Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Theology of Teaching

R. Alan Culpepper, "Full of Grace and Truth: A Theology of Teaching," in Gladly Learn, Gladly Teach: Living Out One's Calling in the Twentieth-First Century Academy, ed. Jason Marson Dunaway. (Macon, Ga. : Mercer University Press, 2005), 32-45.

Culpepper in his essay presents a "theology of Teaching." The author begins his essay by telling us what the Bible says about teaching. In this section he looks at "God as teacher," teaching in the Old Testament, "Jesus as Teacher, and teaching in the New Testament. The next section discusses "teaching as a theological activity." The last section presents an ancient fable.

Culpeppers states that God is the source of wisdom. He started teaching the human race from the very beginning. Culpepper writes, "because God established the order of things, whatever we teach, whether it is pharmacy, nursing, education, or business, God is the source of the understanding we want our students to discover" (33). Wisdom is personified as "Lady Wisdom" in proverbs. Wisdom calls out to the people to listen and become wise. Culpepper states, "wisdom is found above all in the Torah" (34).

The Old Testament teaches that it was the parent's responsibility to teach the torah to their children. Culpepper states, "For ancient Israelies, the education of one's children was a religious duty, and much of the content of what was taught in the home was the religious tradition of Israel" (34). The Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) "was the core of the religious instruction given in the home" (34). It says that God is one and we are to love Him with our whole being and we are to teach the Jewish law to our children. "This instruction was reinforced by the celebrations of the major festivals in the home and the community" (34). They were to explain the meaning of these festivals to their children. The children was also taught a trade. Culpepper writes, "Hebrew children were also taught the skills they would need to be successful members of their community" (35).

Jesus is called rabbi or teacher 66 times in the New Testament "and 57 times the verb teach is used to describe his activity" (36). Jesus taught in parables. Culpepper observes, "Jesus also used heuristic questions effectively" (37). Jesus often used these questions to help the hearer to see the issue in a new light. Jusus also illustrated his teachings. Culpepper states, "Jesus also acted out his parables and teachings, carrying out a demonstration in the temple, cursing a fig tree, turning water to wine, and eating with the poor and outcast" (37).

Teaching was an important element in the New Testament church. This teaching was done both in public and private. "Paul used technical terms for receiving and handing on oral tradition and teaching was an essential part of his work" (38). The church provided instruction in doctrine to new converts. Even Jesus said, Go and make disciples, teaching them . . . The New Testament speaks of the gift of teaching and an office of teaching. Culpepper notes, "The office of teacher probably developed in the early churches largely in response to the need to instruct recent converts. This catechetical instruction appears to have included instruction in the Old Testament and Jesus' teachings, the Church, the Christian life, and traditional ethical teachings drawn from Judaism and the Greek philosophies" (38).

The next section speaks of teaching "as a theological activity." The first part he mentions is that teaching requires a community. He stresses that it is important that the community serve a mentoring role. "Parker Palmer and Sharon Parks . . . emphasize that effective education requires communities in which students find support, affirmation, and meaning in the pursuit of learning" (39).

A second point of this section is "every course is about more than subject matter" (40).  Culpepper states, "the role of the teacher includes the perpetuation of a tradition and the formation of character" (40). He thinks that the education of a student to the "ancient Greek ideal of paideia, or the nurture of the student so that each student may attain his or her potential" 41). Teachers play an essential role in this process. Some of these roles are "awakening," "calling," "encouraging," and "modeling." Culpepper states, "All of us need to find our calling in life, that pursuit that is personally fulfilling while contributing to the needs of others and the betterment of society. We find that calling through discovering our own gifts and through responding to the needs around us" (41). The third point is that teachers are to help "students write their own future stories" (42). The last point is "every student is important" (43). This speaks of the intrinsic worth of every student. Every student is created in the image of God and is a bearer of God's image.

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