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E. Byron Anderson is an assistant professor of worship at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

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SrMaryLea | Aug 22, 2023 |
This short volume presents what could best be termed a “spirituality of teaching.” Like Parker Palmer, Yust and Anderson reject the idea that teaching is merely a technical skill but is, rather, an identity one assumes or, better, achieves. Most profoundly, teaching is reconceived as itself a “spiritual discipline,” and the very act of teaching works to spiritually form the teacher as much as it works to form the student.
The title of the work was chosen from a rare NT word theodidaktoi, literally translated as “those taught by God.” For these authors, this summarizes the practice and outcome of uniquely Christian teaching. To flesh out what it means to be “God-taught,” the rest of the book consists of very helpful survey of the Christian spiritual tradition under a four-point rubric:
• The identity of the teacher
• Contexts for teaching
• Models for teaching
• Evaluation of teaching
For those who find such an approach rather intimidating…the history of Christian spirituality not being, for most people anyway, a topic of everyday conversation…the book does a superb job of contextualizing the various figures and works chosen for discussion. I was a bit surprised to find that the book assumes the reader’s basic familiarity with pedagogical literature more so than with spiritual literature (e.g., the discussion of transformational learning theory).
In discussing the identity of the teacher, Yust and Anderson look to Francis de Sales, Søren Kierkegaard, and Julian of Norwich for guidance. With their guidance, we are presented with the concept of teaching as a particular kind of attentiveness to ourselves, to each other, and ultimately to God. In fact, Yust and Anderson say: “If what we teach emerges from who we are, from the ways in which we have set our hearts, then we must teach from a life of prayer” (p. 20). Therefore, not only is teaching at its root a contemplative practice but it is likewise a communal practice. This means that every participant is simultaneously a teacher AND a student. And I can heartily affirm from experience, as I believe most teachers would, that I’ve learned as much from my students as they have ever learned from me. Thus, there should a unique kind of egalitarianism in the Christian classroom where, at the end of the day, we are ALL students taught and led by the Holy Spirit.
As far as distinctive contexts for teaching, Yust and Anderson follow Robert Wuthnow’s advocacy of a “practice-oriented spirituality” of discipleship. They then explore specific practices such as the spiritual conference, correspondence, and hagiography as examples of contexts in which true spiritual learning occurs. I was particularly struck in this section by the forgotten importance of Christian biography to provide us with “living” models; such works present us with vital resources for spiritual growth and development for two reasons. First, authentic spirituality is something more easily “shown” than “explained.” Second, it allows spiritual giants of the past to continue to “teach” those who would be disciples in the present.
I’m certainly not advocating that Oneness Pentecostals adopt some Catholic-esque theology of sainthood, but there are aspects of “being Apostolic” that must be passed on by example. How, for instance, should we describe the “life of holiness”? What exactly does an Apostolic “spirituality” look like? How can it be distinguished from, say, a Roman Catholic or a Reformed approach? What are its core values and key practices?
The next section on Christianity’s distinctive pedagogical models is clearly central to the discussion. Here, the authors provide us with the greatest sense of the scope of Christian spirituality, bringing together analyses of works such as Thomas à Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ” and John Wesley’s rules for his Methodist societies. The key insight is that spirituality is not so much a body of knowledge as it is a pattern of living.
“Spiritual understanding” presents a unique kind of knowledge that Yust and Anderson call contemplatia, distinct from scientia (technical knowledge) and sapientia (practical knowledge); contemplatia may be best understood as mystical knowledge. This requires, then, an entirely unique pedagogical model. The ultimate pedagogical goal is increasing student objectivity (e.g., contextualized understanding, critical reflection on assumptions, and reasoned validation of assertions); however, the ultimate goal of contemplatia is union of the knower with the Known.
Though perhaps the most rigorous discussion within the book, the concepts presented here resonate most closely with the core claims of Pentecostal spirituality and justify the claim that Pentecostal education, in its most important aspects, is operating in a realm that lies beyond the reach of most traditional pedagogical theory. This, of course, is not a call to abandon pedagogical theory but to use the insights provided by Pentecostal educators to extend it.
The final section of the book (on evaluation of teaching), though helpful, was a bit disappointing in its brevity. Instead of the comparative approach of the earlier forays in the Christian spiritual tradition, Yust and Anderson instead provide the reader with a detailed explanation of Ignatius of Loyola’s general and particular examinations of conscience. I could have wished for the inclusion of at least one alternative model, though this is certainly a helpful way for teachers to think about practices of self-evaluation that move beyond a binary “Do this next time”/ “Don’t do this again” approach.
Though I would perhaps quibble with a point here or there, the book overall succeeds admirably, especially because it has set itself such a unique goal—to bring together “something old” (the ancient tradition of Christian spirituality) and “something new” (contemporary discussions of effective pedagogy) to show that both surprisingly address the same set of concerns. For me, this book presented an almost-revolutionary reframing of the pedagogical task as a spiritual discipline and provided me with language to begin to articulate and develop that relationship. It will long remain one of my top recommendations for aspiring teachers.
… (més)
Jared_Runck | Dec 29, 2019 |
SeanKidd | Mar 4, 2019 |

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