Category Archives: Teaching

Integrating Faith and Learning, Truth and Life

Thinking rabbitStudying the Bible in an academic context provides a great opportunity to explore the broad relevance of a number of Biblical themes. What are some potential ways the Bible relates to other areas of learning or significant issues in our world?

The Trinity – worship, purpose, full relationships with God and others, how Christianity is distinct from other world religions.

Creation – the sciences, creation care, beauty/order/design in the world, stewardship of resources/gifts/life, fruitfulness, culture, creativity, sexuality/marriage/family, the wisdom of God.

Image of God – the value of human life, living as representatives of God, identity formation, vocation and calling.

Incarnation and physical resurrection – the value of the physical world and physical bodies, physical presence/touch and relationships, the “embodied” life and communication/social media, benefits and dangers of technology to human interaction and growth, medical ethics.

The kingdom of God – power structures and their relationship to God, justice/righteousness/shalom, what God’s reign looks like now and in the future in our world, kingdom ethics applied to various areas of life.

Christian virtues – cultural analysis, sexual morality, business ethics, hospitality, generosity to the needy, other humanitarian issues.

The cross/death of Jesus – “cruciform living” in an indulgent and selfish world, the depths of sin/evil/suffering and brokenness in a fallen world, the power of forgiveness – with God and others.

The church – how Christians are distinct from the world, how Christians should engage with the world, reconciliation and unity within the church, church planting and missions – contributions from various gifted people, ministries to the poor/needy/oppressed.

Justice and judgment – restorative and punitive justice, temporary and final judgment and their functions, divine and human justice, social justice in various arenas, reconciliation between political/social/tribal enemies, war and pacifism.

Biblical covenants – mission and purpose in light of the new covenant, middle east politics in light of the old and new covenants, church and state, living as strangers and exiles.

Union with Christ – identity formation, growth and maturity as disciples, sharing in Christ’s suffering, the persecuted.

New creation – worship and vocation, human flourishing, the value of the physical, beauty, creativity.

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Filed under Biblical Theology, Education, New Testament, Old Testament, Teaching

Education and the Pursuit of Wisdom

Taylor University Prayer Chapel

Taylor University Prayer Chapel

Proverbs 3:13-18 identifies wisdom as the most valuable treasure in this world. Here is the passage in the NIV:

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, 
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.”

Notice the exhortations to actively pursue wisdom: “find wisdom . . . gain understanding . . . take hold of her . . . hold her fast.” With these words the father is appealing to his son, “make this your life quest!” And why? The passage makes it clear: an investment in wisdom pays great dividends, contributing to a life of shalom (peace) as well as fruitfulness in work and health.

What a great word for college students. The goal of a college education is not simply to become employable, to make lifelong friends, or to enjoy four years of enriching experiences. Those goals become meaningful only when aligned under a greater goal: growing in wisdom and understanding about God and the world he created.

How does one proceed on this journey towards wisdom and understanding? Proverbs 9:10 gives the starting point: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” And in the wake of the new covenant, Christ is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

A truly wise life emerges only from a right relationship with God, in Christ, by the Spirit. I’m so glad that learning at Taylor is experienced within a context of faith and discipleship, so that growth in wisdom can take place!

 

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Filed under Discipleship, Education, New Testament, Old Testament, Teaching

What would the Apostle Paul say to us?

I gave my Pauline Epistles class this exercise on the final day of class: in 20 minutes write a brief letter in which you imagine what Paul would say to the community of believers at Taylor University. Here were the instructions:

  • Write a theologically rich greeting/intro.
  • Give thanks for something good Paul sees at Taylor.
  • Address a problem Paul observes at Taylor.
  • Conclude with a brief benediction.

After each group read its letter to the class, we voted for our favorites (the ones that reflected both Paul’s heart and the needs at Taylor the best). The following two letters tied for the most votes. Students in these two groups gave me their permission to post the letters, along with their first names.

Apostle Paul

First group: Katie, Jessica, Vivi

This letter is from Paul, an apostle appointed by God and Jesus Christ. To the saints of Taylor University. Grace and peace to you! I long to see you soon, but these chains hold me back.

We thank God whenever we remember your unity in Christ and community with one another. We know you Gentiles have come from diverse backgrounds with various traditions and yet you remain faithful to Christ and one another. When I heard that you had established a communal time three times a week to worship God and spend time as the body of Christ I was greatly pleased. I pray that you will remain faithful to God and each other during those times.

I want you to know that I have agonized deeply concerning your commitment to academics and activities. I do not mean to say these things are bad – on the contrary! You have come to this institution to study and make friendships. What concerns me is the devotion you have for these things. When given a choice to pray or spend a whole day studying, why do many of you choose the latter? It is to your advantage to place God at the forefront of your life to ensure the salvation of your souls. You must not forget, brothers and sisters, that these four years are still a part of the race for the prize, so stay strong!

Greet our fellow brothers and sisters, including Dr. Habecker and Dr. MaGee, for me. Grace and peace to you all. Amen.

(Editorial notes: the letter refers to Taylor’s chapel services, which are held three times a week, and Taylor’s president, Dr. Habecker).

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Second group: TJ, Ryan, Erin, Andrea, Kamra

Paul, an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ; grace and peace to all the brothers and sisters at Taylor University. I am able to write to you because of the mercy of Christ Jesus, who was resurrected by the Father and also brings us eternal life.

I have not stopped giving thanks for your continual fellowship. The household of MaGee has reported to me your intentional community as well as your integration of faith and learning. Others use knowledge to build themselves up, but you, my brothers, show genuine concern for using your knowledge for the edification of the ekklesia.

However, it is said among you, “ring by Spring,” but do you not realize that some of you pursue this desire at the expense of practicing full devotion to God? I tell you it is better for you to be single when you graduate than to wed before you attain a maturity that comes from knowing Christ only.

Give my greetings to Randy, Eugene, and Bill, who are the very reason I was able to preach among you. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you forever.

(Editorial notes: “ring by Spring” describes the urgency some Taylor students feel about getting engaged while they are at Taylor. Randy, Eugene, and Bill are beloved leaders at Taylor University. Ekklesia is the Greek term used to describe the church or gathering of believers in the New Testament).

It seemed like everyone enjoyed this assignment, and all groups did a great job with the 20 minutes they were given for the exercise.

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The Gap Decade

We have high-schoolers in our home, and there are plenty of friends around town who have high-schoolers too. One thing that we talk about with our friends is the idea of taking a “gap year” between high school and college. Every student is different, so the gap year makes sense for some but not for others.

I took a “gap decade” between my undergraduate and graduate studies (my wife and I had ten wonderful years serving with Campus Crusade for Christ, in the U.S. and in East Asia). A gap decade isn’t the best choice for everyone, but it was perfect for me. Here’s why:

1) Believe it or not, I was not very mature personally or intellectually when I was 22 years old. Shocking.

My kids are known to choose store-bought, processed “desserts” over sumptuous home-made creations at pot-luck dinners or dessert carry-ins. I just smile when they do: one, because it leaves the better desserts for me, but two because I recognize that tastes change and improve over time. At age 22 I was not ready for the fine food that graduate studies had to offer.

thanksgiving feast a

2) The gap decade allowed me to develop in some areas of weakness instead of focusing prematurely on areas of strength. I have always been comfortable in an academic setting – taking tests, writing papers, exploring and discussing ideas – these all come fairly naturally for me. My ten years in between undergraduate and graduate studies gave me the chance to cultivate areas in which I was not as naturally gifted – public speaking, leadership, strategic planning, and being intentional about reaching out to a wide variety of people. I’m so grateful for the mentors and experiences that challenged and stretched me in those areas during my gap decade.

3) My gap-decade helped me to appreciate the practical in addition to the theoretical. Theology is rich and complex and significant. But that theology needs to be communicated in ways that connect with people, beginning with where they are in life. I learned this fairly quickly in ministry. There were times when I thought I had developed fascinating Bible studies or teaching material to share with others about God, salvation, and the like, only to find out that they needed something more concrete and practical first.

4) Here’s what may be an eye-opening point: nothing stops us from learning when we are not in school! I read and wrote and thought and learned a lot during my ten years outside of school. I remember pouring through the history of the New Testament canon and other church history highlights, digging into commentaries on various biblical books, and examining systematic theologies on God’s sovereignty, the Holy Spirit, the nature of Scripture, missions, spiritual formation, and other substantive topics. I recall the fun times engaging in detailed studies of books of the Bible with my friends and co-workers. And I wasn’t reading and studying because of an assignment or grade, which made the learning all the more sweet!

5) When I finally returned to the academic arena and began graduate studies, I brought a sense of focus and motivation with me that would have been absent a decade earlier. I knew my need for what I was learning, and my appetite for structured and challenging learning had increased exponentially in my life. A key to success in graduate studies is to sustain momentum throughout the program – from the classwork to the comprehensive exams and all the way to the completion of the thesis or dissertation. I was glad that my motivation level was high at the beginning of the long journey that was ahead of me, so that I could have some energy in reserve for the challenging stretches along the way.

The gap decade – that idea might not catch on like the gap year has, but for some recent college graduates it might be just what the doctor ordered, like it was for me.

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My Favorite New Testament Book

At a wedding recently someone asked me what my favorite New Testament book was.

That question always stumps me.

The great thing about teaching the whole NT several times every semester is that I get exposed to every book on a regular basis. I learn to appreciate the contribution each book makes to the whole. Teaching the whole NT also keeps me accountable to the whole NT. I can’t ignore parts of the NT that don’t conveniently fit into a simplistic paradigm of God and his work.

The Gospel narratives remind me that Christianity is more than a philosophy or a set of abstract principles. It is based on historical events in which the Son of God was born among us, ministered in our midst, was rejected, was crucified, was buried, and rose again. The comforting, unsettling, inspiring acts and teachings of Jesus lead me to both deeper worship of the Lord and greater eagerness to read about and understand him more.

Acts tells the exciting history of how the church blossomed by the power of the Spirit and under the leadership, ministry, and teaching of the apostles. There were significant bumps along the way though – pretenders struck down for lying to God, accusations of insensitivity to the needs of some members of the church, sharp theological disputes that required the convening of a church council, and the breaking apart of a ministry team because of a disagreement over personnel. But God’s word and his church still advance.

Paul’s letters are a diverse bunch themselves. Paul unpacks the implications of Jesus’ work – for the present life, for the life to come, for Jewish believers, for Gentile believers. He presents the ideal of unified churches guided and empowered by the Spirit and yet churches that need leadership and organization too.

The general epistles include uncompromising stands against false teaching (Jude), descriptions of worldwide judgment on the unbelieving world (2 Peter), and the challenge of living counter-culturally and not just inwardly spiritually (James).

And then there is Revelation, where the vivid portrayals of God’s vindication of his people, triumph over evil, and creation of the new heavens and new earth remind us not to reduce God to a tame, grandfatherly figure.

The NT books are all part of our heritage as Christians. They all contribute to a complete Christian world view, and God uses them all to speak to us and shape us into worshipful disciples. Treasures await in each book for those who are diligent seekers.

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