A True Knowledge
Good morning. This is working theology.
Education is a category that’s ripe for disruption. Tuition has grown faster than incomes over the last decade, eating into slow-growing wages and rising inequality.
Additionally, the internet has created a way for people to learn virtually anything for free from world-leading experts—even sophisticated topics like quantitative finance or gene editing—from YouTube and Google.
At the same time, many new education technology (edtech) companies are also creating new ways for students and employees to learn in-demand skills. Companies like Degreed, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) grow like weeds in an environment like this.
You can see this trend by following the money. More money was invested into edtech last year than ever before, to the tune of $18.66 billion, according to edtech research firm Metaari.
With this level of education available for free, or at least a very small cost, while tuition keeps sky rocketing, why would anyone pay to go to school?
First, talent is competitive. Unemployment rests at historical lows, so the labor market is tight for most companies. There are huge shortages for nurses, teachers, physicians, data analysts, cybersecurity experts, and many other fields. That means you can go to school, get the credential, and easily land one of these jobs.
Second, employers want that credential. Saying you have a master’s degree or a niche certification shows you can put in the time to work hard and achieve your goals as well as having a specific set of skills or knowledge to do the job well. Though some companies are dropping college degree requirements for many jobs, culturally a credential still sends a powerful signal to employers. All things being equal, would you rather hire a master’s degree holder or someone with only a high school diploma?
Third, there is a different level of knowledge (and confidence) that comes with being formally trained by experts in their field. Some of my professors have been world-renowned experts in New Testament manuscripts, or first-century history and culture. Or they have been trained by world-renowned experts: My current economics professor was trained by four Nobel Prize winners at the Chicago Booth School of Business. There’s something powerful about receiving knowledge passed down through generations of scholars.
However, I’ve found that there are two kinds of knowledge: information and wisdom.
In his book Religious Affections, eighteenth-century theologian Jonathan Edwards contrasts mere knowledge that honey is sweet with actually tasting the honey’s sweetness: “he that has perceived the sweet taste of honey, knows much more about it, than he who has only looked upon, and felt of it.”†
In other words, you can intellectually know that honey is sweet, but knowing honey is sweet because you have tasted it is a different kind of knowledge. The former is simply information.
This second kind of knowledge is more like wisdom, or perhaps “spiritual” knowledge. You get this kind through experience, through silence or contemplation. It’s the kind that goes down deep into the soul where you truly know a thing, and you’ll never forget it. I think this is the kind of knowledge the Bible talks about.
For years I thought being a spiritual person meant you cram your head full of theological information. I thought you could be closer to God by parsing dispensational and covenant theology, premillennialism and postmillennialism, supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism, and all the other ten-dollar words. The same holds for writing, business, and the other subjects I’ve studied.
But now I realize none of that matters.
Getting closer to God—being more “spiritual”—comes from a quiet gratitude, a grace toward others and yourself, a longing for the beautiful, eternal city. In that realm, some of the least educated people you’ll ever meet are the most spiritually educated people on the planet. You can see the credentials of contentment in their eyes, degrees of delight in their kindness toward you.
In all your striving and learning today, and all the technological advancements in education, I hope you seek the true knowledge that comes from a quiet rest in your soul. Find the truth buried beneath mere information.
Thanks for reading.
† Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in Three Parts (Ames, Iowa: International Outreach), 93.