When we speak of transformative learning, are we promoting new ideas that are simply the latest trends in education? For some perspective, let’s look to the Apostle John’s short letter to Gaius (III John).
We will look only at the first four verses, and in particular at verse four.
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. ESV
In this short introduction to his letter, John reveals his priorities. What are they?
Take a moment to reflect on what John emphasizes here. What do you find? Please use the space below to write down your reflections.
What strikes me is the repeated emphasis on the truth, which he uses four times. Certainly John is happy to hear that Gaius knows the truth well. There is no separating the truth from spiritual growth. I also see that John ties together truth and walking, as he says, “walking in the truth.” The last sentence is especially noteworthy when he says that he has “no greater joy than to hear that (his) children are walking in the truth.”
Undoubtedly we see here that there is a connection between knowing the truth and living out that truth in daily life. Our modern education systems around the world, including in seminaries and Bible schools, we have placed most of our emphasis on knowing.
Transformative learning is not a new idea, it is an attempt to bring together what John calls walking in the truth. We see here that the truth is monumentally important. We also see that John’s greatest joy is to see his children walking in the truth.
With that in mind, let’s look at verse four:
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
In reflecting on John’s great joy, I have four observations to keep in mind when developing your course or curriculum.
1. Joy! – “I have no greater joy”
The Apostle John himself proclaims that joy is an integral part of true spiritual growth. He rejoices that his (students) are walking in the truth, not just that they know the truth. This is in contrast to what our modern education systems emphasize: correct answers, high grades on exams, etc.
Transformative learning moves beyond knowing the truth.
Reflection: How might your assessment methods change if you were to include the kind of joy that John has here as part of your assessment strategy?
2. Relationship – “my children”
John here shows us that his priorities were more than being their teacher; he developed intimate relationships with the goal of spiritual growth.
Transformative learning must include developing close relationships.
Reflection: How might you build into your course ways for your students to develop the relationships that are essential for spiritual growth?
3. Local – “walking”
Normally we think of “walking” as doing, acting, applying, or obeying. We could also use more educational terms to describe walking: holistic or transformational. Here we use “local” to emphasize that we all can only walk in one place at a time, and that place is wherever we are at the time.
Transformative learning is always local.
Reflection: Consider this statement: The further that the content of a course is from the student’s daily experience (where they walk), the less the chance that it will affect that experience (their walk).
How might you bring together the content of your course and the local situations of your students?
4. Reflective – “walking in the truth”
To walk in the truth takes some real grappling with the truth as it relates to real life, to real relationships. As we read the Bible, we see over and over people to whom the truth is revealed and who must then reflect on that truth as it relates to the situations that they face—from Jacob wrestling with God to Moses providing God with feedback that he is not a good speaker to Jonah asking God to kill him to Peter telling Jesus to wash his whole body. All of these are situations where we see men trying to figure out how the truth affects their actions, their walk, including their relationships.
Transformative learning develops students who are lifelong reflective learners.
Reflection: How might you facilitate your students’ growth towards being lifelong reflective learners, ones who continue to build a vibrant faith that results in walking in the truth (and in your joy)?
For further reflection:
Using a search tool or by just reading, look through I John and note what John says about knowing the truth. (You can simply do a search for “truth.”) What further thoughts do you have about transformative learning and how might this influence how you develop your course and the priorities for your students?