Scott Barkley’s story about Jerry Vines’ enrolling in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Ph. D program has inspired and motivated me – not to enroll in a Ph.D. program (it is doubtful I could be accepted), but to be a lifelong learner.
Dr. Vines graduated from Mercer University in 1959, the same year I enrolled at the school, and I am sure he must have graduated with honors. I graduated by the grace of God and with a great sigh of relief.
On a recent trip to the Blue Willow Inn, Dr. Vines told me about his venture back into academia. It did not surprise me, because I know he faithfully and consistently spends his mornings in study and is quite proficient in systematic theology, homiletics, ecclesiology, Koine Greek (the language in which the New Testament was originally written), and very likely in many other disciplines.
One of Dr. Vines’ first assignments is to read 5,000 pages of material as one of the requirements for his advanced degree. Since he is an avid reader, he is well into accomplishing that responsibility. And I agree with Southwestern President Paige Patterson who said, “I will be the most surprised man on earth if he does not write one of the finest dissertations ever.”
Dr. Vines has become a lifelong learner, which is not only the ongoing pursuit of knowledge for personal and professional reasons, but for believers a holy curiosity about the issues of life that really matter. Continuing to learn not only enhances personal development and receptivity, but mental alertness. My personal care physician has said to me that mental exercise is as important as physical exercise.
Albert Einstein once said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Industrialist Henry Ford commented, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” Chef Julia Childs once remarked, “You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.”
That is particularly true about things of a supernal and eternal nature, because now we see through a glass darkly. The earnest student is just getting his mind ready for the multifaceted vistas of knowledge that await him in glory.
For Christians teaching and learning are at the very heart of our faith. To be a “disciple” means to be a “learner.” In fact, God designed the church to be a community of lifelong learners and those who teach or preach must discipline themselves to be the best learners possible.
Learning is a never-ending process for the Christian. When the Apostle Paul wrote the epistle to the church at Philippi he was not a young man chronologically and he was a doomed man circumstantially, but in that letter he expressed his continual desire to “know Him” (Philippians 3:10). He wanted to learn all that he could about Christ and have an intimacy with Him.
I am convinced many Christians spend too much time in mindless trivia. There is a time for sports and certain television programs and surfing on the computer, but to permit those things to take up a significant amount of time militates against true learning.
On May 9, 1961 Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow referred to American commercial television programming as a “vast wasteland.” If it was a “wasteland” then, it is a “cesspool” now.
According to the Daily News, the average American watches five hours of TV each day with those over 65 watching more than seven hours a day. Incidentally, that translates into three-and-a-half months a year of television viewing. When you add the time spent surfing the Internet and talking on smartphones, you have basically squandered a huge portion of your life in those mindless pursuits.
On the other hand, if you become a lifelong learner of biblical truth you will not be duped and deluded by the philosophies of this world. The Apostle Paul urged us to be “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith … lest anyone takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:7-8).
Furthermore, a Christian who is a lifelong learner will live in spiritual contentment, for Christ said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).
Finally, Proverbs 9:9 says, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”
Jerry Vines’ enrollment in the SWBTS Ph.D. program is an example of him seeking to practice what he preached. Every preacher of the Gospel needs to do just that. And, it would behoove all believers to become lifelong learners of God’s infallible Word.