Eye Apples and Dolly Tea …

Keep me as the apple of your eye … pleads Psalmist David of God (Psalm 17.8)

… he kept him as the apple of his eye, Moses writes of God’s care for His people, Israel (Deuteronomy 32.10).

keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye … the LORD instructs His people (Proverbs 7.2).

School has begun, in our little house in the Northwoods. And, while other schools convoke the new school year with a dance or homecoming football game, we mark the beginning of the academic year with … the dolly tea-party!

It works like this: The girls—led by Lead Teacher, Mommy Amanda—prepare cupcakes and other delectables. Children personalize nameplates and table settings. Preparation lasts several days. It is to be a sumptuous affair.

Daddy Bryan (school principal) inaugurates the event itself by painting the girls’ nails, in the driveway. Then, the boys help one another into black suits and—bringing select stuffed animal guests (the famous Teddy for Daddy, Prancer for Henry, Baby Tiger for Jack, though he’d now prefer you didn’t know about it)—the boys approach the formal front entrance to the house. Girls hands are kissed, and we all sit down to tea. Greta Grace’s Emma and Sara likewise attend—thus, the dolly tea party. After tea and cakes, we all dance. Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, that kind of thing. When the fun has been had, the boys depart till the next year, and lessons begin the next day …

There is history to all this. In the summer of 2013, following a season of great loss for our family, we determined to celebrate what we had been given. We had dollies and stuffed bears, no doubt, but we also had one another and every opportunity to celebrate outrageously, and in ways that young children can understand.

The connection to our home learning goes something like this: if we as parents desire our children to take God, His Word and His world seriously, we’d better understand something of the Father’s great love for His people. A beginning to this life-long study might just be to learn what it means to be dear to one another. And, if that love for one another be so great, then Oh! how much more must be the love of the Father for His children! And, if the hurts and loss known to every family might be so redeemed by parents who drop to their knees to create and discover and play and heal, then how much more must be the riches of our great Creator who gives us all things to enjoy for our present and eternal good and His great glory. So goes the formation of our imaginations in truth.

And so, we’ve begun again … the good, the true, the beautiful. And, it all begins with eye apples and dolly tea!

Original dolly tea, 2013

How To Build a Bridge

I’ve done many things backwards in my life.

Many young people from rural America use their college years for a metropolitan adventure, a chance to experience the quicker pace of the city. (Think: “John Boy” Walton here).

I did the opposite. Having grown up in a city with three major interstate highways (and numbers of lesser roads, just as large), I then spent my college years in the idyllic hills of southern Appalachia. My little college of not-quite 500 students sat on a hill over-looking the town of Dayton, the (brace yourselves) “county seat” of Rhea County, Tennessee.

To the northwest of Dayton ran the Cumberland Plateau, the edge of the Tennessee Valley. Flowing along the southern and eastern borders of the county ran the Tennessee River. A two-lane road ran south to Chattanooga, thirty-five miles away. An even more rustic two-lane road took the occasional traveler north to a place called Watt’s Bar, thirty miles distant. We had a Walmart. And, three years before my arrival, we’d scored a McDonalds.

If a college-boy in Dayton wanted to go anywhere fast, he’d have to make it over the Tennessee River to I-75, that fast and furious traffic artery serving everything moving between Knoxville to the north and Chattanooga to the south. But to get across the river, he’d have to first travel to Chattanooga itself, or Watt’s Bar. Or, he could take the Washington Ferry.

In those days we’d approach the ferry, moving east on County Road 30. We’d see signs: “Road Ends 1,000 Feet,” then “Road Ends 500 Feet”. The limits of our world announced by these signs seemed mistaken to the urban-inclined among us. But after sufficient warning, the road really did end. And even those who doubted the signs would contend with the vast water of the Tennessee River. (Occasionally, we’d hear of a disbelieving city-boy winging his car off the firm ground of the west bank, only to be dredged out in humility.) The more patient traveler would wait for the Washington Ferry itself, a little barge working both banks of the river at inconvenient hours—three dollars a ride, one car at a time.

That was 1990. Today, the Washington Ferry Bridge spans the Tennessee connecting the westernmost towns of the Tennessee Valley with I-75. As freight rolls from one firm bank to the other, the county and towns have grown. We’ve lost the Americana, but we’ve seen the value of a bridge.

In this series for the Faith Bible Adult Education Fellowship we’re answering the question: How do you build a lesson? Or, how do you develop an original lesson that is true (grounded in the Bible), clear (faithful to convey the biblical message in one main idea) and relevant to the need of the learner. We’ll find this process of building a lesson illustrated by the bridge.

(For those with interest, check out the following link to see a picture of the old Washington Ferry: http://rheaheraldnews.com/WeAreRheaCounty2013.pdf.)

 

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Bridges come in different kinds. There’s the ancient, Roman arch bridge like the famous Pons Aelius in Rome. Then there’s the truss bridge with its series of triangles made from straight bars like the Queensferry Crossing Bridge over the Firth of Forth separating England from Scotland. Finally, there’s the modern suspension bridge like our Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

But whether ancient or modern, and no matter how engineered, the bridge has only one purpose: A bridge exists to connect one piece of solid ground to another. Between the two ends of the bridge you can’t walk, drive, or carry freight—not easily, and maybe not at all. Not without the bridge!

The teacher teaching “Christianly” is in the bridge-construction business. Only he’s not working in brick and steel, he’s working in words and ideas, and in living souls being changed by the Spirit of God. These learners—like travelers separated from their destinations by a large body of water or a deep valley—need a bridge. Their bridge must connect them across space (Jesus didn’t come to America), across time (Jesus died and rose again over 2,000 years ago), and across culture (The first readers of the Bible were eastern, not western).

The teacher—like the bridge-builder—must connect to firm ground on two shores. He will anchor his lesson in the ancient “world” of the biblical text on one side and in the present “world” of the learner on the other. The act of teaching the lesson then becomes the business of transporting the learner back and forth across the bridge. On one side they encounter the text in the ancient world, on the other they apply the message of the text to their own world.

None of this will take place without the work of the Spirit who applies God’s Word to our hearts. But without a properly designed lesson, we fail to put the learner in the place to learn from the text and be changed by the Spirit. The Spirit will accomplish His work, but not in our classroom—at least not that day! With so much at stake, we’d do well to think about how we develop our lessons.

How does one go about constructing the lesson? How does the teacher build a bridge? 

 

THE LESSON STARTS IN THE PRESENT WORLD OF THE LEARNER.

In their book Creative Bible Teaching Richards and Bredfeldt famously identify the parts of a lesson—Hook . . . Book . . . Look . . . Took.

If they’d been using our bridge illustration, they might also have noted that each of these movements takes place in a different “world”—either that of the learner or the text.

We start in the present world of the learner. In this opening part of the lesson we want to “hook” the learner. This involves capturing the learner’s attention, but in a meaningful way. It also involves orienting the learner to the main idea of the biblical text.

Methods vary in the Hook. In our own children’s ministry curriculum at Faith, we use tangible objects from the childrens’ world to prepare the children for the lesson: An empty dessert plate we’d like to fill with cake illustrates how (unlike God in Genesis 1-2) we can’t create at will. An antique vase the children aren’t allowed to touch reminds children how some things, or people (like God Himself in Exodus 19-20), are set apart for God’s purposes and very special.

Teen-agers like to argue their case (They want to know why? not what?) and often respond to theoretical and relational role-play. Adults prefer practical exercises that guard them from being embarrassed and draw on their experience. The teacher might begin a lesson on Galatians with what we call the “neighbor nudge”: Turn to one person next to you and describe a time when you’ve seen dissimilar people united in the gospel. 

The Hook challenges the assumptions of the learner. It serves the teacher with an opportunity to challenge the learner’s present knowledge, as well as his cultural assumptions (or prejudices). The Hook punctuates the opening of the lesson with a question mark that (like a baited fishhook teasing a fish) invites the learner to follow. The well-used Hook also destabilizes the learner’s world and prepares her for the world of the text. Now the learner is ready to cross the bridge.

 

THE LESSON CONNECTS THE LEARNER TO THE WORLD OF THE TEXT.

Once the learner has been oriented to the subject, the teacher introduces the Book, the presentation of the passage proper.

Working in the world of the “text”, the teacher will summarize what the biblical author said to his original audience. This will take into account the particular time in salvation history of the first readers. Were they coming to God as Old Testament Israelites, trusting in the promise of Messiah who would come? Were they followers of Jesus living just before the cross? Were they first-generation Christians who, like us, live this side of the cross?  Here, the teacher must be deft in summarizes what God has done in up to the point in history where the first readers receive the text. This might involve big-picture survey. Or, it might involve explanation of details in the passage.

Regardless of the level of explanation, everything in the Book flows into and from the main idea of the text. This will be the statement that summarizes what the biblical author said to his first readers. The statement itself will include a subject (what the passage is about) and at least one complement (what the subject does).  A lesson on Galatians 2:11-21 might challenge us with the question, “How do we become right with God?” The main idea might read: We become right with God by depending on the work of Christ rather than self-effort. (We’ll take on the mechanics of writing a main idea in a future post.)

Left on this side of the bridge, the lesson becomes a lecture. And that’s how lecturing got its bad name! But if the teacher leads the learner across the bridge one more time, the learner will find that he now really has something to apply.

 

THE LESSON TRAVERSES THE CHASM TO APPLY THE TEXT.

When the teacher arrives at the Look, he has likely taught the bulk of his lesson. But since he hasn’t applied, he hasn’t taught.

The teacher must now show the learner what it “looks” like to unpack the main idea of the passage back in the present world of the reader. This involves thinking about what the main idea looks like on this side of the cross—as a follower of Jesus having been saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

This can be challenging, particularly when working in the Old Testament. In Genesis 27-28:5 we read of Jacob’s deception of his father, Isaac. Though Jacob, at times, demonstrates little more character than his unspiritual brother, Esau, God will be faithful to keep His covenant promises. God will preserve Jacob. The main idea of Genesis 27-28:5 might read: God always kept His promises, even when the descendants of Abraham didn’t obey Him. 

The learner must now “look” at this summary of the passage in his world. When he considers its truth, he realizes that the Father’s provision of Jesus took place before he had ever obeyed God and despite his own sin. The Old Testament passage about Jacob’s sin has taught him something true about God that only becomes clear at the cross. Even more, the application of the passage continues into the area of practical holiness. Having had the righteousness of Christ applied to his account, the learner now realizes how his own obedience does not alter his righteous position with God. Just as God’s covenant with Abraham did not hang in the balance when Jacob sinned, God will accomplish all that He has purposed to do in Christ.

The Look now allows the teacher to make contemporary the Bible-based main idea for the learner in the present-day world: God always keeps His promises, even when we don’t obey Him. This statement becomes the main idea of the lesson.

Though even many good lessons stop here, there is yet another step necessary to round out a fully gospel-centered, “Christian” lesson. As we saw in our post What Makes Our Teaching Christian?, biblical truth must be applied to both the head (the intellect) and the heart (the affections and desires). Once again, this is the domain of the Spirit. We can’t change peoples’ hearts. But we can (we must!) invite them to the place where they can do business with the Spirit through the word.

We finish the lesson with the Took where the learner demonstrates that the lesson has actually “took”. This will be accomplished through the writing of an aim that serves as a kind of target for the teacher throughout the lesson.

At the level of the intellect the aim requires the learner to interact once again with the passage. Taking Genesis 27-28:5 once again, the aim could read: The learner will explain, from Genesis 27-28:5 how God showed Jacob that He will always be true to His promises. This is the “head” aim to be completed in the last part of the lesson. The learner demonstrates, through his explanation of God’s faithfulness to Jacob, that he understands the passage at an intellectual level.

That’s not small change! We’ve really done something when the learner can demonstrate understanding. But for the teacher to really know that he’s scored a hit, the learner needs to demonstrate heart awareness. This “heart” aim will build on the “head” aim and require the learner to demonstrate that she is at least aware of the nature of the heart change called for in the text.

In the Genesis 27-28:5 passage, the “head” and “heart” aims might be combined to form the following: The learner will explain, from Genesis 27-28:5, how God showed Jacob that He will always be true to His promises (head) and describe why it’s important to value God’s fulfilled promise of Jesus above her own appetites (heart). 

The lesson now ends with consideration of the gospel. The learner, like Jacob, will be asked to consider his own desires in the light of God’s promises. Unlike Jacob—who lived before the cross—he’ll look back in time to the cross to see the aim of his true desire.

The lesson has now gone from the world of the learner to the world of the biblical text and back again. The learner has been asked to consider his own need in light of the gospel. The teacher has used the lesson to build a bridge.

The bridge illustration gives us a big-picture look at how lessons are developed. Now that we’ve surveyed the whole process, we’ll break it down in the next seven post with practical examples and concrete action steps.

For the moment, consider the following questions as you think about the lesson as a bridge.

Why don’t you leave your thoughts in the “comments” box? Maybe we’ll unpack these thoughts in our next meeting of the “The Fellowship”.

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How does the picture of the lesson as a bridge help you understand the difference between the lecture and the kind of lesson we’re proposing here? 
 
Why is it absolutely imperative to find firm ground in the “world of the text”? (That is, why do you have to be absolutely clear in understanding what the text meant to its original hearers?) 
 
Why do we start and end in the “world of the learner”? 

Teaching to the Head & Heart

I couldn’t let it slip by.

Amidst all the nostalgia (and talk of my hometown, Dallas) surrounding the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, there’s another death to remember.

C.S. Lewis died today, 50 years ago.

The genius of Lewis was his ability to move deftly between the didactic and the imaginative, between the cognitive and the affective; or, as we would say in adult education, the HEAD and the HEART.

The heart, if you remember, is the seat of the will and the passions. Even more than the head (the seat of the intellect), the condition of our hearts determines (not too strong a word, I think) what we actually do.

Those of us who teach desire to see growing followers of Jesus changed at the level of the heart. We do this by bringing growing disciples to the place where the Spirit of God will apply the truth of God’s Word to their imaginations. Those with transformed imaginations know, increasingly, the will of God, and God’s own heart.

Lewis showed us how to teach this way. In stories like those in his Narnia series, we see what it looks like when characters have their hearts’ transformed.

If you’d like an example—or, if you’re stuck in an airline terminal over the next couple of days—you might enjoy the 8 minute, twenty-three second video clip by John Stonestreet. I’ve pasted it below. Then, consider leaving a comment. How are John Stonestreet’s examples from Lewis’ work helpful for our own work in adult education?

 

What Makes Our Teaching Christian?

Some time ago the “Fellowship” of adult educators at Faith Bible Church met for breakfast. Talk ranged from how we’d been doing in the past to how we could serve our participants better in the future.

Then, around the time I pocketed the check (see, there are live benefits to the group), someone asked the question: How do you build a lesson anyway?

That’s the question we’ll be addressing in a series of nine posts. (They’ll be released on this FaithWorks blog spot on this site, www.faithb.org.)

You’ll find response questions below each post so you can share your immediate thoughts. After we’ve been at it awhile we’ll do breakfast…Maybe I’ll pick up the check.

 

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Before we get to our question we have one matter to clear up. We need to answer an even more basic question:What makes our teaching Christian to start with? 

 

EDUCATION THAT IS CHRISTIAN ASSUMES PARTICULAR THINGS ABOUT GOD

Before we ever take our stand in front of our participants—or sitting alongside them, all depending on your method—we’ve assumed much about God.

 

Education that is Christian assumes that God is other than His creation.The word we need here is transcendent. When you stroll in the beauty of the autumn and stoop to pick up a blazing red leaf, you’re only seeing the fringes of God’s glory. Even then, you’re learning something about God. And when we teach in a way that is properly Christian we’re assuming that God has something to tell us—something that travels from one mind to another, something about Himself that starts with Himself.

 

Education that is Christian assumes that God has revealed Himself. This revelation—that’s the word we want—takes place in a general way through the order and design of nature. But even though we learn enough in nature to know that God exists, we still don’t know enough about God to really know Him.

For that we need Jesus, and all that is true about Him as told us in the the Gospel and the Bible.

 

EDUCATION THAT IS CHRISTIAN REQUIRES A RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL

The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died…was buried…was raised (proving that He is God)…and was seen. And just as all Scripture points to Jesus, the whole Bible points to the Gospel.

This message of the Gospel, together with the whole Bible, carries freight: There’s content that must be delivered from one person to another. This content includes facts—the facts that Jesus died and rose from the dead, and in a way that can be witnessed and reported. This content also includes the rest of the Bible that points to Jesus’ work in the Gospel. This revelation gives us knowledge of how to live.

This content takes the form of “head knowledge” (Yes! There’s a place for that) that must be delivered by the teacher and and responded to by the learner. Making certain this freight gets delivered is the job of the teacher. 

 

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Education that is Christian not only delivers this message through the teaching of the Bible but makes certain that the learner has, at the very least, the opportunity to respond. 

 

At its simplest this response might demonstrate knowledge (How does God show, in Genesis 1-2, that He is strong? Answer: He created the world.) Slightly more complex, this response might demonstrate understanding (What does God’s judgement of the world, in Genesis 6-9, tell us about sin? Answer: Sin must be punished.) At its most complex, the response might demonstrate evaluation (How have I, as a husband, and in response to Ephesians 5:25, loved my wife with the same love with which Christ loved the church?)

These responses require “head-knowledge,” because the Gospel (and the rest of Scripture) requires—for starters—a mental response to something that is true and has been truly revealed by the transcendent God.

But education that is Christian doesn’t stop with head-knowledge alone…

 

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EDUCATION THAT IS CHRISTIAN REQUIRES A HEART RESPONSE THROUGH THE GOSPEL

The Gospel also requires a “heart-response”. This response assumes the facts of what Jesus did, but includes our wills and desires, our attitudes, and the continuing change in our values that God brings about through the Gospel.

The teacher teaching Christianly—having delivered the head-knowledge—now challenges the learner to make a heart-response. The heart-response might involve awareness (How does God’s creation of the world, in Genesis 1-2, help me think about God’s ability to help me in times of trouble?), a change in values (How does God’s punishment of sin, in Genesis 6-9, change the way I think about sin in my life?) or a willingness to organize one’s life around the truth of the Gospel (How might I as a husband in loving my wife as Christ loves the church, and in response to Ephesians 5:25, adjust my work schedule to better serve my wife?)

Though the teacher can’t require a heart-response, he can indicate the response required. Education that is Christian presents the heart-response necessary. 

 

All of this takes place in response to the Gospel! And no part or particle of the learner’s life is out of bounds to the Gospel. What difference does it make that I’m a sinner saved by grace through faith in Christ alone? the learner asks. Since every facet of the Christian’s life is being transformed in response to the Gospel, the scope of this question is nothing short of cosmic!

Money, relationships, time management, leisure, parenting, gardening, intimacy—nothing lies outside the cosmic scope of the Gospel. For the Christian learner every relationship is being shaped and molded by God’s continuing work through Christ in the Gospel.

 

Education that is Christian helps the learner live out the Gospel in all of life. 

The teacher teaching Christianly has the job of making these connections to all of life through the truth of the Gospel. This sets Christian education apart from other models that teach “head-knowledge” alone. This sets Christian education apart from other forms of learner that fall short of whole-life transformation by Christ in the Gospel. This answers the question: What makes our teaching Christian to start with? 

 

Have a look at our questions below and post your own response in the “comments” box. Then, join us for our next meeting of the “Fellowship”. (…I’ll pick up the check.)

Then, check back at FaithWorks next week. We’ll get back to our main question: How do you build a lesson anyway? 

 

Questions for discussion:

According to this article what sets teaching apart as uniquely Christian? Do you agree? If not, why? 
 
How much teaching you hear qualifies as uniquely Christian teaching? How about your own teaching?
 
What would be the dangers of teaching to the “head” but missing the “heart” ? (That is, teaching the facts of what Scripture says, but never getting to the attitudes, values and desires that God would change through the Gospel.)