Why I teach what I teach

Clerk’s Log, MJDate 54987.52: Applications for faculty positions usually ask you to state your “personal philosophy of teaching.” Here’s mine.

 

ARTICLE I

As creations bearing the image of God, and especially as children of God, we must be dedicated to acquiring truth and eschewing falsehood.

  1. We are to “walk as children of light.”
    1. “God is light.” God is characterized by truth in all things. Indeed, Jesus said that he is the truth embodied (John 15:6). Satan, not God, is the father of lies: their ultimate source and their ultimate user.
    2. It follows not only that human beings are to be likewise characterized by truth as God’s creation, but that this is their obligation as being “in the image of God,” i.e., representing God to the rest of creation. It is at the Fall that men became liars. Adam in the garden, while he did not lie explicitly, nonetheless hid the truth by trying to divert attention from it (“the woman whom you gave me — she gave me the fruit”). The first recorded human lie is from Cain (“I don’t know where Abel is.”) Paul directs believers to put aside falsehood and speak the truth to one another (Eph. 4:25).
  2. We are created to perform assigned tasks.
    1. In the process of creation Adam was given an administrative role, viz., naming the animals — a descriptive task that may be prescriptive as well. Descriptive: Naming does not mean merely assigning reference tags to them but analyzing their natures, understanding those natures, and categorizing them accordingly. Prescriptive: Since “name” often includes characteristics of the one named, Adam may have shared in the final steps of the animals’ creation by deciding what those characteristics should be.
    2. Following creation Adam was assigned the task of dressing the garden — i.e., maintaining it and contributing to its design.
    3. After the Fall Adam was responsible to provide for his family as a farmer. Our mandate to exercise dominion — i.e., responsible stewardship — over the earth and its contents is not done away with, merely given a different context and thus other nuances.
  3. We are therefore to acquire knowledge and wisdom as preparation for carrying out our responsibilities.

ARTICLE II

Truth is to be found both in general and special revelation.

  1. “All truth is God’s truth.”1 This maxim legitimizes and sums up the Christian perspective toward studies in areas apart from strictly religious matters, such as the humanities and the hard and soft sciences. These can all be viewed through the lens of Christian doctrine, and conducted in a way that honors God and deepens our worship of him. Every item of knowledge has theological implications.
  2. All God’s truth is true. While we often hear the preceding aphorism, its converse is also true and cannot be ignored. It reminds us that the Bible is the normative grid through which we view the aforementioned “non-religious” studies. Hypotheses are to be considered in light of their consistency with a doctrinal framework derived from the best reading of Scripture. This is not to say that natural studies may not suggest flaws in our biblical hermeneutic, leading us to examine and either modify or confirm our understanding of Scripture; but because (a) the biblical text is given with God’s authority and is to a great extent self-interpreting, and (b) the collection and interpretation of data in the sciences (etc.) is profoundly affected by the observer’s own perspective, nothing in those outside studies should be considered normative in actually determining our hermeneutic.

ARTICLE III

Education is necessary because we have much to learn and much to unlearn.

  1. Nature: Although we are born without knowledge, we are not a blank slate in every respect. We inherit basic physical attributes, together with mental and emotional attributes, all of which will influence our perception of data. We also inherit a fundamental sinfulness, which profoundly affects our perception and interpretation of data. All of these characteristics must be recognized, understood, and actively countered where they produce error.
  2. Nurture: As we grow we are informed by many sources in our context, including family, friends, teachers, peers, and various broadcast and print media. These too must be recognized, understood, and actively countered where they produce error.
  3. In addition to information, we need wisdom or “enlightenment”: changes in perspective which bring our perceptions, interpretation, and understanding more into line with God’s.

ARTICLE IV

Teaching should produce readers, thinkers, communicators, and servants.

  1. Readers. Students should be able to come to a text (whether print, graphic, or audiovisual) and, with an awareness of their biases and presuppositions, understand what the author of that text truly wished to say (as opposed to what they might want him or her to say). I believe that this is best taught through assignments that include both broad reading and interpretation.
  2. Thinkers. Students should be able to think critically about what they read and witness. In this way they would be guarded against the tendency to let others think for them and shape their ideas in ways that may not be in accord with biblical truth. The four questions Adler and Van Doren pose with respect to written material2 apply to any statement:
    1. What is being said overall? I.e., what is the thesis, the fundamental unity?
    2. What is being said in detail, and how? I.e., what is the diversity within the unity?
    3. Is it true, in whole or in part?
    4. What of it?
  3. Communicators. Knowledge is not simply to be stockpiled. It is to be either put into practice or passed along so that someone else can put it into practice (“those who can, do; those who cannot, teach”). Ideally, these should both be possible. Students should therefore not only understand their subject matter thoroughly but also be able to communicate it effectively to others.
    1. Not everyone communicates best in the same way: some are good speakers, others writers, still others, graphic artists. It is important that a student be given the opportunity to discover the medium in which he or she can excel.
    2. At the same time, it is also important that each student have some facility with writing, since writing is still by far the most common method of mass communication, not to mention the quickest and the one least requiring advanced (not to mention vulnerable) technology. Each student therefore should be trained in written composition and given opportunities to present concise, logical arguments in writing.
  4. Servants. One critical change of perspective in today’s world concerns the use of power.
    1. In Mark 10:42-45 Jesus sharply contrasts his followers’ approach to power with that of that era’s political rulers. The latter make their authority a badge of honor, not hesitating to assert it over those under them. Christ’s followers, however, are to use as their criterion of excellence the extent to which they are willing to give of themselves in order to help other people achieve, or attain to, what is best.
    2. This ethic is admittedly passed on more through the teacher’s observed actions than by his or her words. Both the words and the actions are necessary, however, and to them the teacher must be dedicated.

NOTES

  1. Frank Gaebelein, The Pattern of God’s Truth [return ↩ ]
  2. Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book [return ↩ ]
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One Response to Why I teach what I teach

  1. Max Weismann says:

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