So what can one do to avoid falling prey to groupthink, confirmation bias, selective exposure, and being overwhelmed by information overload? Well I had several awesome ideas for this post…. but then I took a few days off, and I can’t remember some of them. But let me see where this goes.
- Doubt. Paul Westphal noted that we cannot look over God’s shoulder. God knows the truth, and is Truth, but others are not privy to truth without error. In practice, that means we must be humble and forgiving of ourselves, embracing our own limitations. And the same must apply to others. No human is correct all of the time… and no human is incorrect all of the time (though I swear, some really try).
- Respect. Doubt should minimize our trust of individuals as authorities, but if we recognize that every person is right about some things and wrong about some things, it is also likely that a person who is wrong 97% of the time is still right (in that 3%) in something that I am wrong about. That means that pretty much every person on earth I can learn from, if I am open to valuing every person. I believe every person is worthy of respect inherently because each is lovingly designed by a fully capable and creative God. But if each person is someone I can gain by learning something from, I have another reason to respect each person. After all, we tend not to learn from people we don’t respect.
- Dialogue. People love to preach, to teach, to talk, and to argue. They don’t like to listen much, and even less to dialogue. Yet it is in dialogue that we tend to learn. That is why people and groups that want to indoctrinate their followers do it first by isolating followers from alternative viewpoints. They also tend to breed disrespect for the people who hold other views. And this indoctrination scheme would be really a great idea if the group was right about everything. But no such group exists. We learn from each other. (I have talked enough about dialogue elsewhere, you can look at DIALOGUE IN DIVERSITY for more).
- Reflection. Learning is iterative… but it often takes a certain intentionality. Much religious education (and even civil education) is focused on rote learning… memorizing dogma. There is value in that, but the value is wasted if one is not also is also not trained to think reflective.
I feel like I forgot one of the big thoughts for this post, but I cannot remember. Perhaps someone else has a suggestion to share. I am happy to reflect on it.
A couple of blogposts prior, I noted a situation in one of my classes where I was (somewhat justifiably) unhappy with how my class responded to a situation. It was justifiable in the sense that the behavior of the class was 180 degrees out of line with what I was teaching. On the other hand it created a great learning opportunity.
A couple of days ago I had the reverse happen
where I realized that I was the one who was 180 degrees out of line with what I was teaching. I am teaching a course in Strategy and Management of Missions. I wanted my students to formulate and implement a missions project.
Based on a Rapid Assessment done by a previous class, the group decided to do a cleaning project in a community. I thought that was a good choice. It is something simple, recognizable, and can be done in partnership with a local church as well as local government.
Anyway, three weeks before the event, the team went to the community to plan out details. As they went around they decided that they had made a mistake. Instead of a cleaning project, they should do a children’s event.
When I heard that, I was annoyed. With everyone’s crazy schedules there was no way that we could change course this late in the game. It seemed to me they were setting things up to fail.
But then as the situation was explained to me, I realized they were doing exactly what I told them to do.
- I told them that they need to periodically evaluate the plan and vision and see if it was appropriate. In this case it wasn’t appropriate. Although a few months ago the community had issues that would be helped by a work day, things were better now. Perhaps, the report from my previous that was given to the community inspired them to fix some of the problems on the list. When circumstances change, one must be ready to change with it.
- I told them that one should always seek to link short-term projects to long-term programs. As they were working out the details of their plan, they realized that it would be much more difficult to link a cleaning day to a long-term ministry (not impossible… but a long-term program of periodic work days is not necessarily the best idea). On the other hand, a short-term project with children could be linked quite easily to VBS, backyard Bible clubs, to Sunday School and more.
- I told them that the key attitudes for doing a ministry project are (1) Love of God and desire to follow the example of Christ, (2) Respond compassionately to human need, and (3) Assist the Church or the Kingdom of God to expand. As such, doing something to get a grade is not an adequate reason. As such, I can hardly pressure them to go back and do something that was originally planned simply because “it is feasible to do within the time constraints.”
- I told them that key things to look for in a community to help identify of God’s love can best be shown is to discover what the community’s hopes and fears are. Concern for the children of the community was very high, while dirty walking paths was little more than an annoyance. So they were right to reevaluate.
With all of this, my little class (6 members total) still were looking to get everything put together in a bit over 2 weeks. While not impossible, the students have crazy schedules to handle. I didn’t want to burn them out, or let them put together a hastily-constructed project. That was something the class was suppose to warn them against. I jumped in and said that we will aim to do the project in April (over a month after the class finishes). The job of the class would be to work out the full plan, schedule, budget, and all the other niceties that entail a mission project. The host church will implement the plan in April with the help of those members of the class who are able to (voluntarily) join.
It is easy to identify when other’s don’t do what I want them to do. It is less comfortable when I discover that my irritation was misplaced as they were doing exactly what I told them to do.
Background. I was teaching a class on Dialogue with Asian Religions at seminary. One day, one of my students, a Muslim Background Believer, came to me and asked whether he could teach a couple of class hours on Islam. I was rather relieved by this. Islam is not a religion that interests me particularly, but I also know that it deserves to be taught well, since it is the largest (organized) non-Christian religion in the world, and probably the second most important religion in Southeast Asia.
Dialogue/Incident. M will stand for the student teacher in Islam. S1 will be Student 1. S2 will be Student 2. P will be the Professor (myself). <The story was written down over a year after the incident, so due to poor memory, some specifics are fictionalized although the overall story is accurately given.>
M: Good morning class. I will be teaching you about Islam today. I was born and raised a Muslim in a Muslim community, and today I will share about Islam from the perspective of a Muslim. Now Islam is a religion of peace. The name Islam is related to the word “Salaam” meaning peace and relates to the Jewish word Shalom.
S1: Excuse me. But why are Muslims so violent then if they are a religion of peace?
M: Islam is about peace. One can’t judge our faith on a few who are bad or violent. Would you like to have Christianity judged on a few bad Christians?
M: <Continuing, M read Genesis 17:17-18, 20. This speaks of God’s plan to bless Ishmael> As you can see God chose to bless Ishmael as the first son of Abraham, the inheritor of God’s favor. And as we see here <showing another slide> Ishmael was the father of the Arab peoples and one of his descendants is Muhammed who is the one who passed onto us the Quran as the final prophet of Islam.
S2: But Ishmael was not the inheritor of God’s blessing to Abraham, it was Isaac! This is what the Bible teaches.
M: Ah, but is that what it says here in Genesis 17? Verse 20 says “And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget and I will make him a great nation.”
What does it say in the Taurat (Torah)? And in the Quran Surah 2, it says that Ishmael is the son who was blessed not Isaac. Ishmael was the son who was taken to be sacrificed in Arabia, and the one who Ibrahim took with him to Mekka to build the Kaaba– the first mosque of Islam.
<Some rumblings and jokes started going around that the student is a “secret Muslim.” M continued to speak talking about how Yakub (Jacob) spoke to his sons about the need to follow Allah, the god of Ibrahim, Ishmael, and Isaac. M then spoke of the prophets of Islam: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Isa (Jesus). More questions were brought up by the students. However, the questions were not actually questions to understand Islam or what M was saying, but were questions to undermine the arguments of M. Finally, I jumped in.>
P: <Angrily> You know that M said tha the was going to be speaking about Islam from the standpoint of a Muslim. So stop the little jokes about him being a closet Muslim. Your job is to listen and learn…. not debate!
Theological Reflection: Theologically, we are often insecure. We can be so insecure that we struggle when people express beliefs that are different from our own. As humans we were designed with a Fight/Flight adrenal response to address threats. That can be very useful when we are threatened— when we are under attack. However, when we are faced with a person who believes something different, the same response is often triggered. We often get angry (and wanting to respond agressively) or with fear (and wanting to escape). I think this is a socio-cultural response. Cultural establishes groupings of people who generally share a belief in how experiences are interpreted and how such interpretation would guide action. Anyone who expresses beliefs that interpret experiences quite different and have beliefs that guide actions that are very different—- they are outside of one’s cultural grouping. People who are not part of our cultural grouping are THEM (as opposed to US). “THEM” are foreign, aliens, strangers, outsiders. Such people are naturally seen as threats. Of course, people within one’s own culture (“US”) can also be seen as threats. However, they usually are less threatening because we feel like we understand them (because of the different way of interpreting experiences and guiding behavior). This feeling can be so strong, that we react even when a person is “playing a role.”
Ministerial Reflection. I believe I responded correctly in redirecting the students. They were so focused on joking and challenging, that they weren’t really listening. However, I may have come on too strong. People started focusing on listening so much that they did not really ask many questions after. The presentation became more like a one-way lecture.
Personal Reflection. Why did I get angry. I wasn’t angry at M, but I was angry at the students. I am not totally sure. Maybe I was angry because I felt like I had failed. I was trying to teach them the importance of Dialogue with those of other religions, yet even in the controlled environment of classroom (on Dialogue!) the students immediately went to Debate. Or maybe my anger wasn’t really at the students at all. Maybe I was angry at myself— thinking that I failed as an instructor. I think that maybe I was also sad. Christianity has existed for almost 2000 years. In most of those centuries, Christians have struggled in how to relate to non-Christians. Most commonly, the example of Christ is not lived out in these interactions. The class on this day gave a little snapshot of centuries of struggle in this area.
Response. It was foolish for me to get angry at my students. I was, in a sense, responding the same way they were. They reacted to the presenter, and I reacted to them. In the future, I think it is more important to have students get more practice in Dialogue. As such, I will spend less time on lecture. It is a class on Dialogue after all.
I could also give better ground rules if we do a similar exercise again— warning the students not to react to the speaker, but focus on the principles of active listening, dialogue, and clarification. Or maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe it is better not to prepare them. Rather, let things happen as they happen, and use whatever happens as a learning moment for all of us. I am not sure what is best in this case.
My children went to a Christian school in middle and high school. Overall, it was probably a good experience for them. In their previous school, also a Christian school, they were bullied for being “foreign.” But the school they transferred to was multi-ethnic and multi-national. They fit in quite well.
The school genuinely sought to integrate Christian instruction with more national and international educational objectives. They would have spiritual emphasis week. They would have weekly chapel services and some Bible training as part of the curriculum.
One year, my wife and I and some friends led Spiritual Emphasis week. We THINK it went well (hard to tell, really). On a few occasions I spoke at their weekly chapel services. Again, they went well enough I suppose. Some friends of mine also spoke there and taught there and did chaplaincy work as well.
But one year that stopped. A nearby church took over the spiritual instruction of the school. The church was one that I was familiar with… one that I guess I would describe as theologically “sketchy.”
As was relayed to me by a few students, the year was strange. Here are a few comments…
- Dogmatic and ‘Preachy.’ They were quite committed to pushing a very targeted dogma and did not help students explore issues of faith. One incident was rather interesting. They were explaining how all other religions were wrong. When they got to Buddhism, they said it was from the devil because it was all about how to get rich. It is true that some of the versions of Mahayana Buddhism as it is practiced especially in some predominantly Chinese regions does place of lot of focus on good luck and prosperity. However, “orthodox” Buddhism rejects focus on materialism and on desire. It seemed like they were simply taking a caricature of one form of Buddhism and using it as a strawman. (Strangely, I had always thought that the church in question was a “prosperity gospel” church. I hope I am wrong, rather than them being hypocritical). Since more than half of the students came from places with a large Buddhist population, that particular lesson taught the students that the trainers were not reliable.
- Anger. Students noted some members getting angry at the students in the spiritual training. I am somewhat sympathetic. It is easy to get frustrated and angry at teenagers. However, apparently the anger stemmed from the students not responding to the worship in a way that they liked. Apparently, the students were supposed to groove to the worship kind of like how people do on worship concert videos.
- Blame. Near the end of the year, one of the teachers from that church got angry again at the students and blamed the children for spoiling or destroying THEIR destiny. “Their” in this case meant the trainers. I am hoping the students heard this wrong because it is just to immature for words. Seemingly, they believed they would come in at the begining of the year and train and come out with a school full of students who have been turned onto their beliefs and style. I understandhoping this would happen, but people who pick their own destinies commonly are really picking their own disappointments.
- Not itching where it scratched. The big issue however, was that the trainers “did not itch where it scratched.” They talked about the things that were really important to the trainers, not what was really important to the students.
Most of the students were nominal Christians or immature Christians. They were raised with a globalistic, pluralistic perspective, and this background left many of them confused about what they believe and how they should live their lives. The students needed help, not just another person with limited perspective preaching at them. The spiritual training actually shifted a lot of students from, loosely speaking, Christian, to Agnostic. some even became interested in other religions. (When annoying people say something is bad, that something becomes more appealing.)
Actually, I don’t really blame the church. I don’t expect a church to be competent to train teenagers who have already become rather disillusioned by religion. But the school should have known better. The leadership of the school had no denominational or theological affiliation with that church. They said YES to the church helping simply because it made their own lives easier, not having to develop a spiritual formation curriculum or a set of trainers themselves.
This story is a caution to me. I have seen many a teacher/trainer who has led people astray. Sometimes it is with bad example, but often it is just by making the Gospel so unappealing, that a different ‘gospel’ looks better… or even no gospel at all.
This story also reminds me of two passages of Scripture, and they serve as a caution to me:
And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. -Matthew 18:5-6
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1
I don’t normally add personal updates here. But once in awhile it seems like it may be appropriate.
Books. My book work has gone down, partly because my teaching load has gone up. But I still am trying to plug away on things.
- “The Dynamics in Pastoral Care.” This book I have been working on for awhile. It has been going slow because of other priorities. However, I have been getting good research done lately in Pastoral Theology and Theological Reflection. Both of these are major topics in this work that includes Group Dynamics, Family Systems, Pastoral Supervision and more. The goal is for the book to be a follow-on for our first book “The Art of Pastoral Care.” The first book is for beginners in Pastoral Care, or CPE. The other book is for more advanced work, especially 3rd and 4th units of CPE.
- “Ministry in Diversity.” I am doing a moderate revision of it. I have taught a couple of Cultural Anthropology classes using it already and can see some modest changes. However, also had my son techedit it, and he found lots of little problems to fix. So I am around 1/3 of the way done with that. As soon as I am done, I will get the book updated on Amazon. I don’t really want more people ordering it until these changes are made.
- “The Art of Pastoral Care.” This is our most popular book. My son is also doing tech edit work on it as well. The problems with this one are much smaller, in my opinion. But I will be updating things on Amazon soon. Still, unlike “Ministry and Diversity” I still feel good about this book, so feel free to check it out on the web if you want. THE ART OF PASTORAL CARE.
- Iam also looking into helping a friend of mine get his book cleaned up and published. It is another pastoral care book… but this one dealing with substance abuse. That is an important topic… especially here in the Philippines.
Articles. I don’t really do much work on articles, preferring the rampant freedom of blogging. However, I am working on an article: “Holy Defect: Reflections on Wabi Sabi as a Metaphor for Christian Perfection.” It is about half done. I have hopes that it will be a valuable work. Planning to present it in January.
Classes. As I said, my writing has been slowed by my classes. I will be teaching four classes this coming semester here in Baguio City. They are:
- Interreligious Dialogue. I taught this last year, and felt it went quite well. It is a frustration of mine that preaching/polemics is taught extensively in seminary, as is teaching/didactics. Argument/Apologetics is taught far less, but Dialogue is almost always ignored. It is really time for this to change.
- Strategy and Management of Missions. This is the first class I ever taught at seminary. I get to do it again. It is almost always a fun course because of its hands-on quality.
- Introduction to Missiology. It is a long-time since I have taught this course. I have to admit that it is not my favorite course. However, the number of students for it should be low (because it is a bachelor-level course here) so I hope it will be exciting.
- Clinical Pastoral Orientation. This is an introduction to the training system known as Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). My wife supervises CPE (two groups this semester) while I take CPO. This will be the third time I have taught it, but the first time that I will take the lead on it. The last time we taught it, we had illness, travel complications, and a household move… so it was very hard. This time things SHOULD go better.
Along with two CPE groups, my wife Celia will also be teaching “Interpersonal Relationships” at seminary.
I was looking at the Five Marks of Mission (of the Anglican Communion) as well as Five Purposes of Church, as described by Rick Warren in Purpose-Driven Church.
The Five Marks of Mission are:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth
(Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)
To come up with summarizing terms for each of these is fairly easy:
- Evangelization (although proclamation to include all of the other marks as well)
- Social Ministry
- Social Justice
- Creation Stewardship
These all seem well-grounded Biblically. This is not to say that all our evenly weighted.
Now looking at the 5 purposes of the church, as described by Rick Warren in PDC (Purpose-Driven Church).
- Churches grow warmer through fellowship.
- Churches grow deeper through discipleship.
- Churches grow stronger through worship.
- Churches grow broader through ministry.
- Churches grow larger through evangelism.
There are two immediate and obvious differences. Warren’s list includes Fellowship and Worship. Of course the failure of the Five Marks to include them is that the Five Marks are associated with the Missio Ecclesiae– the Mission of the Church. Fellowship is inward directed, while Worship is “upward” directed. Missions is outward directed from God and by God.
So if one removed those two, Warren’s list (PDC) becomes Evangelism, Discipleship, and Ministry. These line up well with the Five Marks, especially when we note that “Ministry” is a broad term. We get.
Both PDC and the 5 Marks agree on EVANGELISM
Both PDC and the 5 Marks agree on DISCIPLESHIP
Both PDC and the 5 Marks agree on MINISTRY but the 5 Marks breaks them down into:
I was a part of a conference (actually, one of the hosts of the event). It was on pastoral diagnosis and pastoral care. One person asked an interesting question for the main speaker to answer. The specific malady was depression, but it could have been a whole host of different concerns. The questioner asked which is better: to receive fast healing from a called, anointed man or woman of God, or slow treatment as is usually prescribed by pastoral care (or psychotherapy).
The wording of the question made me think that the questioner placed a high value on a more miraculous or instant healing rather than a slower process. Frankly, however, the question is not really that simple. Having gone through a period of considerable distress/depression in my younger years, the context of the specific question is pretty relevant to me. But if the problem was something else– addiction for example– the same thought process would apply.
- Fast. When I was in the middle of my depressive state (I was never formally diagnosed with clinical depression), there is no doubt what my choice would be… I want to get better FAST. The sooner the better. And in most undesirable circumstances the same answer would be given… from obesity, the panic attacks, to cancer. We want a quick fix.
- Slow. However, when I am out of the crisis, upon reflection, I want a slow fix. Quick fixes tend to create relapse. Poverty that is cured by a lottery win tends to return to poverty because the winner did not learn the skills of handling money that comes with a slow acquisition of sound financial habits. Rapid weight loss tends not to last, because there was no associated discipline and change of lifestyle. The mental discipline of “riding out the depressive storm” has helped me never go as deep as I did back then. In many many situations slow healing is better.
But what does God prefer… FAST or SLOW? Again this is not an easy answer.
- Fast. Sometimes God seems to want to act fast. Jesus was compelled by compassion to provide miraculous healing at times. The term compassion does here seem to be key. Compassion suggests feeling the same pain as the helpseeker. Feeling the pain the helpseeker has would certain motivate the caregiver to want to help in a fast way, if he or she has that ability. Additionally, sometimes God works in a fast way as a sign, pointing to some truth the helpseeker, or the community in which the helpseeker resides, needs to learn.
- Slow. It seems, however, that a great majority of times God prefers the slow route. Education appears to be a slow process. The Shema points to a regular slow process for training up children. Spiritual growth, even for adults appears to be a slow process. The metaphor of Psalm 1 of a mature believer as a tree is related to a slow process of obedience and meditation on God’s Word. The illustrations of soldier, athlete, and farmer in II Timothy 2 point towards hard work and endurance as a Christian living out their salvation. Even though Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would tell His disciples what to say when needed, this came only after three years of formal and informal instruction/mentoring. God prefers the slow process for wisdom it seems. Even though Solomon was theoretically granted instantaneous wisdom… the lack of discipline still appeared to create chaos in some of his later decisions. Generally, God seems to prefer slow… usually.
Jesus grew slowly. Luke 2:52 states,
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
The term “grew” is not a bad term, but the Greek “proekopten” suggests moving forward or advancing. I might like the term “journeyed.” Jesus grew or advanced:
- Psychoemotionally… in discernment… in judgment
- Physically… in size… in relation to the world around Him
- Spiritually… in disciplined relationship to the Father
- Socially… in relationship to His family, community, and other people.
The period covers by this verse covers Jesus entire growing process, and is the only verse that covers the period from age 12 to 30. That is fairly slow.
In Jesus’ case, there are moments when FAST happens— the resurrection occurred in a 3-day period. But His incarnation and preparation to be the Suffering Servant, was SLOW.
For me, when in moments of turmoil, I certainly may be prone to seek to be healed, fixed, or changed FAST. But at other times, I must remind myself that God’s best usually comes SLOW.
Recently, I had the chance to teach Old Testament (Biblical) Theology at a local Bible College here in the Philippines. I usually teach Missions, and Pastoral Care on occasion, so it was rather exciting.
As I was preparing, and as I was teaching, several interesting things struck me. I won’t go into everything here, but I was struck by some aspects of the Bible as the Inter-testamental period was approaching. They are rather related, and tied to issues of Prophecy and Canon.
- The Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) does have a feel of ending a plot line as we reach the post-exile. If one looks at Hosea (a book NOT from this period), Hosea’s rocky marriage feels like the history of God with Israel– as it was meant to. But in the exile, one feels like one has hit the resolution of the crisis, in a narrative plot— followed by the gradual restoration. With Nehemiah, one reaches the denoument. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abram a vast people and a land. This was fulfilled and restored. With the Mosaic Covenant, the people are, finally, throwing away their idols and seeking God (Yahweh), trying to abide by the Law (terms of the treaty with God). The promised dwelling of God with Israel, evidenced in the tabernacle and the first temple– and lost with the exile– is seen as restored with the second temple.
- There is a transition from the oral prophetic word to the written canon. This can be seen, for example, in II Baruch 85:3, “But now, the righteous have been assembled, and the prophets are sleeping. Also we have left our land, and Zion has been taken away from us, and we have nothing now apart from YAHWEH the Mighty One and HIS Torah” Additionally, Babylonian Talmud Sotah 48b, states that when Malachi died, “the Holy Spirit departed from Israel”…. meaning, I suppose, that there was no more prophetic witness. Tied to that was the role of Ezra, as well as new institutions to support the written word, including the Sanhedrin, synagogues, and rabbinical schools. People like to argue when the OT books were written… but the Torah appears as if it must predate considerably the exile (and I, personally, have no problem with it being penned primarily by Moses). The Deuteronomistic history is completed during the Exile, and the history of the Chronicler appears, based on the geneologies, to have been completed around 400BC. This transitio relates to the change of attitude of the people. In Ezra-Nehemiah, the people seem to be generally surprised and saddened at their faithlessness when read the Book of Deuteronomy. Knowing the unreliability of prophets (perhaps, especially, court prophets), the written word, canon, provided a stabler ground for their beliefs and ethics.
- There is a strong case for “Unfinished Business.” The Abrahamic Covenant wasn’t fully met. It would be difficult to say that through Abraham’s seed, all of the nations of the world were blessed by the time the Hebrew Bible was completed. The Davidic Covenant did not appear to have been fully met, with an unending dynasty. The New Covenant of Jeremiah (and related ideas in Ezekiel) did not appear to be fully established either. Finally, the lack of prophecy at this time was directly stated to be a temporary thing as both Joel and Malachi look forward to the restoration of visions and prophecy.
- The Septuagint established the precedent for the translatability of God’s Word. This is no minor thing. Even though the Jews did back away from it 300 years later, the pattern had been set. And Christians, despite some embracing “sacred languages” or “inspired translations” over time, generally recognized that God’s revelation is still God’s revelation even in translation. This is HUGE. In general, Islam never really made that leap. Truthfully, they really should have. There are no true “heart language” readers of 4th century BC Hebrew, 1st Century Koine Greek, or 7th century Arabic… so readers of Holy texts in the original must always translate to some extent. So the question is not whether translation is good or bad. Rather, the question is “Who should do the translation– unskilled readers, or skilled translators?”
So why does this all matter? Maybe it doesn’t, but it does for me.
- The Hebrew Bible does really seem to set the stage for a New Covenant (as Jeremiah describes it). It seems like the end of a story arc, but much like the seasonal finale in a TV series, establishes hints as to what the new season will reveal and develop.
- There is something healthy about the transition from oral prophecy to written canon. The focus on written canon appeared to be good for the Jewish people, providing a better standard for conduct. This is hardly surprising. Prophets were often unreliable in the Old Testament because of the temptation to say what what is not true. Some were false prophets because they were spokesmen for a false god, while others were false prophets in that they claimed to speak for God (Yahweh) but said what the people wanted to hear rather than what God needed them to hear.
- The replacement of prophets with canon repeated itself in the New Testament time, with claims of false prophets and false Christs. The Didache warned of prophets and apostles who were false due to improper motivations. Into the 2nd and 3rd centuries, prophets and apostles faded away, as the canon of NT Scripture, and the leadership structure of churches began to take away much of the need for these other offices. Some of the problems may be control issues between churchplantes/apostles and local churches (sodality versus modality structures), and a similar thing could be of prophets and local churches. The growth of cultic schisms in the second century led to a focus on determining a written canon. It also led to the idea of “apostolic succession”– establishing a ecclesio-geneological canon of sorts.
- The growth today of the tendency of some denominations to embrace prophets and prophecy again– particularly among “Restorationist” groups, can be a bit troubling as the problems of the past have roots that can still resurface in the present. A fascination with prophecy (whether foretelling or forthtelling) still tempts people to fake it, saying what people want to hear. American “prophets” love to come to the Philippines to tell local Christians what they want to hear. The fascination with the contemporaneity and novelty of “new revelations” (and “secret knowledge”) can dull people to the reliable (but old) canon of the written word. I recall an acquaintance of mine who was attending a “prophecy” conference in the US. A self-styled prophet gave my friend a whole bunch of “prophecies” regarding the Philippines to take back here and publish. I just haven’t seen a good track record with these things, and considering the number of Christians living in the Philippines, if for some reason God decided that his written revelation and Spirit-illumination were inadequate, it seems pretty likely he would find a messenger who was local. But I could be wrong. (There is also a movement to create “Apostles” again as an office… but since the role has essentially nothing to do with the original NT role/office, it hardly deserves comment.)
- The Septuagint, as well as the Jerusalem Council makes it clear that written canon does not mean ossified written relics. Canon is both translatable and contextualizable. As such, it has the qualities of both permanency and dynamism. The permanancy provides a better foundation to base one’s faith and action on, while the dynamism provides unique applicability to unique cultural circumstances.
I guess, in the end, I would say that a transition from oral prophecy to written canon is a good thing, and seeking to reverse it is going backwards, in more than one way.
Yeah… How DO we learn. There are all sorts of talks about Learning Styles and Modes of Learning. But in the end, some sort of “philosophy” or training should be better for nurturing change in a trainee. Our Counseling Center provides Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and that has gotten me reflecting on how we learn, how we grow, and how we change. Sadly, I have never taken a course in Education Psychology. But I have had enough training, experience, reflection, and eduction (Yes… “Eduction,” NOT “Education”) to have a few thoughts.
Think of this Diamond Diagram above as the interaction of two cycles.
Cycle 1 is the Action-Reflection Cycle. It is also the Praxis Model of Theological Contextualization or Development. It is further the process of Pastoral Theology.
We like to say that experience is the best teacher. That may be true, but we are not always the best learners. Often, we act without reflection, falling into the same decisions and actions like a vehicle may get stuck in the deep ruts of an old dirt road. With and after action should be thoughtful reflection. This should be done personally, meditatively, and intentionally. However, it is also aided by being doing with peers and mentor. However, this reflective activity should then guide action. The process is cyclic or, better, helical, as one learns and changes over time.
Cycle 2 is the Didactic-Eductive Cycle. The term “Didactic” has many meanings and nuances. However, it generally involves teaching via imparting knowledge to the trainee from the instructor. The term Eductive, or Eduction is a term promoted by Seward Hiltner. In my Navy days we used eductor pumps to get water out of flooded areas of the ship. The eductor pump has no moving parts and utilizes no electricity, flame, or fuel (at least directly). Water is sent through a firehose at high speed and through the “pump” that is settled in the flooded area. The low pressure, utilizing Bernoulli’s Principle and proper nozzle design, causes water to be sucked into that stream and out of the space. Eduction then is to draw out. We already know a great deal of things… but that knowledge must be drawn out of us. Eductive learning is common in Rogerian, “client-centered,” counseling, as well as Pastoral counseling. At the same time, one cannot draw out what isn’t there in the first place. Therefore, some input, didactic training is needed as well. However, people commonly don’t change by simply given outside information. Truth needs to also come from inside to be valued and utilized. Ideally, a cycle of input and drawing out can lead to growth and change.
Bringing these two cycles together is especially valuable, and both can lead to consider change and growth. CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) seeks to bring these two cycles together. Good mentoring should as well. The LePSAS method of training (Utilized by Community Health Evangelism/Education (CHE)) also seeks to bring the two cycles together.
In ministry and missions, we seek growth and positive change… so bringing these two cycles together should be valuable to all of us. That means:
- Trainees (disciples) should be involved in ministry/activities. Don’t fall into the trap of “train them now to minister later.” Training is best done in concert with action.
- Trainees should not just be doers. The action needs time for reflection, incorporation, and change. Of course to do this means to allow the trainees to diverge from established activity patterns. Reflection that cannot be acted upon is demotivating.
- Trainees need to be taught. “Throw the child in the water to see if he will sink or swim” may work for some. I have heard on the Internet how an eagle will push its young out of the nest when it is time for it to fly. But that story is false– and appears to express more about the instructor than about what works. Most people need some guidance… some instruction.
- Trainees need to be helped to learn what they already know. Education should not be paternalistic— assuming that the trainer has all knowledge, and the trainee has only ignorance and misinformation. The trainees are full of valuable trainings, experiences, and reflections that are not synthesized/integrated. In some cases they are nearly forgotten. The trainer can help them draw these out and get them integrated with action, reflection, and new learning.