I imagine that most of you who read this blog recognize that I make my living teaching theology. Primarily, I teach The Theology Program. The Theology Program is a six-course program of systematic and historic theology primarily focused on lay people. Given that the online class starts tonight (there is still time to enroll), I wanted to give a brief overview of my philosophy of teaching.
Here are six ideals of my teaching.
1. I do not seek to confirm anyone’s prejudice. There is nothing a preacher likes more than a hearty “amen” while preaching. I don’t get too many of those (at least at first!) The “amen” normally represents that what you are preaching or teaching, the people already agree with. In this case, you are probably just confirming their prejudice. They already agree with what you say and they like that you are holding the fort. This is not always bad, but this is not my purpose (sometimes I wish it were!). While The Theology Program is by confession Evangelical, we are not a program bent on defending Evangelicalism. In fact, I hope to challenge Evangelicals to rethink what they believe. This rethinking is not necessarily purposed on changing what people believe, but the way they believe and why.
2. I do not desire to give people a proposition, then back it up with verses. Theology has to be more challenging than that. It is just too important for such methodology to be the norm. Save this for your catechism and membership classes. When I teach, I seek to help people enter into a theological conversation that is two millennia old. There are some real challenges that need to be dealt with and not hidden due to fear of conversion or de-conversion. However, being Evangelical, I believe that Evangelical theology presents the best – not perfect – expression of the Christian worldview.
3. I am not teaching to make people Calvinists or Inerrantists. I would that all men were such as me but, alas, indoctrinating does not really accomplish such a purpose. Besides, there are a lot of smart people who love the same Lord just as much as me who are Arminian and don’t believe in inerrancy. Can you believe it?! Whether it is the Nestorians of the fifth century or the Emergents of the twenty-first, they deserve to have their positions and perspective explained well. I try to follow the philosophy that if you don’t defend other people’s positions in such a way that if they were in the room they would give you two thumbs up, you are not representing the Lord well. Therefore, I seek to represent all positions that have historic or contemporary significance (e.g., not flat-earthers), thus helping students understand the issues and decide for themselves.
4. I do not dumb things down. I believe in people too much. It is one of the main things I learned from being with Chuck Swindoll. People can learn. People need to learn. Don’t disrespect them by treating them as if they cannot understand things themselves. Don’t trade the image of God for a pop-analysis on culture. This does not mean that I shuffle out concepts and terminology like a deck of cards. But I don’t substitute baby-talk. I will only use words and concepts when necessary. When is it necessary? Again, when the issue being discussed has historic or contemporary significance. The Theology Program is neither dumbed down seminary nor glorified Sunday School. It is challenging and people need to understand that. But I have done it long enough to see that it does not matter what your IQ is or what age you are: theology – the study of our God – has a built-in glory and divine intrigue that can win the most fearful student. I take it one step at a time.
5. I do not seek to make all things understandable. Theology often clarifies, but it also sometimes obscures. What I mean by this is that it is not my goal to make the ineffable (that which is beyond words) effible. We do a disservice to the church when we act as if we have an answer for everything – when we give the impression that with enough study, all things can be understood. Sometimes the best thing we can do is lead people to an informed “I don’t know.” When we explore the nature of God, his transcendence, the incarnation, election and human freedom, and the like, I want my students to leave there with a bit of confusion. Only then will they join with the history of the church in understanding God’s transcendence. Our God has revealed many things to us, but many things remain a secret mystery. We need to ensure the continuation of such.
Howard Hendricks tells us, “All true learning only occurs after you are thoroughly confused.” It is very important that we realize that tearing down (confusing) in order to build it back up is not easy. I tell everyone upon taking a course with me that the most difficult thing about doing theology is not the big terms, papers, or theologians that you have to study, it is thinking in such a way that you are truly ready to let go of all you believe so that your belief can have true beliefs. This takes thick skin, patience, Advil, and a presupposed trust in the value of this methodology.
I am not in the business of wasting anyone’s time, even my own. I could teach differently, but it would be unfaithful to my calling. Though I am far from perfect and certainly don’t always live up to these ideals, whether it be on this blog, on Theology Unplugged, online, at a church, or in my classroom at the Credo House, I will continue to do my best to teach in such a way.