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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Love Letters (Culture): Appropriate Teaching, Part 2

In my last post about appropriate teaching, I emphasized that simply reading and explaining the Bible is a great way to teach the Kaonde. I had a friend from the states, Aaron Brown, ask whether the following are also valid goals:

 

A. Encourage people to care about the message

B. Illustrate how to live it out

C. Harmonize/systematize with other scriptures

 

I think these are all valid uses of God's word. Paul pointed out to Timothy, scripture is useful in many different ways to teach and train us so that we are equipped for good work (2 Tim 3:16).

 

However, the three goals mentioned have different priorities according to the situation. For example, in the states among educated people, A. is a primary goal. The teacher is often trying to motivate an audience who is already familiar with the story and has already thought about its application to their lives. That is a difficult task.

 

However, among the Kaonde, the people already care about the message. (Not in a "warm fuzzy" way, but rather in a "how can I use this power to my advantage" way).

 

B. is more of a primary goal here. This is especially true because the people have been living with duplicity for years. On the surface they consider themselves Christians, but in the shadows they are loyal to their ancestors and live to manipulate the spirit world.

 

C. doesn't really apply here. The people don't know enough of the scripture to harmonize anything. Any jumping from verse to verse simply leads to confusion and gives the impression that the Bible is complicated and hard to understand. Also, the Kaonde are not systematic thinkers. On the contrary, their understanding is based on rote memorization for specific situations. They have never developed the ability to reason. In fact, the question "Why?" is almost impossible to translate into Kaonde and nobody can understand it.

 

In my opinion, this is the biggest cross cultural barrier: Going from a culture with a concept like "Question everything" to a culture that blindly accepts anything.

 

This is why it is vital that we teach only what the Bible teaches. The Kaonde do not have the capacity to say, "Well, Rick was just sharing his opinion about this passage, the Bible doesn't necessarily mean that."

 

Imagine trying to teach the book of Revelation in this context. I know that anything I say about Revelation might be taken as God's word. However, God has not given me the authority to add my own understanding to His word. In fact, Revelation contains a dire warning against adding any words to the book (Revelation 22:18).

 

So, in order to teach Revelation here, I must not teach my own understanding or interpretation. If the book makes a plain statement, I can explain that plain statement. For example, Revelation 21 teaches that God will be right among his people. We will all have direct access to Him and He will even wipe each tear from our eyes. Awesome! I can explain that and teach it to the Kaonde in a way that is meaningful to them.

 

However, where Revelation speaks in poetic and mysterious language (apocalyptic writing), I can't change this. I can't make a timeline out of it, tie it to historical figures (like Nero, Hitler, or the Pope), or do anything else to remove the mystery. John wrote it like that for a reason. I don't think he was just trying to send a coded message. I think he was trying his best to communicate heavenly/spiritual events that are beyond human understanding. He used mysterious language to communicate mysterious events.

 

This is a good example where I cannot change the biblical message or the language used to communicate it. If I ever do have an opportunity to teach this book to the Kaonde, I will start by saying this: "Don't try to figure everything out, just listen and take this to heart. And forget about questions, I don't have answers." Then I will read it and make the main point clear: "You better be on God's side!" I think the Kaonde will agree. In fact, I think they will understand the demonstration of God's power better than we Americans do.

 

Anyway, I think this example illustrates the difficulty in trying to communicate accurately to the Kaonde. But, I think there is a great reward if we learn how to communicate the written Word instead of our own interpretations and opinions.

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