Tag Archives: Bible

If education grad classes were like seminary classes

A parody…. in love…. but with a point….

“All right, class. Let’s get started. I’ll open in prayer:

Lord and Great God of All Wisdom, we enter Your presence today bringing with us our empty hands, begging for Your Grace and Spirit to fill us. Without your help, O Lord, we cannot comprehend these words of education. We will err in our understanding of the men You have raised up to speak Your words to us. Give us insight today as we consider these minute yet vital details which matter so much to our own lives and to the lives of our students. Grant us wisdom, O Lord. In your most Holy Name, Amen.

“Let’s turn in our Dewey to chapter 6, paragraph 15. I believe that’s where we left off last time. Sarah, would you begin reading with the first sentence?”

“Preparation” is a treacherous idea. In a certain sense every experience should do something to prepare a person for later experiences of a deeper and more expansive quality. That is the very meaning of growth, continuity, reconstruction of experience. But it is a mistake to suppose that the mere acquisition of a certain amount of arithmetic, geography, history, etc., which is taught and studied because it may be useful at some time in the future, has this effect, and it is a mistake to suppose that acquisition of skills in reading and figuring will automatically constitute preparation for their right and effective use under conditions very unlike those in which they were acquired.”
― John Dewey, Experience and Education

“Great. Let’s stop there and dig into these words. Class, you’ll need your dictionaries and lexicons handy. The Shorter Dewey has an interesting article on the word ‘preparation.’ Lester, what can you tell us about that word?”

“Well, sir, it’s an interesting choice for this passage. The author could have used a more specific synonym, like ‘training’ or a broader one like ‘education.’ It’s interesting that Dewey here chooses a middle-of-the-road word with a broad semantic domain.”

“Yes! Excellent! Did you notice that in three other books by Dewey, he uses the word ‘preparation’ in near conjunction with similar words to what we see here, like ‘education’ and ‘experience’?  The lexicons can fill in more detail – you all should spend some time with that entry tonight.  And tell me, just so we can nail down the basics, what kind of word is ‘preparation’?”

“Oh, it’s a noun….. um, singular, neuter. Regular stem …so the plural form would have had an -s on the end. I’m pretty sure this is a singular….”

“Yes. But isn’t that interesting? Does ‘preparation’ imply something more rich and meaningful than a single moment or single experience? Could Dewey be suggesting, by using the word ‘preparation’ in the singular, that the sum total of one’s learning experiences is actually what he has in view here? What ramifications does that have for our teaching practice?

“In fact, let’s make this really practical. What do you say when you’re beside the desk of a student who is struggling — really struggling to make it? What good does all of this graduate school learning mean to that one student? If, as we’ll see once we work our way through the paragraph entirely, Dewey is suggesting that teaching must go beyond merely imparting information to building someone’s very soul — what might that mean for our students?”

“You know, professor, just last week I was in that exact same situation. I was with one of my students who was failing. I thought he was a goner! Really! His grade was at rock-bottom, he’d stopped studying or even trying. And we had just gone through that part in chapter 3 here in class where Dewey uses the word ‘reflection’ to emphasize the real value that comes after the classroom time is done. Education doesn’t actually happen without reflection!

[*growing passionate*] I said to him, I said, ‘Tommy! You have to think about it! You’ve got to reflect!’ Of course, I didn’t tell him all the stuff we learned in class, about how verbs can actually function sometimes like nouns or adjectives, and the richness those verbals bring to the discourse. But I found that concept of reflection so compelling and I think Tommy did too.

[Class nods thoughtfully, staring back at Thursday’s notes. Real-world applications are always so meaningful….]

“Great, Clara! I’m so glad you’re applying what you’re learning here! In fact, did anything strike you about this week’s reading?”

“Yes! Did you notice how Dewey uses ‘preparation’ twice, once at the beginning of the paragraph and once at the end, but in the middle section he switches to ‘acquisition,’ sometimes with the object ‘skills’ explicitly stated? I wonder if this is one of those chiastic structures you suggested we should look for?”

“Absolutely, Clara! Excellent! Reading Dewey, you will find that many passages offer this X-shaped semantic structure, nestling a key idea in the center and flanking it with carefully constructed repetition on either side. We should consider that perhaps Dewey wants us to understand that the heart of preparation lies in acquisition more than anything else.

“Ah, I believe we are out of time. Class, in addition to your next reading from the syllabus, please take time to mark the nouns and verbs in this pericope. Look for unusual terms, perhaps places where Dewey alters his vocabulary or sentence structure. Those are always highlights in the text.

“Remember: We know the author’s intentionality behind his words. Every word choice, every grammatical point is a signpost of meaning. Dig in! And be blessed this week, my friends, as you go out into this cold world to care for the hearts and minds of the students in your class, fulfilling your high calling in this world.”

I find myself in an advanced grad-level Hebrew class for the first time in over a decade. It’s going to be a great class; we’re focusing on poetry and there’s so much that’s developed in linguistic understanding of biblical Hebrew since the last time I looked at any of this stuff. So I’m excited.

But I earned another master’s degree since I was last in seminary, and getting back into this particular setting highlights some of the unique *ahem* culture that exists among seminary people.

Everything is extra “holy.” Every word is held up as mattering more. Every motive is baptized with sincerity and earnestness because, after all, we’re studying God’s Word.

I guess it’s just kind of funny. I’m not here to criticize or be cynical. Really I’m not. But the approach feels so …. foreign now. I’m not sure God really cares as much as we think He does about how we’re parsing that Hithpael verb. I’m definitely sure Dr. Barrett was right when he constantly reminded us:

There’s an inverse relationship between your knowledge of a language and the amount of “nifty” things you can discover in it.

Never sacrifice exegetical exactness on the altar of ‘niftiness.’

Well said, sir. Well said.

Link: Rob Bell, Jonah, and Redemption

I know people really love to hate Rob Bell, but his post below on getting the point of the biblical narrative is dead on, regardless of where you stand on biblical literalism.

Just one problem. It’s possible to affirm the literal fact of a man being swallowed by a fish, making that the crux of the story in such a way that you defend that, believe that, argue about that-and in spending your energies on the defend-the-fish-part miss the point of the story, the point about allowing God’s redeeming love to flow through us with such power and grace that we are able to love and bless even our worst enemies.
For the people who first heard this story, it would have been intended to have a provocative, unsettling effect. The Assyrians? The Assyrians were like a huge, gaping, open wound for the Israelites. Bless the Assyrians? 
The story is extremely subversive because it insists that
your enemy may be more open to God’s redeeming love than you are.

rob bell • What is the Bible? Part 4.

Gender, Church, and More Questions

10 Ways Male Privilege Shows Up in the Church | The Junia ProjectThe Junia Project.

^ I appreciated this post because it sets in front of us a difficult question regarding male-female roles in the conservative Church.

I fully understand why leadership positions are reserved for men in most Evangelical churches. It’s a long discussion, so if that idea is new to you, I’ll have to refer you elsewhere rather than giving all of that context here.  This link offers a fair statement of the viewpoint I’ve heard from pulpits my entire life, though this author is more emphatic about a woman’s role in the home than most pastors I’ve sat under.

But I think there’s a failure here to consider the whole counsel of Scripture, the illustrations of women in leadership, and (especially) the negative effects of a myopic, one-gendered viewpoint when it comes to corporate decisions.

(It was Dr Mark Minnick, in one of the pinnacle churches of Fundamentalism, who hammered home the point that I Cor 11 clearly assumes a woman is involved in verbal public ministry when it takes up the question of wearing head coverings.  “If a woman prays or prophesies …..” I’ve rarely heard anyone else bring this up.)

This is a difficult question, and one that many others have tackled recently. So I’m not going to reinvent the proverbial wheel.

I guess I’m just here to wish that conservative Christians would revisit exactly what they think Scripture prohibits, not set up fences to make sure there’s no possibility of crossing a line.

Many women in our churches do the work of deacons (even wielding considerable de facto authority) but are stripped of the title, salary, recognition, or respect for their work.

And the question of whether women can be pastors is not at all the same as discussing the extent to which women should be active teachers and participants in the ministry to the Body as a whole — as adult Sunday School teachers, in worship, and in guiding the direction of the assembly.

Maybe let’s start there?

A difficult question: religious thought, academic freedom, and dinosaur DNA

I am terrible about starting a new blog series before finishing the last one.   Or the other one.

(My “how you work at work” profile says I’m better during the early parts of a project but fade away during implementation. Can I use that as an excuse?  “I’m a Clarifier! And a Developer!  I’m not responsible for failed promises to finish my thoughts about vocation and calling and higher ed and food and sin and school rules and the meaning of life!”  BOOM.  Excuse acquired.  -1 to Guilt, +1 to Justification)

I gotta be honest though, I’m just gonna lob this question out there and then run away.  It’s a hot potato for everyone.  If you’re worried about my soul, stop worrying. I’m firmly a theist and a Christian and have no intent to change. If that disappoints you, then let’s keep thinking together.

Is it possible for critical, honest academic freedom to co-exist alongside fervent religious belief?

Or did Sid Meyer get it right when he set up his Civilization games so that you can’t follow a religious pathway with your civilization if you also choose rationality?

See? This poor lackey chose the Piety tree for his civ, so he's out of luck when it comes to Rationality.
See? This poor lackey chose the Piety tree for his civ, so he’s out of luck when it comes to Rationality.

I’ve pondered this question for years. Probably since college.

Most recently, Ken Ham’s really ridiculous blog post about why there can’t be alien life anywhere else in the galaxy sparked my thinking.

See, it’s hard to actually THINK ABOUT this question because people on both sides are writing dumb-ass crap in the name of their belief system.  In Ham’s case, it’s putting words in God’s mouth and then calling them holy:

Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian”!  Only descendants of Adam can be saved.  God’s Son remains the “Godman” as our Savior.  In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we see the Father through the Son (and we see the Son through His Word).  To suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong.

An understanding of the gospel makes it clear that salvation through Christ is only for the Adamic race—human beings who are all descendants of Adam.

Many secularists want to discover alien life hoping that aliens can answer the deepest questions of life: “Where did we come from?” and “What is the purpose and meaning of life?” But such people are ignoring the revelation from the infinite God behind the whole universe. The Creator has told us where we came from: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” Genesis 1:1; Nehemiah 9:6. And He told us what life’s purpose is: “Fear God and keep His commandments” Ecclesiastes 12:13.

The answers to life’s questions will not be found in imaginary aliens but in the revelation of the Creator through the Bible and His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to die on a Cross to redeem mankind from sin and death that our ancestor, Adam, introduced.

We need to start proclaiming the authority of God’s Word from the very first verse—even on the subject of alien life! For more information on the supposed existence of ETs and other common questions about a biblical worldview, I encourage you to order The New Answers Book series from our bookstore. Or for witnessing purposes, we have a booklet that can be ordered in bulk with special pricing to help teach people the truth about aliens and UFOs and promote the gospel for your local church or youth programs.

Ken Ham, I’m calling bullshit on your decision to 1) link your interpretation of Genesis 1-3 to what God Himself actually thinks (because truth is, you cannot KNOW that you’ve gotten it absolutely 100% correct); 2) linking that leap of assumptions and induction to what the Gospel says; and 3) using both to peddle your books. That kinda burns me, actually, but we’ll focus on problems #1 and #2.

This passage I quoted is such a mixture of orthodox theology and Ham’s personal (biased) viewpoint that it’s hard to unwind the two.  Absolutely I agree that Jesus Christ came to earth to save sinners. However, that does NOT demand the corollary concept that God can’t do any other work in this vast universe except what we deduce He’s been up to.

When we put our words in God’s mouth and call them His, usually something or someone (hello, Gallileo?) shows up to prove us idiots. And then the good of Christianity gets laughed out of the room because we weren’t careful with what we said, how we said it, and how much certainty we claimed for what is – at the core – an interpretation of a complex text.

Truth is, I have no idea if there’s alien life in outer space. Neither do you, and neither does Ken Ham if he’d stop taking his own assumptions so seriously.  And thoughtful people read this stuff and decide Christians must be a special kind of stupid.

Christianity has been linked to Modernity for a long time, and Modernity craved certainty in its epistemology.  The scientist is driven by the desire to KNOW.

Here’s where I depart from the secularist, the rationalist, the empiricist:  I think relying on human observation or reason to provide reliable and unbiased “truth” or even certain data is just as crazy as they think I am for believing in a literal Adam & Eve. (I do think they existed. I’m not willing to stab you over this point, however.)   Our perceptions are crafted by our own viewpoints, our experiences, our very humanity.

"Nature will find a way."  Yup.  Plus, I do wonder if we can make that mosquito thing work on the cloning front.....  and if so, will things just play out like a weird reworking of the film? Maybe that's true of all sci-fi? Maybe fiction writers are actually writing our future??  AAAAAAH
“Nature will find a way.” Yup. Plus, I do wonder if we can make that mosquito thing work on the cloning front….. and if so, will things just play out like a weird reworking of the film? Maybe that’s true of all sci-fi? Maybe fiction writers are actually writing our future?? AAAAAAH

Science shouldn’t get all smug up in here about what it knows or the idea they’ve identified all their biases. They haven’t.   Cue Jurassic Park as one of my favorite novels on the limitations of science to recognize what it does and does not know.

Here’s where I’d like to stop circling the drain of rationalism vs belief and restate the question:

Is it possible for someone to “question everything” and “have faith like a little child”?  I’d really like to know.

A Culture of Questioning

Today’s Sunday School discussion about the “watchman” passage in Ezekiel 3 frustrated me.

For one thing, Sunday School classes provoke some kind of odd warping of the time/space continuum. If the teacher is boring, time freezes in the presence of a black hole of active learning.  Give me an interesting teacher, and time runs past like a sprinter, carrying far more than his allotted share of minutes from the clock. One or two questions in, and it’s time to go.

Coart is teaching on Ezekiel & Daniel this quarter, two widely misunderstood and ignored books. Heck, I figure Ezekiel was the first fringe kid, sporting an odd hairdo and some kind of funky robe back in the 6th Century…. who else would be drafted into such an odd ministry of puppet-sermons, play-acting, and weird behavior?  hehe  [Calm down. I’m just kidding.]

The ‘Watchman’ passage in chapter 3 is difficult on a good day. In what sense is Ezekiel responsible for the deaths of both wicked or righteous men if he fails to warn them of coming judgment? And how do we reconcile all of that with the paradox of free will vs. God’s sovereignty?

But I’m not here to discuss THAT question. (Good luck. Call me when you figure it out.)

I was frustrated that people jump so quickly to pat answers instead of allowing themselves and (more importantly) other people to wrestle with these difficult passages. Lest you prick yourself on a thorn of interpretation, a self-appointed ‘thought-police’ lurks nearby, ready to offer the standard formulaic answer.  Poke the answer a little, however, and its veneer of certainty rubs away.

I wish we cultivated a culture of questioning, instead of idolizing “answers.”

Truth is, even the best explanations of some Bible passages fail to satisfy.  I’m not a Christian because the Bible nailed me with some airtight defense of its own reliability.

I’m a Christian because one day, inexplicably and without remedy, God mashed into my life and drew me to Himself as a child of redemption.  I trust Him, first and foremost.

The questions in my head cannot be answered by black letters dancing on a white page. God Himself is the Truth, a personal Truth who can be questioned.  David paved our way in the Psalms as he pounded on the doors of heaven seeking answers to life’s crap.

Job questioned too, but his hard-headed self-righteousness provoked a response from the Almighty that I don’t care to ever experience. Then again, Job is one of the few to hear God’s actual voice … and he lived to praise God for His goodness. [God protects children and fools….?]

We think that a question unanswered is somehow a mark against us, as if God were administering the SAT of LIFE and we won’t make it into the next heavenly course without a good score.

Instead of wrestling with the Being Who Is Truth or inhaling the scent of paradox – a mysterious answer that somehow quenches our indelible thirst – we are too easily satisfied.  Satisfied with the simple answer, with a cardboard, staid, predictable image of God.

Answers are well and good, but you need to soak up the question first.
Douglas Adams was right — knowing the answer to the Life, the Universe, and Everything is irrelevant unless you understand The Question.