Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jesus the teacher

I gave the following devotion at the faculty meeting today:

In a passage you all probably know by heart and on which you have heard hundreds of sermons, Jesus said:
Go therefore and make disciple of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mathew 28:18-20).
When I think of Jesus, I think of the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, of the Messiah, Savior, Son of God, prophet, miracle worker—and somewhere down the line, teacher. Of course we all know of Jesus as a teacher, but I don’t think I ever paid much attention to the emphasis the New Testament places on teaching until I read Jesus Remembered by James Dunn (176-177).

I decided look into this emphasis a little further and found that Jesus was called “Teacher” over 30 times, in all four Gospels. In fact, he even called himself “teacher.”

Jesus taught large crowds, small groups, individuals—including women—Pharisees and teachers of the law, both those who were sympathetic as well as opponents and enemies.

Jesus is recorded as teaching in towns and villages, throughout Galilee, throughout Judea, beyond the Jordan, in homes, in the streets, on a mountain, in the countryside, beside the sea, in a boat, in the synagogues, and in the Temple.

In fact it recently occurred to me how much Jesus was modeling his own Great commission: As he was going he was making disciples through his teaching.

Similarly Paul was making disciples as he taught from house to house, in churches, in synagogues, in the public square, in a rented facility, in the Temple and even from prison.

So what does this have to do with us? I mean, just because Jesus and Paul were teachers doesn’t necessarily make college teaching a Christian vocation. After all, we are probably pretty safe in concluding that neither Jesus nor Paul were teaching about things like mitochondria, music theory, atrial fibrillation, macroeconomics, or bipolar disorder.

What they were doing through their teaching, however, was making disciples.

My perception is that there are a lot of Christian Colleges which teach students to be good biologists and psychologists and teachers and business people—and oh, by the way, the faculty professes to be Christians.

And then there are Christian colleges in which dedicated Christian professors seek to make disciples—intentionally teaching their students through their words and life—to love and obey Jesus and to be better ambassadors for Christ through whatever subject they are teaching.

There is currently a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church vs. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which the Justices have been analyzing the legal definition of a minister. I suspect that the outcome could have far-ranging implications for colleges like Crown.

From what I’ve read, the Justices seem to be assuming that in Christian schools and colleges, there is a wide divide between theology and ministry classes on the one hand, and courses like business, psychology, and science, on the other. Some of the Justices seem to have difficulty understanding why doctrinal statements and behavior codes should apply to teachers in so-called secular disciplines.

They don’t seem to understand that in colleges like Crown, there are no purely “secular” disciplines—our Christian faith is integrated into our coursework—and that while our professors are not all ordained, we are all ministers or servants of Jesus Christ who are seeking to make disciples.

Some of the Justices don’t seem to understand (or care) that while we strive toward academic excellence, our primary goal is to produce students who will love and serve Jesus through whatever career path they choose.

One of the things I appreciate most about Crown, and about you, is that my perception is that most of you—I trust all of you—are not just here to teach classes, but are here as ministers of Jesus Christ striving to make disciples who will love and serve Him.

My exhortation would be to continue to strive toward academic excellence, but that we always do so in the context of making disciples who will love and serve Jesus through whatever vocation they choose.