Category Archives: Teaching

Renewing Minds: Book Review

Higher education has taken a different shape in the past fifty years with the decline of modernity and the rise of post-modernism, which has resulted in a pluralistic worldview. In perhaps oversimplified terms, this means that virtually anyone can be an “authority” on anything. In a sense, education has become a free market society—all one has to do is start a blog or contribute to Wikipedia their voice and ideas are instantly being heard. The question is, how should Christians, especially Christian educators and institutions respond to this worldview? Should we simply buy in or should we seek to bring a Christian worldview to education? These are the types of questions that David S. Dockery attempts to answer in his work Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Higher Education.

The most respectable aspect of this work is the manner in which Dockery attempts to dismiss the false dichotomies that we set up. American’s are obsessed with time. We fill major portions of our day with school, jobs, activities, family, and friends. We compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives, and understandably so. When we are at work we are not acting as a father and when we are at home we do not act as an employee. The problem is, faith becomes another aspect of our lives that we compartmentalize. Dockery dismisses this by building a foundation of Christian faith, whereby everything else we do is viewed through a distinctively Christian lens.  So, when we are at home we view duties within the home through the lens of our faith as well as duties at work. The same principle works in the realm of education. The primary goal of the educator is not simply to get students through the degree program, but to teach them how to think and act Christianly in their respective fields. If a student desires to be a dentist, Christian education should not only teach him the sciences, but also how a dentist is to think and act Christianly.

Simultaneously, Dockery attacks yet another dichotomy, namely, faith and practice. Too long Christians have separated these two, pointing at the messages of Paul and James as their reasoning. However, these two ideas are not opposed to each other. Neither Paul or James would discredit faith or works. They would simply argue that faith will necessarily bring about works and where works are absent, genuine faith is absent. A variance of this argument is seen in the realm of orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice). The question has long been asked, which of these two is more important? Dockery claims that we should work on adding “both/and” into our vocabulary. We simply want to make everything either/or. This does not mean that some “either/or” questions do not exist. There is simply no room for either anti-intellectualism or the belief that education will fix everything. Dockery heavily presses on the absolute necessity for orthodox Christian belief; for example, the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ are nonnegotiable in the Christian faith. To neglect these or redefine them is to come up with some sort of pseudo-Christianity. As Christians seeking to be involved in Christian education, we must think rightly about God because only by thinking rightly can we practice rightly.

 As seen in the subtitle of the book, the integration of faith and knowledge, which is the goal of Christian higher education, is for the purpose of serving the community. Another dichotomy that Christian’s tend to recognize is the sacred and secular. We often act as separatist, holding tightly to the command not to be “of the world,” but as a result end up neglecting those who are “of the world.” Dockery does not come out and say it but he does tend to lean towards the belief that there is no sacred/secular divide. The church exists to serve society, yet the idea of the “Lone Ranger” is evident in our culture. Christians are saved, not to hoard the grace that God has given them, but to be conduits of grace in a fallen world. For Christian education, this means training servant leaders who do not recognize the sacred/secular divide, but as ambassadors for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their social setting.

So the question becomes, “How do we accomplish this?” This can seem like some sort of utopia that exists only in the mind, or in perhaps in scattered, miniscule expressions. It begins with unity under a common confession, namely the Scriptures, the Apostles, Nicene, and Chalcedonian creeds. The High Priestly prayer in John 17 records Jesus praying that all the saints would be united. Looking at the church today, one can quickly assess that the unity that Christ prayed for is not yet a reality. As a matter of fact, we seem to be drifting further into autonomy as we force secondary issues into primary issues. Here Dockery is defining orthodoxy much like a playing field: there are boundaries and rules for the game but within those there is room to explore. This unity also points to the necessity for interdisciplinary Christian thinking. As previously stated, the priority for Christian education is to integrate faith and learning. As a Christian institution, it is vital to integrate a Christian worldview within various areas of study. Upon graduation, students should know exactly how faith applies to science, mathematics, economics, art, literature, history, and the various other subjects. It is by this integration that students learn how to think about their respective jobs in a distinctively Christian manner.

            In conclusion, this is a fantastic primer on the necessity for Christian education to integrate faith and knowledge. This book would be helpful for someone within any field of study, although it does not gives specifics on every field of study, Dockery provides a bibliography in the last chapter that seeks to encourage interdisciplinary study. A shift in thinking is absolutely necessary in the realm of Christian education if we are going to fulfill the great commission and be conduits of grace in our various respective fields. Renewing Minds is thoroughly biblical, thought provoking, and passionate and is a great read for anyone involved in Christian education.

The Danger in Wanting to be Known

I like being told I did a good job. One of my favorite things to do is to teach God’s word. I enjoy teaching and I would be lying if there is not some small part of me that is bummed out when no one says, “Good job” when I am done. I hate this about myself. I hate that I like the attention. I hate that my flesh wants to use the Gospel of Christ for my own personal gain. I can honestly say that I feel God has led me into these opportunities and ultimately I want to see people’s lives changed. However, my pride is always near to me.

I read an article from Christianity Today called Pastoral Narcissism and it was convicting and edifying. In it the author used the following quote from T.S. Elliot:

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm– but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

Were it not for grace…Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Cor 15:1-4. I read this verse and I don’t see my name—that’s good with me.

Who Needs Theology?

“Theology is not important. Jesus commanded us to love God and love others and I don’t need to know about the hypostatic union in order to do that. I just want to love people and meet their needs.”

I attended a Christian liberal arts school in central Texas and I cannot tell you how many times I heard this statement or one like it. These comments usually started flowing freely somewhere around November or March (near the end of the semester). This was a school that was centered around training young men and women for ministry, specifically youth ministry, and statements like these were not uncommon. That is absolutely frightening! And even more, it is wicked.

There are basically two reasons why this is a wicked mindset and it is based on our manipulation of Christ’s statement, ‘Love God and Love people’ (Matt 22:38-40).

First, part of loving God is saying correct things about Him. Allow me to illustrate—I love my wife. She is absolutely beautiful inside and out. Her blonde hair, hazel eyes, and 5’10” frame is stunning. Every time she walks into the room she takes my breath away. She is incredibly talented as well. She majored in art in college and I love to watch her paint. When I see her in action my heart is stirred and I worship my God. There is only one problem… my wife is an absolutely gorgeous 5’5”, beautiful brunette with brown eyes, and she majored in accounting in college. Oh and let’s not forget, when she walks into a room she takes my breath away and when I am with her my heart is stirred and I worship my God. Now if I were to describe my wife to you using the first description and then you were to meet her, you would think I was delusional. The point is I do not love my wife in a way that honors her if when I speak of her, I speak falsely. There were some things that I said that were consistent in both descriptions but one description is true and the other is false. In the same way, it is disingenuous to say you love God if you take no interest in who He is and when you speak of Him, you do not speak rightly.

Secondly, part of loving others is telling them the truth. I went to a youth conference about a year ago where Matt Chandler was speaking to youth ministers, pleading with us to clearly and consistently preach the Gospel. He then said, “If you don’t know it, then I don’t know what you’re doing… You are a far more courageous man than I because the Lord is very clear on how He feels about those who lead His people astray.” Amen! Now there is a warning that you must heed and that is if you tell people the honest truth about who God is and who they are in light of Him, then you may not have the most “successful” ministry in town (as we define success). There may be those who hate you, your family may suffer persecution, and there may indeed be those who would like to see you leave town or die. The goal is not for people to speak well of us (Luke 6:26), but for us to guard the deposit that has been entrusted to us (II Tim 1:13-14) As Christians, it is not our calling to pat people on the back while they rot in their filth and ignorance, but to love them enough to tell them the truth. Not telling them the truth out of fear or political correctness resembles hate, or worse, indifference more than genuine love.

So what is the goal? Is it balance between knowing your theology and being practical (i.e. loving people)? No, it’s simply both. Being a Christian has many implications but here are two: 1) Know theology and be tied to orthodoxy. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are things that are distinctively Christian and when you abandon those things, you abandon the community of faith. 2) Love others and meet their needs. You cannot do this well if you do not have a robust and thoroughly thought out theology because your theology will always inform your practice. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy can be distinguished but they cannot be separated. The goal is not to find a balance between these two, but to diligently seek both.

So, who needs theology? We all do. Theology is not only important for the theologian or minister but also for laypeople, young and old. Your bent may be to neglect theology or practice. Both are wicked. The Christian is to do both joyfully and lovingly. If I were to just focus on theology and neglect to love others, I am not acting Christianly because James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” On the other hand if I neglect theology I am incapable of truly loving God or people, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:6, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Hold these concepts close together, marry them in your heart and do not neglect either theology or practice because theology is practical (See 1 Timothy—all of it).

Teaching

For the past several years, i have done a lot of leading worship through music. I really enjoy doing it. I love to see the body of Christ come together and seek God in worship through music. It breaks my heart that some people’s (even mine at times)worship is limited to a certain day… but that is another post. All this time that i have been leading worship there is something within me that longs and desires to teach. I won’t lie, this scares me a little because teachers are judged more harshly than others and i do my fair share of sinning, but i am no longer a sinner. It is no longer who I am but something I do. My heart yearns to be rid of it!

So having these desires within me to teach have waged war in me because i long to be a good teacher and i have no idea what it takes to be a good teacher. I don’t mean a good speaker who doesn’t use too many fillers. I mean a dynamic communicator who has the ability to proclaim the Gospel in a way that people can understand. I know ultimately it is the Holy Spirit that speaks so i can say things that are barely English and the Holy Spirit can make them clear.

What I have come to realize is this.. the development of gifts, like salvation, is a process that gets better the more i do it. I am being transformed from one degree of glory to another. I am a work in progress of becoming more like Jesus.

So i doubt i have faithful readers of this blog… that is not the reason i began writing this blog. I just need to know for anyone who comes across this post… what does it take to be a good teacher/communicator? What is it that set Jesus apart in his teaching. Okay maybe Jesus is a pretty hard teacher to follow. But what about guys like Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, or John Piper? What is it that makes these guys good teachers/communicators?