Heart & Mind: What The Bible Says About Learning by Ruth Beechick

2571646In 1986 Carl F. H. Henry wrote in his autobiography that Christian institutions of higher education were abandoning their primary mission of focusing on the cognitive aspects of Christian thought in favor of piety and activism.[1] It is unknown whether he was familiar with Ruth Beechick’s initial 1982 version of Heart & Mind, then entitled A Biblical Psychology of Learning, but he would have benefitted from her contextual approach to holistic education.  Ruth Beechick went on to pioneer great advancements in Christian education, including important contributions to homeschooling.  Heart & Mind presents human learning in view of the total man, eschewing compartmentalization.  As David Dockery wrote “We need not be forced to choose between head, heart, and hands while recognizing the important role of Christian higher education.”[2]  Ruth Beechick presents man as the image bearer of God who is most effectively educated when considered in toto.

Summary of Contents

In Heart & Mind, Ruth Beechick calls for a unified approach to education which is informed by secular learning theories but based on scriptural authority.  In this sense she considers advances made by nonreligious academics useful in utility and then extends their tenets to theology as a means of cobbling a working model of holistic learning.  Her theological foundation was the work of Franz Delitzsch (2) and specifically his innovative work A System of Biblical Psychology. Though written over one hundred years ago, Delitzsch forged important and new insights to the gestalt of human learning, writing “It is the life of the heart that is meant, which on the one hand is the summative unity into which the willing and thought-forming activity of the νοῦς is dissolved; and, on the other, the secret spring whence the νοῦς receives its impulses, which it adopts into consciousness, and translates into acts of will.”[3]  Beechick extends Delitzsch (whose work was primarily theological in emphasis) to a foundational framework upon which both curriculum and methodology may be effectively constructed.

Beechick updated her work in 2004, building on the advances made by John and Beatrice Lacey in neuroscientific studies focused on the integration of psychology and physiology with specific emphasis on the interconnectivity of cognitive processes and their interplay with physiological functions.  To Beechick, these studies illumined Biblical truths regarding the function of the heart and its connection to the brain in the systemic realization of knowledge – steps far advanced of rote memorization.  Beechick found this connection to be superior to the simplistic humanistic and behavioral theories proffered as de rigueur cornerstones of contemporary educational theory.

Heart & Mind surveys basic educational theories, largely along the lines of compartmentalization vs man as a holistic image bearer of God.  Beechick utilizes great economy in providing an academic yet accessible overview of broad major educational theories into less than 200 pages.  In nine chapters the book explores structural learning constructs in a workmanlike manner with sufficient yet succinct referential suggestions for further exploration.  Most impressively, her concluded thesis of the heart’s primacy as the locus of learning is complementary to step advances made by secular predecessors.

Critical Evaluation

Augustine wrote “Nay, but let every good and true Christian understand that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to his Master.”[4]  The premise of all truth as God’s truth was thereafter expanded by many including Aquinas[5] and Calvin[6] and has thankfully been embraced in Heart & Mind.  Unlike many Christian education theorist, Ruth Beechick presents an unthreatened, open approach toward amalgamating secular advancements with Biblical truth.  In  1946 Gordon Clark complained that Christian colleges were becoming “pagan education with a chocolate coating of Christianity” and many have since ascribed to a Benedictine abandonment of any foundation built on secular philosophy.[7]  Beechick will have none of that.

The core strength of Heart & Mind is its unapologetic worldview that truth is not threatened by investigation.  Where centuries of theologians and academics have written off the Biblical language of the heart as the seat of man’s learning, Beechick takes scripture at face value, allowing its words to be understood as presented (10).  Though radically (and often diametrically) contrasted with humanistic behavioral theory, Beechick simply insists that they did not go far enough.

Amalgamation is fraught with the dangerous possibility of patchwork theory woven for convenience.  As John Brubacher warned “an eclectic philosophy may not be an impossible position for an uncritical relativist, even though it is difficult to justify on close examination” but wholesale dismissal of secular theory in avoidance of the hard work of digging out truth it is equally unacceptable.[8]  Ultimately, it is most essential to parse the variety of piece parts related to means from the essential ends of all educational endeavors. While philosophy guides the theorist toward a framework of tenets, the focus must ultimately drive a curriculum that promotes a prioritized affectation of values in the learner.

Over a hundred years ago, Herbert Spencer published What Knowledge Is of Most Worth wherein he said “Before there can be a rational curriculum, we must settle which things it most concerns us to know; we must determine the relative value of knowledges.”[9]  Spencer ultimately settled on science has the sine qua non of all educational endeavors – a logical continuation of the humanistic thrusts of the late nineteenth century transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emmerson and others, and curriculum development has since hung on that faulty scaffold.  Christian education has approximated similar rigor in an effort to legitimize itself to secular academia, but has largely produced what Gaebelein describes as “scholastic schizophrenia in which a highly orthodox theology coexists uneasily with a teaching of nonreligious subjects that differs little from that in secular institutions.”[10]

Ruth Beechick’s refreshing book presents a clear-eyed view through the quagmire of the pseudo intellectualism of secular theory in a Christian wrapper by placing the Bible as a litmus overlay by which each individual theory must be validated.  Her worldview of man as the image bearer of God extends beyond a spiritual, yet intangible lexicon to a holistic and pragmatic understanding of the totality of God’s creation – physical, emotional, and eternal.  Beechick would therefor stand alongside Knight (with Augustine) saying “All truth, if it be truth indeed, is God’s truth, no matter where it is found. As a result, the curriculum of the Christian school must be seen as a unified whole, rather than as a fragmented and rather loosely connected “gang” of topics.”[11]

In Heart & Mind, Ruth Beechick writes that “Emotions and intellect see more clearly together than either can alone.  Western thought is not used to this idea.”(77)  Indeed, much of the aforementioned problems of compartmentalization stems from the Western insistence on objective analysis wherein man is the final arbiter.  Beechick affirms man as God’s creation whose makeup is wholly defined by his Creator.  Our highest aim must always been the alignment of our understanding with God’s truth.  One these sights are accurately honed, Beechick’s vison of an education framework based on the heart and mind will be realized.

Bibliography

Augustine, Chrysostom John, and Philip Schaff. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. 14 vols. New York,: The Christian literature company., 1887.

Brubacher, John Seiler. Modern Philosophies of Education. 4th ed. Mcgraw-Hill Series in Education. New York,: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

Calvin, Jean, and William Pringle. Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948.

Clark, Gordon Haddon. A Christian Philosophy of Education. Grand Rapids, Mich.;: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing company, 1946.

Delitzsch, Franz, and Robert Ernest Wallis. A System of Biblical Psychology. (2d ed. Edinburgh,: T. & T. Clark; etc., 1867.

Dockery, David S., and Timothy George. The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking : A Student’s Guide. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012.

Gaebelein, Frank E. The Pattern of God’s Truth : Problems of Integration in Christian Education. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954.

Henry, Carl F. H. Confessions of a Theologian : An Autobiography. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1986.

Knight, George R. Philosophy & Education : An Introduction in Christian Perspective. 4th ed. Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2006.

Spencer, Herbert. Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical. New York,: D. Appleton and company, 1896.

Thomas, and Dominicans. English Province. Summa Theologica. Complete English ed. 5 vols. Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1981.

 

Endnotes 

[1]Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian : An Autobiography (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1986), 23.

[2]David S. Dockery and Timothy George, The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking : A Student’s Guide (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 21.

[3]Franz Delitzsch and Robert Ernest Wallis, A System of Biblical Psychology, (2d ed. (Edinburgh,: T. & T. Clark; etc., 1867), 219.

[4]Augustine, Chrysostom John, and Philip Schaff, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 14 vols. (New York,: The Christian literature company., 1887), 545.

[5]Thomas and Dominicans. English Province., Summa Theologica, Complete English ed., 5 vols. (Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1981), 436.

[6]Jean Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 300.

[7]Gordon Haddon Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education (Grand Rapids, Mich.;: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing company, 1946), 164.

[8] John Seiler Brubacher, Modern Philosophies of Education, 4th ed., Mcgraw-Hill Series in Education (New York,: McGraw-Hill, 1968), 134.

[9]Herbert Spencer, Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (New York,: D. Appleton and company, 1896), 11.

[10]Frank E. Gaebelein, The Pattern of God’s Truth : Problems of Integration in Christian Education (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), 41.

[11]George R. Knight, Philosophy & Education : An Introduction in Christian Perspective, 4th ed. (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2006), 225.