When I first began teaching at Biola University in the early 1980s, Howard Gardner was just beginning to develop his Theory of Multiple Intelligences at Harvard University. Now, more than 30 years later, the theory is still being used in many schools and discussed and criticized by scholars. While no one theory can fully explain the minds that Yahweh has created, this theory resonated with me initially because Gardner said he came up with the seven intelligences by studying whether they were present in people worldwide.
The intelligences he described are logical mathematical, linguistic, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, musical, external personal and internal personal. Gardner has since added another one and a half to this list, but I am sticking with the original seven. He includes a naturalist intelligence and perhaps an existential one.
The theory connects with teachers who follow the Master Teacher as a way of celebrating the diverse gifts of the body found in places like I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. In fact, many have argued that most are gifts, not intelligences. As I see it, gifts are the propensities given to us by Yahweh through our families, but the intelligences notion comes into play when we use those gifts to solve problems in creative ways or use a particularly strong gift for ministry. For example, I have a good musical sense developed to an average competency. However, I have used that musical gift to help students and potential cross-cultural workers to see how they could put theological concepts into music. One of my former students from Indonesia got so excited about the multiple intelligences theory that she assembled a team of pastors to help her put the entire book of Matthew into song. Since music is highly developed among the Javanese she worked with, she reasoned that putting Matthew into song without compromising its integrity would make learning easier.
I think the most important insight is that each person possesses all the intelligences to some degree, and these work together in complex ways. Most people can develop each intelligence to an adequate level of competency.
In I Samuel we find a lengthy story of David, whom God called a man after His own heart. David had a strong musical intelligence, as evidenced in his playing of the lyre for the king, and in many of the songs recorded in the book of Psalms which are attributed to him. He had strong bodily kinesthetic intelligence in being a good warrior and dancer, and he had a strong interpersonal intelligence as evidenced in the fact that he could lead a band of malcontents and listen well to Abigail’s pleas. To me the internal personal surfaces most poignantly in David’s psalms of lament, because they reveal so much of his inner life. The logical-mathematical and spatial intelligences would have come out in planning battles, but Scripture doesn’t give us concrete examples of this.
While Gardner dismisses any spiritual connection, the Multiple Intelligences theory has helped many to understand how Yahweh made us, and how these intelligences work in diverse cultures. It also encourages me as a teacher to look for evidence of intelligences other than the linguistic and the mathematical ones we test for in schools.