by Jodie Lyon
March 11, 2015
Luke 22:14 “Father if you are willing, take the cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
The other night I had a slight meltdown. Ok, my husband might not describe it as slight. Whatever. I got pretty upset while reading some quizzes.
I have two goals in teaching Christian theology to college students. The first is informative and the second is transformative. First, on a basic level, I want students to have a correct knowledge of the history of Christian theology. Let’s know the facts about Martin Luther, not the myths. But second, and more importantly, I want students to learn how to think better through their interaction with Christian thinkers. Theology is all about critical thinking—evaluating ideas about God through the lenses of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and constructing doctrines that fit together as one coherent whole. Whether my students are Christian or Buddhist or atheist, engaging theology can help them make better arguments.
I got upset reading some quizzes because I wasn’t seeing a lot of critical thinking. What I was seeing was a simple case of students rejecting ideas they didn’t like for no good reason. Of course, I don’t grade my students based on whether I agree with their viewpoints. I grade them on whether they are able to offer support and evidence and argument for their position. And in this case, I wasn’t getting arguments. I was getting outright refusals to listen to what they had read. I had a slight meltdown. Ok, a medium meltdown.
Just breathe. I have to remember that I was the same. That I am the same.
Was the same: I remember the time, in college, when I sat in Sunday School listening to a visiting biblical scholar with my arms crossed in front of my chest, refusing to reconsider my interpretation of a particular biblical text, despite the visitor’s vast knowledge of the subject. I had no arguments in return, just my firm insistence that the way I’d been taught this text was right and he was obviously wrong.
Am the same: I still read books with new ideas and experience the same stubborn anger that I felt as a college student in Sunday School. I still pass hasty judgment on those who disagree with me. They are not real Christians. Me, and my side, we are the true believers.
It shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does that change is hard for people, since my life has clearly demonstrated that it’s hard for me, too. As humans, we have limitations. We may be free to form our own opinions, but that freedom has its clear boundaries. We’re products of our time, our culture, our family, our religion, our friends. It’s hard for us to see the truth in things foreign to us, hard for us to see the error in things familiar to us. The foreign is threatening while the familiar is comforting. So we grasp at whatever we can to secure our positions of comfort. I can’t blame my students for this—I do it, too. I’m as likely to be convinced by John Piper’s best argument as they are to be convinced by Marcus Borg’s best argument.
This realization brings me to crisis mode sometimes. So how can I teach? How can I truly help people to see things in new ways? I know I’m called to teaching, but I often feel inadequatein my ability to do it well. The task is too large, God, please take it away. I don’t want it because I can’t do it.
It helps me to remember that neither, in a sense could Jesus, and he was God incarnate. I’m not trying to be heretical here, but simply pointing out that Jesus didn’t convince everyone. His sermons, his miracles, and his way of life didn’t appeal to the masses. His attempts to get religious people to rethink the way they viewed God and viewed Scripture weren’t an overwhelming success. Those attempts got him killed. And Jesus, knowing the relative failure of his teaching ministry, and his impending death sentence, begged God for a way out.
I’m with Jesus on this one. I frequently beg God for another task, another mission, one that isn’t so hard. It may seem overdramatic of me to say that, since I’m not marching toward a cross, just an ordinary school building, but that doesn’t mean the internal battle isn’t hard. Or that God doesn’t care, or that my calling isn’t important. We are called to different things, and for each of us, that calling comes with challenges. May we be like Jesus, and with God’s help, keep going despite those hardships. And may we always recognize our own humanity, so that we can forgive the humanity of others.
Prayer: As I fulfill what you have called me to do, O God, help me to be like Christ, who admitted his struggles and temptations to quit, but kept going, according to your will. Amen.