Information, Knowledge and Wisdom – part 2
Read part 1 here
Choose knowledge and wisdom rather than data and information
When you approach a subject, especially those that relate to the Christian life, do not necessarily try to gather as much information as possible. Do not quickly read everything available. Instead read and reflect on trusted material. Take time to meditate and digest. Your ultimate aim is not to fill your brain but to develop your character. Alexander Pope referred to people who read widely but not well ‘book-full blockheads’.
Of course, we should not be lazy. What we write and speak should be well-researched. A variety of sources are important to ensure balance and perspective. Beware of only going to sources that will simply echo back your own presuppositions. But neither should we succumb to the ‘fear of man’ that underlies the ‘need’ to include a comprehensive and up-to-the-minute bibliography. You are not trying to win the approval of people, but the approval of the Ancient of Days.
Choose sources that have stood the test of time over the latest sources
We are a continent of news junkies. We want the latest information all the time. We dismiss that which is old in favour of the latest. ‘Have you heard the latest?’ we cry. Resist the need to have the latest facts immediately after they unfold. Little of today’s news will prove significant in months to come. Opt instead for considered reflection.
When it comes to theology and the Christian life, value old books. At the very least, it is arrogant to assume that our generation has more knowledge and wisdom than previous generations. In some fields, such as the physical sciences, this may be true as we build on the achievements of those who went before. But theology and spirituality are different. The gospel is not a developing body of knowledge with new discoveries. It does need to be applied afresh to each generation, but the truth itself is unchanging. This is why the Crosslands Seminary-level course has a module dedicated to exposure to primary sources from across church history (Doctrine in Historical Perspective).
The passage of time involves an inherent process of selection. Every generation produces both gold and dross. Not everything old is good just as not everything new is dross. The advantage that the old has, is that time has sifted the gold from the dross. The books that come down to us are more likely to be those which have stood the test of time within a particular community. With the new there has been no such process.
‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field … The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever’ (Isaiah 40:6 & 8). In our information age, it is very easy to get caught up in the obsession with the quantity and speed of information – to pursue multiple sources, to cram in information, to ensure we have access to data, to prioritise the latest of everything – and then to think that this is making us knowledgeable and wise.
But true wisdom is found through a relationship with God. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’ (Proverbs 1:7). Wisdom is as much a moral phenomenon as the product of information. It is the product of prayer as well as reading. It is rooted in the enduring Word of God rather than the latest book or article. It is acquired through meditation, experience, prayer and practice. It may not be trendy or cutting edge, but it is pure gold (Psalm 19:7-11).