There were two books assigned as part of the Theology Program from Credo House course, Principles of Biblical Teaching and here is a review of the first book by Howard Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives.
This course was taken as part of my Unschooled Master of Theology program.
So let’s get started….
I have to say at the start, like the majority of books I’ve attempted to read as part of my uThM program (or any books for that matter over the last 20 years) I was quite underwhelmed with this book. Maybe I just expect too much or have learned this material already, but the majority of it seemed to be fluff. There were lots of quips about this or that, and several stories about how someone did something to someone else. How many times do I have to hear about someone who witnesses to the person next to him on a plane and the whole plane gets saved? Likewise, as the book makes the point, American Christianity is marketing itself as the panacea for the masses and it simply cannot compete with its own hype. Christians are not promised a great and perfect and joyful life in the Bible. Our culture may demand such things, but it simply is not biblical teaching. Wealth, health, prosperity – these are more often than not driven by circumstance and personal choices, and have nothing to do with our faith.
But there were a few areas that I thought the book did a good job of discussing certain issues about teaching within a biblical context.
Teachers Need to be Learners
Of course, all teachers need to be learners and each one of us have experienced a classroom setting with an instructor who was there for all the wrong reasons. But, it is something to soberly consider, as Hendricks points out, “How have you changed lately? In the last week? Last month? Last year?” If we are not willing to change, to be transformed, then there really is nothing to teach anyone. Just as the author points out that Jesus grew in wisdom, in stature, in favor with God and with men during his time on this earth (Luke 2:52). How much more so will we be required to grow and change and mature as we become teachers in our own right?
Hendricks provides three suggestions to facilitate grow in would-be instructors. 1. Maintain a personal and consistent study and reading program. I would add to this that one would need to have a biblical reading program as well as a secular one. 2. Online courses. These can be wonderful tools for learning, but they can also be simply a lot of hot air. If you can find an online course that has genuine content that is wonderful. But be suspicious. Like this book, there is more often than not less meat on the bone than first anticipated. 3. Get to know your students. Part of me is skeptical of this idea. After all, I’m going to great lengths to keep my potential students at arm’s length. I don’t really want to participate in live discussions or “seminars” or in person training. I want to have my teaching and their learning to be separated by time and space. Then again, I can also see his point. This is why I plan to interact with students via Q&A sessions on the podcasts. I also plan to extensively use email as the preferred communication method. This idea, though, does some a lot like the concept in fiction writing, that you must write to what the audience wants rather than writing what you want and hope the audience will like it. I am completely at odds with this. I side with what Stephen King said about the subject, “No one owes me a career. If not one likes my writing I’ll go get a job.” Granted, he said this while he was worth millions. Once upon a time he was a school teacher and he gave that up pretty quick!
Integrity In and Out of the Classroom
One area he covered in the book was on personal integrity. I don’t necessarily think this pertains to teaching, but it certainly could. Just based on the opportunity for self improvement, as the author states, “if you want to know the greatest areas of need in your Christian life, try looking sometime at passages you have not underlined in your Bible.”
This is really true. It can be said that the problems in the Bible are not the issues you don’t understand but the issues that you do understand (because now you have to apply them). There is also a case to be made that we instinctively, subconsciously avoid certain passages in the Bible simply because they are too uncomfortable to deal with. I’m guilty of this. I might live like a pauper in respect to the millionaire who lives in the fancy mansion on the hill, but I would really struggle with the idea of selling everything I have and giving the money to the poor so I could be perfect.
Hendricks goes on to question how potential teachers are handling their possessions? Is that where are heart is? How is that going to sit with our students? What about how we spend our time? What are our priorities? He even questions our sex life and our diets.
The reality is, we are susceptible to many different temptations in this life. If we are not guilty of one we most likely will be guilty of the other. Some of us fortunate ones might just be guilty of both! How much this has bearing on our teaching approach I’m not too certain. Maybe in the brick and mortar Seminary context where instructors attend the same chapel as students, who have students over for dinner on the weekends, etc., this might play a larger role. But for what I’m hopefully going to be doing, I will have clear boundaries set between my students and my personal life. Not that these issues are not all very important in our spiritual lives, in our sanctification, and in our formation as ministers of the word of God. But I really see no need for such personal information to come up.
Getting Involved with a Christian Group
As Hendricks states, “one of the most difficult things to get involved in constructively is a Christian group.” I wholeheartedly agree with this statement! I’ve found it near impossible, especially long term, to involve myself in a body of believers and not be overtaken by the tsunami of drama and backbiting and politics that seem to be a prerequisite. The biblical Church was no exception. They had their problems, too. Marrying your step-mother comes to mind!
Today, the predominance of professional clergy I see is a major threat. And it’s too fold. The clergy want control and the flock want to remain dumbed down and pacified. No one really wants to do the work or offer up the sacrifice any longer to make the professional clergy irrelevant and unnecessary. As Hendricks says, “The educational program in the churches is often an insult to people’s intelligence,” with their “Lets just make everyone happy” mantra so the offering plates remain full.
The second biggest problem is the spectator sport Church has become. It is “hearing oriented” rather than organized by function. There are primarily two jobs in the modern Church: babysitter for children and teacher. Of course, as one pastor told me, “everyone wants to be a teacher.”
I find such statements as a pure oddity. Is that all the Church meeting is? A spectator event? There is a mega Church in Florida that seems to be focused on event sized gatherings every Sunday. That is their mission from God? Providing opportunity for religious experiences? As if someone was going to a concert? As if attendees were involved somehow in an interactive play? I keep asking myself, “Is this really all there is to Christianity? Teaching? Isn’t there something else? Am I now in and I’m now just biding my time until Christ returns or until I die? Then what? What is all this for in the first place?”
He makes a good point that teachers need to make education more than just hearing oriented alone. It needs to be visual as well. Interactive. Words only account for 7% of communication, while the rest is non-verbal. For myself, I prefer giving students options. I personally prefer the at-a-distance model, asynchronous. Recorded lectures. Practice tests. Writing papers. Answering discussion questions. I do not care for being put on the spot or being unprepared which I feel I always am in a live classroom setting, whether live is in person or on a Zoom call. As a student I want to be able to think about the subject matter, consider it, walk away, return to it again.
Straining the Brain?
A comment the author made I found quite fascinating. He stated that no one has ever worn out their brain from thinking. In fact, an expert was asked about it and he responded that “I’ve never seen one even slightly used.” But, I immediately wondered about this. Why is it our brains do not wear down? Or, do they wear down? Isn’t that what dementia and Alzheimer’s are? The fact that we’re living much longer now and running out of the amount of time portioned to the mind to operate? I had to look this up.
In actuality, the statement made by Hendricks (or his supposed expert) is simply not true. In a Harvard Business Review article in 2009, it was determined that, “Overwork may hasten the aging-related decline in memory and thinking skills.” They go on to say that those who worked more than 55 hours a week has decreased brain function while those who worked less than 40 hours a week did not.
Then again, what is considered to be work? I work less than 16 hours each week at my job but then more than 40 hours doing independent research and physical labor out on the Eden property. Does that mean I’m in the overworked category or the underworked category?
Likewise intriguing, does this wearing down of the brain stem from the curse? If so, how? Is there something in the fruit from the tree of life that limits the decay probability?What is the natural and original state of man? Prone to mortality and only putting on immortality keeps us from growing older and ultimately dying? Or, was the human body initially formed in such a way that humans were originally designed to never age and never grow old and never die? That missing piece (immortality) was it part of the first living being that God made and now subsequent humans are missing an integral piece of what makes them who they are or, at least, what they were supposed to be?
Preparing Students to Learn
Toward the end of the book, the author gets a little more practical, stating that students are required to be engaged in order for learning to be maximized. The learning process must be meaningful and student-directed in order to be effective. He states, “Our students are working for the wrong people—for their teachers instead of for themselves.” In the end, “A student is seeking answers to whose questions? Yours? No, his.”
I would agree. Questions like “What do you want?” and “Why is this important” are crucial to the learning process and learning only comes from the student who has initiated that receptiveness to acquire knowledge.
Hendricks also cites his habit of holding after-action-reviews from his students, asking them questions about the course they just completed, what needs to be changed, what they liked, what they did not like, what made sense and what did not.
He then closes out the book with a list of points for improving the overall effectiveness of any teacher.
1. Activity that provides direction without dictatorship.
2. Activity that stresses function and application.
3. Activity with a planned purpose.
4. Activity that is concerned with the process as well as the product.
5. Realistic activity that includes problem-solving situations.
Along with this, the teacher needs to remove busywork. Requirements need to have reasonable and realistic objectives. Teachers need to know what they are trying to accomplish with each step in their teaching process; just adding a book to a syllabus does not mean it makes education better. He even goes on to say that predictability and impact are correlated. The greater the predictability the lower the impact.
Lastly Hendricks states that teachers should have three goals in mind when working with students: 1. Teach people how to think, 2. Teach people how to learn, and 3. Teach people how to work.
In the end, the book was okay at best. I was really thankful that it was a short book, and I was able to finish it in just a few settings. I would not recommend it to anyone, though, whether you are wanting to be a teacher or not. In fact, I would close out this review with a warning against wanting to be a teacher: “let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things” (Jas 3:1–2; Matt 23:10).
Until my next assignment….
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Excerpt from In the Meadow:
A second later, the engine roared to life, and Dawn glanced back, one last time, at the trailer she’d grown up in.
The empty yard.
The trail she’d blazed through the blackberries.
That gaunt looking trailer.
Everything she saw now looked so dirty and run down, almost a shambles.
It was like a dream.
Paul circled wide, then threw the truck in reverse and backed up. As he braked and put it back into drive, Dawn could see Harold’s place a few slips down.
Paul gave the truck some gas.
As they went by, she could see Harold standing outside, near his front door, motionless, watching them.
She didn’t mention the earlier conversation to Paul.
Why would she?
He was just a creepy ass guy, and one of the handful of things she didn’t have to deal with anymore.
They drove out the front gate of the trailer park, down the side street to the corner, Paul stopping for a moment as he waited on the traffic to clear.
He took her hand and smiled at her, then pulled out onto the highway, heading west.
They drove past the Ray’s Grocery Store, past the gas station, where Bart was out front, talking excitedly to the Desmond boy.
Paul kissed her hand and she smiled, laying her head back against the headrest.
There was nothing else standing in her way now.
As Dawn began to relax, she watched as her old life quickly dissipate into vapor in their wake.
For the first time in her life, she was leaving Oakridge. She was moving to an entirely different state, a new home, with the man of her dreams.
She’d never even been out of Oregon before.
“Now or never,” Paul said, as they drove past the trailhead sign, on the right.
Dawn tightened her grip on his hand.
She’d finally gotten her wish.
She was leaving Oakridge.
Buy my book In the Meadow to find out what Dawn will do as her perfect fairytale life begins to unravel. Are the girls calling out from the banks of the Skagit River trying to help her? Do they want to hurt her? What secrets will she find?
But, trust me when I say, this is going to be a roller coaster of a ride. People are dying all around her, and you have no idea what evil lurks in the meadow! Get started in this thriller story today and find out why they’re warning her…calling out to her….trying to tell her…to RUN!