Observation…Interpretation…Application

Church today was pretty good.  We had a brief tutorial on how to read and study the Bible presented by Paul, the President of HBI.  I really enjoy the way he structures his presentations because he sounds less like a pastor and more like a college professor, which he is. 

I did have one “doubt” regarding his tutorial.  He broke down the study process into three steps: observation, interpretation and application. 

Observation is great.  I love that he explained that we need to read, and reread, and then reread again.  The Bible of course being the main reading source, but the internet also provides many great resources from which to read from.  I liked his comment that we take for granted how truly fortunate we are to be able to read the Bible and interpret it for ourselves.  He’s absolutely right.  For thousands of years before and after Christ, no one but the selected clergy had that authority.  Even now, many denominations allow reading for the sake of reading, but unselected individuals can never present interpretation of any value or importance to the church.

Interpretation is even better.  This is the step that many ignore.  I know when I read I have a tough time doing this because it means I have to slow down in my reading and really think about what is being said.  Look at the situation in a broader sense and apply the words to the condition.  This is the only way we can even hope to understand what was being said and why it was being said. 

Application was the third point.  This I completely disagree with.  Not that I don’t think the words, knowledge and wisdom should not be applied, but, if the first two steps are done correctly, there is no need for a separate step to understand the application.  The fact that there might be a need for this third step, indicate that the first two need to be revisited.

To explain this, let me compare the perceived differences between a top institution and a second-tier or lower one.  Having attended both, I can give you firsthand understanding.  In a second tier school, we were taught using the above steps.  We observed through lecture, reading and lab work.  We interpretted using our own understanding through presentations, reports, etc… And finally we were taught the application of it, through comparisons in everyday use, historical evidence, ideas for future applications, etc…  Now in a top-tier school, the first two were taught until we almost killed ourselves.  The application was completely ignored.  This level of understanding is what some people in academia refer to as “theoretical” teaching and understanding.  I’ve always understood the difference, but now I understand the benefit of one over the other.

Theoretical understanding, the only true understanding, allows you to create application for the knowledge without purposefully or intentionally planning it.  Without a true understanding, we have to be told how it translates to the things we see everyday in life.  With a true understanding, we don’t have to be told, we can see the application as clearly as we know how to breathe.  It becomes second nature to us.

One more simple example.  We were all taught gravity in school, at least most of us were.  Now if you see a boulder on a mountain above you starting to roll, do we need to be taught about the application of gravity to this boulder before we run out of the way?  No.  We simply run.  The reason is because despite the one month of teaching we got in school, we actually have had a lifetime of observation in gravity and its effects.  The application of it is almost subconscious or instinctual.  All knowledge can reach this level of understanding. 

Here’s an example that is very close to home for me.  The last year or so, if you haven’t been able to tell, I’ve been on this mission to absorb as much philosophical, theological, economical and historical knowledgde as I could.  I’ve read many books, with a huge backlog still to be read.  I actually have very poor reading comprehension.  I typically have to read a book, go back and take notes on the entire book, and then review the notes over and over, before it really sinks in.  Finally, I’ve been able to do that with a few of my books.  I still can’t tell you all the details of the books, but I’ve noticed how the application of what was read has become more apparent. 

I’ve heard the “fruits of the spirit” sermon many times in Church, they are almost like a to-do list of how to be a Christian.  For the first time, I’ve really seen that vital information is missing from all of these sermons.  When we hear the phrase, “fruits of the spirit” we envision a list, as if the list defines the term.  But that is not the case, the list is simply a collection of attributes that satisfy the definition.  Very few people pick up on this fact.  That’s why we had to have a separate sermon on the fact that there are many other unlisted “fruits”.  The definition answer to the question “what is a fruit of the spirit?” was missing all these years.  And I had never asked that basic question until now.  The reason I asked it this time was because among the many things I’ve read in the past year was a dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro, as recorded by Plato.  In it, Socrates asks Euthyphro”what is holiness?”  And Eustycles spends hours trying to list out the ways one can be holy, all the while not addressing the question. 

Now, when I was reading the story of Socrates completely annoying Euthyphro with all his questioning, I did not once stop to think of the “application” of this dialogue to my life; I just thought it was a funny story and was trying to follow along.  Most definitely, during the “fruits of the spirit” sermon, I did not stop to think about Socrates.  But I was still able to find a true application of that knowledge to the sermon which might have a solid and positive impact to my life should I pursue the question. 

This is how application of knowledge should exist.  Not as an instructed application, but as a natural, instinctual application in which our studying shapes and molds our own perspective so that we can’t help but apply our knowledge.

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2 thoughts on “Observation…Interpretation…Application

  1. Kido, I love this entry. While my current studies of theology and the like aren’t as intensive as yours, this style of learning thru observation and interpretation alone is exactly how I’m trying to live. I’ve tried living the lists as you put it, and that never seemed to work. It never felt legitimate or organic. And isn’t that what the fruit of any plant should feel like?

    Thanks for writing this :)

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