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Archive for the ‘Theological Education’ Category

Lord willing this week I want to write several posts on training pastors and leaders for the churches overseas especially in areas that are considered frontiers missions field.  For those interested you might also want to read my post from last year titled “.”

green berets illustration missions theological education

I appreciate blogger Dan Cartwright, a former Green Beret and career soldier.  I’m using an illustration from his world that I think is helpful in describing the need and means of bringing theological education to local national pastors in the context of frontiers missions.

US Special Forces (Green Berets) must not be confused with Special Operation Forces.  Here’s how Wikipedia describe the missions of US Special Forces (Green Beret):

The primary mission of the Army Special Forces is to train and lead unconventional warfare (UW) forces, or a clandestine guerrilla force in an occupied nation[citation needed]. The 10th Special Forces Group was the first deployed SF unit, intended to train and lead UW forces behind enemy lines in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe[citation needed]. As the U.S. became involved in Southeast Asia, it was realized that specialists trained to lead guerrillas could also help defend against hostile guerrillas, so SF acquired the additional mission of Foreign Internal Defense (FID), working with Host Nation (HN) forces in a spectrum of counter-guerrilla activities from indirect support to combat command.[citation needed]

Special Forces personnel qualify both in advanced military skills and the regional languages and cultures of defined parts of the world. While they are best known for their unconventional warfare capabilities, they also undertake other missions that include direct action raids, peace operations, counter-proliferation, counter-drug advisory roles, and other strategic missions.[13]

(Source)

Note what I highlighted in bold from the quote above.  I think the great examples of the Green Berets that has bearing for our discussion is their ability to train other forces and being skillful in how they go about it.  I think in some sense this is analogous to how we in the West should bring theological education overseas in the context of frontiers mission fields or area that requires creative access.

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I saw this excerpt clip from a larger sermon by Paul Washer about a month ago and for some reason I’ve been thinking about this.

I hope you watch it, it’s short enough (6 minutes).

 

It made me think a lot about the incredible need for good biblical resources for pastors and church leaders overseas in the missions field.  There is a serious need for resources, serious need for translations and serious need for materials being affordable.  There is also the need for more teachers who are capable to go overseas and not just stay in cozy seminary settings in the West waiting for the rest of the world to come to us for theological education.

It has made me pray more for God to equip God’s people overseas.  I think Paul Washer’s ministry is a wonderful ministry to support.

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4tP8wWA

I’ve recently returned from my trip overseas teaching an intensive one week course on Systematic Theology that crammed a semester’s worth of material in five days.  In God’s providence it looks like another opportunity might open up in another country next year in which I might be able to do something similar.  There is definitely a real need outside of the west for theological education.

I thought I share my thoughts concerning teaching theology overseas in a Missions context although some of the points in the beginning of this post could be applied in Western contexts also as well.

BEFORE YOU DEVELOP YOUR COURSE MATERIALS…

The first few thoughts are for those who are young and want to one day be involved with teaching in an academic setting.  I would challenge one to think about teaching overseas not only because there are more opportunities but because there are real needs overseas.  There are too many over-caffeinated seminarians daydreaming about teaching at their Alma Mater where the competition is probably fierce among their other peers who are also pursuing advance degrees from prestigious schools.  Meanwhile the need exists overseas.

1.) Be a Pastor.  In an overseas missions context often those seeking theological education and enrolled in a seminary classroom are pastors.  Even if you have some technical degree and some sort of academic specialization and a PhD, it’s still good to have some kind of pastoral experience before heading out overseas to teach theology.  I think it pays dividends.  Do not lose focus that you are training pastors and spiritual leaders and not necessarily an MA student who is heading to Oxford and University of Aberdeen for advance scholarship.  That is not to say we don’t want to prepare those who might have potential to go on for further studies.  A pastoral background is helpful and one should definitely be shepherding the students even as one is instructing the students.  Examples go along way, and some things are taught while other things are caught.  Don’t forget that even as you teach doctrines you are still pastoring your students as a teacher/instructor.  If you are reading this and you are in Seminary, don’t just see part-time pastoral internship as hoops to jump through; minister all-out even as you go all-out in your studies.  Being a Pastor-Scholar would make you more effective to the people you are training.

2.) Grow Beyond Your Seminary Materials.  By that I don’t mean necessarily to change your beliefs and distinctives that your seminary impart to you.  I mean to encourage you to understand that your seminary education was merely the foundation for a life-long pursuit of studies.  Read deeply and read broadly.  Synthesis what you learned after seminary with what you learned during seminary.  It’s important that you don’t just steal your professor’s syllabus but develop your own materials.  Theology can only advance if students move theology forward from what they have been imparted from their professors.

3.) Work Harder Earlier is Smarter.  You have heard the saying “Work Harder, not Smarter.”  I think we can modify that to say “Work Harder earlier is Smarter.”  I think if one is not faithful in the little then one probably will not be faithful in the big things.  I have wanted to teach in a academic setting since my early days of discovering apologetics and theology.  Rather than just wait, even as I taught in our church systematic theology I tried to teach it to the best of my ability for the Glory of God.  Things are footnoted even for Sunday School handouts.  The materials would be the template and foundation for any future course.  If one is not faithful in the little things, how can one be faithful in the larger things?  Working harder earlier is also smarter.  You can be more ready at a moment notice to teach on something and not necessarily start from scratch if asked suddenly to teach overseas.

DEVELOPING YOUR COURSE MATERIALS…

4.) Incorporate Biblical Theology in your Systematic Theology.  Sometimes you hear people slight systematic theology from other disciplines.  However, I think if it is done right it is the queen of the theological disciplines.  I think it’s easy to merely give “proof text” to establish certain doctrines while teaching systematic theology.  To avoid the risks of grabbing verses out of context, I strongly believe the more one incorporate Biblical theology into one’s systematic theology, the less one falls into the pit of mere “proof texting.”  When one teach a doctrine, try to trace it’s doctrinal roots from the Old Testament while heading towards the New Testament.  Take into account Progressive Revelation.  The advantage of doing biblical theology even as we teach systematic theology is that it makes people discover that orthodox doctrines are genuinely Biblical.  It reinforce our theological arguments.  It also makes both the instructor and the students go to the source of Scripture rather than a mere syllabus or theology textbook.  It makes them think about how a verse or passage fit in the flow of redemptive history and Scripture as a whole.

5.) Don’t merely cite verses for what you believe; engage in rigorous doctrinal apologetics in defense of your beliefs from key verses.  I think it’s important to present what we believe not just lightly but rather with rigorous arguments from biblical texts that is logically valid.  What might be taken for granted by you might not be to your students in their ecclesiastical and cultural contexts so it is best to present every doctrinal beliefs with good argumentation as if you are presenting it before someone who disagree with you.  When you do discover your students disagree with you, you are prepared to give the best reason why you believe what you believe.  Even with doctrines that the students might already believe, you want to show them that the same rigorous argumentation is also the same argumentation that lead you to believe in doctrines that are new to them or doctrines that they are not sure of.  Furthermore, rigorous reasoning from the Scripture equips them against the cults.  Some of the local cults might not be something you are aware of so it is always good to present your proofs for the doctrines in your course so as to equip them well to defend the faith.

6.) After demonstrating the veracity of a doctrine, be sure to draw out the implication of a doctrine.  If 2 Timothy 3:16 is true then doctrines from Scripture would have implications that equip the man of God for every good work.  I like to end each session with a time for questions followed by the question to the students of “Knowing what we now know, how does this impact our life and our ministry?”  Doing this every session will eventually teach them that doctrines aren’t just for head knoweledge, but to be treasured and trusted and applied in our lives and the lives of our congregation and used to minister and reach the Lost.  Exploring the practicality of doctrines also balance the course from becoming merely lessons on doctrinal apologetics.  You show how doctrines shape our worship, our ministry and our lives.  You train them to be pastoral.

7.) Plan to use illustrations in your teaching.  Illustrations are wonderful to help reinforce explanation and argumentation.  There is the risk that some illustrations don’t apply because of cultural differences.  We must be sensitive to this but I think it’s still worth the risk.  I find rural illustrations to be the most helpful cross-culturally.  The Bible often used illustrations from nature and the agricultural world.  It seems that those who are rural can quickly identify with them.  Those who are more educated and Urban are also “intellectually” capable of picking up on them.  Even when an illustration turns out not to fit in the audience’s contexts, I think often people’s fascination with things American and the West will help give one a “pass” in that they learn more about you and it still build a bridge while it makes them aware of cultural mores–and how much more we need to go to the Scriptures.

8.) Historical Theology Encourages the Students as they struggle to grasp doctrines.  My original lesson plan had nothing of historical theology although I have read a bit of historical theology and doctrinal development prior to my trip.  I mistakenly thought that my students would not be interested in church history and historical theology.  I found historical theology to be most helpful to my students during the trip when they struggled to find the right terminology for certain theological concepts.  I invoked historical theology to show how they are not the first to try to grasp and find the proper terms for difficult theological truths.  Theology is not merely reading the Bible.  It is understanding it and then communicating it in our cultural contexts.  Seeing the early church wrestle with truths such as the Oneness and Threeness of God, the relationship of Christ as God and Christ as man encouraged the believers that others have gone before and thought hard about the proper terms.

9.) When you refer to the Original Languages, it is okay to show how you got your interpretation.  Often in a missions theological education context, the students might not have the tools and skill of the original languages of Scriptures.  But they are curious and asks questions about the original languages.  I found it still helpful to show them the original languages and why I interpret things the way I do.  There is a limitation on merely citing a lexicon and saying the lexicon says so.  Context always demand how verbal aspects and lexical meanings are understood so I found it helpful to even show how certain terms are used in other contexts and also in the immediate contexts.  It would make them hunger more deeply for God’s Word.  More importantly, I felt it was important to show how I got things with the original languages to de-mystify the original language scholar and also to avoid looking like Joseph Prince who always talk about the Hebrew but one isn’t sure where he’s getting it but can only rely on his own authority.

These are my thoughts.  I have more but I think this will do for now for this post.

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For the World Essays in Honor of Richard L. Pratt Jr

Note: To order the book at a discounted price at WTS bookstore, click HERE.

I first heard of Richard Pratt when I discovered his Third Millennium Ministries and not too long after that I read his short book on Presuppositional apologetics and some assorted articles that he wrote.  This particular book is a festschrift in honor of Dr. Pratt.  I really enjoyed how various contributors throughout the book gave readers their portrait of the man and his ministry; it was quite encouraging for me given how I have benefited from his writing but didn’t know much about him.  As a result of reading this book I have a greater respect for Pratt for his desire to make theological education cheap and affordable for the rest of the world through his online ministry.  In many instances these multimedia resources are available in many languages for free!  I did not fully realize how great an impact Third Millennium Ministries was until I read this book.  It has also lead me to pray for this ministry to increase many fold!

I also found the various essays within the volume stimulating with its various topic dedicated to Dr. Pratt and his field of interests, some of the highlights which I shall discuss below.

The second chapter of the book was titled, “Saying It Anew: Strange-Making as a Pedagogical Device” in which the contributor Scott Redd talked about the pedagogical device of defamilarization.  Defamiliarization is a technique in which someone says something strange for the sake of the learner to think more carefully about a certain truth.  As Redd explained, “Ironically, defamilarizatoin can result in clarity, in part because, when skillfully applied, defamiliarization causes the hearer to encourage the idea in a new way, as if for the first time, thereby bringing its elements into stark relief” (21).  This chapter also defended this idea biblically, nothing the various use of literary devices and also nuance word order in the Bible was meant to draw the readers’ attention with something unusual so as to slow them down and make them think more carefully.  I thought defamilarization can be a useful tool for pastors, Bible teachers, professors, evangelists and the apologists.  Certainly it has made me more conscious of incorporating defamiliarization as a way of being a clear and fresh communicator of God’s timeless truth.

The chapter on “Redeeming the ‘R-Word:’ Paul against and for Religion” was intriguing and relevant since it addressed the contemporary Christian cliche that “Christianity is not a religion.”  Reggie Kid, the author of this essay, noted how Paul was against bad religion (what in the Greek is called asebeia) but this in no way implies that Paul or the Bible ever pit Christianity against religion per se.  There is, biblically speaking, room for good “religion,” and good religion is one which adheres to right doctrines and also right practices.  The author made a good point that whatever value and advantages gained in using the mantra that “Christianity isn’t a religion,” it can in the long run be counter-productive against the church’s effort in evangelism and discipleship.  Hipster Christians need to read this chapter!

The book also had a good chapter on metanarrative by the editor Justin Holcomb which is probably the only chapter I was most critical of; nevertheless I found his essay helpful because it helped me to think more clearly and precisely as a result of interacting with what he has to say.  Holcomb argues that Christian scholars have used the term metanarrative incorrectly when they call the Christian faith a metanarrative.  Technically, the term metanarrative as originally used by Lyotard (who brought the term to prominence) meant something more along the lines of a story that is used by people to justify autonomy and man-centered institutions which oppressively silence others, etc; Holcomb argues that Christian must be against autonomy and also against the justification of wicked institutions so we shouldn’t be describing Christianity as the very thing that Christianity is against.  While I agree that the term metanarrative as Lyotard employed it does not describe Christianity, I also think this might be an instance of how the use of a term over time can have a different shade of meaning than how it was originally used.  I doubt most people today in popular parlance use the term metanarrative as narrowly as Lyotard originally used it so I don’t have as much of a problem with Christians using that term in describing the Christian worldview so long as it is qualified and explained.  I did appreciate Holcomb describing how Postmodern were not necessarily all about relativism but that there was some good coming from this camp in their critical assessment of modernity’s autonomy and arrogance; but sadly at the end of the day I don’t think Postmodernism has managed to escape the problem of autonomy either.  Furthermore, since Holcomb discussed quite extensively about Lyotard, I wonder if a secularist using Lyotard’s definition of metanarrative might not call Christianity a metanarrative despite Holcomb’s wishes since Christianity presents the story that justify the Cosmic institution of the Church.

The book also had a helpful chapter on youth ministry in which the contributor David Correa argues that in light of many young people’s search for meaning beyond themselves with the realization that things are not the way it should be, this should be an opportunity for youth ministry to present our theology to make sense of the world, where it is going and how we fit in, in light of God’s Kingdom.

For those involved in teaching theological education in the context of missions and/or to another cultural setting, the discussion in various chapters on the need to make theological education “fit” for the situational context of non-Western audience sets the right direction for the future.  What is neat is to know that Richard Pratt has made a significant inroad with his ministry towards that end which readers can praise God for.  I appreciated John Frame calling for a theological education that is more “boot camp,” that is rigorous also in practical application in ministry; then there is the mentoring-in-ministry discussion by Gregory Perry.

I recommend the book for those who has appreciated Dr. Pratt’s ministry and teaching.  I wished there were more Old Testament contribution within the book besides the one by Waltke in light of the fact that this is a festschrift for an Old Testament professor!  Those unfamiliar with Dr. Pratt and are involved with theological education can also benefit from the essays found within it.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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