In this presentation “The Liturgical Classroom and Virtue Formation” Jenny Rallens of the Ambrose School (Boise, ID), describes the ways in which educators can employ traditions, practices and routines (rooted in church liturgical practices) in order to enliven and deepen education and cultivate virtue in students. Those educators who have read James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom and Teaching and Christian Practices will find this presentation “required training” as Jenny has masterfully employed the insights of those books in her own classrooms.
Liturgies of Your Classroom
My dominate liturgies are One, setting up the class in a short burst of instruction (Rallens calls explanation) allowing for questions to be asked about its content and application every 10-15 minutes. Classes that may be longer than an hour, I often will attach a personal story, for example, to break up the time span of explanation to the students so that they find class both serious but humorous as well. Another liturgy I have used in the past is taking the first five minutes of class or at the end of class to ask the students how their weekend went, or what they are looking forward to. In the past, this has allowed for the class to get settled, learn about one another, and provides an experience to see their teacher cares more than only the class lecture and lesson, aka explanation.
Rallens idea of the liturgy is relative to the class and grade you are teaching (maybe because her examples all have something to do with literature and I am coming from a logical, historical and theological classroom setting). I do not see her fifth-grade example of experiencing a play while teaching Shakespeare to be as helpful in an upper school unless you have a class who in majority enjoys the fine arts. That may be common in classical education but is not the norm in other private and or public educational settings. What I mean by relative here is that the teacher needs to know the personalities of their students each year and within each class. The same liturgy’s experience the teacher provides his class will not always work year to year in applying the use of the topic’s explanation.
One of the liturgies I have implemented when teaching logic is the use of debate. I have taught Logic, an introduction to the informal fallacies and an introduction to building an argument to seventh and eighth graders in the past. Using debate allows the students to find fallacies within their opponents arguments and provides an opportunity where they can implement the use of building a proper argument for their constructive speeches in a debate. A second example of the liturgy is the use of a class covenant within my bible and theology classes. This allows for me to lay out a class structure that includes theological themes where the student might witness first hand the blessings and curses of following or at times breaking the rules of our class covenant.
History can use liturgies that place the student in the same ethical, moral, and historical setting where they have to discuss among their peers the situation and provide an answer on how they best would deal with the historical situation. Theology can use liturgies that apply truth to current day situation within the current moral decay of our nation. Logic can use the liturgies that apply the class content within a debate.
The way you learn what you learn is important for the student to both experience the truth and have it explained to them. Liturgy: To train affections, teach with experiences as well as explanations; The way we learn something is more influential than the something that we learn; The form of a lesson teaches as much as its content, or The way to a person’s heart is through their body. Thinking of the elective that I am schlepped to teach this coming fall semester on World Religions, one of the liturgies that come to mind is applying the various world religions of the Affiance, Yogic, and Abrahamic Traditions through the lens of a Christian worldview. For example; when covering Affiance primal religions on karma, provide real life situations for the students to consider where Christian’s allow for a pagan ideology such as karma to influence their Christian worldview. Allow for an assignment that grants the student and opportunity to share an experience within their own life where they may have allows world religion ideologies to indulgence their own Christian worldview and how they might re-consider their past experience.
Lectio: Chose and read a primary text from an African primal religion on karma.
Meditatio: Pray as we examine the texts and discuss its content in class.
Compositio: How do the texts and its ideology differ from a Christian worldview and theology.
For those who teach pre-K through 12, the act of discipline is something teachers deal with weekly, if not at times daily in a classroom. In today’s culture, the role of the parent has either been nearly lost in public education or at times overly control by parents in private education. I recently listened to a helpful lecture,”The Heart of Covenant Discipline” by Matt Whitling at Wordmp3.com.
Understanding of the Content
Matt Whitling begins his lecture on “The Heart of Covenant Discipline” by asking his listener’s “what is their paradigm for parenting?” From there he establishes his premise that God’s covenantal relationship with mankind is how a parent might understand their role as a father and mother parenting a child. As Christian parents, we are called to imitate God, Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” This covenantal structure and imitating God is passed on to the teacher when a father and or mother places their child in the classroom of a teacher. This paradigm of God and his children gives parents and teachers the example in how they are to follow God in disciplining his children in love.
Reflection of the Content
Since discipline is an expression of love (Proverbs 13:24) and parents have entrusted us, as teachers, with their precious children, it is fully necessary that we follow through with discipline in the classroom. Discipline, as that specific portion of discipleship wherein a negative consequence is brought to bear against a specific sinful action, should be meted out in such a way that it helps the child to expose the idol that he is allowing to rule his heart at that time. By assisting the child to see what he was viewing as most important at the time he was in sin he can be directed through scripture to repent of a particular sin and begin the process of reconciling with God and the sinned against party(ies). If that discipline is met with rebellion the principal and ultimately the child’s parents will need to be notified so that that discipline can continue to be followed through with at home. The teacher should be in prayer for the child’s repentance and restoration throughout this process.
A Practical Application
The most practical application in Whitling’s lecture is the role of the teacher with the student’s parent(s). At times, I find myself on the defense when I receive emails or phone calls from a parent regarding a student in my class. Whitling’s argument is that if teachers were to understand their role in discipline, they would see such emails and phone calls as an opportunity to work with parents in training their children. When parents faithfully train their child, it should be seen as an act of love. Likewise, the teacher having been given a parent’s student should consider in every act of discipline how love is displayed like that of God dealing with his people. Here lies where the teacher looks forward to working with mom and dad in properly, in love, disciplining a child/student so they might see Christ greater afterwards than they did before.
Many by now have heard of Joshua Harris’s Sunday Remarks at Covenant Life Church yesterday,
“My big news is that later this spring I’m going to step down from my role as lead pastor so that I can go to seminary.”
Three thoughts come to my mind, that I wish others, not only Joshua Harris, would begin to consider when pursuing full time ministry, the pastorate, and or theological education;
1. If such formal theological education is needed for the pastorate, and it is I strongly believe, why was it not prior to your pastoral calling? Not only for Joshua, but pastor’s in general, stop taking the easy route into a so called calling, and properly prepare yourselves for what you believe to be called to. I certainly would not seek a triple bypass surgery on my heart from a called doctor who has practically practiced such operation under his own care. No, I would rather seek medical attention from a doctor who has been formally trained, certified, with such knowledge that I can entrust my physical life to. How much more should we as laity consider our spiritual life, to consider who we entrust our own soul’s well being.
2. If such formal theological education is desired, why would you (let alone many) choose Regent College? I have learned these lessons, attending a college that you later regret in life can always create problems, especially on the resume. Why not Kings College, maybe Wheaton, or Boyce, Grove City, Hillsdale, or even Liberty online? Or better yet, any bachelor degree program within America. Perhaps when The Curious Case of Benjamin Button plays a role in how you came to such decision, then yes, by all means who cares where you study, when it is only “a year with a good possibility that I [he] will stay a second year to pursue a masters degree.” How much formal theological education can one possibly fix and finish in a year, maybe two? Seems a slap in the face to those who have went and studied seven plus years formal theological education before they would even consider applying for the pastorate.
3. If such formal theological education is planned, why can it not be planned to be completed while one continues to work? If already in the pastorate, and given the numerous opportunities in todays educational programs that one could obtain formal education while still in full time or part time employment, why step down, and why leave? I deal with similar situations on a semester basis at seminary. Pastor walks in, asks to speak with me, and realizes he should have completed his M.Div. before preaching through his tenth book with his congregation, and has what he believes made a number of errors will in the pastorate. My advice to them is this: one, I am glad you have noticed this, two, repent of any sin you have caused in this failure, and three, do not quit on them as you make this transition. Just because a pastor may have mistaken here does not mean that they can go fix themselves, without walking through such fixes with his congregation.
These concerns brought about by Joshua Harris’s recent decision, go to show us the state of apperception for formal theological education in the evangelical church today. I cannot count the Facebook friends that have recently made the switch after eight to ten years in an occupation, having come to Jesus Christ, that feel compelled to start a church, pastor a church, and or start a para-church ministry. Two, I cannot count the continual conversations with Baltimore pastors over the past four-years on how they wish they had went to seminary before taken up the call of a pastor. Three, I cannot count the number of pastors who have quiet their formal education, or put it on hold because they found (or was handed) a job in minstry that they were not formally prepared to obtain. I understand there are CH Spurgeon’s in this world, but I have yet to meet 20 year-olds like him, having already mastered the biblical languages, and as well read within Puritan thought and theology as he.
In the distant past, it took so long for cultural concepts to spread that by the time they had reached other areas they had sometimes already changed at their place of origin. But today the world is small, and it is very possible to have a monolithic culture spreading rapidly and influencing great sections of mankind. No artificial barriers, such as the Iron Curtain, can keep out the flow of these ideas. As the world has shrunk, and as it has largely become post-Christian, both sides of the Iron Curtain have followed the same methodology and the same basic monolithic thought form—namely, the lack of absolutes and antithesis, leading to pragmatic relativism. In our modern forms of specialized education there is a tendency to lose the whole in the parts, and in this sense we can say that our generation produces few truly educated people. True education means thinking by associating across the various disciplines, and not just being highly qualified in one field, as a technician might be. I suppose no discipline has tended to think more in fragmented fashion than the orthodox or evangelical theology of today. Those standing in the stream of historic Christianity have been especially slow to understand the relationships between various areas of thought. When the apostle warned us to “keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world,” he was not talking of some abstraction. If the Christian is to apply this injunction to himself, he must understand what confronts him antagonistically in his own moment of history. Otherwise he simply becomes a useless museum piece and not a living warrior for Jesus Christ. The orthodox Christian has paid a very heavy price, both in the defense and communication of the gospel, for his failure to think and act as an educated person understanding and at war with the uniformity of our modern culture.
Four quick suggestions for parents with children in education, or parents in education. I presently teach at three different institutions: 7th, 8th, and 9th graders at a classical tutorial, 20-22 year old college students, and a wide range from 20-60 years of age at the seminary. That gives me enough interaction with parents during a week of work that one would need for a semester. It does not matter if I am dealing with the parent of a student, or a parent themselves in my class, the same issues occur. Maybe they will be of some help.
1. Be Diligent, not Demanding – Work from the beginning to the end of the year with your child and the teacher, and not only show up when you have something to complain or worry about. A harping parent, leads to a harping student.
2. Be Responsible, not Lackadaisical – Accept your role as the parent and make education a priority in your home, and stop expecting the teacher, tutor, or professor to do everything for your child’s growth. You the parent have to work too.
3. Be Attentive, not Absent – Stop your child immediately when bad behavior appears. Show him or her what to do and provide an opportunity
to do it correctly. Discipline should be appropriate and consistent. If there comes a time you take the day off from working with your child, they will understand they as well can take days off from their education.
4. Be Precise, not Vague – Provide clear, detailed, and direct instructions. I find parents expecting much from their child, yet failing to convey to them exactly what they expect for them in education.
Just why is theological history important, because the study of history provides a classic mode of learning. Examinations of primary and secondary sources help students to think about their subject rigorously. They must learn to organize and assess evidence, analyze problems, interpret complex events, and finally to write with clarity and precision. In short, studying Church History helps students learn how to learn.
History is popular. History’s special appeal comes from its distinctive subject matter, the human past. Church History is interesting because it deals with real people and events, not with abstractions. The history of the Christian Church from the earliest times to the present offers a boundless variety for selecting favorite topics and pursuing personal interests.
Historical knowledge is important. Amnesia is devastating on the individual level. If I do not know who I am and where I have come from, then I cannot know where I am or should be headed. Studying Historical theology links seminary students to the Church’s past. Examining the history of Church doctrine down through the ages gives students a better understanding of their own beliefs and their origins. It gives the student a solid foundation of doctrine firmly established throughout the ages and gives depth to their own faith.
Studying Historical Theology helps distinguish orthodoxy from heresy. Knowing the past is important because those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it. The heresies of today are nothing new, they are old heresies resurfaced. A good understanding of church history gives one the ability to recognize heresy. For example the modern day cult known as the Jehovah Witnesses is actually a form of the ancient heresy of Arianism, which was dealt with at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. This example shows just how essential it is to know the Church’s past. It gives the student another tool to defend the truths of Christian orthodoxy against all its opponents.
Studying Historical theology also helps with biblical interpretation. Looking at the development of Christian doctrine throughout the ages helps the student to contrast one’s own interpretation with that of the church’s past. Historical theology gives the student a proper lens through which to test their own orthodoxy. For example creeds from the early church such as the Apostles Creed and the Athanasius Creed are some of the earliest attestations of proper biblical interpretation. If a believers interpretation contradicts that of these ancient creeds it would be wise to reevaluate this interpretation. These are just a few reasons why studying Historical theology is important. It shows us that we are not alone in our Christian faith but that we stand on the shoulders of those great men who have gone before us, history matters.
When one considers seminary education there are several factors that should influence the perspective student’s decision making. First and foremost, any person considering seminary education should have a love for God’s Word, along with a great desire to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Him (Eph. 3:17-19). In my opinion this is essential, because any person desiring to study God’s Word cannot do so half heartily, he or she must do so with diligence and passion (2 Tim. 2:15).
A second reason one may consider seminary education is out of love for Christ and His Church. Even a casual on looker would be able to ascertain today that the Church is rampantly anti-intellectual and not doctrinally detailed. Seminary education is essential for anyone who desires to preach and teach the Word of God because they will be held accountable for the congregation’s edification and spiritual growth. The bible teaches that God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos.4:6). Seminary education helps a believer to grow in God’s Word, equipping them to defend sound doctrine, keeping Christ’s church doctrinally sound.
Thirdly, studying at a seminary helps equip a person’s spiritual walk because studying God’s Word inevitable leads to this end (2 Pet. 3:18). Biblical studies and spiritual growth are linked. Why one asked, because without proper study a believer will remain stagnate in their pursuit of holiness, being limited to milk rather than growing and feeding on the meat of the Word. Seminary education helps equip the believer in their walk, giving them the tools to walk wisely, and in an increasingly unbelieving and hostile world.
Fourth, seminary education can help with family worship – the study of Scripture leads to the worship of the triune God. Therefore when one begins to attend seminary and dedicate his or her time to the study of Scripture this leads to the worship of the God. Learning biblical truth at a seminary will help with family worship because when a person begins to learn biblical truth at seminary he or she will want to share the truths he or she learns with friends and family. They will want to honor God through what they have learned sharing God’s Word with the people that they love.
Lastly Seminary studies equip the believer with the tools to go out and do their part in the spreading of the gospel for Christ Kingdom. The Bible tells us to be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Seminary is a great place to study and grow in the knowledge of the truth so that we may become good soldiers of Jesus Christ and for His Kingdom.
Before entering seminary there are several tools that a perspective student should become familiar with and learn how to use before ever taking a class. I dare say (to the traditionalist) that a lap top computer is essential. It would help the student immensely to become familiar with this technology and acquire basic computer skills. Proper note taking skills are important part of the reason why one must have a lap top prior to attending seminary. The better the student is at taking notes the more likely he or she is prepared for their quizzes, tests, and exams. Before the student begins taking notes there are several steps that can be taken to help in the note taking process. First before class begins the student would be wise to select a seat in the classroom where they can see and hear the speaker well. Second it is important when taking notes to focus on information that may be new and to consider key points and concepts. Lastly, it is helpful when taking notes to use abbreviations and short meaningful phrases when necessary. Thinking that one can keep up to speed typing every word the professor ever says is near impossible. Learning how to short hand notes will give the student the ability to keep up with the teachers lecture so that they do not fall behind.
Another area that is of importance for study is the ability to memorize and retain information. In seminary this is essential because students are often asked to read and memorize a lot of information they have never heard. Some strategies that may help the student in the memorization process are as follows, this can be done by two simple tasks. The first key is to focus on the task at hand, it is important to concentrate on the subject and not to multi task. Second, organization is helpful, organizing the subject matter into related categorize makes memorization easier. It is helpful to read the required material over and over again until you can recite it from memory. Proper Communication skills are also a skill that is used to refine for seminary students. Communication skills can help in many different areas in a person’s life and studying at seminary is no different. Communication skills are important and integral in many classroom assignments. Many seminary courses require students to give oral presentations, speeches, and sermons. Therefore students must become comfortable speaking in front of an audience and learn to articulate their ideas clearly and as intended. Learning such skills will not only help the student during their time at seminary but also in their future careers.
Lastly the ever dreaded reading assignments for seminarians can be a daunting task. It is helpful for any seminary student to begin their own disciplined plan in order to keep them accountable to the semester reading assignments. Seminary courses often require a lot of reading so it is important to set aside sometime each day to focus on reading. Reading is important but retaining what is read is essential, taking notes as you read helps also the highlighting key passages makes retention easier. If necessary reread the text, especially parts of the text that are complicated and hard to understand. These are just a few simple tips to help any perspective seminary student in their future studies.
There are several areas I wish I would have considered before entering seminary. I will focus on five things that are of chief importance for anyone considering seminary studies. One thing that I have discovered in my studies is the importance of proper research and writing skills. Why had I never heard of the Turabian style format before? It would help any perspective student to familiarize themselves with the Turabian style of writing. Along with proper writing skills a student must learn proper research skills, this goes hand and hand with paper writing, learning such skills before one enters seminary will help the student immensely, and save much time taken away from their primary studies in seminary.
Another area that is of great importance for seminary studies is a lab top. Most classes require a laptop because many Professors send the class notes and the course syllabus electronically, or expect you to type notes while they lecture. A laptop is also useful in assisting students in their studies, online libraries, and various websites that allow students to purchase class textbooks electronically if they so chose. Laptops also help to make any student self sufficient in their studies. Laptops also assist students in their research and writing, because a laptop gives the student access to websites that can give references to research paper examples and proper format. These are just a few of the many benefits of having a lab top for perspective seminary students.
Another factor I wish I would have considered before entering seminary is the cost of books for my personal library. Nearly every class at seminary requires a textbook sometimes two or three or the list goes on. This can add up after awhile, however there are several places online where you can go and search for the best deals to help you cut down of your textbook expenses. Speaking of books, I wish I would have considered how to effectively use a library for research, this is of utmost importance. Before staring at seminary it would be wise for any perspective student to familiarizing oneself with the ins and outs of a library. For example get to know the different cataloging systems different libraries use, such as Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal etc, or their own institutional cataloging systems they may have for study centers. Visit your local library and talk with the librarian for help in these areas. This will put you one step ahead of the game and when the time comes when you need to use the library for research you will be more familiar with it. Nothing is worse than learning how to use a library for research when needing to cram a thirty page paper within a week.
The last area to consider before entering seminary is how time consuming theological studies can be. This is important because seminary studies cannot be just a hobby one pursues on the side, (unless you plan on being a part time student for the rest of your life). Full time study takes time and effort one must not only have time for class, but also set aside several hours each day for reading, homework, and studying for exams. Before I entered seminary I did not realize just how time consuming this could be. Seminary is a full time job one must be passionate for theology to invest such time and effort; any perspective student must consider this when having a full time job, family, especially children.
Additionally, collaboration allows students to:
- Think deeply and clarify their own thinking on various topics and ideas
- Explore other points of view
- Develop teamwork skills that are valuable in the workplace and ministry
- Break down complex problems into manageable chunks
- Understand how to give and accept effective feedback
- Gain better communication and interpersonal skills
- Test new ideas in a supportive environment
- Grasp another culture’s understanding of the ideas in discussion
If you are looking to fail within your classical model, here are five ways to be sure that you will drive your school into the ground.
5. Use your “Christian” school as a means of evangelism.
4. Place teachers into positions that are out of their studied field of education.
3. Allowing a church to rule over your school, and dictate those who are hired.
2. A headmaster who acts as a dictator, and not a servant.
1. Allowing “helicopter” parents to get their way.