Lecture 7: Whom?
IV. Whom Do We Teach?
A. Teaching that Will Fit the Learner:
So, whom are we teaching? We are looking at the issue of the learner. We saw under the question of when, teachers in the teaching ministry of the church need to be attentive to issues of development and readiness. Whether we are speaking of natural development as often is the case in secular educational models. We should be attentive to that or spiritual development. This should especially be attended to in the church and we should be aware of that in our teaching. Another aspect of the learner is raised by the question of whom. As we look at those whom we are teaching, what else do we need to know about the learner in order to effectively teach? We want to teach in ways that are congruent to the realities of the learner. In other words, such teaching should fit the learner; teaching that makes sense to the learner.
B. Teaching That is Culturally Sensitive:
It is teaching that is culturally sensitive. This is a very big issue that we are raising. The issue of cultural sensitivity, we are reminded of the fact that culture itself is a huge and difficult concept. What do we mean by culture? There are often various aspects of culture; ways to understand the whole pattern of the living of a person or a community. If I wanted to understand a person’s cultural realities or the learner in general, there are many things that I need to be attentive to. What do I need to know about the ethnicity and nationality of the person? What about issues of social economic status and sub-cultural groupings; it is so intricate, so involved and complex. And so ultimately there is no substitution for personal knowledge if you really want to know your learners. Like Jesus, the good shepherd, we must also be careful to know our sheep and to call them by name. We need to be in relationships where we can know our people because every person will have a unique story to tell. We can complicate the whole cultural picture by saying it isn’t just race or ethnicity or nationality. To know a learner, we need to know something about the unique family culture and environment in which they have been raised. There are cultures that are unique to the church with uniqueness to the neighborhood. There are differences in learning style and differences as a result of gender and the upbringing of gender roles. There are all kinds of things that we need to know; therefore we need to know people personally. We can profit from studying about cultural realities of a group.
1. Our Aim is to be Like Paul:
Our aim is really to be like Paul in many respects as he spoke of himself in 1st Corinthians 9:19. He said that he acted and became as a Jew in ministering among the Jews. When he was with those apart from the Law, he spoke their language. He tried to become like them as much as possible; to the slave, he was a slave; to the free, he was free. He summarizes this in 1st Corinthians 9 saying that he became all things to all people so that by all means I might save some. Now Paul was willing to become cultural sensitive without ever compromising his own core identity as a Christian. In becoming cultural sensitive, this never meant being inauthentic or stooping to sin, but as much as possible he became all things to all people. He took his lead from Jesus, himself, who was the greatest example of one ministering cross culturally. When God become flesh in the incarnation, we read in Philippians 2 that Jesus emptied himself or humbled himself to become one of us. Jesus never ceased to be God; he never compromised himself to the point of sin but he took on our form and spoke our language as he dwelt in our midst. He became a cultural being and lived a cultural life. In the same way, when we are called to ministry in a particular context, we want to know that culture well. We want to study the culture, especially by studying the individual members of that culture. As much as possible, we try to speak in the language of that culture and take on some of the forms of that culture as that we can speak effectively. But critical to this whole discussion is again, we do this without compromising ourselves in terms of our core identity as a Christian. We don’t stoop to sin in order to be culturally sensitive.
2. Engaging Culture:
There are a variety of approaches to engaging culture. A famous approach was offered by H. Richard Keebler in his book, Christ and Culture, which was recently reprinted in a new edition. Keebler spoke about the need for different approaches to culture that people could take in the church. Some have assumed a Christ of Culture approach. Some have assumed a Christ against culture approach and some have assumed a Christ and culture in paradox. I would purpose in approaching such a culture for the sake of the Gospel, ministry and making disciples. We need to realize that in any culture we engage, there will be things that will be praise worthy and there will be things which are far from praise worthy. There will also be things in between. The reality is that culture is humanly constructed. It is constructed by people; it is what people do with what God has given us. People are created as cultural beings. In Genesis 1, the man and his wife were commanded to cultivate the earth. This word is actually related to our word culture. It is a word that means to make some of that which was given to us. Culture is humanly constructed; we construct forms and patterns of living. If humans create culture and if it is humanly constructed, then knowing what we know about Biblical anthropology, should tell us a lot about what to expect when we find culture. When we encounter any culture, including our own; we should expect to see something of Genesis 1 in every culture. This means that all people are created in the image and likeness of God. In any culture that I encounter when I move across the ocean or street and even in my own cultural context. There will be reflections of the image of God in that culture. There will be some things that will be praise worthy. However, all humans are fallen; not only is there a Genesis 1 reality, a creation reality in humanity but there is a Genesis 3 reality. We have fallen into sin. We are not only barriers of the image of God but we all bear the fallen image of Adam and Eve. So in any culture we not only should expect seeing the praise worthy event, that which is a reflection of God’s design and image, but we should also expect reflections of the fallen Adam, which is far from praise worthy.
Perhaps we can construct a sort of continuum about our approaches to culture. On one side we could find things worthy of celebration as reflecting one made in the image of God realities. On the other end of the continuum, there will be things worthy of condemnation and in between, there may be things that we are not sure of; things that may be a challenge. So perhaps in our mind’s eye, we could have a continuum with celebration on the left side and condemnation on the right side and then just to the left of condemnation, we would put the word challenge. Just to the left of that, in between celebration and challenge, we can put the word connection. There are some things which we are not sure of; things that may be praise worthy or not. In any case, we can use this as an opportunity to connect for the purposes of the Gospel. Examples from Paul as already mentioned to became all things to all people that he might save some. An example of this may be found in a passage like 1st Corinthians 9 after the passage where Paul says that he becomes all things to all people. In verses 24-27 he says, ‘do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize, so run in such a way as to get the prize.’ I don’t run like a person running aimlessly; I do not fight like a person beating the air. I make my body my slave so that I might not be disqualified from getting the prize. Paul is laying out a pattern to instruction here; his ultimately meaning is that we are running after the prize of knowing Christ and inheriting eternal life in Christ. We are not seeking a perishable crown but an imperishable crown. He gives this Biblical message in the image of athletic games. The people of Corinth were very familiar with these games. They knew this not only from the games in Athens but games that were much nearer. There were events in the form of wrestling and fighting and running. The prize was often a perishable wreath. Paul takes this imagery which was a familiar cultural concept to his readers using it to communicate spiritual truth.
This would be an example of connection within our continuum. He isn’t stamping approval on these games nor is he condemning these games but simply using them as an avenue for the sake of connection. There are things that are simply points of connection for us. There are other things within the culture which are praise worthy for us. Jesus seemed to celebrate the Jewish festivals, for example, that which he was born into. He was an observant Jew and thus celebrated the Jewish wedding in Canna of Galilee. Jesus was there and he was involved as a participant in the wedding even providing wine for the wedding celebration. It seems to me a case for the celebration of a cultural practice as being a good thing. But there are times when the Gospel will certainly condemn a cultural practice. Paul in 1st Corinthians 1:9 becomes all things to all people and uses the above mentioned games for connection sake. And in the very next chapter he is challenging and really condemning a cultural practice at Corinth involving the various trades in which a person might be involved in regards to feasts in honor of idols. Paul says that this is really the same as eating with demons. How can a Gospel loving Christian fellowship with this? Paul says that even though that may be expected of you, you can’t do that. It is unacceptable behavior for a believer. So, here is Paul condemning a practice of the culture.
3. Study the Culture and the People:
In ministering in our own cultural context whether it is African-American, Korean-American or a wider American New Englander; if we are ministering in our own cultural context, we need to be just as attentive to this as if we were moving across cultures. We study the culture primarily by studying the people we are personally engaging in with their unique lives and settings and culture as a community. We ask in this context, what it is in this context that we can praise in keeping with Biblical truth and Gospel values. What can we use as an opportunity for connection for the sake of the Gospel to make our meaning clearer to people and what must be challenged or even condemned by the Gospel? Whether we are speaking about our work from the pulpit of our work in the classroom or small group, we should always be about such business. The question of who also reminds us that when we approach the Scriptures, we need to approach the Scriptures as divinely inspired that were written by real people in a real cultural context. As we approach the Scriptures, we need to understand the cultural reality of the Biblical texts themselves. Part of the task of the teacher is not only to understand the culture of the learner or of him or herself as a teacher, but also to understand the original cultural context in which the Biblical texts were written. If I’m reading a passage in the Bible and I don’t understand some of the Biblical culture involved, I may be guilty of posing my own culture onto the texts and then consequently misreading and misunderstanding it and even misapplying it to another cultural context. So, the question of who, involves looking at something very complex which includes the whole issue of culture. The focus of this question is really learning about our learners. We are reminded that only do we need to be growing in expertise of the subject matter but also in the expertise in terms of the knowledge of those I have been called to minister to.