Not Textbooks but Text-People

Not Textbooks, But Text-People[1]: Hebrew Ideals of Education Fostering Legacy in the First Testament

The 2008 Bradley Project on America’s National Identity[2] asks what inheritance we will leave the next generation of Americans.  The report, which should reverberate through educational corridors,[3] maintains

Schools should not slight their civic mission by giving students the impression that America’s failures are more noteworthy than America’s achievements. They should begin with the study of America’s great ideals and heroes . . . so that its struggles can be put in perspective. A broad-minded, balanced approach to the American story best prepares young people for informed democratic participation. . . . The teaching of American history should be strengthened by including more compelling narratives and primary texts, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the great speeches and debates.[4]

American history leaves an important legacy; so do teachers.  Legacy suggests something a person leaves behind when they are gone.  Some leave their mark via financial foundations which continue to fund non-profit projects.  Others have a historical heritage: politicians, statesmen, warriors.  Still more find pages in the annals of time commemorating discoveries which benefit people and the planet.  And lest we forget in these latest days, legacy status can also be attributed to celebrities.  But as one peruses the past, little attention is paid to those whose work fostered the greatest impact on the minds whose work adorns museum halls: teachers.  In the First Testament, legacy was promoted through closely held Hebrew ideals.

It is a shame that one can rattle off coaches’ names in any collegiate sport at any major university while no one knows the institution’s Nobel Prize winner, most prolific author, or the head of the history department.  What’s more, no one seems to care.

But care they should.  Ideas promoted before fallow eighteen year old minds often go without critique.  A professor who espouses government control of social enterprise will leave in her wake young people who believe the word “entitlement,” not “responsibility,” belongs to them.  Graduate professors who denigrate historical heroes for their many supposed “sins” foster the kind of cynicism heard nightly on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. I would argue that the three groups with greatest impact on the public at large—and the young in particular—would be journalists, celebrities, and professors, in ascending order.  Poor assumptions concerning origins, ethics, knowledge, humans, and reality may grow the weeds which choke out the flowers of freedom, creativity, civility, law, or justice.  Power in the professor’s podium, left unquestioned, could create a garden of despair.  Legacy is born again in each successive generation.  But for a successful birth, one must have a good teacher.

It is because, as Rosenstock-Huessy in Speech and Reality said, “language is inherently revelational and relational” that a teacher’s speech can sway student sentiment.[5] How much more should we aspire to John Adam’s contention that

The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing. . . . to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue.  If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.[6]

And Arthur F. Holmes, in one of Calvin College’s Stob Lectures agreed, saying, “a Christian learning community reflects the biblical story of a heritage of faith transmitted through Abraham to his seed, on and on forever . . . faith and moral formation are acquired usually and best, not by force of argument or weight of objective evidence, but by entering into the life of a community and making its heritage one’s own.”[7]

After watching clips from famous teacher movies Dead Poets Society and The Emperor’s Club I would ask students to compare the educational points of view.  In the first place, Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) showed the Romantic’s estimation that everything from the “why” to the “what” of teaching was left up to the student.  Mr. Hundert (played by Kevin Kline) suggests the realist-Classicist in the second place, marching his students through his teaching.  Then I would ask, “Who was your favorite teacher in high school?  Why?  How was this teacher remembered?

In keeping with student participation, I enlisted the aid of former students on Facebook. I asked them to reminisce about the legacy certain teachers left in their lives because of classroom instruction.  The Hebrew word yada “to know” is a term of intimate, personal knowledge[8] suggesting relationship.[9] Education in The First Testament was holistically incarnational: never was there a separation between so-called theory and practice.  Teachers were with students, providing “in flesh” instruction.  Like many teachers, I consistently invited students into my home to eat meals, discuss ideas, watch film, play games, all to engender relationship.  So the brief overview of Hebrew ideals is punctuated with student testimony and other legacy stories.

1. First Testament focus is always to know God. 1 Kings 8:60 declares, “All the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.”  Coupled with the idea of the fear of The Lord[10] one need always remember to whom he or she is responsible.  Coming from Christian schools, my students to a person told me in my Facebook request for responses, “Being taught to be Bereans, to think ‘What does Scripture say?’ is still in our frontal lobes.”  

2. Teaching is central in Jewish thinking, is no better demonstrated than in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 and 11:19, “Teach them [the words of God] to your children, and talk about them when you’re at home or away, when you lie down or get up.”.  The so-called “teachable moments” are captured in such paraphrased questions from Deuteronomy 6:20-25 as “Hey dad!  How come there’s a pile of rocks down by the river?!”  Students invariably responded favorably in later years—though not at the time!—to a teacher’s memory simply because their passionate teaching has transferred to them, now.  Those instructors who taught not just “what” but “why” to believe also received high marks.

3. Teachers are called “father” in Judges 17:10 and 18:19, as in “Be a priest and a father to me.”  One young man remembered the result of a literature teacher’s push to read:

Books are now like food, supplying daily intellectual sustenance. Now the most difficult choices are not what to read, but what not to read; a far cry from my former indifference.  I often wonder how things would be different if that eighth-grade English teacher hadn’t pushed me into reading. A stronger word than tragedy fails to come to mind.

4. The benefits of education are for the next generation. Psalms 71:14-18 and 78:1-8 mandate, “Even when I am old and gray I want to tell about your works to those who will come.”  According to Kouzes and Posner in their book A Leader’s Legacy teachers continue to teach as students go on to tell their stories.  It is no wonder that narrative material is 40% of the First Testament making the story easy to retell.  Kouzes and Posner refer to handing over this inheritance to “custodians of the future.”[11] A former student, mother of teenagers, wrote to say that her kids now hear the stories of her teachers passing on the memory of lessons learned.

5. Recognizing the person of the student—that everyone is not the same—conditions our approach to individual learners.  As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start a child according to their nature.”[12] Relevance of truth to life, in ways that pupils appreciate and understand, was a recurrent theme in Facebook responses.  One said about a teacher,

While I found his courses challenging, I did not truly imbibe what I was hearing as relevant to my teenage ears.  He always said that the things we were learning would be useful in life.  As I entered college and the business world, I found out my beliefs were critical to my choices. Now, as I work with adolescents in a school setting, I find myself telling them the same things.

Hebrew ideals for educational legacy force us to consider the concept of inheritance.  The Hebrew word for “heritage” in the First Testament is loaded with historical, cultural, and geographical freight.  As one might expect one’s heritage or legacy is left to the successive Hebrew generations in land grants.[13] Because the earth belongs to God, only God can give land as a permanent possession.[14] Property given to another is passed on to succeeding generations, as an inheritance which is never to be forfeited for any reason.[15] Marking plots of land by measuring lines or boundaries, which must not be moved, was key to one’s inheritance.[16] God’s eternal promise includes inheriting the land forever enjoying perfection which was God’s original intention at creation.[17] What is passed on as an inheritance is based on an ancient, permanent right, or a person’s heritage.[18]

Among the many biblical principles drawn from this overview of heritage[19] includes the responsibility for protection by the human caretaker of the heritage. So the Hebrew must acknowledge Yahweh who has given what Psalm 16 describes as a beautiful inheritance whose “[land boundary] lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”[20] Moreover, Psalm 127:3 celebrates “children are a heritage from the Lord” with the inherent preoccupation of responsibility.  Coupled with the exclamation of Psalm 119:111 that “your testimonies are my heritage forever,” students and Scripture are the Hebraic Christian educator’s primary focus and her ultimate heritage-legacy.  The First Testament concept of legacy commends to us a commitment to the past, something of great value, never to be treated lightly, but constantly communicated, because the legacy is long lasting.

Education is personal, giving life-long, benefits for every discipline and all of life.  First Testament learning was to be “sweet.”[21] Teachers smeared slates with honey to be licked off by the pupils or made cakes inscribed with verses from God’s law.  I offer here ten sweet applications of legacy left by personable, passionate Hebraic-Christian teachers.

1. Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands training teacher-leaders.  As Gary Bredfeldt argued in Great Leader, Great Teacher[22] those who bear the weight of authority in their sphere, under the authority of Scripture, should lead by teaching.  Surely this was witnessed in the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities’ production of The Legacy Project:  Presidential Leadership in Christian Higher Education where Christian university presidents commented on what is important to leave behind.[23] The Legatum Group is an international organization that puts the teacher-leader legatum (Latin for “legacy”) into action.  Not surprisingly motivated by Christians and biblical principles, Legatum believes

. . . That who we are will determine where we go. We therefore see our culture as fundamental to creating a lasting legacy of investment success. . . . Our values, evident in the Legatum culture, are reflected in our business principles – respect for universal values, principles before profits, stewardship and accountability, and our responsibility to improve the world around us[24]

1)               Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands recommitting to doctrinal instruction.  As Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen reminds us, “All human thought patterns will be guided by a worldview that reflects allegiance to the one true God or else (inevitably) to some substitute idol.[25]”  Ontology, coherence, and teleology must be the beginning, middle, and end of Christian thinking and living.  Without a premise in origins, we lack purpose.  Without a unity of all things, we lack interdisciplinarity.  Without anticipation of finality, we have no hope.[26]

2)               Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands practicing the doctrines of The Church.  Abraham Kuyper, for instance, attempted to establish a theological grid through which public policy might be influenced for the good.  Vincent E. Bacote addressed Kuyper’s legacy this way: “his influence in the United States and Canada has been fruitful in producing institutions that continue to thrive, and individuals are directly and indirectly influenced by his call for a comprehensive, world-engaging Christianity.”[27] Ultimately, even our research should fulfill the greatest commandment: by doing our research for the benefit of others, we show love for our neighbor, showing love for God.

3)               Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands holding on to history.  R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s inscription in the new Sesquicentennial Pavilion at South Baptist Theological Seminary suggests it our testimony that matters most: “In the view of eternity, we will be judged most closely, not on the basis of how many courses were taught, how many students were trained, how many syllabi were printed, or how many books were published, but on whether or not we kept the faith”   Os Guinness argues in his Invitation to the Classics,

Individual followers of Christ and the church of Christ as a whole have a unique responsibility to guard, enjoy, and pass on the literature of Western Civilization.  Christians should . . . treasure the priceless heritage of this three-thousand-years’ conversation of imagination and ideas—not least because they are privileged to share the faith that animated the majority of these masterworks.”[28]

4)               Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands internalizing Scripture as we sit in the study before we stand in the classroom.  We must teach as if the Christian viewpoint has already changed us.  “Like the scientist,” writes Lesslie Newbigin, “The Christian believer has to learn to indwell the tradition.  Its models and concepts . . . have to become the models through which he understands the world.”[29] James Houston’s Joyful Exiles is must reading for evaluating any professor’s interiority.[30] As J. P. Moreland said, “The plausibility, content, strength, and centrality of our beliefs play a key role in determining our character and behavior.”[31] Romans 8:5-9 makes it clear: the role of The Spirit in connecting truth with how people live is dependent upon their mind’s focus.

5)               Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands developing the interiority of students.  Character education is impacted through individual faculty for the good of the student.  Dr. D. Bruce Lockerbie said about his years as a classroom teacher at Stoney Brook, “I was commissioned to be the interior decorator of my students’ souls.”[32] Richard Brookhiser in his volume Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington captures the sentiment of teachers who desire to leave a legacy,

Moral biography has two purposes: to explain its subject, and to shape the minds and hearts of those who read it . . . by showing how a great man navigated politics and a life as a public figure . . . Plutarch’s lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans was very popular with eighteenth-century Americans; they knew something about the power of example that we have forgotten.[33]

It is no wonder that Scripture repeats the ideal: “I found your words, I ate them [internalized them] and they were the joy and rejoicing of my heart.”[34]

6)               Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands caring for language.  The Hebrew legacy was built on God’s “words” whereas other cultures were built on visual remembrance.[35] Christians are people of The Book.  Both the Written Word and Living Word are imperative for our communication of true Truth.[36] Petitioning prayers are created with words; people on their knees safeguard language use with every cry to God.[37] Salvaging antiquities’ greatest texts took place in Irish monasteries during the Middle Ages.[38] Freeing people by teaching Indian dialects was the work of missionary philologist William Carey.[39] Preserving languages of people groups around the world owes a large debt to Wycliffe Bible Translators.

7)               Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands enlivening passion for teaching both subjects and students.  To “love God’s law” was intensively[40] intentional for the believer.  Psalm 119:47 complements the love of the study of Scripture with “delight” in Scripture.[41] Festive, exultant[42] enthusiasm[43] is present as the writer cheers Heaven’s Book.  Anyone who wants to motivate a classroom need read Howard Hendricks Teaching to Change Lives[44] at least once a year to reignite teaching passion.  Samuel Solivan proposed the term orthopathos (literally, straight love) linking orthodoxy (straight teaching) with orthopraxis (straight living).  Delight and truth hold hands in the classroom.[45]

8)               Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands surprising students by our methods. “Never Let ‘Em See You Comin’” is a seminar I have given for years suggesting Emily Dickinson’s poem: Tell all the Truth but tell it slant / Success in Circuit lies / Too Bright for our infirm Delight / The Truth’s superb surprise. / As Lightening to the Children eased / With explanation kind / The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.[46] Judging from the methods used by God to teach His people in The First Testament, it would seem He teaches teachers to approach their subjects at a 45 degree angle.

9)               Hebraic Christian teaching legacy demands making disciples throughout the world.  Ralph Winter’s recent death reminds us of the strategic emphasis on reaching not simply every nation with the Gospel, but every people group.  Winter founded the U.S. Center for World Missions and soon after the William Carey International University.  He had no financial backing at the time, and only $100 to begin.  As Winter wrote, “We were willing to fail because the goal we sensed was so urgent and strategic.”  But the center did not fail. Since then the center has not only trained thousands of missionaries and support personnel, but also has worked tirelessly to bring the vision of reaching hidden peoples to the wider Church.  In 2005, Time magazine included Winter as one of the top 25 most influential evangelicals. Last year, the North American Mission Conference gave him the lifetime service award.  But no doubt Winter will take greater pleasure in meeting the men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation who praise the name of Jesus in glory—all because of his passion to spread Christ’s message.[47]

Whether it is The Bradley Project on America’s National Identity or the kind of heritage we pass on in the classroom, we teach what we have learned.  Every teacher leaves a legacy.  Some will be known as teachers.  Others will be known as fellow learners.  But a few will be known as “the person who most impacted my life.”  Reproduction of oneself in others impacts both person and culture, where “teaching” and “learning” become one.  While we may produce text books for our students, may our students become text-people.

Dr. Mark Eckel, ThM PhD, Dean, Undergraduate Studies, Professor of Old Testament, Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN.  This article appears as “Not Textbooks, Text-People: Hebrew Ideals of Education” in Intégrité (8:2, Fall 2009) and was first given as an address to the International Institute for Christian Studies, July 2009.


[1] This title was taken from the famed Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel as quoted in Marvin R. Wilson’s 1989 volume Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (Eerdmans).  I have read and re-read Wilson’s work since the early 1990’s; I owe him a deep debt of gratitude.

[2] www.bradleyproject.org

[3] See, for instance, the compelling cover story from The Weekly Standard (14:33, 18 May 09) on the anti-American mantra coming out of many schools of education.

[4] http://www.bradleyproject.org/EPUReportFinal.pdf, pages 4-5.

[5] Quoted in Eugene Peterson, Tell It Slant (Eerdmans, 2008): 272.

[6] John Adams in a letter to Abigail Adams, 29 October 1775 from The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (Penquin): 117-18.

[7] Arthur F. Holmes. 2001. “What Has Alexandria to Do with Academia Today?” in Seeking Understanding: The Stob Lectures 1986-1998. (Eerdmans): 438

[8] Jack P. Lewis. 1980. bin. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Eerdmans): 366.

[9] Marvin R. Wilson. 1989. Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. (Eerdmans): 287-89.

[10] Deuteronomy 4:10; 14:23; 17:19; 31:12, 13; Proverbs 1:7:9:10.

[11] James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. 2006.  A Leader’s Legacy. (Jossey-Bass): 24, 26.  The most highly rated teachers by students are those who are most passionate about their subject.

[12] Bruce K. Waltke. 2005. The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31. (Eerdmans): 205.

[13] Land was promised to God’s people in Genesis 12:1-3 as an inalienable right (Exodus 32:13)—it could not be taken away.  Land was given to Israel (Exodus 15:17; Deuteronomy 4:21) and an allotment of territory to tribes followed (Numbers 33:54).

[14] Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:36.  The earth was given to humanity for cultivation and enjoyment according to Psalm 115:16.

[15] Leviticus 25:23, 28; Numbers 26:52-56; 1 Kings 21:3-4.

[16] Joshua 17:5; Micah 2:5; Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17; Proverbs 23:10.

[17] Isaiah 60:21; Genesis 1:28; 2:5, 15; Deuteronomy 30:1-6.

[18] Punishment for disobedience could result in the loss of land (Deuteronomy 4:1; 16:20) restored through repentance (Ezekiel 36:8-15; 37:21-28).

[19] Others include: (1) All possessions are given by God; (2) possessions are not a result of reward but given freely by God; (3) Property rights were a way of people attaining wealth, providing for family, and were protected by law; and (4) there is an eternal nature to one’s inheritance—it cannot be taken away.

[20] Deuteronomy 4:20 and 32:9 say we are God’s inheritance whereas the opposite is also true: God is our inheritance (33:3-4; cf. Psalm 119:57; 142:5).  Psalm 16:5-6.

[21] Ezekiel 3:3; Psalm 119:103; Proverbs 24:13-14.

[22] Gary Bredfeldt. 2006 Great Leader, Great Teacher. (Moody).

[23] A DVD presentation edited by Steve G. W. Moore.  (Providence House Publishers, 2008).

[24] http://www.legatum.com/portalvalues.htm

[25] Van Leeuwen, Mary Stewart. 2002. Scuttling the Schizophrenic Student Mind: On Teaching the Unity of Faith and Learning in Psychology. In Teaching as an Act of Faith: Theory and practice in Church-Related Higher Education. (Fordham University Press): 26

[26] Nehemiah 9:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:15-17; Matthew 13:39-40; Titus 2:11-14.

[27] Vincent E. Bacote. 2005. The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper. (Baker): 149-56.

[28] Os Guinness.  1998. Invitation to the Classics. (Baker): 14.

[29] Lesslie Newbigin.  The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. (Eerdmans): 49.

[30] James Houston. 2006. Joyful Exiles: Life in Christ on the Dangerous Edge of Things. (IVP): 34-50.

[31] J. P. Moreland. 1997. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. (Nav Press): 77.

[32] D. Bruce Lockerbie’s address to the Christian Schools International Conference, St. Louis, June, 2008.

[33] Richard Brookhiser.  1996. Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. (Free Press).

[34] Jeremiah 15:16; Ezekiel 2:9-3:3.

[35] See Deuteronomy 4:5-8; other cultures depended on physical statues for worship, Exodus 20:1.

[36] “Thus says The Lord” is repeated some 2,500 times in the First Testament.  John 1:14, 18.

[37] I am indebted to my colleague Michael McDuffee (Moody Bible Institute) for this idea.

[38] Thomas Cahill. How The Irish Saved Civilization.  (New York: Doubleday, 1996).

[39] Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi. 1999. The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture.  (Crossway): 91-92.

[40] George J. Zemek. n.d. The Word of God in the Child of God. (For a free copy of this exceptional hardbound commentary, write to: Psalm 119 Commentary, P. O. Box 428, Mango, FL 33550): 95.

[41] The first occurrences are in Psalm 119:14 and 16.

[42] Derek Kidner. 1975. Psalms 73-150. In the TOTC, J. Wiseman, ed. (IVP): 420.

[43] Gary G. Cohen. 1980. sus. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 2:873.

[44] Howard Hendricks. 2003. Teaching to Change Lives. (Reprint, Multnomah).

[45] Reference to Samuel Solivan, “Orthopathos: Interlocutor between Orthodoxy and Praxis,” Andover Newton Review 1 (Winter 1990): 19-25 quoted in Robert W. Pazmino, By What Authority do we Teach? (Eerdmans, 1994): 120.

[46] Emily Dickinson. 1957. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. (Random House): 1250.

[47] “From Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation,” Breakpoint Commentaries, 2 June 2009.

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