply miraculously fill the stomachs of the thousands who were hungry, he used some bread and fish as a key ingredient of His miracle.78 Jesus didn’t simply levitate or fly across the water, rather He chose to walk on it.79 These are just a few of many, many examples of how God chose to employ His physical creation to complement or provide a context for the application of His word.
Consequently, it would not seem shocking that while we should not value those extra-biblical aspects at the level we value His word, there is still value found in them. B+T would value them as equally necessary. B+t would value the extra-biblical as a hermeneutical aid. B+Ø would value them only insofar as the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic will allow.
55 2 Corinthians 3:18.
56 Romans 12:2.
57 Ephesians 4:23.
58 Ephesians 4:22.
59 Ephesians 4:24.
60 Ephesians 2:10.
61 Titus 3:5.
62 Jack Mezirow, Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning (San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass, 1991), xii.
64 Ibid., xiii.
65 Ibid., 225.
66 2 Timothy 2:2.
67 Matthew 6:30.
69 Matthew 25:27.
70 1 Timothy 6:10.
71 Hebrews 13:5.
72 E.g., Mark 7:19, Acts 10:11-15, 1 Corinthians 6:13, 1 Timothy 5:23.
73 James 5:13.
74 1 Timothy 5:23.
75 1 Timothy 4:8.
76 Acts 8:39-40.
77 Jonah 1:17, 2:10.
78 John 6:1-14.
79 Matthew 14:25.
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.