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Three Presumptuous Sins of Teachers — By Ronald T. Habermas

Categories Theology

In Christology today, two prominent doctrines stand out in need of particular attention: Image of God and Kenosis. All humankind was made in God’s Image and we still retain that reflection, albeit with serious distortions. It is easy to forget that Jesus, as both 100% God and 100% man, was also created in that Image.

Kenosis refers to Jesus’ voluntary submission of all His powers (not His nature) to the Father’s earthly plan for Him. Figuratively, He put these powers "on a shelf" for thirty-three years, which enables us to functionally reconcile His divinity with His humanity. For example, kenosis helps us understand how Jesus chose to not be omnipresent or omniscient.

The two earlier responses to my blog (of 12-11-08) point out realistic roadblocks in our own teaching, when we imitate Jesus’ six people-driven values of ministry. In fact, these two responses point to some of our most frequent and significant roadblocks. Pat referred to people-values #5 and #6, noting the need to realize that sometimes our teaching agendas are just that – ours, not necessarily God’s. Don cited people-value #2 (skills of listening and responding) and the common misbelief that "interruptions seem like irritants" whenever we stick to an inflexible schedule of time and rigid curricular content.

Dietrich_Bonhoeffer Even though different values were selected by Pat and Don, it’s amazing how similar conclusions were reached by both. One overarching reason for this overlap is that – regardless of how unique each of our educational sessions may be – we all encounter some remarkably common experiences almost every time we teach. These commonalities extend from practical applications of Image and kenosis, which provide useful theological foundations for us to ponder. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in Life Together) offers the particulars for our consideration.

Addressing the topic of Image, this Lutheran pastor-theologian states an obvious fact which we’ve all thought, but rarely confess in our politically-correct society. He reflects upon all the "odd" people in the church (otherwise known as those who are different from us!). There are odd personalities, odd backgrounds, and odd viewpoints, about which Bonhoeffer essentially concludes: "God didn’t make that odd person the way I would have!" Is it not embarrassing when someone says aloud what we are thinking?

But that’s precisely the point. Because each person is made in God’s Image, we teachers need to avoid at all costs sculpting learners into images that we fabricate. Again, Bonhoeffer: "God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image."

As noted earlier, because of kenosis, Jesus chose to not be all-knowing (omniscient) while on earth. It’s quite possible that not even the Son knew all the details of how each disciple would turn out as His former students. Thus Bonhoeffer advises, "I can never know beforehand how God’s image should appear…That image always manifests a completely new and unique form that comes solely from God’s free and sovereign creation."

Three concrete applications make their way into every classroom, then, based upon these doctrinal truths from Image and kenosis. Each one is a misbelief, which begins, We teachers absolutely know:

What each of our students needs in our instruction

How each of our students should respond to our instruction

What each of our students should look like after our instruction

Operating as though these three points are truth is, at best, ignorance. At its worst, this is presumption.

King David reminds us to steer clear of these sins that are particularly prideful and willful. "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me." (Psalm 19:13, KJV).

Consequently, as leaders in the church let us recommit ourselves to the tasks we are called to do – as well as avoid issues that are none of our business.

May we exemplify the humble spirit of our Master Teacher, rather than exhibit the pompous spirit behind the popular t-shirt slogan for teachers: "Whenever I’m talking, you should be taking notes."

PIC of Ron Dr. Ronald Habermas is professor of biblical studies and Christian formation at John Brown University and a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education. He holds degrees from William Tyndale College, North American Baptist Seminary, Wheaton Graduate School, and Michigan State University. Dr. Habermas is the author of many journal articles and several books including The Complete Disciple and the Introduction to Christian Education and Formation. He and his family live in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

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