Thursday, November 18, 2010

Learning from others

It's common understanding that we learn from others.  Teachers are the "others" that kids learn from.  Experienced parents are the "others" that new parents learn from.  We learn new ideas, material, information, and habits from watching, listening, and heeding the instruction of others.

Oftentimes, those "others" will actually be quite similar to us.  They'll have the same tastes and desires.  We'll probably share a common ethnic or religious background with them.  But what's often underestimated is the value of learning from someone who is truly "other".  Someone outside your circle.  Someone who doesn't think quite the same way you do, someone who doesn't necessarily have the same goals or values.

As I prepare a sermon, I try to get as much data as possible in my head regarding a certain Bible text.  My typical plan is to first translate from Greek or Hebrew and then begin to consult commentaries.  And as a LCMS Lutheran, I simply can't recommend Concordia's Big Blue Book (technically, they are the "Concordia Commentary" series) commentaries enough.  They are scholarly, faithfully Lutheran, and richly profitable for Bible study and sermon preparation.  But the only problem is that there aren't enough of them.  Not yet.  It will take years, maybe even decades, before the entire Bible is covered by this excellent series.

But that very lack is what drove me to realize afresh the value of learning not only from within a circle of shared backgrounds, but from outside it, as well.  In my search for valuable and time-honored exposition of the Scriptures, I stumbled across an online version of John Calvin's Biblical commentaries and found them to be *gasp!* profitable for my studies.

Yes, you heard that correctly.  A Lutheran--an LCMS Lutheran, no less--has learned to value God's truth that is expounded by John Calvin.

I find value in John Calvin because he's from outside my circle.  It's not because I always agree with him; I don't.  It's not because he is a better exegete or scholar than any other man in the history of the Church; he isn't.  But it is because reading Calvin forces me to think critically.  As I read his exposition of Scripture I become aware of how his theology drives his understanding and application of Scripture, and the difference between our theologies draws me into a dialogue with the centuries-dead theologian that sharpens my Lutheran grasp of Scriptures even as it hones my appreciation for the rich diversity of people who are nevertheless knitted together into the Church, the mystical Body of Jesus Christ.

"All truth is God's truth."  I am grateful for a man like John Calvin who brings me gems of God's truth.  Because where he agrees with Scripture, Calvin speaks God's truth.  Where grace is upheld, where Christ is honored, where Law and Gospel are rightly divided, John Calvin proclaims the pure truth of God.  But he does so as if in a different language, with different words and phrases than I am used to hearing.  And the beauty of hearing God's truth in Calvin's tongue is refreshing and comforting; like seeing my home in a satellite picture; like hearing a favorite hymn in a different language.

Always remember that you can learn from others outside your circle, from others who don't talk or think quite the same way you do.  It will keep you humble, it will keep you kind, and it will keep you in constant awe that no matter where genuine truth is told, you will be hearing God's truth.


  1. Anonymous3:28 PM

    This reminds me of why I like Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary. He brings me back to the text with comments based on "Observe This" or "Note That." Rather than pointing me to weigh what others have said about the text, he calls me to look at the text itself. I like that in a commentary.

  2. Excellent observations T.

  3. Anonymous3:18 PM

    It is your love for the Text that commands my respect. Grace to you!
    From a brother outside your tradition, but an admirer of much within your tradition,