The Art of War, Part One

Every Christian leader is an apologist

U_S__Marines_Wallpaper_by_uedallas

Studying the art of war is crucial for preparation to fight in war.  Retired Major General Robert H. Scales argues that a national defense is dependant upon solders’ ability to think critically.  After making his case Scales concludes, “War is a thinking man’s game and only those who take the time to study war are likely to fight it competently.  Soldiers and Marines need time for reflection, time to learn, teach, research and write.”[1][1]  Every vocation necessitates education build on knowledge.  Students of every stripe must learn, then live.

“School” came from the Latin schole meaning “leisure.”  The idea was that such a prolonged opportunity for focused study would never come again.  Billy Graham was asked what he would do differently if he had life to live over again.  His response, without hesitation, was that he would study twice as much as he ministered.  John Wesley, given a hypothetical situation of knowing he had three years to live, was questioned how he would use the time.  His reply, to the point, “I would study for two and preach for one.”  Every builder, athlete, businessperson, restaurateur, everyone knows action without plan is a mitigated disaster.  Knowledge is the linchpin of life.

Proverbs 19:2 is straightforward, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, or be hasty and miss the way.”  Hebrew readers understood zeal meant excitement without direction.  They would not make snap judgments as one who was hasty.  Like the carpenter, people were taught to “measure twice, cut once.”  They would gain understanding little by little supported by the wisdom of Proverbs 21:5, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”  Not missing the way listeners were to keep their eyes on the prize.  Unlike the fool whose eyes “wandered to the ends of the earth” without focus, “a discerning man kept wisdom in view” (Proverbs 17:24).

So students, bolstered by knowledge, know that to learn, then live takes concerted effort.  Arising out of the trauma of Genesis three, the primary principle presents itself: students must dedicate themselves to learning as work.  Like the garden that would now fill with weeds, the task of learning demands consistent tilling, fertilizing, and aeration (3:17-19).  When students whine, “Why do we have to take the test?” the requisite answer is, “because you’re sinners!”  Frustration arises out of learning because learning takes such a long time.  Someone once asked me in the midst of an interim pulpit supply how long a certain sermon had taken to develop.  My answer of three years prompted wide-eyed shock!  But such is the case.  If learning is work, my fallen, fragile mind demands long-term dedication.

Tilling the soil of my mind means every time I open a book I find out how much I don’t know.  Incompletion is another byproduct of sin that compels my dedication to learning.  Add to my unfinished efforts the problem of laziness.  It is much easier to watch television than it is to read a book.  Understand, television is not the problem—I am!  As a student, the siren’s call of putting studies off until another time is a recurrent tendency.  Slothfulness then leads to “boredom.”  How many times have teachers heard, “That’s boring!”  To such a complaint comes my consistent response, “The only thing boring about that is you!”  The subject itself is not disinteresting.  A student’s poor response arising out of rebellion against work poses the problem.  Sin has corrupted the classroom just as it has every other sphere of life.  Subsequently, it is incumbent upon the student to commit to the learning life.

For the Christian, then, an intentional steadfastness to learning precedes all else.  A second major principle for a student’s vocation is the discipleship of the mind to scholarship.  Solomon’s response to The Almighty’s offer of any gift was an earnest desire for wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (1 Kings 3:7-9).  Scripture takes up mentoring the mind throughout its pages.  Romans 8:6-8 mandates the Christian mind be Spirit controlled.  Unlike our pagan counterparts, believers see the world through the lens of The Word.  A process of renewal develops through the transformation begun in the mind (Romans 12:2).  Changed thinking is the result of sanctified thinking.  Every Christian should pray with the Psalmist, “open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your law” (119:18).  Precepts from Holy Writ are available to students strapped in to the harness of a Spirit-directed, disciplined mind.  Only then can the believer hope to “bring every thought captive to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

But doesn’t our culture worship at the altar of education?  Must we not be careful that intellectual pursuits do not derail us from spiritual maturity in Christ?  Like the thematic element in the movie Sneakers—“it’s all about the information”—some have fallen prey to the academy’s manipulations.  Worshiping the intellect over the Creator (Romans 1:21) is problematic if that is our focus.  In similar fashion, arrogance producing “a big head” is not to be a Christian response to knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:1-2).  But perhaps the spirit of any human-centered age is best represented in Paul’s warning that some are “ever learning but never coming to the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).  Discipleship of the Christian mind runs counter to all these distortions as we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Having the mind of Christ is one thing, changing our minds toward a proper view of learning is something else.  In all my years of teaching, I have never heard anyone say we do our homework to the glory of God.  If mediocrity is unacceptable on an athletic field, shouldn’t this also be true of the classroom?  The third biblical principle of knowledge for the student is the direction of learning to God’s glory.  Psalm 115:1 clearly states the focus of a believer’s life is to throw God’s weight around—the meaning of “glory.”  Life is God-given.  This God-given life is sacred.  Sacred, God-given life brings responsibility.  And responsibility to sacred, God-given life is lifelong (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; 11:9; 12:13-14).  As students, we give ourselves to knowledge because the knowledge has been given to us.

What applications can be had from a God-centered view of knowledge?  Why should we learn, then live?  (1) We should understand there is always more to learn, remaining teachable (Proverbs 9:9).  Humility must accompany the wise man.  (2) We should commit ourselves with discipline to every “discipline” (Proverbs 4:1).  As teachers we beg, beseech, and cajole our students to listen, pay attention, and gain understanding.  (3) Success in education is not high test scores but faithfulness to the duties of discernment (Proverbs 4:7).  No cost is too great in acquiring wisdom.  (4) Stewardship of knowledge necessitates that we dedicate ourselves to our studies (Genesis 1:28).  The mandate to manage and conserve the creation includes our education.  (5) School exercises—each being fragments of eternal truth—are like sacraments to God (Hebrews 13:5).  Simon Weil’s idea that participation in school is akin to offerings is apt.  (6) Security of truth rests with us (Titus 1:9).  Requirements for Christian leadership should include the knowledge of doctrine and abilities in apologetics.  As C.S. Lewis said,

If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated.  But as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not.  To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.  Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.[2][2]

Recently I asked a student what their school was known for.  Her academy, by her account, was seen as a “party school.”  Who is responsible for such a situation?  Who should carry out the applications “student” as a vocation?  Since vigilance to carry out the mission of the school is crucial the initial accountability falls to administration.  To stop mission drift, headmasters must anchor their thinking and that of their Christian school in a vocational commitment to biblical thought.  Teachers form the second line of defense.  If a Christian worldview is not intentionally taught in every lesson, reinforced in every activity, and revisited at every relational opportunity a school will not remain Christian for long.  Yet the students themselves bear responsibility to remember what was said at the outset: preparation precedes activity, knowing establishes doing, and principle frames practice.  Warriors study war.  Christians as students must study The Word to prepare for the world.

Mark believes that war is necessary in a fallen world: whether it be to defend ideas or free the oppressed.  [This is part of a lecture I delivered to Wheaton Academy and Moody Bible Institute in May, 2005.  Since then I’ve expanded the ideas.  This redeveloped article appeared at mahseh.org in July, 2009.]


[1][1] Robert H. Scales, “Studying the Art of War,” The Washington Times Online17 February 05.

[2][2] C. S. Lewis, “Learning in War Time,” The Weight of Glory, p. 58.

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