The other day a Post-it Note fell out of an old school paper file I was searching. It was imprinted with these words: To teach is to learn twice. There was a quick nod of agreement. Then, after a moment of thought, the nod of assent became a shake of the head. My learning as an adjunct professor in the School of Christian Studies at Charleston Southern University these three semesters had been more exponential than two digits of learning. This semester, with 94 students in Old and New Testament Survey classes my learning curve has ratcheted up in multiples beyond the number two.
Each Friday these 94 students submit a summary of their reading assignments for the week. It consists of three short paragraphs designed to measure their reading comprehension.
Paragraph One: A brief summary of their reading for the week.
Paragraph Two: A listing of “ah-ha” moments they had experienced during their reading for that week.
Paragraph Three: One question that the reading assignment for the week may have generated in their understanding of the material read.
The summaries in Paragraph One were expected to be basically routine. Each week, however, there have been 94 takes on the subject matter for each of the fourteen weeks of reading. And, of course, that’s the first lesson these students taught me this semester. You see, there’s nothing routine about Scripture. That I expected traditionally reasoned summations of Bible or textbook explanations actually violates one of my own personal convictions about the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word. Surely it is “…living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV). Many of these students had little familiarity with Scripture and certainly none with the texts required of them. That they brought fresh and unbiased interpretation to their assignments revealed a flaw in my more seasoned system of study. More than thirty-five years of Bible study has given me some insight into it’s meaning. Even so, it should be read and studied with the expectation that God is going to do something beyond the routine in me when I pause over his precious Word.
Each week Paragraph Two, the “ah ha” moment, was the most instructive. One profound example was in the Survey of the Old Testament class. After an assignment to read 1 Samuel 17, the historical account of David and Goliath, one of the students wrote several paragraphs about this familiar Bible story. He wrote, “I have heard the story of David and Goliath all my life. But, until this reading assignment, I did not know that it was in the Bible”. He added that for most of his early life he had tried to develop the courage of young David. In 1 Samuel 17 he learned that David’s courage was from God. He wrote, “The has changed everything for me.”
Another similar “ah ha” was from a young freshman in the Survey of the New Testament class. We had read and studied the Prison Epistles and she had spent days reflecting on Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”. Her “ah ha” moment was the conviction that she was living a works based faith and life in general, trying to earn God’s favor and the favor of other people. She wrote that that Bible verse had released her from being a slave to her works and the opinion of others about life.
There were, of course, many other examples of power-packed “ah ha” moments in the reading assignment summaries. These two were enough, however, to teach me once again the essential nature of Scripture in our disciple-making mission. So many of the rich treasures of the Bible have become matter-of-fact to God’s people today. In many ways we’ve lost our sense of wonder and mystery in the ancient texts of God’s Word. These students taught me that even an old, retired pastor should approach Bible study with a sense of awesome reverence. They reminded me that I should marvel at what God has supernaturally revealed in his Word. Of a truth, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV).
Paragraph Three was an interesting study as well. Their assignment was to express a question regarding the reading assignment for that week. They were varied and interesting in every respect. Some were technical regarding questions of Bible authorship or historical, puzzling dilemmas about the times addressed in the Testaments, or theological, the deeper meaning underneath the literature of the Bible. Many of the questions reflected the generational influences demographers have discovered in the spiritual landscape of our nation. Every question was a learning experience for me.
More than anything Paragraph Three taught me the need for an inquisitive mind and heart when studying God’s Word. One of the Old Testament students, while studying the Poetic Books of the Bible quoted the Psalmist as his question for the week. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it with your Word” (Psalm 119:1, ESV). Certainly King David possessed this strength of questioning. Learning, and living by God’s law involved a transparent awareness of human frailty that generated many questions. These 94 college students, many still in their teens, taught me to bring these questions to my devotional and Bible study times. And, yes, to my teaching times as well.
Disciples are life-long learners. Those who teach should certainly learn at an accelerated pace, in my case in greater multiples than merely twice. This semester 94 college students taught me three valuable lessons that I pray will mark the learning possibilities in the next chapters of life. As I prepare for a new semester in January, my learning curve includes—
- The awareness that there is noting routine about Scripture.
- The conviction that all of Scripture is revelation from God and should be viewed and taught as such.
- The truth that I should be inquisitive and teachable while being used of God in this wonderful chapter of life.