Tag Archives: christian education

On Religion and Ignorance

I stumble across atheist rants every now and then, denouncing the evils of religion. Usually I smile in vague amusement and move on, but lately, something about the atheist anti-religious meta-narrative has bothered me. It took me a while to see it, but I think I’ve finally figured out what, exactly, has stuck in my craw.

The meta-narrative goes something like this: (1) those who practice religion/believe in a higher power are uneducated nut-jobs looking for a crutch to get themselves through life, (2) religion has brought nothing but pain and misery to the world, and (3) rational thinking would force people away from ritualistic reliance on revelation; reason should rule the roost (forgive my alliterative indulgence here). Therefore, we should divest ourselves of the fetters of religiosity and embrace the freedom of rationalism.

In short, theism breeds ignorance, but atheism brings enlightenment.

If you pay any attention to history, you probably spot several of the flaws in this line of thinking. To acknowledge the meta-narrative (and by “meta-narrative” I mean “bigger story being told”) truth, the commitment to a particular faith or value system has, at times, choked the pure exploration of knowledge for its own sake. The meta-narrative will point to the story of Galileo for an example of this. In one version of this tale, the evil religious establishment (the Roman Catholic Church) suppresses the truth of the valiant defender of science and truth, against all reasonable observation. Another version of this tale exists: that Galileo, having previously been wrong about the nature of comets while writing in support of the pope, pushed his agenda of changing the nature of scientific inquiry too far by invoking some hot-button political issues of his day. Galileo, in one of his salvos, actually argued against some of the greatest scientific minds of the time—the Jesuits.

In other words, Galileo thought he was right (although it turns out he was wrong about several things, such as the nature of the tides and circular orbits), and made a rhetorical argument that skewered one of the most powerful religious and political rulers of his day (the pope). That ruler responded with brute force, crushing any chance Galileo had of actually dealing with the scientific issues he’d attempted to address.

I will grant you that the pope was wrong in using the church as an instrument to enforce his will. As a dyed-in-the-wool American protestant christian, I have the same objections to the behavior of some of the pope’s and their ties to (and abuse of) political power as many atheists. I suggest, in contrast to the meta-narrative, that the problem with this is not an issue of religion, but rather an issue of people with power. When you look over history, I believe the more accurate story is not the one which speaks of religions suppression, but rather the story of an engine of economics driving the tools and institutions of power (most often centered in organized religion) to carry out the will of a few. For example, I encourage you to reconsider the actions of Urban VIII in light of the debt and dissension he dealt with at the time of the Galileo affair.

Maybe there’s some truth to the idea of money and evil.

3 Comments

Filed under Christian Education

3 Reasons for Failing Mentoring Programs

Why Mentoring Programs Fail | Bible.org Blogs.

Blogger Laura Singleton wrote recently on the reasons she saw why mentoring programs fail. Essentially, she argues that they fail because they emphasis the program aspect of mentoring rather than the relational aspect of mentoring. Without disagreeing with her, the blog prompted me to consider other reasons why mentoring programs fail.

  1. Wrong purpose. Some people claim they want a mentor when they really want someone to follow. They want to be a disciple rather than a protégé. The character Mentor acted as an adviser to his protégé, sharing wisdom and insights. Similarly, in the mentor/protégé(e) relationship, the protégé may or may not adopt the viewpoint of the mentor. In contrast, in the disciple/master relationship, the disciple wishes to adopt the methods, philosophy, and ideas of his master. The disciple patterns him/herself after the master. The mentor/protégé(e) relationship is about guidance and growth; the disciple/master relationship is about imitation and duplication. A program will naturally fail when someone wishes to be a disciple rather than a protégé(e).
  2. Wrong program. Related to the reason above, some programs fail because they have the wrong programmatic elements. According to Dr. Michael Lawson of the Christian Education department at Dallas Theological Seminary, “Programs are just excuses for older Christians to get together with younger Christians.” In a mentoring relationship, the program (and any associated curriculum) needs to draw out the knowledge, values, and drives of the protégé(e); it is a student-centered approach to education. A master/disciple relationship needs to draw out the knowledge, values, and drives of the master; it is a teacher-centered approach to education. While there’s nothing wrong with studying the Bible, if the protégé(e) has needs and desires that go beyond Biblical study (perhaps they need career direction) then a curriculum exploring all 66 books of the Bible will fall short.
  3. Wrong people. Quite frankly, some people give bad advice. A mentor is an adviser, and must have the capacity to offer wisdom unattached from the need to see it adopted. In the Odyssey, Odysseus placed Mentor in charge of Telemachus, Odysseus’ son. Mentor acted as a guide and encourager rather than a father figure. It takes a particular skill-set, disposition, and personality to act in that capacity. A mentor must consider the needs of the protégé(e) and help the protégé(e) develop according to their own pattern. A master patterns his/her disciples according to the master’s way.

As you consider building a mentoring program or looking for a mentoring relationship, consider the purpose. Are you looking to make disciples, or are you trying to create opportunities to share wisdom? Are you looking for someone you can imitate, or do you want guidance on how to develop? Are you looking to be a disciple, or do you wish to be a protégé(e)?

 

1 Comment

Filed under Christian Education, Foundations

Racial Segregation and its Impact on Theological Education

Racial segregation continues to impact quality of education in Mississippi—and nationwide | Hechinger Report.

I thought this an interesting article by Alan Richard of the Hechinger Report, but it prompted some thoughts for me regarding our President and his religious views. Many of my religiously conservative (and incidentally, politically conservative) often decry more liberal theological views such as Black Liberation Theology. Consequently, they also tend to look down on those who hold to such views.

Let me point this out as a classic example of chickens coming home to roost. According to his wikipedia page, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr. earned a Master of Arts in the History of Religions from the University of Chicago. Considering he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968 and his master’s in English in 1969, one might surmise that he earned the Religion master’s around that time.

Consider that my current school of choice, Dallas Theological Seminary (and a bastion of conservative theological views), did not open its doors to blacks until 1965 ; as I understand it, DTS was one of the first to desegregate. The University of Chicago must have desegregated soon considering that Wright’s mother also graduated from the University of Chicago. Wright likely followed in her footsteps and toward an place familiar to him through his studies at Howard University. In any case, Wright landed in Chicago at one of the only schools which would have accepted him—a seminary with theologically liberal leanings.

Wright’s story is not unique: the black students who had the academic credibility and the financial wherewithal to pursue graduate-level theological education often had to choose the Chicago Divinity Schools of the world. Conservative schools simply would not educate them. In fact, I’ve heard one story (unconfirmed) of a major conservative seminary’s registrar who would discard the applications of qualified black applicants so there was no record of discrimination. Still, these gifted future pastors attended liberal schools and went on to pastor churches. Wright accepted his pastorate around 1972.

For more than 30 years, Wright pastored, taught, and led his congregation based on the theology he learned at the University of Chicago and later from Union Theological Seminary under James Cone. Among his flock? One Barack Obama, a community organizer who worked in and around the south side of Chicago, Illinois, and who would have worked with many pastors (with similar educations as Wright) in the area in order to bring much-needed resources to bear on the problems of the African-American community.

In short (and to use another metaphor), the seeds of segregation—planted and watered by conservative seminaries—blossomed into pastors who chose liberal institutions for their training. Those pastors then sowed the seeds of their new-found theology into their congregants who now hold significant political, social, and economic positions. Those congregants are the Beyoncé’s, President Obama’s, Oprah Winfrey’s, and Tyra Banks’ of the world. So, theological conservative: when you wonder why some people hold the views they hold, consider your history, and know that when the opportunity to influence minds came, theological conservatives built a chicken roost.

Now the chickens are home, and hungry.

3 Comments

Filed under Christian Education, Theology

A Christian Educator’s Thoughts on Revelation and Integration

I have a lot of interest in faith-learning integration. A constant question as student in the sciences was, “What does this teach me about God?” It was a natural question and practice for me, as it never occurred to me that the studying creation to understand God was a bad thing. After all, the glory of God is revealed in the heavens seemed to mean that if I looked at the heavens (which was clearly a metonymy for all of creation) then I would understand a bit more about God and His thoughts about me, Himself, and the rest of Creation. It wasn’t until I ran into some of the Bible-only psychologists who completely discarded any source of knowledge about ministering to others that originated from outside of scripture that it occurred to me that other people think differently about the issue.

Until recently, I couldn’t resolve the problem of why some would reject faith/learning integration. Why is it that well-meaning Christians have such difficulty contemplating the conclusions of other fields? Many (most of them non-Christian) would argue that we’re a bunch of ignorant fools chasing after ancient myths and fairy tales in order to retain a sense of superiority and personal well-being. I don’t quite buy that notion.

My friend recently graduated with her PhD in Theological Studies, where she studied the topic of general revelation, and introduced me to one Herman Bavink, a Dutch Reformed theologian. A quote from Herman Bavinck’s The philosophy of revelation; the Stone lectures for 1908-1909, Princeton Theological Seminary. Stone lectures; 1908-09. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.

Although God is immanent in every part and sphere of creation with all his perfections and all his being, nevertheless, even in that most intimate union he remains transcendent. His being is of a different and higher kind than that of the world (23).

And a second quote from the same source.

One of the results of the trend of present-day science is that theology is just now largely occupied with…how revelation has come about, than in the question what the content of revelation is (23).

Can you see the issue? We forget that God is the source of all revelation and instead focus on what people are doing with it, rather than what it says. In the process, we’re robbing ourselves of precious perspectives and resources for understanding God. Simply put, if God reveals, then it bears his essential character (see Ash’s unpublished dissertation A Critical Examination of the Doctrine of Revelation in Evangelical Theology, p 152 for more details on this).

We need to study creation. We need to look at ants to learn about laziness and industriousness (Proverbs 6:6). We need to look at  plants to learn about God’s character (Luke 12:27). We need to study the origins of the earth to learn about God’s power (Job 38). We need to study the law to learn about God’s love (Psalm 119).

Why study creation? Because the Bible tells me so.

Bavinck, Herman. The philosophy of revelation; the Stone lectures for 1908-1909, Princeton Theological Seminary. Stone lectures ; 1908-09. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.

Comments Off on A Christian Educator’s Thoughts on Revelation and Integration

April 23, 2013 · 11:46 pm

Applying conative styles in the church

Dream with me, just for a moment.

Imagine a church, dedicated to the task of Christian education. Our church follows the model demonstrated in the New Testament by adhering to a plurality of leadership. Its elders all fulfill the qualifications of “able to teach,” and each play a different role in the governing and function of the church. In fact, there are five elders of our church, and they all speak on occasion (but one of them does the primary speaking/proclamation during gatherings).

Now consider the following passage, from Ephesians 4:7-16

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.”  Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended  to the lower regions, namely, the earth? He, the very one  who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. But practicing the truth in love,we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

What if we built a church structure around the bolded parts, with some caveats. Firstly, questions exist as to whether the role of the apostle exists in the modern day church. However, let’s consider that the apostle (1) likely best understood the message of Christ considering he had received it directly from Jesus and (2) continued to diligently search the scriptures to ensure they accurately taught the message of Christ. Secondly, the original language construction might take the pastor and teacher as a single role, or one could take it as separate. I tend to think they are separate roles. Thirdly, the word translated as “pastor” also could translate as “shepherd”. With that, I then see five pastoral titles from this verse

  1. Preaching and Worship Pastor
  2. Administrative and Counseling Pastor
  3. Teaching and Discipleship Pastor
  4. Evangelism and Outreach Pastor
  5. Research and Scholarship Pastor

In the next post, I’ll define these roles, and show how the conative styles as I’ve defined them fit with each of these roles. Until then, consider the diversity of gifts and conative styles, and how they’re designed to help us all grow in Christ, and that He has equipped us for the work of the ministry.

Comments Off on Applying conative styles in the church

Filed under Christian Education