The Goal and Difficulty of Teaching Biblical and Theological Studies and the Personal Traits That Fit You for It
Prepared for the Bethel College Pre-Seminary Group (1977)
The only reason for living is the achievement of what you value. Nobody should ever sacrifice a higher value to a lower one. You should always aspire to deciding what you value. Until that happens you cannot make any reasonable steps toward choosing a vocation (or anything else).
No Greater Value
My highest value is to see God glorified. The way God has guided me to realize that value is through teaching. Therefore my goal in teaching is to engender in students qualities appropriate to an academic institution which glorify God. The sphere of my activity is Biblical Studies, and since the Bible is the place where the glory of God is most clearly and immediately manifest, my task is to train students to see, to understand, and to appreciate what is there in and behind the ability of coherent conception and the appropriate response of affection. In doing so, I succeed in the achievement of my value; because then they will see more clearly, understand more fully, and love more deeply the glory of God. The reward for such a ministry is in my judgment self-evident, at least for those who share my values.
The main difficulty that I wrestle with as a teacher is the tendency of my eyes to become blind and my mind to become lazy and my heart to become callous. In other words, the hardest struggle is to epitomize in my own seeing and thinking and feeling what I want my students to be. One proverb says, familiarity breeds contempt. Constant exposure to beauty can desensitize and make you blind to its power. And since God in the last analysis is the one who opens and closes our eyes, earnest and constant prayer is indispensable in my teaching.
What are the personal traits that might fit you for a vocation in teaching?
- You have to be a good explainer. Can you take a complex issue and without specialist mumbo jumbo break it down into orderly parts and make its meaning plain to the uninitiated. (Are you the one in a group chosen to explain Rook to a new comer?) Geniuses are not always good teachers because they come to understanding often by intuitive leaps and then can’t reconstruct the logical stepping stones by which ordinary people move into understanding.
- You have to believe in the value of thinking. You have to believe that a life spent thinking and shaping the thinking of others is not a life wasted. You must be convinced of the value-changing, life-changing power of ideas. Without this conviction you will just perpetuate the “education game.”
- You need to feel an inner drive to solve intellectual problems. You should be the kind of person who is genuinely disturbed by incoherence and inconsistency and superficiality in what you hear and read. Or to put it another way, you need a strong inclination to analysis. Your favorite words must be Why? And How? But unlike the three year old you must desire answers as well as questions.
- You need to be what the Germans call a “Menschenkenner.” You need keen insight into human nature. Whether you have this trait can be measured probably by how well you know yourself. A good teacher will probably be given to much introspection so that he understands what makes himself tick. How well you know what makes humans tick influences dramatically your pedagogy and your power as a teacher.
- Finally you need the discipline to sit at a desk and think and write for 10-14 hours a day.
- The great challenge of teaching is to help students see more keenly, understand more rigorously, and feel more deeply the essence of my subject matter — the glory of God.
- My greatest struggle is to keep my own eyes open, my own mind disciplined, and my own heart sensitive to the glories I handle every day.
The traits of a good teacher:
- You must be a good explainer.
- You have to believe in the value of thinking.
- You need an inner desire to solve intellectual problems.
- You need to be an insightful “people-knower.”
- You need discipline.
By John Piper