The first time I met Dr. John C. Whitcomb,1 he made me feel like I was greeting an old friend.
You see, Dr. Whitcomb loved people. He had a heart for—a genuine interest in—everyone that he met, including every student in his classroom.
The classroom where we connected on that warm September day was commonly used for seminary classes and chapel at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary in Ankeny, Iowa. The course was called “Biblical Fundamentalism.”
But it was the teacher, not the subject, that first caught my attention in the spring of 1994 when my wife Lynnette and I began to consider the possibility of heading off to seminary the following fall.
I had heard about Dr. Whitcomb and was intrigued by his teaching—although the only things that were readily available to me in those days were his books. He had been highly regarded by my former pastor and some previous professors, and I knew he—having already enjoyed the status of a Founding Father of the modern biblical creation movement for more than 30 years before I met him—represented all that I aspired to become. God used his commitment to teach a modular course at Faith that fall to draw me providentially to that seminary.
When the time finally arrived for his one-week course to begin, I quickly sensed that I was studying under a master. As Dr. Whitcomb thumbed through his Bible to reference various verses, it often felt as though I was seeing in 3-D that which I had previously known only as a flat picture.
"Dr. Houghton began his teaching ministry in 1971 at Denver Baptist Bible College and at FBBC in 1983. Once the seminary opened in 1986, “Dr. Myron,” as he is known, became chairman of the theology department and has been the only person to serve in that position during the seminary’s 32-year history." - RBPress
I do a lot of reading, as you probably know. Right now, I am reading a splendid book on the subject of apologetics titled, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes, by Nancy Pearcey.
Unfortunately, despite the amazing nature of this book, the author makes the same mistake I have heard repeated time and time again: the claim that our churches do not prepare our youth with the answers to the questions and challenges they will face in college.
The reason for this lack of preparedness (I would argue) is not necessarily a lack of opportunity. Many students don’t want answers to questions (before they face a crisis), because it takes too much mental effort to think things through. Even if present where the big questions are thoroughly addressed, some may be uninterested and daydream the opportunity away. Such issues do not seem relevant at the time.
It is not until those students are pressured in college that they realize they do not have an answer, or that disturbing questions even exist. In most cases, answers are available—if you know where to find them. But if you haven’t learned at least some of those answers beforehand, it is easy to conclude that there are no answers. (Incidentally, this is why it is crucial for college students to be involved in organizations like Cru/Campus Crusade, Navigators, or Intervarsity; those organizations can often steer inquirers to quick and at-hand resources).
No teacher of the Bible wants to be ineffective. The vast majority do teaching work because they love the Scriptures, care about people, and want to be part of God’s work of growing fellow believers into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (ESV, Eph. 4:13). They love to see people discover, learn, and improve.
Still, though their hearts are in the right place, many teachers rightly sense that their teaching isn’t as good as it could be. Application problems are a likely cause, for two reasons: First, students who have truly experienced a new birth (1 Pet. 1:3, 23) value good application more than anything else. Second, teachers are commonly not trained to understand and develop sound and effective applications.
The result is that several application problems are easy to find in churches of fundamentalist heritage.
Teaching the Bible in a relatively small, somewhat informal setting provides unique advantages and blessing for both students and teachers. The spontaneity and interaction can often turn the class into a collaborative effort to edify and encourage one another, and no matter how high his level of expertise, the teacher is often edified as much as anyone else.
But there are many ways to reduce the effectiveness of this teaching format. Well-intentioned teachers can easily discourage participation, focus, and thoughtful engagement—in some cases to the point that everyone is discouraged and frustrated rather than built-up and refueled.
We’ll consider some common mistakes teachers make with this kind of teaching, focusing for now on question-related problems.
In my experience, one of the most difficult aspects of parenting is teaching my children about sin while not discouraging them.
While our firstborn was growing up, we were in church circles that placed an emphasis on teaching children about their sin nature and the consequences of sin. Sounds biblical and reasonable, right? However, the way this played out was to treat children like they were always being deceitful, always up to something, and couldn’t be trusted. Ever. I can’t tell you how many times I heard Psalm 58:3 quoted:
The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
This use of Scripture rubbed my husband and I the wrong way, but at the time it seemed to make sense. Kids are inherently selfish. They lie to get their way or hide their mistakes. They refuse to eat what’s on their plate, go to sleep at a decent hour, and go potty on the toilet instead of in their pants. They’re sinners, and deserve to be treated as such. Because Revelation 21:8.
Then it got worse—there was an actual file in the pastor’s office marked with every mistake, every failure, brought up again and again by teachers and the pastor whenever there was trouble involving kids in the youth group.
In a previous article, I showed that every Christian is responsible to teach the Word of God. But God does not call every Christian to be a shepherding teacher (a pastor, Eph. 4:11), and not every Christian receives the spiritual gift of teaching (Rom. 12:7). Still, every Christian is responsible to teach (Heb. 5:12). Thus, every pastor is responsible to motivate and equip the members of the church he shepherds to teach the Word of God effectively (Eph. 4:12).
Paul deployed this strategy. He trained Timothy in both what to teach and how to teach those things to others (2 Tim. 2:2). So how did he do this? What method did he follow? He tells us that he held nothing back. He reveals this rigorous approach in Acts 20:20, when he told the church at Ephesus that he “kept back nothing that was profitable” from them. This rigorous approach reveals why the Ephesian church affected the outlying region so well (Acts 19:10). As Paul equipped them to do the work of the ministry, he held nothing back that enabled them to do this.