The Learning Process; Thinking in Circles

June 6, 2010

Christian Life, General

I just recently read an article by A.W. Tozer which addressed the fear of repeating ideas and I think he touched on an important point.  The learning process for anything is never a linear exploration.  Memory, inquisitiveness, familiarity, mastery of basics, practise and more, are all part of how we begin to understand concepts and principles.  Never, at any time, have I been able to directly assimilate an ability and short circuit the learning process; including within my spiritual walk.  Jesus was a teacher and, clearly, we can see in scripture that he wrestled with His disciples’ understanding over and over again.  Jesus used parables and stories as effective ways of placing into context certain truths.  He was sensitive to our human frailties and desirous to carefully walk us into a knowledge of the truth.  Tozer’s comments, in part, are below.  As a body of believers, we aren’t to be snobbish about drilling down repeatedly into the glorious truths of scripture.  What man, who having once read through the Bible, would afterwards declare that there is nothing further to be gleaned?  Fortunate for you if you have a Pastor who is willing to strive until all in his flock are able to understand.

Ministers and religious writers are often blamed for repeating themselves.  The implication is that an idea, once it has been annunciated, should be left behind and mentioned no more forever, the notion being, apparently, that ideas are like birthdays: nobody can have the same one twice, or if he does, there is something wrong with his memory or his honesty.

The truth is that we all think in circles.  It is totally impossible for anyone to take off on a train of thought and move away in a straight line from the point of departure.  We are all compelled by the structure of our minds to move around a circle, passing every so often the same ideas, which appear to us as loved and familiar landmarks.

There are accessible to mankind only a relatively few ideas, and these make up the whole fabric of human thought possible to anyone from a schoolboy to Plato.  New facts may be added to the sum of our knowledge day by day to the end of our lives, but these can do no more than enlarge the tapestry somewhat: they cannot change the color or alter the pattern appreciably.  Greatness lies in the ability to combine and recombine the old and familiar ideas to form new and “original” beauties…

…[L]et us remember that the greatest artists of the centuries were compelled to paint their famous masterpieces with only seven basic colors.  Their genius enabled them to create innumerable combinations and shades, but never to find any new colors.  And the mighty works of a Beethoven or a Donizetti are but a handful of musical tones skillfully combined.

So the creative art of the genius as well as the humbler thoughts of the less endowed minister must move around the familiar circle.  And this is true in every field of human thought, including Christian theology.  There are, for instance, 150 psalms in our Bible, every one of which is a treasure in itself and inestimably precious to the worshiping heart.  Yet if we were to eliminate all repetition we could reduce the whole collection to a mere half dozen or less.  The same shining thoughts occur over and over again, as the colors in a painting or the notes in a symphony: but they never tire the mind that is aflame with the love of God: each old sweet thought seems as new and as fresh as if we had discovered it only a moment before. 

In the New Testament the same thing is true.  Were some critic to decide arbitrarily that he would not permit Paul to express the same idea twice, his thirteen epistles could be shortened from the eighty pages they now occupy in the average English Bible to a surprising few.  Yet no Christian would think of permitting such an outrage….

…Some preachers have such a phobia for repetition and such an unnatural fear of the familiar that they are forever straining after the odd and the startling.  The church page of the newspaper almost any Saturday will be sure to announce at least one or two sermon topics so far astray as to be positively grotesque: only by the most daring flight of uncontrolled imagination can any relation be established between the topic and the religion of Christ.  We dare not impugn the honesty or the sincerity of the men who thus flap their short wings so rapidly in an effort to take off into the wild blue yonder, but we do deplore their attitude.  No one should try to be more original than an apostle.

Taken from: “God Tells the Man Who Cares” by A.W. Tozer; We All Think In Circles; 197o, Christian Publications Inc.



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