Book Review: On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom

May 3rd, 2019 | Category: Book Reviews
By Jared Stiek

“On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom”

by Smith, David

2018, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mi

Isbn 978-0-8028-7360-6

eIsbn 978-1-4674-5064-5

Soft cover $22.00

Popular phrases in Christian school promotional materials include: our school is a mission field, our teachers integrate faith in all subjects, and students’ spiritual growth is our focus. Common though these statements may be, what really sets Christian teaching apart from secular teaching? Is there a way to teach quadratic equations that is more “Christianly” than another? David I. Smith (2018) tackles these questions in his book, On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom.

Beginning with the premise that Christian teaching is distinct from teaching without faith, Smith begins by exploring what Christian teaching is not. Simply adding prayers or drawing tenuous and strained connections between course content and faith is not Christian teaching. Christian teaching is less about what one teaches and more about how one teaches. Smith explores examples from his teaching career where he acknowledges the importance of connecting with each student as a learner, not just a person in the assembly line of education. The way teachers treat students, the content they teach, and the values they live by in their classroom are marks of Christian teaching.

Smith contends that much of the discussion and literature concerning Christian teaching in the past forty years has focused on the “why” and not the “how.” Emphasis has been placed on correct theology, the need and importance of Christian education, and the influence of faith in American higher education, past and present. With a focus on the why of Christian education, there has been a gap in the discussion and literature regarding how one teaches as a Christian. Serving as a Christian teacher changes not only the content of one’s courses but also more importantly, how one teaches.

Reflecting on his experiences teaching in higher education, Smith explores the nuances and challenges of what it means to be a Christian teacher. Teaching German to undergraduate students is not something that requires faith, nor are the textbooks brimming with segues into the faith; yet, Smith designed his courses to reflect a Christian’s call to serve his or her neighbor. After reflecting on the usefulness of learning phrases necessary for travel abroad that filled the pages of his textbook, Smith recalibrated his instruction to focus on vocabulary and language skills beneficial to interacting with one’s neighbor. He focused on vocabulary and conversations that could build up and encourage others.

In addition to common language for personal interactions, Smith taught reading and comprehension in German. Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer is perhaps not on the top of the list of authors for secular German language lesson books, but why not use his materials in class? Smith was able to use Bonheoffer’s Life Together to teach vocabulary and fluency in addition to reflecting on the content of the text. Students in his course practiced vocabulary, reading, comprehension, and translation while reflecting on the text’s call to care for others and the role of Christians in secular society.

While using a number of examples from his experience as a professor, Smith’s book is applicable to all Christian teachers. His theoretical model of Christianly teaching is paired with practical means of implementation. Perhaps not a “how to” book for specific lesson ideas in Christian teaching, Smith’s book provides thought-provoking, perception-changing, and encouraging advice for Christian teachers. LEJ

Jared Stiek serves as Assistant Professor of Lutheran Education at Concordia University Chicago (CUC).  He received his undergraduate degree in K-12 vocal and instrumental music education and Director of Christian Education (DCE) certification from Concordia University Nebraska.  Jared has served congregations and schools in Nebraska and Wisconsin as DCE, music educator, assistant principal, parish music director and assistant church administrator.  He completed a Master of Arts in Religion degree at CUC in 2015 and is pursing a PhD in Educational Studies at Trinity International University.