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This article proposes that Transformative Learning Theory (TLT), particularly in light of recent advances in cognitive linguistics, is a fruitful means of teaching and interpreting tensions within Scripture. One of the key distinctions of TLT is that deep learning involves a crucial change in the learner, often induced by a crisis or a “disorienting dilemma” wherein the subject’s experience conflicts with preconceived understandings, forcing the subject to reconsider his/her perspective, thus resulting in deeper learning. TLT methodology precludes a simplistic reading of hard texts and encourages students to do what faithful recipients of this sacred literature have done from ancient times: wrestle with the materials given, with the faculties given, in the communities given. Elizabeth Backfish is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at William Jessup University in Rocklin, CA.


The value of interdisciplinary efforts is a hallmark of liberal arts education. A wide breadth of learning and the skills to connect knowledge and tools across disciplines equips learners to find solutions not always available within their own disciplines.1 Christians have an added incentive for integration based on their belief that God has revealed his truth not only in Scripture, but also through creation (Rom 1:20), and that this truth is unified under the lordship of Jesus Christ.2 This article is an attempt to bring together three disciplines—educational theory, cognitive linguistics, and biblical interpretation—in an effort to explore how students and interpreters can gain a better understanding of the tensions and “difficult” passages within Scripture, with particular attention to the Old Testament.

James E. Zull has proposed four pillars of learning that correspond, in a summarized way, with the stages we will see in Transformative Learning Theory (TLT). It seems appropriate, then, to allow these stages to provide the structure for the following article:

(1) Gathering new data (in this case, on TLT)
(2) Reflecting on the new data and integrating it with prior knowledge (in this case, integrating TLT with what we know about cognitive linguistics and about the Old Testament)
(3) Creating a plan for understanding this new information together with our prior knowledge (how might we use TLT and what methodological steps would we need to take?)
(4) Testing (four case studies on using TLT as a hermeneutic for understanding tensions in the Old Testament).3

1. Gathering Data: Transformative Learning Theory

In a 1978 article entitled “Perspective Transformation,” Jack Mezirow launched the incipient idea of what would become “Transformative Learning Theory.”4 In the decades since, TLT has developed into variegated approaches, but the essential elements remain the same.5

Proponents of TLT agree that learning does not happen autonomously, with just the learner and new information. Transformative learners are contingent upon their environment, their traditions, their learning community, and their embodied faculties (physical, mental, and emotional).6 In this respect, TLT is not very unique in the realm of modern education theories. However, two marks of TLT are distinctive.

First, TLT is about change. Mezirow defines it as “the process of effecting change in a frame of reference” (emphasis original).7 Second, this change is often precipitated by a “disorienting dilemma.”8 Such dilemmas are often conflicts between what the learner originally thought to be true and what the learner is experiencing in the present. When one’s assumptions and experience do not match, or when one’s prior understanding conflicts with new knowledge, the learner is forced to reevaluate the evidence in order to make sense of the subject.

This phenomena is much like Thomas Kuhn’s idea of “paradigm shifts”9 in science introduced just a decade before Mezirow’s theory. Kuhn argued that science did not advance in a linear way with the simple accumulation of more knowledge. Rather, it advanced through a series of “revolutions” which changed the scientific community’s perspective (or paradigm) on a given theory or idea. Similarly, TLT does not involve a linear accumulation of new knowledge, but a series of “revolutions” in understanding.10

Mezirow identifies ten phases of learning, which are listed in the first column of the table below.11 Gregory Henderson has synthesized and summarized these phases with the similar schemes of Stephen D. Brookfield and Paulo Freire into four phases of learning, as summarized in the second column.12 Working independently from Mezirow, but reaching parallel conclusions around the same time, James Loder took a similar approach to learning. However, Loder approached learning through the lenses of Kierkegaard and Freud, and sought to bring philosophy and psychology into fresh conversation with what he saw as major problems in Christian education. Loder identifies Five Key Steps in a Transformational Learning Event, summarized in the third column of the table.13 Zull’s four pillars in the final column have already been introduced as the outline for this article and represent the intersection of cognitive and educational theory.14

All of these phases correspond with what is happening in the body and the brain of the learner. An entire branch of TLT is devoted to a neurobiological approach to TLT.15 According to Zull, the neocortex, or outer layer of brain cells, is comprised of four basic areas that are responsible for four respective aspects of learning, which he calls “the four pillars” of learning. The more areas of the

neocortex that are stimulated during the learning process, the deeper and more lasting the learning experience will be for the learner.16 These are the pillars listed in the fourth column of the table above and the same pillars structuring this article.

2. Reflection: Intersections between Transformative Learning Theory, Cognitive Linguistics, and the Bible

Having gathered data on TLT, we can now move to the second learning pillar, which requires the integration of this new knowledge with what we know about cognitive linguistics and the Old Testament.

Integrating Transformative Learning Theory with Cognitive Linguistics

As an interdisciplinary field that takes seriously the embodiment17 and experience of the learning subject, cognitive linguistics is an apt arena in which to explore how learning happens within biblical studies. There are various points of overlap between TLT and cognitive linguistics. Both disciplines take seriously the importance of cognitive science. The life of the mind is not purely or even primarily in the realm of philosophy. It is also in the realm of cognitive science and neurobiology.

Similarly, both TLT and cognitive linguistics emphasize the complex contexts in which the learner learns, which includes one’s own brain, community, emotions, and more. According to Vyvyan Evans, “What makes cognitive linguistics distinctive in the contemporary study of language and mind is its over-arching concern with investigating the relationship between human language, the mind and sociophysical experience.”18 The mind does not function autonomously, as though one’s cognitive process could be severed from its complex web of physical, emotional, and social relationships. Herein lies the important concept of embodiment, which George Lakoff and Mark Johnson describe in this way:

What we understand the world to be like is determined by many things: our sensory organs, our ability to move and to manipulate objects, the detailed structure of our brain, our culture, and our interactions in our environment, at the very least. What we take to be true in a situation depends on our embodied understanding of the situation, which is in turn shaped by all these factors. Truth for us, any truth that we can have access to, depends on such embodied understanding.19

Similarly, TLT argues that learning is contextualized and situated, not least of all in our own presuppositions. As Mezirow explained in his initial publication on the subject,

Resolution of these dilemmas and transforming our meaning perspectives require that we become critically aware of the fact that we are caught in our own history and are reliving it and of the cultural and psychological assumptions which structure the way we see ourselves and others.20

Humans are embodied and contextualized in everything they do, not least of all in learning.

Another potential intersection between cognitive linguistics and TLT is in the realm of metaphor. As a second-generation cognitive science, cognitive linguistics breaks from the traditional disembodied theories of truth that typically ignored the polyvalency of metaphor.21 In other words, the underappreciated prevalence of metaphor in the human thought and communication process points to a polyvalency of logics, and a polyvalency of logics can lead to more complex, and sometimes even more precise, understanding of a subject. Metaphor enables us to connect ideas with our environment, and when metaphors are combined (or “blended”), they provide a more nuanced and complex picture of an idea.22 For example, traditional philosophical views of causation argue that there is only one true cause, whereas metaphor enables us to see multiple causes for a given event, all of which may be true.23

Integrating Transformative Learning Theory with the Old Testament

Having identified the connections between TLT and cognitive linguistics, we can now integrate what we have learned about TLT with what we know about the Old Testament. What I have been calling TLT is arguably already happening within the pages of the Old Testament. On a micro scale, we can see it happening with individuals. One of the most obvious examples is Job. Job faced a disorienting dilemma when he lost nearly everything dear to him, from his wealth to his children to his own health. Job was not able to reconcile this new experience with what he understood to be true about God. His learning, and the “creating” phase specifically, came through divine revelation. God reframed his question from one about suffering and justice to one about wisdom and trust, and Job was transformed and humbled. Job realized that he had been asking the wrong questions based on his own finitude. Job never learned the reason for his suffering, but he learned something more valuable: how to trust God even in suffering and even when he did not have answers. Ironically and profoundly, that is wisdom.24

The book of Psalms also exhibits transformative learning through what Walter Brueggemann identifies as a pattern of orientation>disorientation>reorientation.25 Psalms of orientation affirm traditional ways of understanding life with God. These psalms reflect the status quo of the psalmist’s community, and what they understand and experience to be true. However, when the psalmists experienced a mismatch between what they understood to be true and what they were experiencing (for example, when they suffered innocently, or when the wicked prospered) they experienced a disorienting dilemma, the reflections and prayers of which became lament psalms.26 God’s intervention then results in psalms of reorientation (most notably psalms of thanksgiving, or kingship, or praise) that exhibit a transformation in the way that the psalmists view their life, traditions, community, and relationship with God. The psalmist is once again experiencing life in a way that comports with his/her understanding of God, but now in a newer, fuller, and transformed way.

On an even more macro level, the metanarrative of the Old Testament exhibits transformative learning, with development that corresponds with the phases of learning in TLT. The exile, with the destruction of the temple, was arguably the most disorienting dilemma in the history of God’s people, and these events set in motion an incredible amount of learning, change, and growth. Before the Babylonian exile, the people of Judah by and large assumed that Jerusalem—Zion—was inviolable, because they had the temple. Psalms of Zion, such as Ps 46 and 48 reflect this theology. Jeremiah’s sermon in Jer 7, however, exposes Judah’s misplaced confidence: the temple and its affiliate rituals would not protect a people who were hypocritically worshipping other gods and failing to show justice to their neighbors. Judah’s misplaced security is also reflected in the false prophets of the time, who spoke reassuring words to the people that they would not truly be exiled, or that the exile would not be for long (Jer 14:14-15; Lam 2:14; Ezek 13:9-11). Thus, when the exile upended all of their expectations and assumptions, the people of Judah were forced to reflect on how their current disastrous experience could possibly be integrated with their previous knowledge. This integration process involved throwing out the erroneous assumptions (like the indestructibleness of Zion, or of their innocence) and reaffirming the true assumptions (like God’s freedom, sovereignty, justice, and his commitment to his covenant promises).27 These reflections correspond to phases 2-5 in Mezirow’s ten phases of learning. Next, and corresponding with phases 6-10 of Mezirow’s phases of learning, are Israel’s efforts to rethink a course of action: how should they think and live, in light of their experience and in light of what they have learned about their relation-ship with God? In this planning and creating phase of their learning, we see the influence and development of wisdom, and a recommitment to ritual and Torah, and to exclusive Yahweh worship.

Looking at the metanarrative of the entire Christian canon, the resurrection of Jesus provided arguably the most dramatic transformative learning opportunity. Each person who encounters the risen Christ is confronted with a disorienting dilemma, and each person is transformed in some way. Mary Magdalene, for example, is so disoriented that she believes Jesus to be the gardener who possibly took away the body of Jesus. She learns through this encounter that her relationship with Jesus is changing as Jesus is about to ascend to the Father (Jn 20). A similar transformative experience can be said of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24), Thomas (Jn 20), and later Paul on the road to Damascus when he encountered the risen Christ (Acts 9).

3. Creating: Transformative Learning Theory as a Hermeneutic for Interpreting Tensions within the Old Testament (A Proposal)

The Old Testament’s self-conscious engagement in what we call TLT invites us to consider it as a model and tool in our own hermeneutical toolbox. Is this phenomenon an apt model, or is it just an artifact/accident of the text? Jacob Neusner argues that the Old Testament, and the Torah in particular, not only informs learners, but transforms them:

[B]y Torah study we are changed in our very being, not alone as to knowledge or even as to virtue and taxic status, but as to what we are. Knowledge not only informs; it transforms. Through learning in the Torah we become something different from, better and more holy than, what we were. Through that learning we meet God, God’s mind and our mind coming together in shared rationality.28

Elizabeth Berne DeGear makes a similar case from a psychological perspective. Building on Christopher Bollas’ theory of transformational objects as psychological objects, she argues that the Bible itself is a transformational object that “inspires Christian Scholar’s Review in us a spontaneous openness to change.”29

So how might we use TLT as a hermeneutic for tensions in the Old Testament? The first methodological guideline pertains to our attitude towards the learning catalyst in TLT, how we think about the disorienting dilemmas we face when interpreting the Old Testament. Too often, contradictions, tensions, or difficult passages frighten or frustrate learners away from deeper learning, when perhaps they should entice learners to explore more deeply what is really going on.

DeGear argues that even aggression, rightly channeled, plays a constructive part in learning, especially with psychological and transformational objects. Aggression does not have to be irreverent or violent, but can be understood as “the instinctual energy behind our impulse to implement action in the world.”30 Not only is aggression a helpful motivator for transformative learning, but it is arguably even necessary for the deepest learning and change. In summary, our attitude towards tensions within the Old Testament should be characterized by intrigue and even healthy aggression, and certainly not by fear or apathy.

A second methodological guideline in exploring the tensions within the Old Testament through TLT involves embodiment and metaphor, concepts central to cognitive linguistics and also most fitting within TLT. Embodiment goes beyond acknowledging the contextual factors of the Old Testament itself. It requires readers to acknowledge their own contextual influences and traditions, the assumptions of their learning communities and traditions, as well as the biological ramifications of learning.

The past four decades have seen huge strides in the study of metaphor, which is also important for understanding the complexities of the Old Testament. Cognitive linguistics has brought to light how very much of human thought and communication occurs through metaphor: particularly primary metaphors, on which our conceptual frameworks are built, and blended metaphors, which invite us to view life as a holistic, integrated matrix.31 The Old Testament is full of obvious metaphors like “The Lord is my rock” (Ps 18:2) but it is also teaming with less-obvious metaphors that make up the fabric of its tapestry, metaphors like Israel being a “burden” for God to “bear” or “carry” (Isa 1:14). Paying particular attention to the metaphorized use of language in crux passages and issues might help us to recognize connections not previously seen before and integrate apparently conflicting ideas.

However, the objective of using TLT as a hermeneutic for tensions within the Old Testament is not to simply harmonize them or make them go away, and that is a third methodological guideline.32 TLT should not be seen as a “solution” to the embarrassing “problems” of the Old Testament. If anything, TLT invites learners to recognize and explore disorienting dilemmas, and the change that occurs is in the learner and not in the text itself. In other words, if TLT is to be used fruitfully in biblical hermeneutics, it cannot be misused to manipulate or transform the text, but can only be used to aid in the transformation of the learner and how he/she understands the text.33

A deeper understanding of the tensions within the Old Testament can take many forms. Most often, TLT helps readers to recognize a greater nuance in the tension. Such tensions often invite a re-interpretation in light of changing circumstances or information. Occasionally, tensions are resolved through a closer reading of the text and greater exploration of integration. Readers will find that some tensions progressively dissolve or disambiguate. However, some tensions are never resolved in Scripture. Some are paradoxes that must be held in tension.34

4. Testing: Transformative Learning Theory as a Hermeneutic for Interpreting Tensions within the Old Testament (Four Test Cases)

Having established these methodological guidelines, we are now ready to test TLT as a hermeneutical approach and a classroom teaching technique. The following test cases illustrate tensions that are resolved, nuanced, held in tension, and intensified.

First is the tension between the positive and negative attitudes towards the sacrificial system. In portions of the Old Testament, Israel’s God clearly commands them to perform certain rituals that are vital to their living in right relationship with their deity. The first five books of the Old Testament are filled with such laws, and they are viewed as a very good thing, for Israel and for the nations around her (Deut 4:6-8). However, later writers seem to say that ritual and sacrifice are not God’s will (Ps 51:16) and even abominable to him (Isa 1:13). Jeremiah (7:22) and Amos (5:25) even seem to claim that God never commanded the sacrificial system in the first place. The reader is faced with a disorienting dilemma.

As learners and interpreters, there are several inadvisable options. We could ignore or deny the dilemma, or we could rush towards a simplified harmonization of the tension. A better option would be to attribute the tension to different traditions within the complex compositional history of the Old Testament, but even then we need to account for the message of the final form of the text and the editors’ rationale for allowing the tension to stand. A better option still might be to move to steps 2-5 in Mezirow’s phases of learning. We need first to explore our own assumptions, the precise nature of the conflict, and consider new connections and integration that we perhaps did not previously consider. If I were walking students through this issue, I might ask them what their assumptions were, encouraging them to consider which of their assumptions are non-negotiable and which of them are. Many, for example those who come from a faith perspective, might consider the sacrificial system (at least as a metaphor) pretty foundational to Israel’s understanding of reconciliation to God. They probably will not give up that assumption. However, the nature of that sacrificial system and how it was understood in Amos and then Jeremiah’s day might be much more open to correction.

One constructive way to grasp the diversity of perspectives on the issue, and to help students move from the reflective stages of TLT to the constructive stages, would be to encourage them to think about the metaphors used for the sacrificial system. One prominent metaphor used for sacrifice is the expression רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ (typically rendered “pleasing aroma”). Naturally, the expression is used numerous times in the Torah in the context of prescriptive law: if Israel will offer Yahweh these various sacrifices, then it will be a pleasing aroma to the Lord and he will accept the offering. In these contexts, sacrifices offered to Yahweh are viewed positively. So how do we get to such negative views of sacrifice in later books, especially in the prophets, who are trying to enforce the laws of the Torah?

Tracing this important metaphor of רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ into the prophets helps to uncover a hermeneutical key and helps to integrate the disparate messages in the Old Testament. Ezekiel uses the expression four times. In the first three uses, it describes Israel’s offer of the pleasing aroma of sacrifices to idols (Ezek 6:13; 16:19; 20:28). However, in Ezek 20:40-41, the metaphor is transformed:

40 For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, declares the Lord GOD, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land. There I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings. 41 As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations.

The metaphor has changed: the expression “pleasing aroma” is not referring to sacrifices, even those that would be rightly given to Yahweh and accepted by him. Here, the expression refers directly to Israel. It is as though God is saying, “The whole burnt offerings, the peace offerings, the incense—it’s always really been about you, about me accepting you.”35

As students begin to realize the metaphorical role of the sacrificial system and gain a more nuanced understanding of God’s attitude towards it, educators can then help students move into the final stages of TLT which involve reintegrating their new perspective with their prior knowledge. This stage is exciting, not only because students are experiencing deeper learning in one issue (in this case the sacrificial system) but also because they are training their brains to work through similar cases on their own. They are gaining the tools and skills to be lifelong learners.

A second example of a tension that can be explored through TLT also centers on a metaphor or, as we will see, on a blend of two metaphors. In Jeremiah 18:1-11, we find the familiar object lesson of the potter and the clay. According to the logic of the metaphor, the potter (that is, God) alone is sovereign over the clay (that is, Israel and other nations). The clay has no agency and thus no culpability for its spoiled state. How, then, can the clay be blamed for its condition? Or how could the clay be responsible for its restoration? The reader, or learner, approaches this text from the presupposition that Israel and the nations are very much responsible for their actions, and yet this metaphor seems to undermine that understanding. Herein lies the disorienting dilemma.

Once students feel the tension between what the metaphor seems to communicate and what they already know to be true about God’s relationship with Israel, educators can help students explore the interpretative options. One option is that the metaphor is simply poorly chosen because God’s sovereignty is the only characteristic that is mapped from the source domain (the metaphor itself) onto the target (what the metaphor represents). Another interpretative option might be that the author wants to communicate that God’s sovereignty is a more important characteristic than Israel’s responsibility. I imagine that most students will not find those options very convincing. However, according to John Sanders, a second metaphor lurks just under the surface of this object lesson, and it was actually central to Israel’s relationship with God: covenant.36 In the metaphor of covenant, which is arguably implicit in this object lesson, Israel’s responsibility and culpability are primary. Thus, these two “input spaces,” according to Sanders, explains how the parable is actually balancing both aspects of God’s relationship to Israel and the nations: as the metaphorical potter, God is totally sovereign and free in his relationship, but as the metaphorical covenant partner, Israel’s actions do in fact affect the actions of God.37

In this example, learners have to explore implicit metaphors in the parable in order to understand the apparent tension. Part of the reintegration phase of this learning exercise would then be the challenge to consider implicit metaphor in other contexts where a single metaphor seems problematic. Cognitive linguists argue that “language is the tip of an enormous iceberg”38 The agency of the “clay” in Jer 18 is understandable if the agency described is seen as the tip of the conceptual iceberg of “covenant,” even if the language of “covenant” does not surface in the words of the text.

Our next example of a tension in the Old Testament is neither resolved nor nuanced through a hermeneutic of TLT, and that is the perspective of the Old Testament on the institution of the monarchy. Is the monarchy a positive thing, or is it a concession to Israel’s inability to serve Yahweh as their divine king? There appears to be two streams of opinion on this topic that flow through the Old Testament, both of which exert themselves in the final form. Even within a single book, we see various perspectives held in tension. For example, the book of Judges is often considered an apology for kingship, especially in the downward spiral into ethical chaos, and also in the refrain in the epilogue: “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud 17:6 and 21:25; and abbreviated in 18:1 and 19:1).39 However, there are also anti-monarchy sentiments in the book. For example, kings are presented as ridiculous fools (most notably, Eglon). Gideon, when offered kingship, refuses, citing Yahweh’s rightful kingship. His son, ironically named Abimelech, “my father (is) king,” makes himself king, with horrifying results. When Israel later asks Samuel for a king, he obeys God and agrees, apparently as a concession to the people who have rejected God as their king (1 Sam 8:7). The book of Psalms seems to move from a positive view of kingship, or at least a positive view of Davidic kingship, to near silence on the issue of a human monarchy and only exuberant praise of the divine king, no doubt reflecting the situations of the exilic and postexilic periods.

How do we hold both of these things together—the very positive views of a human king, who would represent Yahweh’s rule, meditate on Torah, and lead the people with justice, and the very negative view of a king as a concession for Israel’s lack of reverence for their divine king? It is certainly a disorienting dilemma, but not one that is so easily resolved or understood. Perhaps the simplest understanding is that human kingship was good but not ideal, or that it was a positive aspect of a certain period of Israel’s history, or that it was good only in so far as the king faithfully represented Yahweh to the people. Christians might argue that this tension is alleviated in the development of a messianic hope and ultimately in the person of Jesus, who embodies both human and divine kingship. Still, the tensions within the Old Testament remain, and alert readers might do well to maintain such tensions. So, in these cases, have we failed to move learners through the phases of TLT? Does the learning halt immediately after the first phase? No! These tensions can actually inspire learners to keep exploring and to remain humble in their learning.

G. K. Chesterton draws our attention to a tension that is maintained and even escalated in the New Testament. Although he seems to suggest that it was a tension created in the New Testament, its roots are firmly grounded in the Old Testament. It is the tension among the dignity, pride, and glory of humans on the one hand, and their humility, transience, and submission on the other. Is the place of humanity elevated or diminished in the theology of the Old Testament? Both, a careful reader will observe. They were created to be benevolent rulers over God’s creation (Gen 1:26-28), Israel specifically was God’s “treasured possession” (Ex 19:5), and the psalmist is awed that humanity could be “made a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned with glory and honor” (Ps 8:5). At the same time, humanity is as fleeting as dream or grass (Ps 90:5-6; Isa 40:6-8), thoroughly wicked (Gen 6:5), with sickened hearts (Jer 17:9), even from birth (Ps 51:5). This tension is far from relieved in the New Testament, but even “exaggerated.”40 Chesterton states,

Here again, in short, Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious. The Church was positive on both points. One can hardly think too little of one’s self. One can hardly think too much of one’s soul.41

Some tensions simply refuse to be resolved, and the dynamic is transformative because the learner is never finishing learning and never expelled from the awe and wonder of growing in theological understanding.


In conclusion, this study has purported to show how TLT offers a fruitful way of exploring the tensions within the Old Testament. There are at least two significant implications. First, TLT invites learners to embrace disorienting di-lemmas or tensions as opportunities to engage in deeper learning. Second, TLT encourages learners not to stop short of the transformative learning that these disorienting dilemmas instigate. I am beyond grateful that theologians of all stripes are acknowledging and celebrating the tensions and diversity within the Old Testament, but too often these celebrations lead to no further exploration or discussion. TLT encourages us to consider these tensions as the beginning and catalyst of learning, which will hopefully result in a more nuanced understanding of the issues in tension, as well as the transformation of the learner.

Cite this article
Elizabeth H. P. Backfish, “Transformative Learning Theory as a Hermeneutic for Understanding Tensions within Scripture”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 50:3 , 281-295


  1. For an excellent argument for the importance of interdisciplinarity, see Mary Taylor Huber, “Integrative Learning in U.S. Higher Education,” in Integrative Learning: International Research and Practice, eds. D. Blackshields, J. G. R. Cronin, B. Higgs, S. Kilcommins, M. McCarthy, and A. Ryan (New York: Routledge, 2014), 11-126.
  2. See the classic text by Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, rev. ed. (Grand Rap-ids: William B. Eerdmans, 1987), especially 23-36; also Elizabeth H. P. Backfish, “Biblical Wisdom as a Model for Christian Liberal Arts Education,” Christian Higher Education 18.5 (2019): 382-396.
  3. James Zull, “Key Aspects of How the Brain Learns,” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 110 (2006): 3-9.
  4. 4Jack Mezirow, “Perspective Transformation,” Adult Education 28.2 (1978): 100-110.
  5. Because these various approaches are still subsumed under transformative learning theory (rather than splintering off into their own theory), Chad Hoggan calls transformative learning theory a “metatheory,” “The Current State of Transformative Learning Theory: A Metatheory,” Revue Phronesis 7.3 (2018): 20.
  6. Mezirow, Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice,” New Directions for Adult and Continu-ing Education 74 (1997): 5. Mezirow explains that “a crucial dimension of adult development involves a structural reorganization in the way a person looks at himself and his relation-ships.” See Mezirow, “Perspective Transformation,” 108.
  7. Mezirow defines “frame of reference” as “the structures of assumptions through which we understand our experiences.” See Mezirow, “Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice,” 5.
  8. 8Mezirow, “Transformative Learning Theory,” in Transformative Learning in Practice: Insights from Community, Workplace, and Higher Education, eds. Jack Mezirow and Edward W. Taylor (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 18-31.
  9. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).
  10. 0Mezirow credits Kuhn for suggesting, but not developing, the idea that paradigm shifts in science can be transformative in adult learning. See Mezirow, “Perspective Transformation,” 109.
  11. Mezirow, “Transformative Learning Theory,” 18-19.
  12. Gregory Henderson, “Transformative Learning as a Condition for Transformational Change in Organizations,” Human Resource Development Review 1.2 (2002): 203.
  13. James Loder, The Transforming Moment: Understanding Convictional Experiences (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 31-34.
  14. Zull, “Key Aspects of How the Brain Learns,” 3-9.
  15. Cognitive science has shown that brain cells (neurons) are unlike most living cells. Instead of being close together, and instead of going through cycles of dying and being replaced, brain cells are separated by spaces, or synapses, and they do not die, but change, especially through the learning process. In other words, the physical composition of our brains literally changes when we learn. See Edward W. Taylor, “Transformative Learning Theory,” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 119 (2008): 8. Taylor elaborates on this process, saying, “A neurobiological transformation is seen as involving ‘the parasympathetic branch of the automatic nervous system, and the hypothalamic-pituitary pitocin secreting endocrine system to alter learning during periods of search and discovery,’” 8. Taylor is building here on a study by D. S. Janick, “What Every Language Teacher Should Know About the Brain and How it Affects Teaching,” a paper presented at Wikipedia Conference on Foreign Lan-guage Pedagogy, University of Helsinki, Finland (2007), 12.
  16. Zull, “Key Aspects of How the Brain Learns,” 3-9.
  17. The term “embodiment” is used in about a dozen ways in cognitive linguistics. For a dis-cussion of these various nuances, see Tim Rohrer, “Embodiment and Experientialism,” The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics, eds. Dirk Geeraerts and Hubert Cuyckens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 28-31.
  18. Vyvyan Evans, “Cognitive Linguistics,” 3 (2012): WIREs Cognitive Science;
  19. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy of the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 102.
  20. Mezirow, “Perspective Transformation,” 105.
  21. See also G. B. Caird’s similar discussion on metaphor in The Language and Imagery of the Bible (London: Duckworth, 1980), 149.
  22. Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, 128; Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 263-264; Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities (New York: Basic Books, 2002).
  23. Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, 223.

  24. Another example of transformative learning happening at the character level is in the life of Joseph. God revealed to Joseph that he would rule over his family (Gen 37:5-11), but when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, Joseph experienced a disorienting dilemma. Through his unlikely rise to power, Joseph maintained his trust in God and gained an understanding of God’s providence that would have been possible without the disorienting dilemma (Gen 50:20).
  25. Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984); and the shorter volume, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002).

  26. Psalm 44, for example, describes what the psalmist has learned about God from his ances-tors (vv. 1-3) and his consequent devotion (vv. 4-8), followed by a sharp contrast of psalmist’s current situation of being rejected by God (vv. 9-16) despite Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant (vv. 17-22). The impassioned petition that concludes the psalm (vv. 23-26) springs from this intense disorienting dilemma.

  27. Books that received their final form in the exile, such as Judges and Samuel-Kings are reflections on how Israel and Judah came to experience judgement (that is, their unfaithfulness to the covenant brought upon them the covenant curses).
  28. Jacob Neusner in Neusner and Bruce Chilton, Revelation: The Torah and the Bible (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995), 50. The Christian canon likewise affirms that the way of the Christian, which includes the study of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17), is to be “transformed by the renewal of [the] mind” (Rom 12:2). Moreover, the transformation of the Christian “from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18) flows from the Spirit of God.
  29. Elizabeth Berne DeGear, “The Bible as Transformational Object: The Psychoanalytic Theories of Christopher Bollas and Their Relevance for Religious Educators,” Religious Education: The Official Journal of the Religious Education Association (2016): 473.
  30. Ibid., 483.

  31. Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy of the Flesh, esp. 118-129.
  32. Geza Vermes characterizes early Jewish interpretation from 200 BC to 200 AD along these lines: “the first and foremost of all exegetical imperatives was harmonisation and reconciliation,” cited in John Goldingay’s Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 27. Certainly, people of faith in both Jewish and Christians camps have felt the need to defend their Scriptures by harmonizing or cleaning up the ten-sions. See also Vermes, “Bible and Midrash: Early Old Testament Exegesis,” in Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 1, eds. Peter R. Ackroyd and Christopher Evans (Cambridge: Cam-bridge University Press, 1970), 119-231.
  33. In a similar initiative, Rachelle Gilmour uses “threshold concepts” to encourage deep learning in her students, many of whom struggle with the idea of tensions or theological diversity within Scripture. Threshold concepts are essential concepts for readers to grasp in order to enter into a subject or text (“The Exodus in the Bible’s Teaching and Our Teaching of the Bible: Helping to Reconcile Faith and Critical Study of the Bible Through Threshold Concept Theory,” Journal of Adult Theological Education 13.2 (2016): 119). These concepts are transformative, integrative, and troublesome. The Exodus is an example of a threshold concept that was transformative (Israel changed from slave to free), integrative (in so far as Israel integrate their new experience as a free nation with God’s covenant promises to their forefathers), and troublesome (because from the time they left Egypt, Israel continu-ously fell away from their covenant responsibilities) (119-123). Israel even reenacted the troublesome part of their history through their annual festivals of Passover and Tabernacles (122). Gilmour then shows how this vital, threshold concept of the exodus is understood and recontextualized in various ways throughout the rest of the Old Testament. She concludes that if Scripture itself is self-consciously diverse in its interpretations, this provides an opportunity for students to be open to a variety of modern interpretations of the Old Testament (125-126).
  34. John Goldingay identifies three primary approaches to diversity in the OT: (1) the con-textual/historical approach (explaining diversity and tension by their contexts), (2) the evaluative/critical approach (affirming some perspectives and rejecting others), and (3) the unifying/constructive approach. See Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987).
  35. Not only is the expression “pleasing aroma” a metaphor, but so also is the whole sacrifi-cial system—a metaphor within a metaphor (Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, 156-157). Other metaphors associated with sacrifice is that it is seen as a “burden” that God must “bear/lift” when offered hypocritically (Isa 1:14), and God “hides” his “eyes” from such unrighteous acts of worship (Isa 1:15).
  36. John Sanders, Theology in the Flesh: How Embodiment and Culture Shape the Way We Think about Truth, Morality, and God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2017), 230-231.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid., 5-6, 26-27, 44.
  39. Some scholars consider the “king” in this refrain to refer to Yahweh (so Daniel Block) or both Yahweh and a human king (thus, a double entendre, so K. Lawson Younger), while others consider the refrain chronological with no implications for monarchy (so Susan Niditch).
  40. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (The Floating Press, 2008. Ebook (EBSCOhost) accessed 4/7/2019): 147.
  41. Ibid., 148.

Elizabeth H. P. Backfish

William Jessup University
Elizabeth Backfish is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at William Jessup University in Rocklin, CA.