Category Archives: Teaching

either about educational philosophy or about teaching practice

Instruction and Counsel (Ps. 32:8-11)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. (Psalm 32:8-9)

Good theological education leads to independent thought and judgement. Even for the Old Testament writers, it wasn’t about mindless obedience to detailed regulations. Do NOT be like a broken horse being led here and there! This is what Paul is yammering about in Galatians and Romans. Judaism itself isn’t simply about obedience. As the passage goes on to say, it is about trust; it is about heart:

Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.
Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart! (32:10-11)

Romans 1:3-4 and Adoptionism

I’ll soon be teaching Romans for the first time. It’s intimidating. And in the very first few verses, I stumbled. I caught myself asking 21st century questions instead of 1st century questions. I was expecting Paul to be talking theology, and specifically, Christology, from the start. And as a result, he looked to me like an adoptionist: someone who thinks Jesus started off as an ordinary human being, and then God turned him into something supernatural. You can see how the text, especially verses 3-4, suggests that:

1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God — 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

But the point of the clause in vv. 3-4 is not adoptionism. An awareness of the 1st century Roman church and the tensions between the Jewish and Gentile backgrounds of the new community probably caused Paul to write this passage, part of his own qualifications, in a particular way. I think these verses are intended to point to the continuity and contrast concerning the Jewish expectations of Messiah and the surprising way that God actually delivered so much more than that. (The word “appointed”, by the way, is probably better translated as “declared.”) The Jews will have expected a mighty Son of David, but God made it clear through the resurrection that what Jesus actually was was different and much greater. And THAT is who called Paul to work among the Gentiles.

Service Resumes

As you may have guessed, I’ve been swamped with marking and other end-of-academic year things over the past month. I hope things will calm down now.

Selling the Truth

Fortunately it doesn’t happen too often. But occasionally it strikes me just how hypocritical I’m being with my fashionable-in-1970 anti-capitalist mentality when I make my money by teaching the Bible in warm rooms with people who pay a fairly hefty sum to sit there. How can I possibly be content with this? Well, in 1 Corinthians 9, I find Paul’s endorsement of a behaviour that is different from his own: “A workman is worthy of his wages” and “do not muzzle the ox” he quotes. In my extreme moments, I think that business people only make money by buying things for less than they’re worth and selling them for more than they’re worth. But things shouldn’t be at the heart of my thinking; people should be. And things shouldn’t cost just what the materials cost — we should use commerce as an occasion to support each other materially.

I think I want an economic system that does not focus on products and consumers and prices that are what the market can bear. I think I want an economic system that focuses on stimulating creativity and productivity and people able to live comfortably. I don’t know whether I’m comfortable with different people having different-costing lifestyles, but I’m sure some differentiation is necessary: a painter needs a lot more equipment than a writer. But who decides? The problem with socialism and communism has been that the many are subjected to the discernment and impartiality of a very few, which is unsustainable. The virtue of capitalism is that these things are determined impersonally through a very complicated system that includes the marketability and popularity of your ‘product’. While open to many abuses, such a system has proven rather resilient.

The challenge is reduce the abuses: make it so that good products triumph over badly made but skilfully marketed products, for instance. It is easier to change the perception of a thing than to change the thing.

So, yeah, here’s my defence against hypocrisy: it is justifiable that I do what I do in a community that is able to provide a living for me by asking people who receive from me. I wish there was a better system than capitalism, but so far, I haven’t come up with one. But Marx came up with a full-blown alternative. It just wan’t any better. Perhaps someone is working on another alternative right this moment. Go for it!

People You Want on Your Team

At Forbes magazine’s website, Carmine Gallo’s article summarises Tim Cook’s ideas about hiring people to work at Apple. It sounds great to me and it reminds me of the sort of people that we tend to hire as Faculty at LST, albeit without being able to articulate it as Cook has done. Gallo writes, “Apple has found that the best way to build a special workplace is to hire for attitude and train for skill.”

• “People that work with a passion and an idealism.”

• “People that don’t take no for an answer.”

• “People that don’t accept the status quo.”

• “People that are inherently not satisfied with things. They know things should be different. They focus on it until they find an answer.”

• “People that can’t be told things are impossible.”

But bizarrely, there’s nothing said about the ability to work with others the ability to appreciate the specialities of others or about kindness — traits I tend to find in co-workers on our teaching team. Without something like those qualities, the list above could just as easily result in a very unpleasant, combatative environment.


On the one hand, some people will dismiss any pursuit of excellence as perfectionism. On the other, to the perfectionist, excellence smells like a compromise.

The people you want to work with and the people you want to work for are those who know the difference between, and the place for, the perfect, the excellent, and the “good enough.”

Pet Peeves (Essay marking)

A student asked me: “What are your essay pet hates?” I replied:

  1. Plagiarism.
  2. Use of the Comic Sans typeface.
  3. Essays that argue by telling me what several scholars believe rather than evaluating their reasons for believing it.
  4. Things typeset in boxes.
  5. Using bullet-point lists when connected and logical prose is called for.
  6. Misspelling the name of the book of the Bible your essay is meant to inform me about.
  7. Fancy and expensive bindings/folders.
  8. Pictures of puppies on the cover.
  9. Footnotes that appear on the page after they’re supposed to. (I’m looking at YOU, MicrosoftWord!)
  10. Blatant disregard for point after point of the Essays guidelines handed out.
  11. People who aren’t as smart as the student but cited in the footnotes as experts. (examples: most self-published websites)
  12. Citing two different authors as if they agree on something without noticing that they’re saying the opposite things, and that needs working out.
  13. Prefacing a quotation with “Smith writes:” when Smith is the name of the editor rather than the author.
  14. Explaining why a view is wrong when the only source you have consulted for that view is an author who is in favour of the opposite view.
  15. Pictures of kittens within 10 yards of the essay.
  16. Paragraphs about stuff that isn’t really directly useful for the topic at hand included just because it’s what the student happened to have read about.
  17. Pages where there are 5 or 6 footnotes in a row from the same secondary source, suggesting that all the student is doing for that page is parrotting one person’s arguments.
  18. Conclusion sections that are largely quotations of other people, rather than demonstrating the student’s own conclusions about the material.
  19. Pictures of puppies and kittens that are ‘unlikely best friends’.
  20. Quoting from the Bible text referred to in the question at such length that block quotation format is needed.
  21. Essays carved on stacks of heavy stone tablets or etched on a grain of rice in microscopic writing without there also being a paper or PDF copy at normal size and weight.
  22. Bibliographies that, instead of a single easy-to-use alphabetical list, are made up of 8 different sections “Hardcover books” “Journal articles” “Paperbacks”, so that in order to find the author Smith, I have to look at 8 lists instead of 1.
  23. Footnotes that don’t refer to the correct page. Or source.
  24. Essays in which every third word has been inexplicably replaced with the name of a Pokemon.

(numbers for ease of reference in future conversation, not to imply order of displeasure)

The Connection between Spit and Miraculous Healing

I’ve long been interested in the odd way that Jesus sometimes uses spit in his healing miracles. So I was intrigued when one of my students offered up a paper about the connection between miracles in Acts and salivation. Except it turns out to be a spell-check error — every time he means salvation, the computer seems to have substituted salivation: the message of salivation; the promise of salivation; salivation history.

But I can’t help but wonder if it would be possible to write a Salivation History…. from that mouth-watering forbidden fruit in Genesis to Jesus’ reaction to the Laodiceans in Revelation.

Pro Diversity

Take 10 minutes and get your head around this amazing website, teaching how small individual biases — no let’s call them small individual preferences — translate automatically-mathematically into large community effects.
tip of the hat to, who sent me there.

A Daily Dose of Greek


My good friend Antony Billington reports on his great blog:

Robert Plummer, Professor of New Testament as Southern Seminary in Louisville has launched Daily Dose of Greek, designed ‘to provide ongoing accountability to busy pastors to read Greek daily and progress in their ability’, but which will undoubtedly be of value to others too.
Those who sign up receive via email a two-minute video every day for five days a week, in which Plummer talks through a single Greek verse (currently heading through 1 John 1).
The website also contains 25 short videos on learning Greek, along with a section of resources.
– Thanks, Antony.

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