Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander…

Watch this Video : http://youtu.be/8H48vMYu1J0

Hillsong United – Oceans (Where my feet may fail)

” Spirit Lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Whenever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

in the presence of the Savior

I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise

My soul will rest in your embrace

For I am yours and you are mine”

This past Sunday I was introduced to this praise and worship song. I remember thinking back to lifeguard training. We would tread water for 20 minutes straight with our hands above the water in-order to get our lifeguard certification. We started with 5 minutes, then we trained for 10 minutes. Eventually, we mastered 20 minutes. This skill was required and needed for life saving purposes. If I was drowning, I would want a lifeguard that could tread for as long as needed.

This reflective process has taught me that we set standards, we prepare our students for what we know they will need, and we implement strategies to help them succeed. But in reality, we can only prepare them for so much. So much more learning must take place through life experiences and outside of class assessment.

At this time in the semester, I see many of the students treading water with their head just above water. I challenge my students to cherish these moments. Let God use these moments to prepare them for the road of life ahead. To one day be the leader that is teaching others. My hope is that these moments they share at this university will help them to dig deeper in their faith. My hope is that God will take the moments and use them to draw closer to him.

My challenge to myself is the same. I am in my own journey of “treading water” and I know God is going to lead me to a deeper place in my faith. He is going to stretch my abilities and give me the ‘required skills needed’ to make a difference.***


Podcast Update

I have been tracking the progress of the students viewing the podcast prior to class. Six out of 16 students are viewing the chapter podcast prior to or after class.  In addition, the same 6 are completing all assignments whereas the other 10 are just not. Conclusions: if students do not turn in assignments, they are also not likely to read, listen to the podcasts, or come prepared to class.

In order to increase in-class participation, I started posting the discussion questions from the podcast/reading materials the day prior to class and individually assigning them to a question. Most everyone in class shows up with the answer for their question. This has helped in-class discussion and has given the more introverted students time to prepare to speak in-front of other students. It has also facilitated deeper discussion when the student are prepared to talk about the topics.

Although this process has not been perfect or easy, the process has provided opportunities for students to be responsible and mature learners. These opportunities are crucial for developing critical thinking in higher education.

In summary, I will continue to provide opportunities that facilitate in-class discussion and develops critical thinking opportunities. Today it may involve a podcast, tomorrow it may involve video conferencing or some other type of teaching method.

-LM

Top Ten ways to avoid misreading and misleading

Teaching is a difficult and risky business.Bashaw

Of course there is great joy involved in exposing students to new facts, interesting discoveries, and life-altering truths. But when all is said and done, when students leave your class armed with knowledge that may fuel their actions and guide their thoughts for years to come, the scary question lingers, “Was my teaching true?”

James is quite aware of the difficult nature of teaching when he warns in James 3:1-2:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.

I imagine that James could have been thinking about his own position of leadership in the Jerusalem church, aware that he had made mistakes in his teaching and his example. Despite the wisdom he showed during the Jerusalem Council in recognizing God’s work among the Gentiles (Acts 15), he also realized his example (both the good and bad parts) affected many early Christ-followers. If he struggled with the practical acceptance of Gentiles in the church, his brothers and sisters in Jerusalem would see that and be affected.

James’ warning about the dangers of teaching is especially appropriate for those of us who teach biblical truths–the pastor in the pulpit, the Bible study leader, the Christian blogger, the Scriptures professor, or any teacher who integrates faith and biblical teaching into her discipline.

Because it is so easy for us to misread and mislead.

It happens to the best of us. All you have to do is follow the blog posts on Facebook to realize that well-meaning and well-respected teachers of the Bible regularly misrepresent what the Bible actually teaches. Dave Ramsey, the financial guru who helps Christians manage their finances, has recently been criticized because his “biblical principles” of money management contradict the biblical message about wealth and poverty. Infamous Famous pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church has ignited so many blog and article wars with his controversial teaching (especially regarding the subject of women in the Bible and the Church) that a Google search for “Mark Driscoll AND wrong” turns up over a million hits. Even teachers and pastors who have some important, helpful things to say sometimes fall into the trap of irresponsibly interpreting Scripture. And for some reason, it is the bad readings of Scripture that always seem to spread faster and farther than the accurate ones.

So we must be careful teachers of Scripture. It is difficult to interpret the Bible responsibly  and faithfully but we who teach the Bible must take that task seriously and try to minimize misreading and misleading as best we can. In my ongoing quest to become a responsible interpreter and teacher of the Bible, I have learned some important lessons (mostly the hard way!) about reading, interpreting, and teaching the Bible.

Here are my top ten ways to avoid misreading the Bible and misleading others:

1) Know yourself. It is important to be aware of your own biases and preconceived ideas when you interpret Scripture. Everyone comes to the Bible with prejudices, formed by nationality, economic status, ethnicity, families of origin, church tradition, experiences, etc. Being aware of these biases helps to curb assumptions and forces an interpreter to consider that his or her view may be pre-formed rather than based on Scripture.

2) Read a passage in its literary context. When someone studies a verse or a passage it is important to read the verses and paragraphs before and after that passage to understand what is going on. The best practice is to also be aware of the message of an entire book so that it is easier to understand the purpose of an individual passage in the overarching story or letter. [as a side note it is also helpful to know the genres of the Bible and read according to genre]

2) Know the history. Interpreting a passage well requires knowledge of the social and historical context in which that text was written. For example, it is important to know that Revelation was written in a first-century Greco-Roman context and that the first readers of the book were experiencing persecution and were being tempted to worship the emperor rather than God. Such information helps us make better sense of the emphasis on worshiping God, the images of judgment for persecutors, and the firm warnings to repent.

3) Be aware that  all translation involves interpretation. Most words in the original Hebrew and Greek of the Scriptures do not have exact counterparts in English. For this reason, many translations of words and concepts are close but not perfect interpretations. It is dangerous to base a belief or teaching on one word (say the word “head” in Ephesians 5:23) when our word for head in English has many connotations that the Greek did not have.

4) Recognize the distance between the world of the Bible and our world. When reading ancient literature like the Bible it is important to ask, “What did this mean to them?” and then gauge what differences exist between the world of the Bible and our world. This one of the most foundational skills required in biblical interpretation. A great resource that focuses on finding the meaning of a biblical text in “their” world before interpreting it in “our” world is Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. All biblical interpreters should read a book (or books!) on practical hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) before attempting to teach the Bible in a formal setting.

5) Know the whole story. Reading the Bible should not be like eating at a buffet. We don’t get to choose what to accept and what not to accept. The Bible is like a many-course meal, with each part served in preparation for the next. We have to read the whole story, know the whole message, in order to fully appreciate and understand the individual parts.

6) Be open to being wrong. Given that every interpreter has preconceived ideas about the Bible, and given that there is always more to learn about the history and literature of the ancient world, it is vital that we resist becoming dogmatic about our interpretations. Even the most brilliant of theologians and most devoted of pastors change their minds about Scripture as they study more and live more.

7) Read the opinions of Christians who disagree with you. There is great value in listening to and reading interpreters who differ from you. If you are an evangelical conservative, make it a practice to read the works of liberal theologians or Catholic scholars. If you are a Baptist preacher, listen to sermons from Pentecostal pastors and Episcopalian priests. If you are an egalitarian, read complementarians (no matter how angry they may make you!). If you are a Calvinist, read Arminians. Willingness to learn from others has no down side. Such practice can show you new ways to look at a passage, help you strengthen your own views, or open your mind to a new perspective or a new truth.

8) Use words like “probably” and “likely” instead of “definitely” and “without a doubt.” In light of #6 and #7, it is a good idea for teachers to keep their language open to possibility. First, it lets students know that interpreting the Bible well is a process, one that will not end until we no longer see through a glass darkly. Second, in the age of blogs and podcasts, what you teach may be on record for ever; it is always better to leave room for growth and change rather than creating a situation in which you may have to blatantly contradict yourself in ten years.

9) Read other literature. Read ancient literature and Victorian novels and contemporary fiction and poetry and essays and biographies. Read other literature because it makes you a better reader and interpreter of the Bible, which contains some of the most complex and beautiful literature in history.

10) Pray daily and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to truth. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:26, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” If the apostles, who witnessed Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, who were immersed in his teaching and love and truth, if even these were going to need the Holy Spirit to teach and remind them, don’t you think we lowly teachers of Scripture need it too?

jgb

 

 

 

Collegiality

// Collegiality:

the cooperative relationship of colleagues

One of the best lessons I have learned through this reflection process is to learn from others. Other professors in my department and outside of my department have extended wisdom, and support at times when I needed it.

I used to think that I encountered “unique” issues and situations. I have learned through this reflection experience that we can learn a lot from talking to each other.

It is not weakness to seek others for advice… it is wise to seek those who have the experience and knowledge.

This past week I was approached by a student about a moral/ethical question. I gave her advice, but I could see that it was difficult for her to take the advice because of her current life experiences (don’t worry it wasn’t anything bad or life threatening… it was minor and won’t really make a difference one way or another).  But, the best thing about this encounter is that I saw myself in her. I saw that sometimes I ask advice from more experienced faculty, and sometimes I have a hard time understanding that advice.

I grew a lot from this encounter. It showed me that I can learn a lot from others if I just take the time to understand that my colleagues have that advice to offer. I understand that I am in my own growth process as a professor and that it may be at a different place than other people. AND that’s okay…

I can see myself maturing as a person and as a professional. I don’t do things the same way I did my first year of teaching. In five years, I probably won’t teach the same way I am teaching now. There is nothing wrong with what I am doing now but I hope to learn and to grow.

I am grateful that I am surrounded by co-workers that work together. I hope to continue to grow from using a collaborative approach to evaluate my actions a professor. I plan to be that peer or mentor support to future faculty.

We are stronger when we work together and when we learn from each other.

lm

 

Discipleship in Christian Education

makingdisciples

Disciple:

a:  one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another
b:  one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts
c:  a convinced adherent of a school or individual


Student’s see professors through a very narrow perspective;  life experiences thus far. They can only compare you to their previous experiences, and they are at the mercy of their current situation. Their perspective influences how they interact with you ,and how they expect you to interact with them.

For instance, at the beginning of the semester I always have a few students that cannot understand why I won’t take late work. They fuss and complain, not getting them any closer to me accepting their late work. By the end of the semester, I don’t have any students kicking and screaming about late work because this is the new ‘norm’ in their perspective.

I think it is important for me to understand and consider why students behave the way they do. They behave this way because, at some point, this behavior got them what they wanted and it was reinforced.  This brings me to my next reflection….

Recently, I had a student that sent me a text to landline message. This type of message occurs when the student decides to send a text message to my office phone rather than calling my office phone.

I was checking my voicemail one day this week and this is what it said in a robot computer voice…

“Hey Dr. McRee. This is (student’s name). I am sorry I missed class. I slept straight through my alarm. I was wondering what all I missed today.”

At first glance, this looks like the student is really trying to get the information from class. However….. After I emailed her back telling her to come to my office to go over what she missed, she did not come to my office. I plan to explain to her in detail that I appreciate her reaching out, but that her efforts were minimal. Technology cannot replace your personal work ethic and follow through.

Am I a bad professor for telling her this? Has no one ever told her this? A number of questions run through my head. I ask fellow professors and they agree that she could improve her professional interaction.

Which brings up another question… How do we as professors help shape our students in ways that are not grade related?

I was at an ETBU leadership workshop ( Breakfast with Fred ) earlier this semester and this was one of the proposed questions. So, I asked my students if they think that I help them develop in the ways listed below. These 10 items were published in a journal article as the “Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace”

  1. Integrity
  2. Communication
  3. Courtesy
  4. Responsibility
  5. Interpersonal skills
  6. Positive attitude
  7. Professionalism
  8. Flexibility
  9. Teamwork skills
  10. Work ethic

I personally could only pick out three that I could actually attach a grade to the “soft skill”. BUT, to my surprise… My students justified how I was able to teach them all the 10 skills without always assigning a grade to each of them. We had an honest conversation and it was interesting to see their perspective. I was shocked and told them I was very flattered… I told them that many times I don’t feel like I am able to breakthrough with some of these skills because of the dynamics of grading in higher education. I ensured them that these skills are needed in the real world, but that sometimes I am unsure of how successful I am at implementing them in the classroom.

So, as I reflect back on the TEXT to LANDLINE situation, I can see clearly that this is an opportunity to disciple this student. Interactions such as these do not always lead to a quantified grade, but they do shape the future leaders & graduates of ETBU.

My goals moving forward are to change the perspective of my students early on. To consider where they are, understand why they are the way that they are, and provide support for them to get to the behavior they need. To take situations on a student-by-student basis, and see what they need from me to mature. It is important to disciple our students… even if it means giving them feedback in ways not related to their grades.

LM

Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 453-465. doi:10.1177/1080569912460400

Learning Styles & the Perfect Teacher

As we embark on this “Midterm” week, I am faced with students who are performing well, who could perform better, and who are currently under performing. At this point in the semester, I tend to evaluate my students grades, my performance in the classroom, and any other factors that might be helpful or hinder the process. I have come up with two lessons I have learned from this time of reflection.

Lesson 1: Learning styles and the maturity of the student.

I believe it is important to understand and teach to a variety of learning styles. I find that some students with hate group work while others believe it is the only way they truly learn. I am ok with that and I teach using a variety of different methods in my courses. However, I have encountered a new dynamic in teaching…Teaching students how to mature intellectually in their junior and senior year of college. I find that many students get stuck in the “Dualism” stage and never mature past memorizing facts, taking notes, and “studying for the test”.

Learning styles are a great way to start evaluating your teaching, but the bigger question is … is your teaching style maturing your students’ learning on the comprehension and critical thinking levels.

This is a struggle for me right now, because it seems that my students are fighting my attempts to help mature them in learning the material on a deeper level. Give them a multiple choice question and they can answer it. Give them the same question in a short essay response… they freeze up and don’t know how to express their “memorized” knowledge using a real life example. They experience a disconnect from the knowledge/comprehension level to application level.

I know this is “growing” pains. I know it is part of the process.  I know I can continue to do more essay practice questions & open discussion. It’s a painful process at this point in the semester (for me and for them).  But this is what I believe is important for them.

Blooms Taxonomy of Cognitive Levels would say that my F’s are at the knowledge stage, C’s & D’s are at the Comprehension stage, and the A’s and B’s are at the Application stage.

Lesson 2: The perfect teacher syndrome

It is imperative that we focus on meeting the needs of our students. I believe that we can learn from each interaction within each course and develop teaching strategies specific to the class. However, I do not believe that we can become the perfect teacher for every student. For example, I have done several group discussion activities. Half the class loves it and the other half is irritated at this type of learning process. I change it up the next time and another (different type) of complaint is given. You cant please everyone, but I do believe that you can be aware and evaluate each situation.

I have reflected on what qualities that help me be a better teacher, or those qualities I admire in other people. I believe a level of each of these attributes are needed to be the ideal teacher.

  • Maturity is needed as a teacher to endure the ebbs and flows of the classroom.
  • Humility is needed to be willing to change or accept something is not working.
  • Caring is needed in order to want to meet student needs.
  • Effort is needed to try new assignments.
  • Passion is needed to stay interested in what you are teaching.
  • Patience is needed to give any change an opportunity to be effective.
  • Confidence is needed to be an effective leader.

Dinosaurs and the Bible

On one day every semester I allow my Introduction to New Testament and Introduction to Old Testament students to write down their most pressing questions about the Bible. I collect them and answer them to the best of my ability. Without fail, scribbled on at least a tenth of the torn, wadded-up papers I receive is the same question:

What does the Bible say about dinosaurs?

As adolescent as it sounds, it really is a good question. Behind the concern about where dinosaurs fit in the biblical thought-world are some deeper, more important questions. How do the Bible and the principles of science fit together? What is the nature of the Bible? And, perhaps the key question of all, How reliable is the Bible?”

For the last several centuries, the Protestant answer to these questions has involved the articulation of a very complicated doctrine…the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Wikipedia provides a lowest-common-denominator definition of Biblical Inerrancy when it describes the doctrine in this way:

The Bible, in its original manuscripts, is accurate and totally free from error of any kind; that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.”

The practical and applied meaning of biblical inerrancy actually involves a wide spectrum of definitions, depending on who is using it and for what purpose. Here is a general representation of the range of meanings for “inerrant.”

1)   On the extreme end, there are Christians who, when they say the Bible is inerrant, mean that there are no errors at all in its teaching about every area of life—from science and psychology to history and geography, and everything in between. The obvious problem with this claim is that there are proven errors in the historical and scientific details of the Bible, inconsistencies and contradictions that refute the claim that there are not biblical errors. However, to get around this problem, most strict inerrantists will qualify their definition with the claim that any apparent errors in the text must have been come by way of translation or scribal error. In the original manuscripts, or the autographs (which we do not have), they are correct.

2)   In the middle, we have limited inerrancy, which allows for factual errors in the biblical text because of the fallibility of the human authors. Many proponents of this position will maintain that Scripture is without error in what it intends to teach, which would not include matters such as science or geography

3)   Another position closely related to limited inerrancy involves another flexibly-defined term—infallibility. Although this word has as many different meanings as inerrancy, if not more, the main idea behind this claim is that the Bible’s teachings do not fail; they are infallible with regard to matters of faith, salvation, and Christian practice. According to the Presbyterian Church, “Infallibility affirms the entire truthfulness of scripture without depending on every exact detail.” (As affirmed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in June of 2001)

Even this cursory look at the doctrine of inerrancy reveals that there has been much disagreement about this term and thus, much debate about the nature of Scripture.

So, what does the Bible say about dinosaurs?

If you believe the Bible is inerrant in all it teaches, you must either go the way of creation museum people who explain that dinosaurs lived during the time of the patriarchs (perhaps the leviathan in Job was one?) and shun the archaeological discoveries of the last century. Or, you could claim that the days of creation in Genesis were not strict, 24-hour days but rather representations of longer periods.

But if you hold to limited inerrancy or infallibility, you could say that Genesis was not meant to be a scientific textbook or a literal history of the world; instead, it teaches us about having faith in the God of creation, who has made all that we see in the world.

So, what do you say? What do you think the Bible says about dinosaurs?

When group activities Go RIGHT….

Today I planned a group activity for my 8am class. Mainly because I have struggled to this point to peak their interest and interaction to the level I prefer (it’s 8am so…. I have thought about providing coffee). HONESTLY….. In general, sometimes it seems students approach the educational experience like a five-course meal and they wait for you to bring them dish after dish. In an attempt to move away from serving up an educational experience, I am shifting to the POTLUCK dinner approach to my classroom. I believe this empowers the students to “bring their knowledge and experience” to the table & I rely on them to contribute to their educational experience. I don’t do interactive group activities every class, but I try to do some type of group activity at least every third class.

I “know” interactive group activities are supposed to enhance the learning experience. I know that it is a great strategy to help students apply knowledge. But what if they don’t bring anything to the table? What if it was a disaster? What if they didn’t work together, or what if they didn’t give a good effort? I was also nervous about letting go of the control I would normally have with directed discussion, lecture, and individual activities. I worried that if the activity is not successful, it will be a waste of time and devalue their experience in the classroom. This activity I planed was 60 minutes… so it was a large portion of class.

This experience taught me that my students (in this class) can cooperate and learn in this environment. Reflecting back on this activity, I wanted to share a few things that I think worked and will plan on doing again. I have learned from past experiences and have adapted my teaching strategies to better serve student’s behavior.

  1. I put them into groups based on their social strengths and weaknesses.
  2. I told them how long the activity would take (45-60 minutes).
  3. I played music & changed the genre every 10 minutes to remind them to stay on task.
  4. I told them that if they were efficient with their time they would get out of class early. They ended up getting out 15 minutes early( 90 min class).
  5. I let groups that finished prior to the allotted time an opportunity to step outside the classroom to socialize, go to the bathroom, or play on their phone. (this was only about 3 -5 minutes but they were over-joyed ….)
  6. I designated different people to complete different parts of the assignment so that everyone had an opportunity to write & present their section to the entire class.
  7. I also created a competition between the groups for the most creative idea. Although no prize is really awarded, I can tell the students give extra effort to impress their peers.

In summary, I gave these students guidelines and provided a favorable environment for them to work together. The students were able to apply the knowledge they had learned from the previous class period. I also believe that this group of students is more mature than some of my other classes. This particular class is a senior level course & their behavior indicates that they are ready for the workplace. I normally would not tell students that we will get out of class early if they cooperate. However, the class was motivated to work together, was efficient with their discussion, and had high interaction amongst the group members.

I don’t know if Potluck style learning a ‘scholarly term’ or if I should really even make that type of comparison. But … I do know that my students gave more interaction, and I could physically see them come alive with learning the material in ways this class has never done. I plan to continue with group activities and provide more opportunities for students to ‘bring knowledge & experience’ to the table.

The Thinking Church

Why are so many young people in America leaving the Church? church-sign-antigay--300x210

A wide array of answers have been suggested lately. The Barna research group conducted eight national studies with teenagers, young adults, youth ministers and pastors in order to shed light on the issue. They found that young adults in the millennial generation find churches to be overprotective, shallow, antagonistic to science, inadequate in their teaching on sexuality, too exclusive, and unfriendly to those who doubt. Millennials themselves have expressed their own perspective, identifying the church’s hostility towards homosexuals to be the main reason that young adults leave the church (see the recent, overwhelming response to “An open letter to the church” blog post from Dannika Nash).

It is hard for those of us in the older generations to understand such harsh criticism. Sure, the church has its problems, but we have experienced it as a place of comfort and belonging, of worship and love. How can there be such a discrepancy between our experience and theirs and, more importantly, what does the younger generation need that the church is not giving them?

Several months ago,in a much-discussed CNN blog post, Rachel Held Evans suggested that what millennials (herself included) need from the church is authentic worship, theological substance, an end to the culture wars, a truce between faith and science, a moratorium on divisive politics, and a challenge to live holy and sacrificial lives like Christ.

I want to suggest that all of these needs can be expressed in one foundational need: The younger generation needs a thinking church.

For most of the church’s history, the leaders of the church–pastors, priests, and other clergy–were the most educated people of their times. Even into the twentieth century, it was common for pastors to read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and to have attended the most prestigious schools on earth. Today, we study the sermons and letters of preachers from the past to learn from the clarity of their thought and the beauty of their prose.

However, in the last century, key movements swept across the landscape of the church and changed it drastically. The holiness movement, the first and second Great Awakening, the growth of the charismatic church, the birth of evangelicalism, and the rise of fundamentalism all shifted the focus away from matters of the head to focus on the importance of the heart. With these movements, the church began to seek revival rather than research, to value the work of the Spirit rather than the work of the scholar, to emphasize the importance of conversion and morality over education and tradition. These were all welcome and important changes and they could have enacted a healthy balance in the church.

But as is common with the human practice of religion, we went too far. Churches that emphasized the Holy Spirit became suspicious of seminary and theological education. Churches that valued the Scriptures above all else began to exalt the Bible to a place of idolatry, worshipping the literal words of its pages rather than the living message it conveyed. Churches that centered their services on fear-inducing sermons of the hellfire and brimstone type started to lose the practices of reflective worship and repentant prayer, of intellectual inquiry and cultural engagement.

And so the scales tipped. Suddenly, churches were not encouraging Christians to be educated and articulate, to study science and literature and art along with Scripture, or to search for deep, thoughtful answers to the world’s most pressing problems. Instead, churches began to discourage difficult questions and academic interaction with the world. They felt challenged by—and consequently became hostile to—new ideas, new technology, and new ways of thinking, speaking, and ministering. The chasm I described in my earlier posts began to grow–that chasm between the intellectual pursuit of God exemplified by the pastors of the 19th and 20th century (also by Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17!) and the religious practice of the 21st century church characterized by fear of scholarship and distrust of the academy.

When the younger generation looks at the church of today, they realize that as the church, we might feel passionately, protest loudly, and correct indiscriminately, but we do not think deeply. And at the end of the day, our young people need A THINKING CHURCH.

A THINKING CHURCH would be able to converse with the fields of science and literature and business and  education, to find truth in them and speak truth to them as well;

A THINKING CHURCH would interact with culture and the arts, infusing more creativity in its worship and more cultural relevance in its message medium;

A THINKING CHURCH would train its people in apologetics, the art of defending the faith with articulation and compassion;

A THINKING CHURCH would be willing to talk with people who are from different backgrounds—whether different religions or cultures—to  learn from other beliefs while remaining firm in the tenets of their own faith;

A THINKING CHURCH would be eager to discuss answers to the difficult theological questions that many millennials ask, like:

  • How does the message of the Bible fit with the principles of science?
  • How can so many Christians read the Bible and come up with different interpretations?
  • How can I love my neighbor (who may have different beliefs from me) while remaining strong in the ethical teachings of Scripture?
  • How can a sovereign God of love allow so much evil in this world?;

A THINKING CHURCH would be prepared to offer compassion and support to those who doubt, who find themselves stuck at the uncomfortable intersection of faith and reason;

A THINKING CHURCH would be willing to change, ready to grow, and open to admitting when they were wrong.

Critical Thinking at Church picWhat the millennials really need is for the church of history, with its intellectual prowess and curiosity about the world, to meet the churches of today, with their passion for Scripture and ethics and service and Spirit. They need to see the body of Christ, in action, engaging soul and heart and strength and mind in order to change the world with the love of God.

Are we, as the church of today, ready to become the thinking church that our young people so desperately need and, if so, how do we do it?

The Chasm, part 2: The People of the Chasm

In my last post, I lamented the wide chasm that separates the church and the “academy” (biblical scholars and their scholarship), a separation I have noticed since the beginning of my theological education and that I am consistently reminded of as I teach New Testament to college students in the Bible belt. In an attempt to transform my fruitless complaints into conversation, I want to use my next couple of posts delve deeper into the chasm and discuss the people who contribute to the chasm, the problems or symptoms that result from the chasm, and the possible solutions we can work toward to eliminate the chasm.

The People of the Chasm:

Are you kidding me?

Group #1: “PLAIN SENSE” CHRISTIANS

These are the devout believers in local churches who can quote Bible verses (out of context), list the books of the New Testament in order, and proof-text better than an inspirational greeting card company. Although many in this group truly desire to understand what the Bible says, they know (or care) little about the literary themes and historical contexts of the Bible, the major doctrines of Christianity, the principles behind responsible biblical interpretation, or even the overarching “big story” the Scriptures are telling. Often, individuals in this group become confident that their interpretation is the only right interpretation of scripture, that their reading, the “literal” or “plain sense” reading, is the only way to read the Bible. This group is suspicious and even fearful of theological education, telling young ministers things like, “Don’t go off to seminary unless you want to lose your faith!,” or, “You do not need anything but a Bible and the Spirit to interpret God’s Word.” Of course, I affirm that the Holy Spirit can speak to any reader of Scripture, regardless of their education or background; however, we all need to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is sometimes a hard task and we would all do it better if we did it as a well-equipped, well-informed body of Christ rather than individuals who confuse Bible knowledge with Bible understanding. When we fail to grasp the complex beauty and depth of the biblical literature, reducing it instead to folksy advice and empty platitudes, the true message of Gospel can be obscured or misapplied in a way that hurts others.

Group #2: OUT-OF-TOUCH INTELLECTUALS:

These are the well-educated Bible scholars who have studied the Scriptures for decades, have a good grasp of its background and content, and have the skills necessary to do responsible biblical interpretation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this group spends little time teaching people in the churches what they know, instead choosing to write specialist books on specialist topics with specialist vocabulary that no one in a typical church would ever want to read, even if they could. This group is on the other side of the chasm from group #1, although occasionally a few of its members will lay bricks to start the bridge to the other side (the scholar-pastors).

Bible Scholars

Group #3: PROBLEMATIC PASTORS

These are the pastors, both educated and uneducated, who do not take the time to prepare themselves and their people for the challenge of reading and applying the Bible. Pastors could be the largest part of the construction crew to build a bridge over the chasm, but many instead contribute to it. Some do not realize how much time it takes to study and compose a biblically-sound sermon. Some cannot accept that although the Spirit does speak, hearing the Spirit well takes time, thought, and preparation. Some were not properly trained in biblical interpretation, so may need to humble themselves and seek more education. Whatever the problem might be, it is not a solely personal problem because it affects the people in the church who trust and rely on the exegesis and wisdom of their preachers. Although it is true that pastoring is a hard, time-consuming job with high demands, it must be so because the people in group #1 need to be guided to participate in the chasm solution instead of being part of the problem. We who are pastors and teachers must strive for excellence because people depend on us.

OTHER GROUPS?

Have I missed any groups that contribute to the chasm? I would like to hear from you. Leave a Comment.

NEXT WEEK…the problems the chasm creates in our church and society.

Learning and teaching from an Expectancy Value Theory Viewpoint

The Expectancy Value Theory states that people’s behavior is directly related to their perception or belief in a given objective, and the value they attach to achieving said objective. Basically, people guesstimate the amount/type of work needed to achieve an outcome, and that they have preconceived ideas of how they will feel or what they will accomplish with the effort they provided.

Although this is a Consumer Behavior/ Marketing theory, I will attempt to describe my understanding of learning and teaching from this perspective.

Learners Assumptions: College students are paying customers. Students pay the university for the opportunity to expand their education, and for the opportunity to earn a college diploma. The university has developed curriculum to guide the student through the journey of intellectual maturity as they approach graduation. However, generally speaking, no refund or rebate is given if these objectives are not met. The consumer (college student) may discontinue college all together if the product (college) does not meet their expectations or may take their business elsewhere (go to another college).

It is safe for us to assume that college students have expectations of college. Based on these expectations, students exert the perceived effort to achieve those expectations.

So this got me thinking…..Is this the real difference between a student that reads before coming to class, and those that don’t? Is this the difference between students that come to my office to ask clarification about a test question or ask me to read their rough draft prior to the due date?

IF WE HELP CHANGE student’s perception of how they can be successful in my class or college, can I create an environment that allows them to have greater achievements? (change expectations = change behavior = change outcomes)

Teaching Assumptions: Teachers provide an instructional service that facilitates the educational experience.  Just like the service industry or any company you prefer over another…some are better than others (even if they deliver the same results).  As teachers get to know their student’s learning styles, they adapt their teaching materials and instructional delivery method to serve the students better. In an ideal world, teachers will know exactly how to successfully facilitate learning, and it could be done is a systematic way. However, this is not that simple.

In “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher” , Stephen Brookfield highlights that teachers do not always know what helps or hurts the learning process in their classrooms. He also suggest that Teachers must simply ask questions about the learning process in order to understand what is REALLY going on from the students perspective. For example, Brookfield explains that group activities do not always facilitate learning. Sometimes students are embarrassed to talk amongst their peers, or one peer dominates the conversation. So, just because group activities and discussion are generally good, they may not always facilitate learning.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be using a “critical incident questionnaire” to evaluate how teaching and learning is interacting in my classrooms. I hope to discover what I am doing that helps students learn, and what I am doing that prevents them from engaging like they want to. The end goal is to improve desired behavioral outcomes towards learning, and increase the total value assumption of my class.

Conclusion: Learning and teaching is an interactive process. I believe students think they know what they need to do to be successful in my class. Some demonstrate that well, and it takes very little effort on my part to get them to actively participate in the learning process. I self-identify with this type of learner, and I understand that it is easier for me to teach 20-30 students that are always prepared and contribute to class. However, I see few students that fit into this ideal learner category.

I am confused when I find students unprepared for in-class discussion, a quiz, or are simply playing on their phone during my class. I ask myself… Do they do these things because they think this behavior will make them successful? Did I not tell them my expectations ahead of time? Do they not see value in my class? Do they not feel like they can be successful? Do they know what being a good student means?

These are hard questions to ask… And an even harder question is … Can I change their perceived belief or value that they have of my class? Should I take this responsibility or is this the responsibility of the learner? How do I create an environment that increases the student’s perceived value of my class?

AND.. if I do find a way to increase the learning experience this semester…. Will it work if I do it again next semester?