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February 1, 2019Leadership

One-on-One with Ann Voskamp on Going to Back to School at the Wheaton College Grad School

I recently talked with author and speaker Ann Voskamp about why she is part of a grad school cohort at Wheaton College.
One-on-One with Ann Voskamp on Going to Back to School at the Wheaton College Grad School

Ed: Why did you decide at your place and stage as a writer and a leader, to go back to school?

Ann: I think there were a few catalysts.

First, ultimately, we are as helpful teachers as we are humble learners. Leaning into a kneeled posture of humility to receive leaves us better positioned to pour out more thoughtfully.

The professors at Wheaton walk in a brilliant humility and to listen and learn from their experiences, their readings, their perspective, and to bring that wealth of wisdom that has been tried and tested by time to our own lives is needful and transformative.

As we are watered by the writings and teachings of the faithful who have poured out before us, the hope is that our own lives would yield far better.

Second, as a mother of seven children, deeply committed to building a community of readers and inquisitive minds, we have always believed that, as it is widely said, “Education is not about merely filling a bucket. It’s about ultimately lighting a match.” That match burns hot the rest of our lives.

Every parent, every person in leadership, needs to model what it's like to have a voracious appetite to learn more of the ways of Christ, to be intentionally growing in Christ, to be a lifelong learner at the feet of those who have gone before, to be lifelong learner in community.

Third, I think that the Christian life is a life of discipleship, so how are we humbly positioning ourselves to be discipled by great books and great teachers?

How are we, in our limping brokenness, intentionally joining the great cloud of witnesses, to learn from great thinkers, to sit at the feet of spiritual giants?

The body of Christ has historically always been a seedbed of culture-shapers: Copernicus, Kepler, Pascal, Luther.

How are we, in a posture of neediness and readiness, committed to cultivating our minds, planting seeds, to be part of the humble, cruciform shaping of culture now?

Finally and maybe most importantly, spiritual formation is ultimately result of what we let form us. Our spiritual formation is informed by the information we allow to shape and form our days. And to humbly ask and sincerely search our hearts: Are we most informed by social media streams, or most informed by a stream of scriptural truth?

Being formed, and reformed, and made cruciform through the biblical wisdom of Wheaton that formed the likes of Billy Graham and Nate Saint and Jim and Elizabeth Elliot is to humbly and genuinely choose a spiritual formation that has proven to impact the nations and generations.

Ed: What's the value in directed learning rather than me picking the learning?

Ann: I wonder if the value in directed learning is that we are directed down old roads that have proven to be the good roads, the trusted roads, the best roads.

Directed learning acknowledges that terrain of the current cultural landscape is uncharted, and like you wouldn’t attempt to wander out of a mountainous wilderness without direction, why would we attempt to navigate the current times without humbly choosing directed learning?

Every disciple needs a guide to get from where you are to where you want to be. And I humbly believe that directed learning is part of the process of having a wise guide through these times.

Ed: What has it been like preparing to go back to school, reading eight books for just one course?

Ann: It’s been a discipline that’s igniting. Humbling. Thrilling.

When you’re reading at the same time from a gathering of books, those books start to have a collective conversation amongst each other, ideas of one text questioning, challenging, extending the ideas posited in another text, and you find yourself in the front row seat of an exhilarating, awakening conversation that is nuanced and robust and formational.

A stack of books can be a community nursery that births new growth, deep and sincere conviction, and a cruciform shaping of a surrendered heart and mind.

Yes, it may be hard, but taking time to cultivate hard things can grow the most meaningful things. And frankly, it’s nothing short of exhilarating to participate in this process of fresh hope, new growth, and humble remaking and reshaping.

Ed: What about the community experience where you're learning with other people?

Ann: To learn in community is to be on a humble listening tour. To lean in to listen from someone who is 24 years old and learn from their perspective, and then turn to the wisdom of a fellow student who is 64 years old is a rich and formational experience.

Growing in grace is corporate; we are a body and the body of Christ needs to be informed and reformed by the other parts.

Ed: How can we all pray for you as you go back to school?

Ann: I think, we as Christians, particularly in this day and age, need to be, much like Tim Keller is—humble and voracious students of culture, of Scripture, of people. How can we, in community, be vulnerable with our brokenness, our desperate need of the Cross, and embark on a humble journey toward wholeness in him? How do we remain in a posture of humility and learning so that we can reflect Christ more to the world?

To be at Wheaton, a place that has such a history of orthodoxy and biblical spiritual formation, that has so impacted the church in North America and the global church, is one of the most humbling and formational gifts in my life.

Ultimately, pray that all of us, as cross-clinging students of Christ, might be radical about grace, relentless about our neediness and repentance, resolute about the all-sufficiency of Christ—and unwavering in cruciform love.

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