When Does Knowledge Equal Spiritual Growth?

Evangelicals have a love-hate relationship with knowledge, it seems. Many churches seem to be so embarrassingly anti-intellectual that it seems if you enjoy books, you may finding yourself looking for a new church.

There seems to be a great fear of having a swelled, puffed up head (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1), and with good reason—too many of us have made the error of putting too much stock in head knowledge that doesn’t move to the heart. Too often we take someone’s knowledge of Scripture and Christian theology as evidence of their spiritual maturity.

But where we go too far is when we assume that seeking knowledge is a bad thing.

In fact, knowledge should be a great concern of all Christians. We’re to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:3). Our love is to be informed by “knowledge and all discernment” (Phil 1:9). Paul connects salvation with knowledge—a coming “to a knowledge of the truth” (2 TIm. 2:25).

He even prays that the Colossians will be filled with knowledge in Col. 1:9-10:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

So does growth in knowledge mean spiritual growth? Anthony Hoekema puts it well:

The answer depends on what one means by knowledge. If it is mere abstract, intellectual knowledge, mere rote-memory knowledge, mere “Bible Trivia” knowledge, not necessarily. Paul  in fact, talks about a type of knowledge that “puffs up,” but does not build up (1 Cor. 8:1). But if growth in knowledge means growth in understanding what Christ has done for us, what the Spirit is doing in us, and what God wants us to do for him and to be for him, then growth in knowledge is bound to bring spiritual growth. This is the type of knowledge Peter has in mind when he enjoins his readers, in 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 142 (Westminster | Amazon)

We are right to take little stock in knowledge that fills the head but doesn’t transform the heart. But we should always rejoice as believers grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.

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Aaron Armstrong

Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty (Cruciform Press, 2011). He is a writer, serves as an itinerant preacher throughout southern Ontario, Canada, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you Ed for sharing your insights into the Church Growth Movement. I have my reservations with Church Growth models because it has done more damage than good in the Body of Christ. Over the years, western churches are more focused on results, formulas and processes with little or no emphasis on membership and church discipline. Pastors and vocational leaders are burnt out because they're overworked. I do believe that the Church Growth model is a catalyst to two destructive groups: The New Apostolic Reformation and the Emerging Church. Both groups overlap and have a very loose definition. They're both focus on contemporary worship, expansion of church brand (franchising), and mobilizing volunteering members as 'leaders' to grow their ministry. Little focus on biblical study, apologetics and genuine missional work with no agenda besides preaching of the gospel.
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comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you for sharing such a good article. It is a great lesson I learned from this article. I am one of the leaders in Emmanuel united church of Ethiopia (A denomination with more-than 780 local churches through out the country). I am preparing a presentation on succession planning for local church leaders. It will help me for preparation If you send me more resources and recommend me books to read on the topic. I hope we may collaborate in advancing leadership capacity of our church. God Bless You and Your Ministry.
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