August 11, 2017

Signs of a Good Teacher Versus a Bad Teacher

A good teacher does not just teach you what to think, but how to think clearly by testing ideas to see if they are true or not. A good teacher knows the love of learning, the inherency of values in everything, and especially the value of dialogue. The love of wisdom leads to foundational questions and ultimately to seeking the logical explanation of our meaningful existence.

The scriptures advocate that we reason together, that we test all things, to discern between truth and falsehood, and hold onto what is good. We should apply our hearts to wisdom as we grow in both grace and knowledge.[1] Ultimately, a good teacher is one that teaches you to love learning and that ultimately you teach yourself, as with the help of the Holy Spirit if you are a regenerated Christian.[2] I remember the school teacher that taught me to love reading and learning, Mr. Bob Petrus. And this life lesson from him was a great gift. I've tried to keep this in mind as I've taught as a missionary in colleges and high schools in Ukraine, and as a missionary pastor. And I try to keep this in mind when teaching about God through the Internet.

Albert Einstein taught at Princeton and his quotes on teaching and learning are insightful:

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."
"Love is a better teacher than duty."
"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."
"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious."
"Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking."
"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."
"Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death."
"The only source of knowledge is experience."
"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
"Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas."
"Most people say that is it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character."

Ironically, good teachers are often not welcome because some institutional agenda that determines what to think is often considered more important than understanding what is true or false. This is one reason why subjects of logic and critical thinking are usually shunned by religious cults, political organizations, and institutions that tend to indoctrinate. This is why political correctness is such a point of contention these days. And this is why blogging and freely teaching through the Internet is increasingly popular.

Why Jesus was a great teacher

Jesus, as being God in the flesh and also a perfect teacher, lived on earth as full of grace and truth. He did not shun debate but welcomed it. There was no fear of interaction and the exchange of ideas. Today, however, we live in a world where many discussions are off limits because someone might become offended if their ideas are challenged, or the doctrine of some organization might be threatened. We live in a world that is increasingly controlled by agendas as opposed to being based on reliable and sound truth.

The authority that Jesus commanded as a teacher was not based on presenting academic credentials, boasting political clout, or displaying personal wealth. His authority was based on his genuine grasp of the nature of reality and His ability to teach about important spiritual principles by using compelling examples. The miraculous signs that followed Jesus confirmed that he had been commissioned by God the Father.

Rather than recognizing and following after true and valid ideas, there is a tendency in human nature simply to follow authority figures with a herd mentality without thinking about what is true, what is right, and what is healthy. Often this perceived authority is based on an academic degree, a governmental position, or some kind of wealth or fame. This herd tendency was confirmed in a scientific study.

A 2008 Leeds University study showed that people will automatically tend to follow leaders that simply appear to know where they are going, even though there was no actual rational purpose. In a crowd of 200 people, 95% of the people simply followed along because someone appeared authoritative. A summary of the study, titled "Sheep in human clothing - scientists reveal our flock mentality" outlines that people tend to blindly follow authority figures without using any critical thinking: “In most cases the participants didn't realise they were being led by others."[3]

Well, science has officially proven a central idea that Jesus was teaching thousands of years ago. People are like sheep. Human nature is so gullible and so much like the nature of sheep that the term "sheeple" has become popular. Experimental tests showed a 95% sheepleness quality in the general public, and that is pretty extreme. As a good teacher, Jesus warned against sheeple gullibility: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."[4] When teachers' ideas are followed mainly because of popularity or because of a consensus of opinion, be careful.

We can choose to promote naive sheepleness and blindly follow authority figures and institutions without asking questions, or we can promote the wisdom of the Good Shepherd who urged us to listen carefully to His voice, to understand Him as the bedrock foundation and essence of truth itself, and to follow closely the teaching and inner guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit. [5] Jesus advised us to compensate for our sheeple nature with a snake-like sense of carefulness and wisdom:

"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."[6]

Jesus taught how to recognize false teachers and false teaching by examining the fruit of the teaching.[7] False doctrine produces false statements. Wrong doctrine produces wrong behavior. And the New Testament warns repeatedly against the teaching of a modified gospel.[8] Heresy and idolatry are rampant today in Christian teaching and one of the reasons is that people follow along with the crowd without bothering to test what is being taught. And this context of warnings brings up another subject, the concern, and empathy of the teacher.

When students or disciples realize that the teacher genuinely cares about people personally, and does not see people as mere numbers and statistics, or as a utilitarian means to some other end, then that is something good. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Jesus was willing to lay down His own life for his own people. Though He was much more than a teacher as God incarnate, Jesus' teaching model is good to emulate in many ways.

In John 21:15-17, Jesus emphasized the priority of teaching, and thereby the priority of learning and growing, when He basically commanded Peter twice to "Feed my sheep" to the point of Peter becoming very concerned: "The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

The word for "love" in John 21:17 is translated from the Greek "phileo," which emphasizes affection and fondness. Jesus emphatically emphasized the connection between our love for God and God's lordship over us three times. Jesus didn't say, "If you love me, live your best life every day." He didn't say, "If you love me, seek pleasure in me with all of your heart." He emphasized the foundational concept that our love and affection for God should be connected most with honoring and following the lordship of Christ and pleasing God, not focusing mainly on our benefits or our own pleasure in God, as are very popular teachings today.

I have a Strong's Concordance link in my blog link list so that I can check any word reference quickly to see what the most accurate meaning is. Strong's Concordance has helped me to see how popular teachers today twist the meaning of scripture in order to support false doctrine. I'd recommend that every student and every teacher of the Bible use a concordance for understanding important nuances. You are welcome to use or copy my link to Strong's Concordance on my list of links.

If Jesus emphasized the importance of teaching, what were his top subjects and his main emphasis?

The main values and priorities of Jesus could be the subject of a book in and of itself. But in order to understand these questions, accuracy in examining the Bible is important. Interestingly enough, Jesus Himself was the main focus and main subject of what He taught:  "Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6 NIV). And learning of Christ and simply abiding in Him were emphasized by Christ as top aims in life. (John 15:7)

One of the striking examples of Jesus' style was the way in which He showed agape love and a sense of humble service towards his disciples by washing his disciples' feet.[9] Though he is ultimately the true King of all, Jesus marked himself as a literal servant by literally washing feet. Often leaders take this example in a completely metaphorical sense and seem to miss the point.

In contrast to Christ's example, a lot of teachers will lord over their students and seem to enjoy controlling people more than serving people and helping people to learn and grow. Jesus led by example and showed that the main role of a pastor-teacher is that of a servant. In contrast, many pastor-teachers see their main role as a controller of people, and this controlling complex can be sensed in the atmosphere of a church.

Jesus taught His students in wisdom, knowledge and Kingdom principles and fairly quickly began to encourage them to go out and teach others the truths that they'd learned. This is a pattern of discipleship that He encouraged in His Great Commission. A good teacher does not increase control but in contrast, encourages personal critical thinking, spiritual growth and supports practical risk-taking so that important truth can be applied as students become teachers themselves and help to share the gospel.

Matthew Henry's commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:21 implies that discernment is not only important for pastors and for doctrine but for all Christians and all manner of information and experiences: "Every Christian has and ought to have, the judgment of discretion, and should have his senses exercised in discerning between good and evil, truth and falsehood," Scripture praises the Bereans that tested even the Apostle Paul's teachings against the word of God: "Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (Acts 17:11 NIV)
When a teacher fails to live up to Jesus' perfect example, often there is a strong sense of judgment by the public. However, if a teacher falls into a particularly serious sin, hopefully, a good teacher that is called by God will repent and continue on and not give up on their calling. The main issue is whether the teacher is willing to acknowledge a serious sin and is truly on a path towards improvement and sanctification in life.[10] Often it seems as though people continuously gossip about other people's sins to such a degree that they are engaging in a worse sin than what they are gossipping about.

Some teachers whose work I enjoy reading and listening to

One of my favorite teachers to read is William Lane Craig, who helped me to appreciate the incredible value of logic and logical principles. He is a Christian that is considered the best, if not one of the best, debaters in the world. As someone who has taught through the entire Bible numerous times and has produced high-quality sermons from this, Jon Courson is one of my favorite teachers. In terms of his contemporary style, insight, and commitment to evangelism, Greg Laurie is another of my favorites. In terms of precision and accuracy when it comes to understanding the context and meaning of a text, David Guzik has taught through the entire Bible and is one of my favorite go-to sources for research.

I like these teachers for many reasons. They seem humble and open to admitting when they have doubts or have been mistaken. The Bible teachers generally teach through the whole word of God and do not cherry-pick verses, proof-text the Bible, and twist scriptural meaning in order to support some personal agenda. They don't seem to be very impressed by academic degrees as much as they are impressed by the truth itself and by insights from God through the Holy Spirit. I believe that they teach through the power of the Holy Spirit with the understanding not only that the Spirit gives ideas for content in teaching, but also with the understanding that the Holy Spirit works in people's hearts and for this reason there really is no need to exaggerate truths in scripture and to work up the crowd with hyped-up emotional and dramatic preaching. These teachers offer a lot of material for free, and so not seem to be in it for the money as many popular teachers seem to be.
Teaching through challenging times

Whether you are an official teacher or not, the answer to today's challenges is to never stop learning and growing in grace and knowledge. And to one degree or another, we all influence people around us with our words and lives because our lives are like open books as object lessons. As technology and media overwhelm society with increasing information, we need to ask ourselves whether will just go with the flow of the herd mentality or whether we will be discerning. There is increasing pressure in society bearing down on the true values and true knowledge of God. Will we stand by God's grace and speak truth with humility? Or will we just silently follow along as false ideas and idolatry are imposed upon us demanding our approval and consent?

Even though we will face opposition for sharing the truth, it is God's desire that we honor God and not people as the supreme authority and guide for our lives.[11] Ultimately, the true values that are shown in scripture should govern our lives. The Apostle commended the "Noble Bereans" for testing his own teaching.[12]

Many popular Christian teachers offer controversial doctrines and then avoid questions and dialogue in proverbial ivory towers. If a Christian teacher is not willing to say: "Test all of my ideas and teaching and challenge me if I seem in error," then they fall short of the standard set by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:11.[13]. This is especially true in the context of Paul's warning to Timothy about the End Times. Christian teachers should be aware of Paul's warning against false doctrine and good teachers that value sound doctrine will welcome the habit of asking questions and checking doctrine all the more because of it. Science has confirmed that the herd mentality is extreme and good teachers will not exploit this tendency but will rather warn against it:

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."[14]

An example of errant teaching based on one's personal preconceptions is exemplified in a quote by John Piper, who advocates a false doctrine of Christian Hedonism:

"Never forget, the point of the kitchen is the banquet. The aim of hermeneutics: happiness. The goal of exegesis: ecstasy."[15]

The most fundamental tenet of correct Bible study and interpretation is to approach the word of God humbly and acknowledging that God's word holds authority over us, and our preconceptions do not hold authority over God's word. We can often learn a lot about correct Bible study and teaching by examining how a person ends up teaching false doctrine. In this manner, John Piper is a good object lesson. The article, "Five Heresies of Christian Hedonism"[16] uses Piper's own summary of his doctrine as a basis for showing how he ended up with his false teaching.

As someone that likes to write and share ideas on the Internet, I've found recently more than ever that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate teacher for the Christian and that the most important ideas often come to me in the early morning hours. The Holy Spirit truly is the ultimate and most important teacher of the Christian in my opinion. And we should be good stewards of the ideas given to us by this Teacher. This can be very fulfilling and practical as an aspect of our personal interrelationship with God and in terms of sowing seeds for the Kingdom.

What do you see as the most important quality or qualities of a good teacher?

[1] Isaiah 1:18 (KJV) "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV) "Test all things; hold fast what is good.";
Psalm 90:12 (KJV), "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
2 Peter 3:18 (NIV) "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen."
[2] John 14:26 (NIV) "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."
[3] "Sheep in human clothing - scientists reveal our flock mentality". University of Leeds Press Office. 14 February 2008.
[4] Matthew 7:15 (NIV)
[5] John 10:14-16 “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16“I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
[6] Matthew 10:16 (NIV)
[7] Matthew 12:33b "for the tree is known by its fruit."
[8] Galatians 1:7 "not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ."
[9] John 13:12-16 (NIV) "When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."
[10] Proverbs 24:16 (NLT) "The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked."
[11] Acts 5:29 "Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than human beings!"
[12] Acts 17:11 (NIV) "Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."
[13]. Ibid.
[14] 2 Timothy 4:3 (NIV)
[15] John Piper Twitter post, Apr 29, 2014
[16] Templestream, Rick Warden, Five Heresies of Christian Hedonism,

Base Image of sheep-wolf is CC0 Creative Commons by "5arah"
Tags: life lessons, signs of great teachers, what is a good teacher like, how to teach, how to test ideas, logic in teaching, the ultimate teacher, Jesus ultimate teacher, Einstein teaching quotes learning quotes, Paul's teaching example, Jesus' teaching example, science confirms herd mentality, scientific study on herd mentality

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