01. What is Public Knowledge?
What if the reliable pathways of becoming more like Jesus were a matter of public knowledge? By ‘public knowledge,’ I mean knowledge that is accessible to any interested person through consulting the evidence for what is claimed and/or well-positioned authorities on the matter. Although public knowledge is not always “common knowledge,” in that it may not be widely known and agreed-upon, public knowledge always involves claims about reality the evidence for which can be readily accessed and considered by any serious inquirer. Public knowledge, on this understanding, is knowledge that persons can attempt to certify as true if they are willing to invest the time and effort required to do so.On this way of putting things, public knowledge would be opposed to private knowledge. For example, a person’s medical records or tax filings are normally private knowledge; the claims and their evidence base are not made accessible to anyone interested.
When hearing some claim—for example, that Pluto is no longer considered a planet—someone might ask, “How do you know that?” In response, the claimant could say, “Well, it’s a matter of public knowledge.” The idea is that all anyone would have to do is consult the International Astronomical Union or look into a powerful telescope and they could access the positive support for the claim. A person may agree or disagree that the evidence or authority is adequate to justify the claim, but nonetheless the claim is being presented as public knowledge. That is, the phenomenon in question is being presented as a fact that is adequately supported by accessible evidence and susceptible to confirmation or disconfirmation. On this way of thinking of things, to successfully know something is to represent that thing as it actually is on an appropriate basis of thought and experience.This is a definition of knowledge developed by the Christian philosopher and spiritual writer Dallas Willard. Much of this present essay follows lines of thought developed by Willard. For his definition of knowledge and discussion of moral knowledge see Dallas Willard, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2018): 1–44. For Willard’s related discussion of the need for spiritual knowledge, see Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (New York: HarperOne, 2009): 1–3, 17–23, 65–93, 139–166. So, to present something as public knowledge is to put forward the claim in question as the way things actually are on a purportedly appropriate basis of thought and experience that can be evaluated by anyone interested in doing so.
Of course, items of public knowledge can become common, widespread, generally agreed-upon knowledge when the items are widely endorsed by relevant trusted sources and/or the evidence for the claims is recognized as adequate by most persons. For instance, it is common knowledge among those familiar with world geography that the country of Australia is surrounded by water and the country of France is not. Typically, ideas commonly understood to be true and well-grounded in a context are presented as knowledge by the authoritative institutions in that setting (e.g., the relevant academic disciplines, government agencies, schools, professional associations, the medical community, acknowledged experts, etc.). Over time this sort of knowledge can seep into a culture through art, music, everyday conversation, the daily news, movies, novels, pop culture, etc. such that eventually it is presumed to be true and goes without saying. In such situations, publicly available knowledge has become the background assumptions or underlying conceptual framework within a cultural context (part of the zeitgeist or spirit of the age). While the claim that Pluto is not the ninth planet in our solar system might still receive a bit of astonishment in some circles, it likely will be the automatic presumption in most contexts in the near future. Publicly available knowledge can become common knowledge and even culturally presumed, background knowledge.There are epistemically principled and unprincipled ways that a thought can become part of the background assumptions within a social setting. What I am describing with Pluto’s planetary status is the principled way: publicly available knowledge becomes common knowledge and eventually cultural presumption. This principled trajectory occurs due to the epistemic credentials of a claim winning over the relevant thought leaders and institutions of knowledge. Alternatively, nonrational social factors—for example, a marketing campaign—could eradicate the idea that Pluto is a planet but not by means of rational persuasion nor motivated by epistemic values. This would be an epistemically unprincipled way of a thought becoming cultural presumption. For further discussion, see Willard, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, 6–8.
02. The Way of Jesus as Public Knowledge
Having spelled out a bit of what is meant by public knowledge, let me return to my opening supposition. What if the reliable pathways of becoming more like Jesus were a matter of public knowledge? That would mean that if someone wanted to take on the qualities of Jesus’ spiritual and moral life, the effective ways to do so could be identified by consulting the relevant evidence directly and/or well-positioned authorities on the matter. That is to say, if someone walked into a local Christian church or Christian university and said, “I want to become the kind of person who can love God and neighbors like Jesus did,” persons at that church or school would be able to point the inquirer to trustworthy sources of information about how to make progress towards that end. The available information would be grounded in an adequate basis of thought and experience that the interested party could investigate if they desired to do so.
In order to have such knowledge available for the public, the nature of Christian spiritual formation would need to be a body of publicly certifiable knowledge. By ‘”Christian spiritual formation,” I mean to refer to the overall process of persons being conformed to the spiritual and moral character of Christ as that process has been developed by Jesus and his tradition. Stemming from Jesus and his earliest followers, Christians down through the ages have developed views on how formation in Christ goes and those views make up a domain of purported knowledge. That it is to say, Christian philosophers, systematic theologians, psychologists, biblical exegetes, historical theologians, spiritual theologians, pastors, priests, spiritual directors, and everyday Jesus-followers have put forward positive proposals for what it would mean to be conformed to Christ’s image, how best to go about it, the barriers to it, the dynamics of it, and how we might assess whether it has occurred. Such persons are approaching Christian spiritual formation as a domain of reality and making knowledge of that reality publicly available. The evidence and arguments for their models of growth and the effectiveness of them in bringing about human transformation can be evaluated by any interested party. Again, as in any field of research, persons will agree or disagree with the evidence, arguments, and assessments put forward for this or that method of spiritual change, but the subject matter would be approached as something that could be verified by someone willing to invest the time and effort to do so. Christian spiritual formation as a domain of public knowledge indicates that spiritual formation in Christ is a reality that can be investigated and understood to better and worse degrees.
03. Do We Present Christian Spiritual Formation as Public Knowledge?
But we now must ask, do Christians regularly present Jesus’ teachings and overall way of life as that has come to be understood in the Christian tradition as a domain of public knowledge? That is, do Christian theologians, historians, clergy, spiritual directors, and the like present Christian spiritual formation as taught and exemplified by Jesus and his people down through the ages as verifiable information on how to become a good person and have a good life? If persons walked into a local Christian church or Christian university and said, “I want to become the kind of person who can love God and neighbors like Jesus did,” would longtime members and leaders within those settings know what to say? No doubt many would have something to say, but would they know it to be right and present it as such? And, in doing so, would they know enough to know what they do not know and be up front about that?
Given that full-bodied love of God and neighbor are, according to Jesus, the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:34–40), it would not be odd to think that every Christian educational setting would have information readily available on what these commands entail and how to develop the capacity to fulfill them. But do they? How many churches, for instance, have resources on hand—perhaps a series of online videos or a Sunday morning class—that presents reliable pathways to fulfilling the two great commandments? It would be interesting to investigate how long someone could actively participate in a Christian group and still have little to no understanding of what these two commands involve let alone how to develop the capacity to fulfill them. How many graduates of Christian colleges or seminaries can say that in their educational training they have learned how to become free of debilitating anxiety, self-condemning thoughts, envy, gossip, resentment, hatred, racism, and the like and how to become more loving, joyful, patient, compassionate, and kind? Is such character transformation an essential part of the curriculum? Is it presented as knowledge by those with the academic credentials to back it up?
These are not rhetorical questions. Perhaps there are many Christian educational settings where this kind of knowledge-based training is being conducted. While I certainly do not want to be overly pessimistic, I find it easy to imagine a Sunday morning, post-sermon conversation in which one church member shares she is struggling with anxiety and where the recommendations by other church members (myself included!) might be psychotherapy, anti-anxiety medication, yoga, and mindfulness meditation stemming from Zen Buddhism. Someone might offer to pray for the person asking God to supernaturally heal them of their anxiety. But I fear it unlikely that there would be substantive discussion of Jesus’ teaching about anxiety from Matthew 6 or Paul’s presentation in Philippians 3 on how he learned to find contentment no matter his circumstances. I hope I am wrong, but I worry that the Christian tradition’s unique contribution to spiritual and moral change may not even come to mind for many committed Christians as a reliable and realistic method of transformation. If biblical teaching such as that mentioned above did come to mind, would the biblical passages be quoted as simply commands to be obeyed? Or would they be understood as pointed to a psychologically realistic process of change? Could it be that Christian communities often do not understand how to effectively access the transformational resources available in Christ and so they turn to “secular” resources as the best means of change on offer? These “secular” sources are often helpful (for example, psychotherapy or anti-anxiety medication), but could it be that many Christians do not understand how they can effectively integrate these resources with the superior efficacy of the gracious, transforming work of the Holy Spirit?
In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Dallas Willard writes,
For serious churchgoing Christians, the hindrance to true spiritual growth is not unwillingness. While they are far from perfect, no one who knows such people can fail to appreciate their willingness and goodness of heart. For my part, at least, I could no longer deny the facts. I finally decided their problem was a theological deficiency, a lack in teaching, understanding, and practical direction. And the problem, I also decided, was one that the usual forms of ministry and teaching obviously do not remedy.Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperOne, 1988): 18.
Perhaps this was just Willard’s experience or is only true of a smattering of North American “serious churchgoing Christians.” Perhaps. While it is hard to assess such things, a survey of North American Christians found that “a majority of churchgoing adults are uncertain as to what their church would define as a ‘healthy, spiritually mature follower of Christ’ and they were no more likely to have personally developed a clear notion of such a life.”https://www.barna.com/research/barna-studies-the-research-offers-a-year-in-review-perspective/ Accessed September 15, 2022. It is hard to imagine that there is deep understanding of the process of spiritual maturation if the goal of that process is unclear. Indeed, a survey found that 81 percent of self-identified Christians “contend that spiritual maturity is achieved by following the rules in the Bible.”Barba Research. Following “the rules” in the Bible is not a bad idea, but following those rules will certainly go much better when they are understood as part of an overall way of life with Jesus in his Father’s kingdom through the empowering Holy Spirit. It is only when that overall, life-context is actively engaged that God’s commands (or rules) “are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
04. Christian Formation as Something Less Than Public Knowledge
The impression that Christian spiritual formation is not regularly presented as public knowledge makes some sense when we consider some of the factors that work against such an approach. What follows are a few of the forces that keep Christian spiritual formation from being emphasized at all or, if emphasized, discussed as something less than publicly available, certifiable knowledge.
First, there are historical reasons to think that an in-depth theology of spiritual growth has been an area of neglect in Christian theology and ministerial training and, thereby, an area neglected in congregational settings.See, for instance, Richard Lovelace, “The Sanctification Gap,” Theology Today 29:4 (1973), 363–369. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/004057367302900402 (accessed 3 November 2022). Lovelace is noting a sanctification gap within Protestant Christianity. Things would need to be said differently for the historical legacy of Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox theolog when it comes to spirituality. If so, Christian education will tend to focus on other matters in place of a regular emphasis the nature of spiritual growth. Moreover, it is likely there will be a focus on these other matters in a manner that is disconnected from practical, spiritual living. For instance, while Christian educational settings often address Bible study methods, ensure doctrinal correctness, introduce church membership, provide ministry training, and present Christian perspectives on controversial issues, how often are these topics connected to one’s overall life with Christ? Topics such as these are important and have their place, but where in academic or parish-based Christian education do we discuss the need for and nature of conformity to the image of Christ? Do we have classes—in our schools, churches, seminaries—that take seriously Jesus’ commission to teach them to observe all that he commanded (Matt. 28:20) or are we living downstream of a gap in understanding, teaching, and practices of sanctification?
Second, when Christian spiritual formation is emphasized, it can easily fail to be presented as something that one could come to have confidence in and discover to be reliable. For instance, it can be easy to assume that most Christians already know how to grow and on that assumption resort to mere public exhortations to “press on.” We might offer inspiring testimonials of change without any detailed teaching about the actual dynamics of how that change takes place. If our audience doesn’t have a thorough understanding of growth, it may seem to them that the exhortation to grow is simply a call to try harder to outwardly behave or pray more fervently for deliverance. In some cases, those of us doing the teaching and leading might tacitly have the view that what is required is, in fact, simply increased willpower or fervent prayer. We ourselves might have slipped into thinking that the fundamental problem of spiritual immaturity is the weakness of the human will or a lack of prayer. There is no in-depth understanding provided for why the human will struggles to choose the good even after regeneration or the role of petitionary prayer in characterological change. To tackle those issues would require a deep dive into the reality of the Spirit’s transforming work in light of the nature of the fallen, human will. And, again, that seems to be an area of theological neglect.
Third, at times the understanding of spiritual formation that is presented in Christian educational settings is rooted solely in one’s own personal experience, whether one’s own success and failures in growth or what one has seen in others. While the individual Christian’s experience is certainly relevant, when it comes to presenting reliable methods of growth to those for whom we are responsible, we need to do better than personal anecdotes. When we go to the dentist to have a tooth removed, we don’t want to hear that the dentist’s qualifications consist in him or her having once had their own successful tooth extraction or that they watched others successfully extract teeth. We are rightly expecting a better basis than that for someone to act responsibly in caring for our teeth. Are we not right in expecting a sturdier basis for those who seek to spiritually care for and direct our souls? Again, appeal to personal testimony is relevant to approaching Christian formation as knowledge, but only as part of a broader evidential basis.
Fourth, a lot of Christian literature and speaking on the spiritual life is devotional or quasi-devotional in nature. Understandably, such presentations do not provide theoretical evidence and argumentation for their points-of-view. The good spiritual writer moves his or her reader with story, image, and well-crafted language, but not typically sustained treatment of biblical, theological, historical, or psychological theory. In devotional works, the words resonate based on one’s prior understanding and experience as well as the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes such books or talks are presented within a certain tradition of Christian spirituality (e.g., Ignatian, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Contemplative, etc.) where the audience shares a lot of the background assumptions and so a more detailed presentation isn’t necessary. The problem with this is where does one turn when one begins to notice discrepancies between two or more spiritual writers/speakers or when one wants to see the theoretical grounds for a certain presumed way of understanding the spiritual life? If much of our Christian literature and teaching on spiritual formation is presented in modes that do not include appeal to the evidential basis for the views put forward, then this leaves the reader or listener in the position of having to accept the presenter as a trustworthy source without recourse to coming to see for one’s self how what is asserted is true. Trustworthy authorities can certainly ground knowledge, but when those authorities conflict or one wants to verify what is said, the devotional mode of presentation does not help.
This brings me to a fifth force working against Christian spiritual formation as a field of public knowledge and that is the idea in the modern West that religious and theological discourse is a nonrational or irrational enterprise. In Religion in the University, Nicholas Wolterstorff points out that religion was removed from the modern university as an acceptable subject matter in the late nineteenth century since it was thought incapable of rational-empirical demonstration.Nicholas Wolterstorff, Religion in the University (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019). The idea that religious claims fail to live up to Modernity’s standards of reasoning can be found a century earlier in David Hume. Hume famously remarks, “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning, concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1748/2008), sect. 12, pt. 3, par. 132. Although antagonism to and bias against religion in the contemporary Western university has undergone recent shifts, there remains a tentative spirit in much theology when it comes to establishing Christian theological proposals as true in some “objective” sense. Academic theologians are hesitant to claim their methods yield truth and tend to couch their theological conclusions as merely “consistent” with their confessional tradition, or “historically orthodox,” or faithful to Scripture understood as what is the “given.” But for one’s theological proposal to be consistent with orthodox creeds or faithful to the given of Scripture is to keep questions of correspondence with reality at arm’s length. Much of this can be traced to the anti-foundationalist spirit that swept through Western theology in the late twentieth century. The problem is that a thoroughgoing disavowal of any and all properly basic foundations of knowledge or epistemic justification is self-refuting. The philosopher Laurence Bonjour is an important case-in-point. After decades of defending a non-foundationalist epistemology, Bonjour abandoned his coherentism as incapable of justifying empirical truth-claims and went on to defend modest foundationalism as the only hope of defeating epistemological skepticism. See Bonjour, “Foundationalism and the External World,” Nous 33:13 (1999), 229–249. Unfortunately, the return to foundationalist epistemologies in philosophy never quite caught hold in theology. For some discussion, see Steve L. Porter, Restoring the Foundations of Epistemic Justification: A Direct Realist and Conceptualist Theory of Foundationalism (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006): 1–8. It must be said that many have been harmed in the name of religious or Christian truth, but that problem won’t be solved by disavowing knowledge. Rather, knowledge of what is just and loving in the face of religious and nonreligious disagreement is precisely what is required to confidently stand against religiously motivated injustice. The point here is that the field of contemporary Christian theology as a whole often proceeds without a robust realism regarding the referent of theological or biblical claims and without a commitment to theological realism, there is no way of establishing Christian formation as public knowledge.
The unease with approaching theology as an attempt to accurately describe the real world is further complicated by the idea that Christian spirituality is an area of theological discourse that is particularly susceptible to mystery.The Cloud of Unknowing is perhaps one of the prime examples of seeing the Christian life as mysterious. Though, it is important to get clear on the relationship between the Christian mystical tradition and the various senses of theological mystery. Christian mysticism is in a very real sense not mysterious at all. While the Neoplatonic, Christian mystical tradition sees much that is ineffable and incomprehensible in the experience of God (apophaticism), those very claims about Christian experience are meant to be known and understood. As a development of the positive views of the Christian mystical tradition, see Denys Turner, The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (Cambridge, England: University Press, 1995). The sense of “mystery” we have in mind is the incomprehensibility of a subject matter due to human finitude, God’s infinite nature, or a combination of both. While theological method certainly has to come to grips with human epistemic limitations, vis-à-vis God and his ways, the idea that spirituality is essentially incomprehensible gives immediate pause to the pursuit of accurately understanding spiritual life and development. At times, the appeal to mystery in discussions of sanctification are thought to humble the human attempt to “figure out” the transformation process and “earn” sanctification by self-effort. It is often noted that the Spirit is like the wind and blows where it will (John 3:8) such that to try to understand the Spirit is a “chasing after the wind.” Although the wind cannot be seen nor its movement controlled, its reality and effects can certainly be comprehended. There is no mystery regarding what has happened when assessing damage from hurricane-force winds. The reality and effects of wind are not incomprehensible in the least and there is good reason to think that the reality and effects of the Spirit’s sanctifying work are also largely within human comprehension. “[Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6 NASBScripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. (www.lockman.org)) does not sound like an unutterable mystery. It sounds like an organic growth process that involves a seed, nutrients, and a dynamic of life that only God can graciously provide. Nonetheless, the degree to which mystery, understood as matters beyond human comprehension, is involved in spiritual growth is itself an important thing to come to know about Christian spiritual formation. Getting clarity on that point alone would help guide investigation into the nature of growth.
Lastly, the places that govern what counts as knowledge in much of the world today are institutions of higher education (universities, colleges, research centers, professional associations, academic journals, etc.). And yet, when it comes to scholarly work on Christian spirituality, spiritual theology, the doctrine of sanctification, Christian virtue ethics, spiritual formation, mystical theology, etc. there is often a disconnect from the scholarly level treatment and the lived Christian life. For instance, a historical argument for a certain interpretation of Bernard of Clairvaux’s four degrees of love or a philosophical discussion of the role of the human will in sanctification can successfully navigate the peer-review process and get published in an academic journal without any discussion of how the conclusions of the paper make a difference in practical Christian living. It is not that academics do not value the lived experience of Christian faith, it is just that the standards of good scholarship in these fields do not typically include practical application. And, it needs to be said, academics are not always very good at making such practical, applied points when asked or motivated to do so. Sometimes it is merely a matter of failing to translate scholarly level discussion into an idiom that is accessible to non-specialists. For whatever the reasons, there often remains a divide between town and gown when it comes to Christian spirituality.
05. A Way Forward?
More could be said regarding why it is that Christian spiritual formation is not regularly approached, presented, and understood as publicly accessible knowledge.Two further factors that work against knowledge of Christian formation will be mentioned here. First, the idea that the nature of Christian formation is something accepted by “faith” where “faith” is understood as disconnected from reason and knowledge. Second, the idea that since knowledge is merely cognitive/rationalistic and does not produce change on its own, it is irrelevant to Christian formation. Of course, if either of those two ideas are true, that would be important knowledge to have regarding Christian formation. Perhaps the deepest reason is that the human will does not want it to be presented as such. Ruth Burrows makes the point in numerous writings that spiritual knowledge constrains the human will and so we find ways to hide from the truth.For instance, Ruth Burrows, To Believe In Jesus (Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2010): xii–xiii. See also, Willard, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, 14–17. That is, when we know in some sort of sure-footed way that Jesus is alive and well and remains in the business of taking on students to his manner of life, it is a bit more difficult to spend the weekend in front of the television. Knowledge of Christ provides the basis for answering the fundamental questions of human existence: What is the good life? How do we become good persons? When we come to possess an informed, cogent understanding of such things, we are on the hook. Living according to our desires—having life on our terms—is much more difficult when we are on the hook. But if we can keep knowledge of such things at bay—keep it all a bit foggy, a matter of personal opinion, or interminable debate—that will take us off the hook, and in the meantime, we can do what we will.
In order to present Christian spiritual formation as public knowledge, persons would first need to be able to represent the reality of Jesus’ transforming ways as they actually are on an appropriate basis of thought and experience. That is, they would need to possess knowledge of the credible ways and means of Christian spiritual formation as put forward by Jesus and developed by his people across church history. Although persons can possess this knowledge to some degree in the abstract—for example, through studying the history of Christian spirituality or in-depth Bible study on these matters—there is a practical and personal component that is essential to Jesus’ way of formation. Just as the person who knows in theory but not in practice (in thought but not experience) how to ride a bike can be of some help to the learner, the one who is theoretically and personally acquainted (thought and experience) with bike riding has a depth and kind of knowledge that puts them in a better position to teach and direct others. In a similar manner, it is one thing to know in theory that the practice of contemplative prayer is connected up with decreasing anxiety and it is another thing to possess experiential knowledge of practicing contemplative prayer in a manner that decreases one’s anxiety. Moreover, since Jesus’ transforming ways require interpersonal interaction with himself and his Father by his Spirit, knowledge of Christian spiritual formation is ultimately personal knowledge. Persons who are personally acquainted with Christian spiritual formation are personally acquainted with Christ.For a helpful treatment, see H. H. Famer, “The Experience of God as Personal,” Religion In Life, vol. 2 (1933), 234–246. https://archive.org/details/FarmerGodasPersonalB (accessed 3 November 2022).
Once persons are able to represent the reality of Jesus’ transformational way of life as it is on an appropriate basis of thought and experience, then they are able to present Jesus and his way as knowledge. In order to put forward Jesus and his way as knowledge, they would testify to the real availability of Jesus and the methods of spiritual transformation that he and his Spirit make possible. The testimony would appeal to what the persons in question take to be good reasons to believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life—to believe that he has the best answers to the fundamental questions of human existence. Their evidence for so believing would likely involve biblical, historical, theological, psychological, and philosophical reasons, and may include other kinds of evidence as well. They would be able to explain the nature of spiritual transformation in Christ, reasons to think it is a reliable pathway of change, and practical steps of how to enter into such a life.
As long as the reasons or evidence that are presented are of the sort that anyone can consider and evaluate, then this would be to present Christian spiritual formation as public knowledge. That is, as the kind of knowledge that is verifiable by anyone interested in putting in the effort to do so. The verifiability of Christian spiritual formation will no doubt involve evaluating the methods of change that are put forward, but it will also include personal experimentation with Jesus and his way. For the one already committed to Jesus in some sense, this experimentation will take the form of trusting Jesus in new and challenging ways. For the one who is not committed to Jesus in any sense, this will be to experiment with the very reality of his real, active presence in human life and the reliability of his methods. Of course, not everyone will agree. But that is nothing new for publicly available knowledge. Knowledge about historical events, scientific findings, medical advice, and so on is made available to the public all the time and there is considerable public debate and ongoing disagreement about whether the purported claims are true. But such disagreement does not mean that there is no knowledge to be had nor that the evidence presented is inadequate for knowledge. Again, since knowledge constrains the will, there will be social, cultural, and personal resistance to what is put forward as knowledge of reality.
One of Jesus’ parables teaches that the reign of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. The one who finds the treasure goes and sells all she has in order to buy the field so that she can lay hold of the treasure (Matt. 13:44). This is to know life in the kingdom—the Jesus way of life—as it is in itself. It is to know it as more valuable than anything else one possesses. Knowing that the transformative way of Jesus is such a treasure, knowing that it is available if one cares to discover it, and knowing what to do to lay hold of Jesus and his way is the most important knowledge in the world. The task of the body of Christ on earth is, first, to find such knowledge themselves and then to make such knowledge publicly available to anyone else who is willing to find that what Jesus claims is so.
Senior Research Fellow and Executive Director
Martin Institute for Christianity and Culture, Westmont College
Affiliate Professor of Spiritual Formation and Theology, Biola University
Editor of the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care
The final version of this essay is published as “Christian Spiritual Formation as Public Knowledge” in Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care (Fall, 2022). It can be accessed and downloaded in PDF format here.