Earthly Things to Heavenly Things: A Bloom’s Taxonomy Take on Faith

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

I began my undergrad at Penn State as an Agricultural Education student. One of the classes that I was required to take during that time was Educational Psychology- or EdPsych. I loved this class. It was one of my favorites at Penn State – the content was important, but the way we were taught was impactful..  Looking back, it’s one of the classes that I think will benefit me as I work outside of a formal classroom. 

There’s one lesson in particular that I remember well, and I would love to share it with you all today. It’s a lesson about Bloom’s Taxonomy. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, it is an educational tool in the shape of a hierarchical triangle that classifies learning objectives according to complexity. I’ll give a few examples of a lesson plan to demonstrate how it works…and because I know I’m in Adams County, I’ll pretend I’m teaching a unit about our favorite fruit: an apple. 

I’ll work through the steps of Bloom’s Taxonomy using a few content-related questions from each level, beginning with the bottom of the triangle. 

  1. Remembering (bottom of the pyramid) : Name three types of apples.
  2. Understanding: What kind of apple am I holding?
  3. Applying: Demonstrate how to cut an apple
  4. Analyzing: Organize these five apples in order of crispness
  5. Evaluating: Which apple pie recipe has the right mix of sweetness, tartness, and apple flavoring?
  6. Creating (top of the pyramid): Use your knowledge to create an apple pie recipe. 

Essentially, students cannot advance through the pyramid to another level of understanding if they have not grasped the level directly below. So for example, a student shouldn’t be able to jump from “name three apples’ to “order these apples in terms of crispness”  without the middle “understanding” and “applying” pieces.

Over time, students are able to jump from this bottom piece, remembering, which is quite literal in nature, to more figurative learning, “What makes a good apple pie?”

Moving from literal interpretation to figurative application takes time and patience. It doesn’t happen overnight, or within a singular lesson. 

And when I read today’s Gospel lesson for today, I couldn’t help but think about Bloom’s Taxonomy. 

If you’ll humor me for another moment, I’m going to invite you to take part in a brief mental exercise to draw that bridge.

If you’ll join me, we’re going to close our eyes, and imagine that we are Nicodemus in today’s Gospel text from John. We’re a Jewish leader, we know the Torah by heart,  one evening we decide that we  are going to visit Jesus. It’s about 2:00 AM, and we’ve either stayed up too late or woke up a bit too early.  How are we feeling? Well, it’s likely that we are tired. We’re probably in that brain-fogged place of spiderwebbed thoughts, our brain is likely a little foggy, we might be lethargic, our body may seem to be moving slowly. We wander for a while, it’s 2:15 and we find Jesus, who we are looking for. 

We come up to him, and we tell him “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” We wait for affirmation from Jesus, some kind of acknowledgement that we’ve got it right, and he just responds with. “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Anyone else confused?  Me too. 

Anyone else feel like they need a cup of coffee? Me too. 

Anyone else feel out of their theological league? Me too. 

Despite his religious training, his experience with the Torah, and his power within the Jewish community, I imagine that Nicodemus is feeling a lot like I did when I tried to dissect what exactly Jesus was saying. 

 I understand the symbology of  his discourse on the purpose of the Son of Man and the power of the Spirit, but I had no idea how it all connects to how Nicodemus claimed Jesus as being From God. But maybe that’s the point. 

Nicodemus, and myself are likely at the bottom  on the Bloom’s Taxonomy of theological knowledge with the remembering and understanding pieces. Jesus, is up at the top of the triangle with the creating, figurative piece. Today we hear Jesus remind Nicodemus that “If I have told you about earthly things (literal, understanding, remembering) and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things (figurative, creating, analyzing)? 

This Lenten season, we are focusing on Stories of Faith among the Wilderness. Nicodemus in today’s story finds himself in a different kind of wilderness – not a literal one like Christ was in last Sunday, but a figurative one. A mental one. Nicodemus knows that there is something special about this Jesus- he knows he’s sent by God, but he doesn’t quite get to the real identity of Jesus. He acknowledges that Jesus is from God, but he doesn’t specifically say that he is the Messiah. He’s getting there, but he can’t quite grasp it. 

We see Nicodemus three times in John. The first is here, where he approaches Jesus and mentions his prophetic nature. The second is at the Jewish festival of Booths, when the Pharisees ask the temple guards  why they didn’t arrest Jesus at the festival. Nicodemus defends Jesus, pointing out that he needs a fair trial. The third is after Jesus’ death, when Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea anoint Jesus’ body with myrrh. His acknowledgement, his true understanding, of Jesus’ magnificence is one that takes time. And it’s possible that even at Jesus’ death, Nicodemus didn’t truly understand it. 

And when I think of it, that is faith. The feeling that you believe in something, that the Holy Spirit is guiding you towards something, even if you can’t wrap your head around it. 

Faith happens when God takes us from this thin understanding and asks us to analyze our own beliefs, evaluate our faith practices, and create our own understanding of who God is – without the Bloom’s Taxonomy steps in between. That’s hard. 

It’s the same faith that draws a child to reach out for bread at Communion without really understanding the meaning behind the Last Supper and Jesus’ death. 

It’s the same faith that draws a LGBTQ+ sibling to an RIC church despite years in a different congregation that told them that they were not loved by Christ – you are.

It’s the same faith that drew Sojourner Truth, who the church remembers this week,  150 years ago to discern a call to ministry after escaping from a system that used scripture to manipulate and subdue her brothers and sisters. 

And it’s the same faith that draws us to each other each weekend to come together amid this wilderness of theological mystery, to know that we will never be able to fully understand the complexities of Christ and the salvation that he gives. 

And that’s okay. 

This week, when we find ourselves being pushed towards new understanding without really knowing why, or how, may we accept that not knowing is okay. Asking questions is okay- even if we do not understand the responses. Feeling like we are in a wilderness of knowledge and understanding is okay. Faith isn’t linear like Bloom’s Taxonomy is. Faith is taking leaps of understanding without knowing what is on the other end of the line. It’s trusting that you can jump from understanding to analyzing to creating – without the steps in between. It’s being in a wilderness of the unknown. And in the words of my grandmother, Dottie regarding questions of faith, “some things, you’re just not supposed to know”.

In the words of the classic hymn, “Holy Father, We Praise Thy Name”, let us pray: 

Holy Father, Holy Son,

Holy Spirit, Three we name Thee;

While in essence only One,

Undivided God we claim Thee;

And adoring bend the knee,

While we own the mystery.

So this week, Go forth like Nicodemus, full of faith, desiring to learn, but accepting that we will not always be able to completely understand. Amen.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Photo:

Armstrong, P. (2010). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved from