Thursday, March 30, 2006

Another Study Resource

Bible students and teachers should check out the “Christian Classics Ethereal Library.”

This site--sponsored by Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan--contains a tremendous amount of material in the public domain and is well organized. Here you can find the Bible in several translations, as well as Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias.  There are also countless items like Augustine’s “Confessions” and the commentaries of John Calvin.  (You don’t have to be a Calvinist to learn from his truly rich expositions).

The site also features the “Executable Outlines” section, where teachers can find detailed study guides covering various topics and books of the Bible. The author of these outlines is one Mark A. Copeland, who seems to have a connection to one of the two conservative branches of the American Restoration (a.k.a. Stone-Campbell) Movement.

The homepage can be found at the following address:  http://www.ccel.org/

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Spirituality of Stephen King

The other night, Michele and I watched "The Green Mile" on DVD. It's not among my favorite films. But she had never seen it before, was intrigued, and had picked it up along with some other movies at the library.

Just as it got rolling, I warned Michele about the three execution scenes, the second one being especially graphic and ugly and painfully-long. We hid our eyes and fast-forwarded through some of it. I've seen some rougher movies and documentaries. But for some reason, the depictions of hyper sadism in this one just really get to me.

Anyway, this time around I was remembering that, like "The Shawshank Redemption," this movie originates with Stephen King. And, again like Shawshank, "The Green Mile" is loaded with spiritual themes like redemption, retribution, the innocent suffering for the guilty, and on and on it goes. These story lines seem to take "principalities and powers" a lot more seriously than do most other contemporary films. And, in the Green Mile you even have a messiah figure whose initials are J.C.

So my off-handed question is, Why do we always hear about Stephen King as a writer of horror? Or is that merely his pop-culture and surface persona, the most obvious facet of his fiction obscuring the other facets? I also wonder, Are there any writers or discussions out there that deal with the "spirituality" of Stephen King? Also, what about his own religion, formative and current? It seems to be fairly rich and nuanced.

Any help? Thoughts?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Adult Bible Classes

Six months ago, I did a couple of posts on adult Bible classes taught in a church setting. One entry was asking for ideas and suggestions. The other post was about a book I had discovered and really liked.

Since then I’ve done some surfing around, just looking for ideas and helpful sites. Within the next week or so, I want to post a bit of what I’ve come across.

For starters, church education directors and adult Bible class teachers can get some inspiration from a short but important piece by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr., one of the most trusted voices among the Churches of Christ. You can read his article on the correlation between excellent adult Bible classes and church growth here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Learning to Teach

I want to become a good teacher. I mean, a really good teacher.

I’ve had some great teachers myself. So I know what they can mean to a person. I want to do what they did as well as I can. In some ways, I’ll never equal the best of them. But in other ways, I’m convinced, I can do as much or more.

Something else I’ve become convinced of is the simple fact that although good teaching begins with mastery of the field of study, it doesn’t end there. Someone once said of Yogi Berra, “He knows more about baseball than anyone else; it’s too bad he can’t tell anyone else.”

I want to know and be able to tell. In my experience on the receiving end of instruction, mastery of a subject does not necessarily translate into great teaching. It helps, of course. But it’s no guarantee. Some of my greatest teachers would have been considered lightweights at professional meetings. Other people were presenting the academic papers and publishing the articles. But my best teachers knew how to bring what they learned to the classroom. That knowledge did not seem to depend on the relative merit of their academic credentials or publishing careers.

What I probably need to focus on is not more knowledge (although that wouldn’t hurt, and I have plenty of room for improvement there). Instead, what I want to do is to refine my method. Better yet, I want be refined as a person who knows how to really teach.

So, towards that end one of my current questions is, How can students be led to care about, be interested in, and think with a biblical text? One way, of course, is for them to become involved with the text it in some way. That idea is the genesis of what follows.

I was preparing to give an overview of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Taking my cue from something that Luke Johnson says in his book “The Writings of the New Testament,” I came up with a short assignment that served as the beginning of the class session. Each student was given a copy of what follows:

Imagine for a minute that one of your close friends, a guy named George, has been duped. He’s young, perfectly healthy, and has no problems breathing. But a medical-equipment salesman, with all the fervor of a fiery preacher, has sold him a respirator. “It’s the only way to really breathe, George!” the salesman had told him.

Of course, you realize that there are people who really need a respirator; sometimes people depend on them to live. George doesn’t begin to fall into that category. But whenever he’s at home, he connects himself to his respirator. He doesn’t like to leave it, but he will venture out of the house now and then, only if he takes his oxygen bottle. (The oxygen bottle was sold to him by another salesman who heard about George and pegged him for a sucker).

All of this is completely ridiculous. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. But it is tragic. It’s ruining George’s life. You have decided that enough is enough. Although you know longer live in the same state as George, you want to do what you can to help him. So you decide to write him a letter. What would you write?

Once the students wrote for about 5 minutes, I let them volunteer to read their letters to George. Some of them were pretty funny. And we had a lively discussion about the kinds of things George needed to hear.

I have no idea if the exercise helped the students to better understand Paul and the Galatians and the “judaizers” and the rhetoric of the letter. I hope it did, and I certainly don’t think it hurt. If things like this can help, then I want to come up with other interesting ideas and methods for leading people to encounter the texts for themselves, and not merely hear about the texts from me.

I’m writing up this little report to ask for your feedback on any or all of it. This teacher wants to learn. What do you think? What can you tell me?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Spring Break and Beyond

Last week was Spring Break for most schools around here, including the college. So, of course, we had planned to sell the house in Connecticut and buy the house in Texas during that week. While younger, less responsible people were out doing more-fun, less-responsible things, we would sit around signing documents we didn't understand.

But you know how it goes sometimes with excellent plans. Turns out we have a "buyer" who, for maybe-good reasons, isn't buying; or at least not yet. So, for the last several days, when I wasnt' talking to attorneys, real estate agents, and mortgage brokers, I've had to spend a lot of my time just meditating on "This too shall pass."

- - - -

Classes started again yesterday. So I was introducing Romans (at 9 a.m.) and then Psalms and Proverbs (at 10:30). When we came to the Proverbs, we talked about how the very nature of those little gems just doesn't leave room for the real complexity of life. As a result, two proverbs that are true enough might contradict one another. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" and "Out of sight, out of mind."

Interestingly enough, the Book of Proverbs seems to announce this caveat implicitly in 26:4-5. . . . "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself" and "Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes."

Got a favorite proverb?

- - - -

The Saturday edition of the "Amarillo Globe-News" includes a complete section called "Faith." Last week's issue included a story about a preacher who stages professional wrestling matches between good and evil characters. The piece included a photo of said preacher flying off the ropes ready to land on some poor guy dressed up in a devil costume, horns and all.

I still say the writer's of "The Simpsons" are more like chroniclers. I also say that preachers who want to preach like the great prophets, including the greatest one, will at least occasionally use a prop. I regret that I haven't done more of that myself. When did we decide that even though Jesus used things like coins to get his point across, all we ever needed was words?

Across the page from the wrestling story was an opinion article by an elderly Methodist minister. He was blaming the steep decline of mainline Protestantism on, get this, not enough questioning. His solution centers on reading books by John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, and their ilk. (By the way, don't you love the word "ilk"? It sounds so "ilky"). For those who've never read them, Spong, Borg, and company are the people who, in the name of academic integrity and authentic religion, try to undermine most every major truth claim of Christianity.
Hmmm.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Steely Dan -- Book of Acts

My cheap used copy of “Steely Dan: The Complete Guide to Their Music” just came in the mail yesterday. Why did I order this book? Now I’m having to go back through a bunch of CDs, listening for voices and instruments and phrases, etc. that I hadn’t fully appreciated before. I know this will pass, but right now it’s an acute fever. Is it just me, or does love for music grow stronger as we get older? Seems to me we understand music better as we age. Whaddaya think?

- - - -

What follows is 20 true-or-false questions over the New Testament Book of Acts. It was part of a recent exam I gave just to be sure my students were reading the Bible. For card-carryin’ Campbellites, this should be like an English teacher doing the “Word Power” quiz in the Reader’s Digest. Take a look:

1. The first several chapters of the Book of Acts take place in and around the city of Jerusalem.

2. Though not one of the original twelve, a man named Barsabbas became an Apostle of Jesus.

3. Peter once coupled the events of his day with an oracle found in the Book of Joel.

4. All of the initial converts to Christianity were Jews or Jewish proselytes.

5. More than one person in the Book of Acts is named Ananias.

6. Pure in form and spirit, the earliest Christian movement never struggled with ethnic division.

7. The martyrdom of Stephen sparked a persecution against Christianity in the city of
Jerusalem.

8. The earliest followers of Jesus preached the message of Christianity from the Jewish
Scriptures, which came to be known as the Old Testament.

9. When confronted by the resurrected Christ, Saul was on his way to Jerusalem.

10. The two most prominent human characters in Acts are the Apostles Peter and Paul.

11. The Book of Acts features baptism as an integral part of conversion to Christianity.

12. In Acts, Paul makes only one trip to Jerusalem.

13. Paul was a Roman citizen.

14. Paul and Barnabas had such a strong disagreement, they split up their missionary team and
went separate ways.

15. Some of the early Christians were also members of the Pharisee group.

16. According to Acts, Jewish synagogues were important to the spread of early Christianity.

17. Like Jews and Christians, the residents of the ancient city of Greece worshipped only one
deity.

18. Acts contains only one account of the conversion of Saul (also called Paul).

19. Paul was born in Jerusalem.

20. The Book of Acts reports a sea voyage.

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Little More

Someone asked me to say a little more about my new job. (Thanks, Larry, for two decades of being a friend to me). So here’s a part of what I said in a recent update: . . .

Acts chapter 19 recalls a golden age in the ministry of Paul. At Ephesus, in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, he hosted daily discussions about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.

Luke tells us the outcome: “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). Just think of it. As the result of steady teaching from a prime location in a prominent city, an entire region heard the Good News.

Now, I’m no Apostle Paul. But when I reflect on my new opportunities, I can’t help but draw a few comparisons:

1. As the director of Amarillo Bible Chair, I will have plenty of eager students. For several months before my recent move from Connecticut to Texas, the Chair was without a full-time director. Not much could be done to promote the classes. So a schedule of three courses for the spring semester was simply posted. That’s it. The total for those courses now stands at around fifty students. I wonder, How many more there will be once I’m able to establish some relationships and get settled into this new ministry?

2. I don’t know what “Tyrannus’ Lecture Hall” was like. But Amarillo Bible Chair owns an excellent facility, complete with a spacious classroom, useful library, a kitchen, student lounge, and plenty of office space. Best of all, it’s literally across the street from Amarillo College which serves more than 11,000 students. Who could ask for a better site?

3. Like ancient Ephesus, the city of Amarillo is the vital center of commerce and culture, education and entertainment for an entire region. What’s more, this primary city of the Texas Panhandle continues to grow. The most recent figures reveal that new housing starts have begun to slow down in most parts of the nation. But that’s not the case in Amarillo. With an increasing population and a heightened demand for more people with advanced training, the prospects for the College are bright.

The combination of those factors played a big part in my decision to accept the invitation to become Amarillo Bible Chair’s eighth director. I consider it a great opportunity and challenge.
But more than that, it’s also a big responsibility, one that I don’t take lightly.

I realize that for more than a third of a century now, area Churches of Christ and countless individuals have made sacrifices so that this ministry could begin and flourish. I recognize that standing behind me is a solid history, and I promise to do my best to honor that. I hope and pray that some of the best days for Amarillo Bible Chair lie ahead of us.