Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Standing on Shoulders

Back in college, I had an amazing theology professor my final semester who radically influenced my view of the kingdom of God. He had these amazingly novel ideas about the kingdom being here but not here, now but not yet. I was floored; how did he figure all this out? I figured he was a genius.

Then I read George Eldon Ladd and Dallas Willard. Turns out he wasn't a genius; he was simply well-read. Some of the exact quotes and diagrams he used in class were Ladd's. (Later, I found that he had Ladd as a professor in seminary). I was learning Ladd's ideas and I didn't even know it.

I had another professor who had some revolutionary ideas about youth ministry and education. My paradigm was rocked over and over again as he explained these new educational ideas about shared praxis, developmentalism, dialectical hermeneutics, and holistic kingdom-minded teaching (lots of big words that mean really cool things). He shaped my worldview in ways that I am still processing to this day.

Then I read Thomas Groome's Christian Religious Education and Robert Kegan's The Evolving Self. Turns out nearly every revolutionary idea directly stemmed from ideas found in Groome and Kegan. These ideas were over 20 years old. And both Groome and Kegan's ideas stemmed from others before them--Piaget, Dewey, Freire, etc.

It's not that my professors were disingenuous with their ideas. Nor were they plagiarizing the work of others and claiming it as their own. (When I later read through the bibliographies they included in their class notes, I found all of the above authors included.) As the latter professor expressed in one of my final classes, we are simply standing on the shoulders of those who have come before us and peering over the edge into future ideas. Yet while there is "nothing new under the sun," personal creativity and a rapidly shifting culture demands that we invent new ideas, methods, and paradigms that connect the past with the future.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, I'm trying to learn from great past thinkers/doers and apply that knowledge to the present in order to shape the future. The question for me now is, who's shoulders should I stand on?

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