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Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

why i do what i do

Tucked away in a column by Nancy Pearcy, I found these two paragraphs:

fascinating study by Fuller Theological Seminary identified the major factors in whether teens from Christian homes lose or retain their convictions when they go off to college. Surprisingly, the most significant factor is not whether the students join a church or campus Bible study.  It is whether they work through their doubts and questions.

In other words, the students who survive are those who develop independent thinking. The researchers concluded, “Students who had the opportunity to struggle with tough questions and pain during high school seemed to have a healthier transition into college life.” 

These thoughts deeply resonated with me. I have encountered too many teens in churches and Christian schools who wonder about the big questions of life, but for one reason or another don’t bother asking them. Some teens have asked but were then shot down by a pastor or other adult. “Christians don’t ask those questions; we just believe,” they are told. “How could you ask a question like that?” they are asked. “Believe it because the pastor said so.” “It’s not supposed to make sense; that’s what faith is.”

Teens have been abandoned by the church at the most critical juncture of their thinking. Many leave the faith believing that Christianity can’t handle the big problems and questions of life. Others trudge on in quiet desperation, wishing they could find answers, hoping no one asks them the questions going through their own minds.

But questions linger.

Unanswered questions ought to.

And for this I teach.

Young people need to know that God isn’t afraid of their questions. In fact, He alone has coherent answers to all of life’s toughest problems.

High school ought to be when these problems are first discussed. Our homes, our schools, our churches ought to be the places where these can be safely questioned. If God has the answers, why are we afraid when questions come. We ought to relish the opportunity to reveal God’s wisdom. Rather than shaking the faith of God’s elect, tough problems serve to strengthen believers as they confront difficult truths under the careful guidance of wise mentors.

How eager I am for JECA to grow and mature, for these students, now in the grammar years to begin asking and probing and questioning. I want to help them build a foundation that will last a lifetime. An eternity.

In the meantime we work, and instruct, and shape, and pray, and form, and teach. And by God’s grace we will raise up a generation of students who are confident in the Lord, thoughtful in their questioning, rooted in the Word, and eager to confront the chaos of a culture adrift in a sea of uncertainty.

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Carl Trueman made several excellent points in a post about “Teaching the Trinity to Kids.” His comments about teaching theology to children also apply in a broader sense to teaching children the truths of God’s general revelation.

I have simply observed that words put to music stick in young minds more easily than words on their own.

This is why we, at JECA, intentionally use chants, and rhymes, and songs. They help our children absorb information, facts, and details. And as we all know, songs and rhymes stick in our memory. We don’t want our students to train their short-term memories, but to cultivate learning for the long-term.

Young children do not generally think in abstractions; thus a lot of theological content simply passes them by; but the teacher can instill in them knowledge of a form of sound words which subsequent intellectual growth under the preaching of the word will flesh out.

What is true of our children’s growth in understanding theology holds true as well in other spheres of knowledge. Why should our children not learn big words or old languages or new skills, like Logic? Initially, they may only learn them to wow their parents. Eventually, they learn the meaning, and they acquire understanding, and they develop wisdom.

And here is the glory of the vision of the parents and teachers at JECA and other classical Christian schools: we understand that this learning and acquiring and developing is life-long. We want to launch our children into a life of exploring truth and taking dominion over understanding. Our job is not to churn out diploma-receivers. Our role is to train these young minds to live live all of life with curiosity and wonder and worship.

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Having been a teacher for ten years before having a family of my own, you would think I would have learned something.

I should have known that there is “never a good time” to discipline my children. I was a teacher after all and it was “never the best time” to properly correct a student.

I should have known that I would look at my children with a completely bewildered what-were-you-thinking look. I am a teacher after all and have taught this student, and that one, and him, and her, and…

I should have known that my biggest problem as a husband and father would be me. I was a teacher after all and was all too selfish and sarcastic.

I should have known that God would do a whole lot of work in my family despite my mistakes. I was a teacher after all and saw too many situations when kids learned in spite of me.

I should have known that I would learn more by being a husband and dad than I would teach my family. I am a teacher after all and learn many of my best lessons from my students.

I should have known that jokes at the expense of others too often doesn’t feel like a joke to them. I was a teacher after all whose humor was often not very funny.

I should have known that my wife and children would quickly forgive. I am a teacher after all who was quickly forgiven by students.

I should have known how much it would hurt to see my kids hurt, or be hurt, or fail, or be left out. I was a teacher after all and talked with weeping parents.

I should have known that my best teaching would come when I least expected it. I am a teacher after all and have had too many God-sent opportunities outside of class.

I should have known how much being a husband and dad would drive me to my knees admitting my utter inability to do anything of eternal value. I am a teacher after all and observe God doing too many God-things in which I am just a bystander.

I should have known how much fun it was to live each moment with my children. I was a teacher after all who has had students who lived vibrantly and enthusiastically.

I should have known how eager I would be to see the next step of my children’s lives. I am a teacher after all who rejoices as his former students keep walking in truth.

I should have known the enormous power and sheer joy of words of encouragement and genuine praise. I am a teacher after all and have seen faces light up and confidence build.

I should have known how incredibly satisfying it is to give of myself for the growth of my children. I am a teacher after all and revel in the sanctification of my students and former students.

I should have known that I would learn so much from Jill. I was a teacher after all who was learned from numerous gifted teachers.

I should have known the exponential power of partnering with my wife. I am a teacher after all who co-labored with outstanding colleagues.

I should have known how necessary this partnership is. I am a teacher after all who has needed the wise perspective of fellow teachers.

I should have known that being a dad would be so thrilling and delightful and challenging. I am a teacher after all and God has blessed me with great students.

I am a teacher, and a dad, and a husband. And I would not change these for the world.

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My mission in life is to rescue Ruth from fiddle-faddle.

Too many people look at the book of Ruth through western lenses and treat it as a Christian Harlequin (blah, blah, spit, spit). Well-intended preachers tend to treat the book as though it is the fluffy sop given to the women of the congregation, so they emphasize a bunch of fiddle-faddle that just isn’t there, all the while ignoring the richness, depth, and complexity that is there.

I rapidly grow irritated (as Jill will readily attest) when I listen to sermons or read commentaries that find some kind of love-at-first-sight romance when Boaz first sees Ruth in chapter 2, that Boaz treats Ruth kindly because he was trying to impress her and gain her attention. More than one book has achieved a brief, low-earth orbit as a result of the author’s misunderstanding and my resulting aggravation.

Anyway, now that I have that off my chest, in no particular order here are 7  reasons why there IS NO ROMANCE IN RUTH 2.

  1. Boaz could have just bought her. Let’s use a reductio ad absurdum to show the silliness of the romance-angle. Let’s suppose that Boaz was attracted to Ruth, that – as many preachers say – she was really good looking (even though the text never says a blessed thing about her appearance), and that – as a former student crassly put it – he really wanted to ‘bust a move’ on her. He wouldn’t have wasted all the time and effort to ‘impress her’; he would have just bought her as a concubine. That was the cultural norm.
  2. Boaz is a worthy (ESV) man.  That reductio is rather disgusting, isn’t it? But why? Abraham had a concubine. So did David. So did Solomon. Why is this idea so discordant about Boaz? Because chapter 2 is filled with example after example of Boaz’s godly character, that he is not the typical man-of-his-time, that he is the man after God’s own heart. The Hebrew synonyms that describe Boaz (2.1) gibor chayil) as well as the remainder of chapter 2 emphasize his godly character. A man of godly character recognizes and appreciates other godly people (ie. Ruth), but is not controlled by his emotions.
  3. Boaz is an older man. (Ruth 3.10) Dominique Strauss-Kahn notwithstanding, most older men are not governed by their hormones the way a 14 year old boy is. Boaz is depicted as a man of great godly character, and one of those qualities is self-control. Boaz is not Jacob.
  4. Boaz is a man of the ancient near East, not the modern West. Until quite recently and almost exclusively here in the West, romantic feelings were considered to be something that came after marriage, or at least after the wedding was arranged. Human nature being human nature, no doubt the order  was often reversed (ie. Jacob ‘falling for’ Rachel), but that was not the norm for finding a spouse.
  5. Boaz is a godly Jew. Moabites had a distinctly unsavory reputation because of their incestual origins (Gen 19), and their use of immorality to draw God’s wrath onto the Israelites (Gen 25). God also forbade Moabites from entering His presence to the 10th generation (Dt. 23). A godly Jew would be far more likely to look at even a Moabite proselyte as “one of them” than prime marrying material.
  6. Boaz is a man of standing in the community. Marriages were matches between social equals. The romantic story of the rich older man rescuing the young, destitute woman is distinctly western.
  7. Boaz is loyal to his family obligations. He cannot pursue a marriage because there is a “redeemer nearer than” him.
Why does Boaz do all the kind things for Ruth in chapter 2? Not because he is trying valiantly to impress her. He does what he does because he is who he is. He would have done the same thing if she weighed 400 pounds and looked like a bar of soap. He would have done the same thing for Naomi.
Is Boaz impressed by Ruth? Definitely. Does he develop feelings for her? I believe so. By chapter 3 (2 months later) he is quite eager to marry her.
Is there romance in Ruth? Certainly. But it is a far deeper and richer romance than the shallow piffle so often attributed to the book. It is a godly romance.

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In Ruth 1 Naomi tries to convince Ruth and Orpah to return to Moab by telling them,  “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.”

Our mental picture of Naomi has been shaped by her comment and pictures such as this:

Take a close look at it. See how western Ruth is depicted. See all the wrinkles and the haggard expression on Naomi’s face?

Every children’s story Bible has pictures of Ruth and Naomi that show an older lady and a very attractive and much younger woman.

I believe our understanding of this passage is shaped more by these pictures than actual historical and biblical information.

Was Naomi really too old to marry again and bear children? Instinctively you think, “Yes, of course, she was.” But consider the historical pattern. Women (girls) would typically marry at age 13 or 14, and they wanted to have kidlets asap. So it would be common for women/girls to have a child or two by the time they were in their mid-to-late teens. Boys/men often married when they were in their late teens.

When you calculate all this out, Naomi could have been as young as her early 30’s! Most likely no older than early 40’s. Hardly the gramma-picture we usually have in our minds, eh?

You say, “that’s impossible.” But consider this picture:

This lady, Rifca Stanescu, is 25. The boy to her left is 2…and he is her grandson.

Here are some caveats to consider: #1. Life was much more difficult in ancient times. Between the sheer physical nature of living and the lack of health and nutritional understanding, it is possible that Naomi was post-menopausal even at a relatively young age.

#2. Even if Naomi were capable of bearing children, she would not be high on most men’s list of eligible women, so it would have been unlikely that she would remarry.

However, history is replete with examples of women bearing children into their late 30’s and beyond. And Naomi does not claim that she cannot have children. She does, in fact, hint pretty strongly that if she had a husband it could be possible.

So is Naomi giving an accurate description of her condition, or is her perception skewed by bitterness?

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yeah, me too.

George Grant listed 11 reasons why he is still teaching after 20 years, and these echo why I can’t wait to get back into the classroom.

After 20 Years, Why I’m Still Teaching

1. I get to love what I love in front of my students.
2. I inevitably learn more–even more than those I’m teaching.
3. I have a great excuse to buy more books.
4. And then, I have a great excuse to read more books.
5. I am forced to make real-life connections rather than simply pontificate in the theoretical.
6. I am provoked to think about the future and scrutinize the present through the lens of the past.
7. I am able to reacquaint myself with the best of our great legacy of art, music, and ideas.
8. I get the satisfaction of seeing the “lights come on.”
9. I am constantly prodded to hone my communications skills.
10. I get to bear testimony to the grace and mercy of God, in space, in time, and in me.
11. I am privileged to catch early glimpses of the future leaders of our culture in action.

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Will Bankston wrote the following article for The Gospel Coalition:

 

We all find ourselves in teaching situations, from the more structured platforms of the podium or pulpit to the more casual contexts of Bible study or even conversation. So how do we model Christ in our teaching? Is there a Christian way to teach?

Whenever Christian is used as an adjective, misconceptions arise. For instance, Tom Scovel, in his article “What is a Christian Language Teacher?” tells of a cobbler in John Calvin’s congregation who, when identified as a Christian, was sarcastically asked if he made Christian shoes. The cobbler replied that no, he didn’t make Christian shoes, but rather, made shoes well.

Similarly, in order to be a good teacher, you don’t have to be a Christian. But you must model Christian principles. For Christianity is not just a religion, or some compartmentalized facet of existence. Rather, it testifies to reality itself, the true nature of all that exists. So when we teach according to Christ’s example, we teach more effectively. As such, we shouldn’t be surprised when sincere secular sources echo biblical assertions. For instance, in the book What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain concludes after much observation, research, and analysis that humility is crucial to good teaching. He found that unsuccessful teachers trade this trait for arrogance and pride. They desire to be “the star of the show,” working to impress students with their expertise and knowledge, all the while instilling in students a sense of insecurity at their own informational deficit. Ultimately this constructs a hierarchy of subservience with the teacher on the top and the students on the bottom, a comprehensive contrast to the model of Christ but quite in line with that of Pharisees.

This approach suffers one of the greatest miseries of pride, crippling the faculty for joy. For such pride desires nothing in and of itself, but only the admiration that possessing some coveted thing will bring. Teachers of this sort forfeit the love of learning for the love of being learned. They cannot impart love of the subject matter to the students entrusted to their care, for they themselves have lost it.

On the other hand, here is Bain’s composite picture of successful professor:

With that trust and openness came an unabashed and frequently expressed sense of awe and curiosity about life, and that too affected the relationships that emerged. It appeared most frequently and prominently in people who had a sense of humility about themselves and their own learning. They might realize what they knew and even that their own knowledge was far greater than that of their students, but they also understood how much they didn’t know and that in the great scheme of things their own accomplishments placed them relatively close to their students.

A professor who teaches well approaches students with humility and vulnerability, realizing that man-made merits pale in comparison to the great reality. Bain’s description resonates well with the method of seminary professor Howard Hendricks, who states that, “I, as a teacher, am primarily a learner, a student among students.” A good teacher must always be learning, a process best facilitated by a natural wonder and reverence for the world around us. Christian teachers, in particular, are called to cultivate an awe of creation, as all the universe was made through Christ and, even now, he sustains each aspect of its very existence (Col. 1:16-17). In contrast to prideful professors, Christ delights in the knowledge of his creation, and he willingly forfeited his superlative status to walk among us in it. Philippians 2:5-7 exhorts us to follow his example:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

In his book Teaching to Change Lives, Hendricks recalls an encounter with one of his own professors who models well the humble service of Christ. The professor’s habit of studying both early in the morning and late into the night piqued Hendricks’s curiosity. When he asked his professor about this practice, the professor replied, “Son, I would rather have my students drink from a running stream than a stagnant pool.” In the same way that Scovel’s account conjures up images of the faithful cobbler searching out the best materials for his shoemaking, this story brings to mind scenes of the committed professor searching through libraries for the finest information to present to his students.

Therefore, out of reverence for Christ, let us also teach in a Christian way. That is to say, let us teach in a way that corresponds with the true nature of the universe made and sustained by Jesus Christ. Reality mandates that pride destroys and humility strengthens. Anyone who recognizes this law can certainly be a good teacher, but Christians should be be the very best teachers. For only Christ can grant us the true humility necessary to count our students more significant than ourselves, preoccupying us with his glory rather than our own.

 

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