Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Process of Discovery

I believe one of the most common comments I receive from those who attend my lectures, and certainly the most gratifying, is that I challenged their thinking. Whether I speak at a school or church invariably someone makes a comment such as those below from a recent class of MA students:

“Thank you, sir, for your valuable contributions through this module. You opened my eyes to come out from my shell and see others with a different perspective.” Jomon

“I am so happy to have met you and learn from you. You have cleared many of my own doubts. Thank you very much for coming here to teach us." Milton

“Thank you so much for enabling me to think afresh about my life and ministry. Indeed you are one of those who disturb our thinking so that we will think in a new way.” Justin

There are several reasons people respond to my class as they do. First, the subject is different. Every discipline focuses on certain areas of study and therefore not exposed to other subjects. If you study medicine, engineering or theology, you are not likely to study topics outside your field of specialty. Sadly, there are few seminaries that have a strong department of anthropology. You will never hear a message on contextualization or the dynamics of world religion in church. What I teach does have enormous relevance within the religious context, but because it is new for many my lectures are eye-openers.

Second, people appreciate the subject because it helps them fill in the blanks in their own lives. Theology is the study of God; anthropology is the study of us as human beings. In my lecture on the worldview animists, Hindu’s, fatalists, Muslims, secularists, the audience is drawn into comparisons of how they see the world. Are we more alike the tribal nomadic sitting under a tree in Africa than we are different? Humanity shares many things in common and my lectures reveal our similarities and in doing so help us understand what are the fundamental differences.

Third, because I use the Socratic method of teaching, my classes raises as many questions as it does answers. Rather than force-feeding people with the answers, which is common in most settings of learning, my class is guide for discovery. As the old adage states, things are best learned when caught, not just taught. Since I have disdain for lazy intellectualism and simplistic Christian platitudes I require my students to give a reason for their belief and will play the devils advocate no matter what their conclusions. I never give an “F” for disagreeing wit my assumptions, but will certainly fail someone if they can’t give a well thought out reason for why they believe what they believe.

Fourth, and most crucial, is that I discuss issues that are relevant and practical. Studying genealogies are boring, unless you can help students connect the dots on why it is pertinent in presenting the Gospel. Each topic we cover is coupled with application borne out of thirty years of experience linking theory to real life. Over fifty percent of my lectures are real-life stories of how and why the topic matters. Some of my stories reveal success, sometimes my illustrations highlight failures. My students may not remember the proper definition of structuralism, but they always remember my story of “ice cubes in the Pokot desert,” and how language relates to the structural ordering of the mind.