Hot Sulphur Springs/Faith Matters Making the case for the art of apprenticeship |

Hot Sulphur Springs/Faith Matters Making the case for the art of apprenticeship

Brent ChristianHot Sulphur Springs Community Church

The concept of apprenticeship finds its roots in the idea that experience precedes understanding, and that often understanding is formed through experience in a way that we cant quite explain.This was what the scientist, philosopher and follower of Jesus Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) called tacit knowing: knowledge that is formed in us through lifes experiences apart from rational explanation. Polanyi, as a scientist, understood that all knowledge is not the product of reason alone; but often even in science the biggest breakthroughs simply come to us through experience.Science is an art; and the best scientist is not the detached disinterested observer, but the one who comes to the laboratory with all their experiences and commitments. Polanyi appreciated and lived out the Augustinian statement, You must believe, in order to understand.Polanyis epistemology of experience (or better tacit knowledge) might be compared to making a cello; where one comes to understand the art of cello making not through reading a textbook, but by making cellos with a master cello maker. Or when learning to ride a bike, we learn not by reading the manual but by having a master bike rider (i.e. the parent) show us, encourage us, and eventually push us by letting go of the bike.Polanyi was big on apprenticeship, because apprenticeship is rooted in experience. And it is through experience that we catch the art (or understanding) even if we cant fully explain every detail. I think Polanyi is correct on this account; and while he does not deny that we do come to know things through reason, he corrects the sort of rationalism that sees all knowledge only as a result of reason. I had this experience in my undergrad studies in microbiology, where I quickly learned that the laboratory environment and conditions are very different from the classroom. Most often how well I did in the classroom had very little bearing on how good I was in the laboratory. Was the classroom training important? Yes, but the classroom training wasnt sufficient in itself to make me into a microbiologist. Since much of our knowledge is tacit, which we pick up through experience and not simply through rational training alone; then shouldnt apprenticeship be our model for training? For example, if someone wants to learn the art of following Jesus the best means of imparting this art might not only be through propositional teaching (although teaching is a very important factor) but through lived experience with people who exhibit the art of following Jesus. More experienced followers of Jesus walking alongside the less experienced: showing, encouraging, and at times challenging. The assumption of course is that apprenticeship cannot happen alone. Apprenticeship requires two people, a master and a learner.However, the problem with apprenticeship is that it can be costly, time-consuming, and is not mistake-free; apprenticeship doesnt occur along the lines of a clear flow chart or predictable progress. But is much more like real life: messy, ups followed by downs, slow, unpredictable, and so on. I have found apprenticeship to be rewarding in all areas of life, but especially as I see myself and others testify to the truth of King Jesus even if we cant fully explain Him in every precise detail.Jesus himself said to some pretty messed up people, Come and follow me! (Mark 1:17) for in following him they would experience things that they would only later understand. They were invited to belong before they fully understood; and this belonging was an apprenticeship with the Master Himself. Resources: Tacit Knowing Truthful Knowing: The Life & Thought of Michael Polanyi Mars Hill Audio, Report 2.

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