“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise.” (Prov. 6:6)
Proverbs is rightly described as the book that teaches the “art of godly living” (CJ Collins). But–more than that, and not surprisingly–it drives thoughtful people toward a habit of multidisciplinary comparative study. Isn’t that the point of the above parable? To learn about one topic, you study something totally unrelated, with the end goal of understanding both topics better.
Isn’t it also why we use illustrations in sermons–that by the telling of a story which appears unrelated (and usually is), some pattern of behavior or belief may be revealed. One need not be Aristotelian to espy the fractal repetition of ideology and intent. It is placed there by God for those who seek to find. Indeed, the entire story of redemption is fractal–showing in part, time and time again, what was broken in the garden and fixed at the cross.
Should it surprise us, then, that at the heart of innovation is this cross-disciplinary study. In a recent article called Think Different, the Economist interviewed professor Clay Christensen on the nature of disruptive innovation:
“Mr Christensen and his colleagues list five habits of mind that characterize disruptive innovators: associating, questioning, observing, networking and experimenting. Innovators excel at connecting seemingly unconnected things” (emphasis added). Associating unconnected things–like ants and diligence, or humility and the leviathan, or burying dirty underwear and walking around half-clad.
The call to be students of diverse research and observation is one of the necessary competencies of leaders, even more so of pastors. The fractal expression of order repeated, from DNA strands to galactic gravitation, points to the same place: the same source. And movie patterns of love and hope are but small (and usually broken) fractals of a divine love which binds the universe together. Obi-wan Kenobi was only half right when he said, “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” There is something that binds us together, that penetrates us, that holds in common all living things, and it isn’t the Force. But what it is remains hidden to many because of the unwillingness to find the pattern behind the process.
Cross-disciplinary study has long contributed to the geniuses of history–think da Vinci–or has been an expression of their genius. Fidelity Investments has long practiced the internal churn of their best managers, taking the best Small Cap Growth managers and putting them over a Large Cap Value fund. Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, spends his free time mastering the game of Bridge. Tim Keller is a great preacher in large part because of his diverse field of concrete application. And the sermons of Charles Spurgeon show us that this is not a new phenomenon. Open to any page of Spurgeon and you are sure to find him bringing forth the treasures of heaven and scripture from illustrations about horses, glass makers, farmers, homemakers, and children. The issue is not so much whether genius gives birth to cross-disciplinary study or vice versa. The point is they are inexorably interwoven.
Even a survey of incoming Master of Divinity (MDiv) students at Covenant Seminary reveal the breadth of relevant interests that shape a good pastor. Of 30 randomly selected (anonymous) incoming MDiv students, only four have any kind of background in religion. The rest: Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Science: General Studies, BA in Music, BS in Journalism, BA in History, BA in Spanish Literature, BS in Electrical Engineering, BA in Psychology, BS in Sociology, BS in Civil Engineering, Bachelor in Nursing, Political Science, Communications, and Environmental Engineering–to name just a few.
The call to action can be summarized as follows: have and pursue a wide range of interests, be willing to venture beyond the educational or vocational specialization that consumes most of your cognitive space, and get excited about learning. In a world of growing ideological tribalism, finding new ways to unfold old truths will be–in addition to dignifying the vocational endeavors of the non-minister–the increasing opportunity to see others changed by illustrations of entomology.
Joel Hathaway lives in St. Louis, MO. He holds a BA in English Literature with minor emphases in Art and Creative Writing. He lives online at www.joelhathaway.com.