Teaching on the Trinity

Again, all of my attempts at writing are failing. (That’s false. I’m actually 50 pgs deep into my book project, and I just wrote something for Fare Forward to be published. But all of my regular attempts at blogging have been stymied again – by travel and illness and other projects.)

In January, I joined my high schoolers mid-way into a series on the Trinity. I decided that I wanted to do three things you probably won’t see in most youth groups:

1. Not dumbing down anything.

2. Actually asking them to analyze scripture thoroughly by themselves.

3. Giving them worksheets.

I’m not sure how they feel about the third one. Obviously it’s still much easier than a class in school, since much of it is fill-in-the-blank. But it’s more “work” than the standard listen-to-a-feel-good sermon. I’m making them actually write stuff down for two reasons (a) I’m trying to eliminate the fluff, so actually all of the ideas I want them to record are theologically significant / powerful and (b) they’ll remember better if they actually take notes and have to find the ideas in the text for themselves.

I’m including my two worksheets for anyone else seeking decent resources. (They aren’t perfect, but I found them personally more helpful than anything else I found. If you want to rework it for your own, I’m happy to send you the google doc directly if you email me or send me a message through this site.) There are answers in red included on the second set.

Here’s the one on the Holy Spirit. Here’s the one on the The Humanity of Christ. (Don’t worry! They covered his divinity already! I promise I’m not a heretic.)

They seemed to handle these two lessons well, and especially enjoyed the Narnia reference in the latter. There was also a very promising moment…

One of my students declared, during our sharing of how God has worked in our lives, that nothing had happened and God hadn’t worked at all. I gave him “a homework assignment” to try during the next week to live out his faith and to be more diligent in trying to see God at work. He reported back the following week that he decided to stand up when another kid was being picked on. To his frustration, this caused him to be punched. But – he didn’t fight back! He turned the other cheek! I prayed as we closed that we might all follow this student’s example of non-violence to become more like Christ. I said how proud I was of him, and I hope that more good stories like this will soon follow.

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Poor vs. Poor in Spirit

I was doing a Bible study last month in which we went through the Beatitudes together. One of the questions that came up was the fact that Luke says “Blessed are the poor” whereas Matthew says “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” So which is it? Are all the poor blessed or just those who are spiritually impoverished or what?
So I started poking around and found a wonderful resource answering this question from Hans Kvalbein: http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/journal-issues/12.3_Kvalbein.pdf

He does such a good job explaining that I’m not going to even attempt a summary but will just share key highlights: 

“The beatitudes of Luke are not in the third person [they], but in the second person plural [you all]. His beatitudes are directed to ‘you poor,’ to a specific group Jesus has in front of him. The context leaves no doubt as to whom Jesus is speaking: ‘Looking at his disciples, he said…’ (v. 20). The message of Jesus according to Luke is not that everybody who is poor is blessed, but that the disciples, in spite of their bad condition now, are blessed because they are receivers of the kingdom of God.”
The beatitudes seem to be drawing from a particular passage in Isaiah 61, which is “a promise to the ‘poor,’ the ‘brokenhearted,’ the ‘captives,’ the ‘prisoners’; it is a word of comfort to ‘all who mourn’ and ‘those who grieve in Zion.’ …When we look at the content and the wider context of Isaiah 61 it is evident that the promise refers to Israel as a whole. It does not refer to a limited group of the economically poor within the people, nor does it refer to all the poor and destitute in the world.” (Note well, here, that Christians consider ourselves to be in the lineage of Israel, that is that the Israelites were the “people of God” under the Old covenant and Christians have been “grafted into” this family tree (cf. Romans 11).  This would mean that the promises to the poor/afflicted of Israel apply to the poor/afflicted in the church.)
“The meaning of the word ‘poor’ here is not the economically poor, destitute, or needy… ‘Poor’ here means ‘helpless’, dependent on others, unable to pay back. The recipients are in this word indeed described as beggars. But the word does not refer to their economic or social status. The tax collectors, the fishermen, and the farmers in the fellowship around Jesus were certainly no beggars and could hardly be called ‘poor’ in a material or social sense of the word. They were able to sustain themselves by their own work. But they were beggars before God. They were dependent on his grace as it was proclaimed and demonstrated in the preaching and person of Jesus. The word is used in a transferred sense and describes the fundamental position of man before God.
One of Martin Luther’s last words was this: ‘We are beggars, that is true.’ As far as I know, Luther had never been a beggar in the literal sense of the word. But he had learnt both from Scripture and life that we are dependent on God, we are beggars before him. The gospel is the message that God gives his gift, his kingdom, to beggars, into empty hands. We have nothing with which to pay him back.”

Introductory Bible Study – Part 2

It’s always wise to start a Bible study by asking the person where they are at, what is motivating them, what they want to learn, what their spiritual background is, etc. Before we started part 1 of this Bible study, this friend said, “I’m pretty sure I would fall in love with Jesus if I read through the gospels, but I want to make sure that I’m not just falling in love with a character, the way one starts to love Harry Potter.” I was thrilled to have found someone else so concerned about the truth of the gospels! So instead of proceeding with the “Kingdom of God” theme, I decided that Week 2 should cover the evidence for the authenticity of the Scripture. I think this Bible study is probably one of the best ways to explain why we can trust the scriptures, because it doesn’t depend on the authority of scripture to prove scripture. (i.e. it’s not just a bald appeal to 1 Tim 3:16) It simply asks us to look at whether the authors seem trustworthy. For this study, I wrote down questions to ask before looking at the texts. They worked extraordinarily well, as the answers I got were the ones that I expected and dovetailed perfectly with the purpose of the scriptures I selected. I consistently remarked that none of these verses definitely prove that the Bible is telling the truth, but they are markers of authenticity.

questionmark  Should we approach the Bible as innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent? Should we demand that their truth be proven or should we accept them to be true until it can be proven otherwise?

questionmark  What do the authors of the gospels claim to be presenting? [After all, one would rarely say that a criminal is innocent if he has pleaded guilty.]

The authors of the gospels claim to be eyewitnesses or to be writing the reports of eyewitnesses.

  • Luke 1:1-4
  • John 21:24-25
  • Acts 1:1-5
  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
  • 2 Peter 1:16-20

questionmark  If you are starting a religion, how do you want to portray your leaders

[For example, the Peter figure in Islam is Abu Bakr, who is one of the first to declare that Mohammed is a prophet of god. “Abu Bakr is the bravest of men,” “for the likes of Abu Bakr, there are no scales,” “if the iman (faith) of the entire humanity was placed on one end of the scale and just the iman of Abu Bakr on the other, the iman of Abu Bakr would weigh more heavily than the entirety of humanity,” “the most lofty of them in ability and highest in honor was Abu Bakr… the sun neither rose nor set above anyone else – after the Prophets beter than Abu Bakr.”]

Church leaders in Christianity are consistently portrayed in a negative light.

  • Matthew 16:17-20 (Peter is deemed “the rock” of the church)
  • Matthew 16:21-23 (Peter is told, “Get behind me, Satan”)
  • Matthew 26:30-35 (Peter is told he will deny Jesus three times.)
  • Matthew 26:36-56 (The disciples can’t stay awake, Peter lobs off the ear of a servant and Jesus heals it, demonstrating Peter’s foolishness, Peter flees with the disciples)
  • Matthew 26:69-75 (Peter denies Jesus three times)

questionmark  If you are having a big debate after the death of your leader, what’s the easiest way to resolve the dispute? [To put the answer in the mouth of your leader!]

Jesus is silent on the biggest church debate over circumcision.

  • Acts 15:1-21

questionmark  If you want to make up a religion, what would you want to gain from it? [Fame? Fortune? Women? Power? For example, Brigham Young, the leader of Mormonism after the death of founder Joseph Smith was elected president of a large group of “Latter-Day Saints,” lead 70,000 people, became governor of Utah for a time, was polygamous and could choose any wives for himself that he wanted, died with $102,000 in property and $1,000,000 in land – which was an incredible amount of wealth at the time.]

Jesus’ disciples have nothing to gain by lying.

  • Luke 9:23-24 (They are told they’ll have to take up their cross.)
  • Acts 9:23-25 (Paul’s life is threatened)
  • Acts 14:19-20 (Paul is stoned)
  • Acts 16:16-24 (Paul frees a slave girl from a demon and is imprisoned)
  • Acts 27:41-44 (Paul is shipwrecked)
  • Acts 28:16, 30-31 (Paul freely goes to Rome where he is put under house arrest)
  • Most of the disciples die martyr’s deaths, and Paul works as a tentmaker to avoid taking money from the churches to support himself.

All of this goes to show that the disciples are reliable authors, with little incentive to lie and a clear intent to tell the truth. They claim to be eyewitnesses, reporting the facts. And if their tales are authentic and true, well, we have to seriously contend with the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus Chris for our own lives.

Introductory Bible Study – Part 1

A friend of a friend was interested in studying the Bible to learn what it’s about. As I reviewed two potential introductory Bible studies to go through, I realized I disliked each of them for different reasons. The first one was too focused on personal salvation (the typical start – create the problem of sin and resolve it with forgiveness), a method I think is ineffective and narcissistic. The second one began by trying to demonstrate the authority of Scripture with… Scripture itself! (And used the typical evangelical debasement of 1 Timothy 3:16)  I decided this just wouldn’t do. So I’m going to post here the verses I’ve pulled for each week.

Week 1 – Who is Jesus?

Genesis 1 (God created the Universe)

John 1:1-18 (Jesus is this creator God – logos – incarnate in the flesh)

Colossians 1:15-20 (All things are created through Jesus and for Jesus)

Mark 1:14-15 (Jesus came to declare, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”)