Apr 20, 2012

Everything Matters: Teaching as a Cultural Act

Editor's Note: On Fridays we're hosting a series called Everything Matters, where guests share why the work of their particular vocational fields is a cultural act. Each installment serves as a response to the post, Creating a High Calling Culture.

Years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the relationship of Christ, Christians, and the Christian faith to culture. We were enroute together to an annual meeting in the Chicago area, before the issue of culture was a big one for Christians as it is now. Perhaps we were riding the crest of a wave. Maybe we even helped create it!

As we got into our rental car and headed to the conference venue, we discussed questions and issues about culture: Was there a connection between us and culture? we naively wondered. Were we cultural beings? Should we contribute to and engage culture as Christians? At that time I just wasn’t sure. To be interested in culture sounded, well, “worldly.”

Slowly, but surely, things began to fall into place in my head, heart, and life. I discovered the importance of the cultural mandate in Scripture (Genesis 1:26-28). My travels revealed to me the centrality of culture in human experience, and the Bible told me why. In all this, I was learning to see culture and culture-making as essential elements of our human identity as God’s image and likeness. Culture was deeply related to God’s purposes for us as His children. Why didn’t I know this already?

But did everything really matter? And what about my own profession—teaching? Might it even be construed as a cultural act—as a meaningful cultural act?

Regarding the first question, the answer was YES—everything matters. For if anything matters in some way, shape or form, then everything must matter in some way, shape or form. Singer/songwriter Pierce Pettis argues the point in his tune “God Believes in You.”

Oh, everything matters
If anything matters at all
Everything matters
No matter how big,
No matter how small,
Oh, God believes in you.

The logic seems sound, doesn’t it? The meaningfulness of a part implies the meaningfulness of the whole of which it is a part. If anything matters, then everything must matter. This is certainly true in a theistic world. God, of course, makes everything matter.

In regard to my own vocation, I wondered if teaching mattered. The answer, of course, was YES. If everything matters, then teaching must matter. The philosopher in me puts it syllogistically like this:

  1. Every thing matters.
  2. Teaching is a thing.
  3. Therefore, teaching matters.

Teaching matters. But not just because it is a thing that matters, like everything else. Rather, teaching matters because it is a cultural act. As a teacher, I help students become what God intended them to be as His image and likeness: culture-makers!

Sometimes I ask my students trick questions—in class, of course, not on tests: “Can you think of any institutions of which you are a part that are primarily devoted to culture and culture-making?” They wonder for a bit, and normally end up answerless. Then I slyly say, “College. The Christian college especially.” Why? Because God made us to make things, to be culture-makers. It was His—and our—original and permanent decree (see again Genesis 1:26-28). Teachers are the conduits of this essential mission.

Yes, college is all about culture and culture-making. When we teach the natural sciences (such as physics, chemistry, and biology), the social sciences (such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology), the fine arts (such as theater, dance, and film), the humanities (such as literature, philosophy, and religion), and professional studies (such as pre-law, pre-med, and business), we are teaching about, and affecting the shape of, culture. Undoubtedly, then, teaching at any level is a cultural act—one that is divinely ordained.

In addition, as students, classroom teaching should contribute to our development as God’s culture-makers—as God’s poets, if you will. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul states, “For we are his workmanship (literally, in Greek poiema) created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (ESV).

How shall we become God’s poem, His workmanship, without a teacher?

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The "Everything Matters" Collection

 

Image by Chris Henden. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by David K. Naugle. David is chair and professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University and the author of Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness.

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