Meditatio – Trinitarian Koinonia

Welcome to the next post in my new series, “Meditatio – Dispatches from the Educational Frontlines.” If you missed them, here is post #1 and post #2.

You can’t understand where you are now, if you don’t understand where you’ve come from. You won’t know where you’re supposed to go, if you don’t have a direction. As we talked about last week, education is motivated by a particular view of who people are, and what the world should be like. Education is training and guiding people, of whatever age, in a certain direction. So, where did we come from, and where are we going?

In the Bible, there are two important anchor-points that help us understand where we came from, and where we’re going. Genesis tells us where we came from—Revelation tells us where we’re going.

But first things first! In the beginning … God … In the beginning God was an eternal triune personality—an eternal dance of love, delight, of union and communion. We see this relationship described beautifully in Jesus’s extended prayer for his disciples before he is betrayed and executed (Jn. 17). I call this Trinitarian Koinonia.

As Douglas Jones (my philosopy professor from college) describes it: “God is not static. He is not a frozen picture. Father, Son, and Spirit have been acting, communicating, serving, sacrificing, adoring, laughing, and more for all eternity. The Trinity acts, and that act is love.”[1] God did not create because He was lonely—He created to share his eternal koinonia (“fellowship”) with temporal creatures. God created all things to glorify himself, but I believe he also created out of the overflow of joy that is at the center of his Triune Being. We were created to share in this joy (Psalm 16:11 & John 17:13, 20-24). We don’t know much about the creation of angels, but we do know they were not the point of creation. Mankind is the point of creation.

Psalm 8 shows us that Humanity stands at the top of creation, with authority given to us from God. We were created with the capacity to lead. We were created to be leaders. We were created to rule.

As Geiger and Peck point out in Designed to Lead:

If we believe that God created the world and handed responsibility for watching the garden to Adam and Eve, then human leadership must be understood as God-initiated. He purposed to use humanity to steward and cultivate (Gen. 1—2); His people were and are “at the center” of His plan. From the beginning, His people have been designed to lead.[2]

Nex time, we’ll look in more detail at where we came from.


[1] Douglas M. Jones, A Rhetoric of Love, vol. 1 (Lancaster: Veritas Press, 2018), 62.

[2] Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck, Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 2.

Meditatio – What’s the Point of Education?

Welcome to the second post in my new series, “Meditatio – Dispatches from the Educational Frontlines.” If you missed it, here’s post #1.

Education. There are lots of theories about education out there. There are lots of different types of schools. Experts argue and debate, and what everyone seems to agree on is that we have all sorts of problems in our schooling system. Everyone has a different solution. I won’t try to settle those debates here. But we need to back up—way up! We need to talk about the purpose of life.

Why are we here? What’s the point of it all? Not just of education, but of everything? As a Christian, I believe we were created for a specific purpose. Our view of education reflects our view of humanity. Who are we? Why are we here? What type of world should we live in? Every educational system, from the ancient Spartans, to the Chinese, to the modern American system, all of these were created to produce a certain type of person. The educational systems grew out of a particular culture, and were designed to perpetuate the culture—or perhaps to help create an alternative culture.

One of my favorite things to do in class is look at the history of words. The history of a word tells us a lot about the history of ideas, and of cultures. The word “education” comes from the Latin word educare – “to bring up, rear, educate”, which is related to another Latin word, educere – “to bring out, lead forth.” There are all sorts of ways to make this mean too much, but you can see that the ideas of “leading” and “training” are part of these Latin words. So, education aims to lead people in a certain way. Education is training, and guidance. But, where are we being led? What are we being trained to do? Why? These are all questions we’ll try to answer in the next few weeks.

Martin Luther on Christmas Charity

I’m writing this in the first week of January, after all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. (It’s actually Epiphany, which is the end of the 12 Days of Christmas in the traditional church calendar. So this is a post for the end of Christmas!) All of the returns have been made, families are back home, and we’re settling into the grind of a new year. The American commercial Christmas season is an orgy of materialism, sugar-coated with cultural mythos and vague feelings of goodwill. But now we can go back to partisan bickering and tearing our nation apart. Sorry to be so cynical. A humanistic and man-centered Christmas will never last, despite all Hallmark movies and platitudes about the “Christmas spirit.”

Martin Luther shows us a more excellent way. In a sermon for Christmas Day, published in the 1500s, this former monk reminds us that the true “Christmas spirit” should last all year long. Jesus was the second person of the Trinity. As the Son of God, he became man, and was born into human history, to inject the life-giving Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) into all of humanity, as the Holy Spirit works through every Christian. The birth of Jesus Christ was the beginning of a series of events that would transform the world, and would bring the Kingdom of God. We have the privilege to participate in this process. For Luther, we don’t really understand Christmas if we don’t care for the poor, and love our neighbor as ourselves–all year long!

Here’s part of Luther’s Christmas Day sermon:

“Now let every one examine himself in the light of the Gospel and see how far he is from Christ, what is the character of his faith and love. There are many who are enkindled with dreamy devotion, when they hear of such poverty of Christ, are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem, denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more becoming service, and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably. But they do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow men need their help, and which they let go on in their misery unaided. Who is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones, or sinful people around him? Why does he not exercise his love to those? Why does he not do to them as Christ has done to him?”

Before we condemn the people of Bethlehem, let’s examine our own hearts. Luther says that we would treat Christ the same way that we treat the poor right now.

He continues:

“It is altogether false to think that you have done much for Christ, if you do nothing for those needy ones. Had you been at Bethlehem you would have paid as little attention to Christ as they did; but since is now made known who Christ is, you profess to serve him. Should he come now and lay himself in a manger, and would send you word that it was he, of whom you now know so much, you might do something for him, but you would not have done it before. Had it been positively made known to the rich man
in the Gospel, to what high position Lazarus would be exalted, and he would have been convinced of the fact, he would not have left him lie and perish as he did.”

It’s easy to judge people in the past, or the characters in Biblical narratives. We wouldn’t reject Christ! We would take care of homeless Lazarus, stinking up the side of road, begging for food. But Luther won’t let us get away with that self-righteous attitude:

“Therefore, if your neighbor were now what he shall be in the future, and lay before you, you would surely give him attention. But now, since it is not so, you beat the air and do not recognize the Lord in your neighbor, you do taut do to him as he has done to you. Therefore God permits you to be blinded, and deceived by the pope and false preachers, so that you squander on wood, stone, paper, and wax that with which you might help your fellow man” (Collected Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 1, p. 155; online edition, pp. 149-150).

Luther reminds us that the “Christmas spirit” should animate and motivate us all year long. Christ came as the Light into a world of darkness. Through our love, care, and preaching the Word of Truth, we can–and must–carry that light into every dark corner of this world.

Meditatio – Dispatches from the Educational Frontlines

Introduction   

Here we go again! Whether you’re reading this at the beginning of the academic year, after Christmas break, or on some weekend dreading the arrival of yet another Monday, the cycle of education can seem like an endless wheel—or a treadmill. Are you really progressing? Are you actually going anywhere, or are you just killing time, waiting for your “real life” to begin? I’m writing this at the end of a wonderful Christmas break, right before plunging into lesson planning, grading, and preparing for the start of another semester in just a couple of days. I wanted to take some time to remind myself, my students, and my children, of why I keep doing this every year. Why am I still a teacher, after two decades of teaching? Why should my students, and my children, be excited about classes starting up again after break?

            Part of this is just me reminding myself of the big picture. It’s so easy to get locked into the details of daily lessons, and we forget the purpose of it all. For my students, I know you may have some serious doubts and questions about this “education” thing. Is it really valuable? When will you ever use this information? Why not just learn how to program computers or fix cars instead? And for my children, I’d like to leave a record of why I’ve settled into teaching as my calling. They know very well that most people don’t get rich from teaching. Having the summer off is a great perk, and we’ve had some fantastic family trips during those times, but they know that I would have made a lot more money in the corporate world—or as a You Tube streamer. But, I’m not in it for the money. I truly believe that teaching changes the world, and I’ll try to unpack that in these weekly meditations. I envision this as a weekly space to cast a vision—for myself, my students, and my children (most of whom are still students). I also realize that I will probably have grand-children someday, and I hope these meditations will help my children to make wise choices about the education of their own children.

I also want to help to encourage teachers and students of any age, or at any stage of their career or educational journey. The effort is worth it, and I aim to show how teaching and education are really the frontlines of any effort to change, or create, a culture. So, let’s jump in!

Social Justice, Death of God, and Command Economy

I’m doing research for a book project, comparing pre-modern and modern views of “social justice,” and am learning a lot from Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is, by Michael Novak and Paul Adams. Currently, I’m reading the chapters on Frederick Hayek, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1974. Hayek was no conservative Christian–apparently he was an atheist, which makes his conclusions all the more relevant. You can’t accuse him of being a Bible-thumping fundamentalist! Here’s Novak and Adams elaborating on Hayek’s work:

Continue reading “Social Justice, Death of God, and Command Economy”

God’s New Tribe and The Table of the Lord

In a few days, I’ll be headed to Monrovia, Liberia, to teach an intensive church history class at Grace Life Seminary. I get to cover all of church history in 7 days! I’ll be going as part of a team from Training Leaders International. (You can support my trip through this giving link here—some of the money will also go to help with the travel costs of the pastors attending the classes.) I prepared this sermon for chapel, and wanted to share it here. I’m trying to go to Africa with a spirit of humility. We have been blessed materially and educationally, and this is a chance to share that blessing with others. But, I don’t have all the answers. I expect to learn a lot from the pastors in my class. They are the experts in their local culture, and I’m sure they will teach me much about how to be faithful in hard places.


Texts: Matt. 12:46-50; Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Rev. 7:9-10

Brothers and sisters, I bring you greetings from the saints in Idaho. Many people contributed their money so that I could come and be with you here. Although we live thousands of miles away, we are still part of the Family of God. As Christians, we are all part of God’s Family. Jesus taught this in Matthew 12:46-50:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

This was a radical teaching in Jesus’ time! At that time, people were part of tribes. That was their most important identity. There were the 12 tribes of Judah. Your tribe determined where you could live. And the Jews were God’s people. They were set apart from the Gentiles, who were not God’s people. The Jews looked down on the Gentiles. One of the biggest problems in the New Testament is how to explain God’s love for the Gentiles and how he welcomes them into his family, through the cross of Christ.

For us in America, we don’t have tribes in the same way. But we have groups of people who identify with each other, and don’t like other groups of people. Some people like a sports team, so they have their own football tribe. Some people like a political party, so they have a political tribe.

In Africa, tribes are still very important. Wars are still being fought and people are dying because one tribe hates another tribe. When the European colonizers and even the Americans created the modern nations of Africa, they drew artificial lines around tribal lands. Then they told everyone in those new countries to get along and have a peaceful government.

Continue reading “God’s New Tribe and The Table of the Lord”

The Christian Compassion Revolution (Part 1)

The Christian Compassion Revolution (Part 1)

In May, 2022, the US Senate rejected an abortion rights bill. As a response to the leak about the Supreme Court possibly overturning Roe v. Wade, the proposed bill would have guaranteed the legal right to abortion up until birth. This flies in the face of any arguments about the “viability” of an unborn child, and exposes our culture’s true view about infanticide.

In 1 BC, a Roman soldier named Hilarion wrote a tender and domestic note to his wife:

Know that I am still in Alexandria; and do not worry if they [the army] wholly set out, I am staying in Alexandria. I ask you and entreat you, take care of the child, and if I receive my pay soon, I will send it up to you. Above all, if you bear a child and it is a male, let it be; if it is female, cast it out. You have told Aphrodisias, “Do not forget me.” But how can I forget you? Thus I’m asking you not to worry.[1]

This shocks modern readers now. Save the boy, but leave the baby girl to die? In the first century, this was accepted practice.

Continue reading “The Christian Compassion Revolution (Part 1)”

Church History in Liberia

This summer, I’ll be traveling to Monrovia, Liberia, to teach an intensive class in Church History at Grace Life Seminary, with TLI (Training Leaders International. I (finally) finished my PhD in Historical Theology last Fall, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to use what I’ve learned to bless and encourage pastors in Africa. I know I’ll also learn much from them as well.

TLI trains pastors in developing world countries. The church has grown rapidly in these countries, but many pastors do not have access to solid Biblical and theological training. The default theology in these countries is the prosperity gospel. 

Leadership development in Liberia is a strategic place to invest time and resources because pastors from neighboring countries (like Guinea and Sierra Leone) also come there for training. The church there can play a vital role in healing a country torn by civil war and Ebola.

The training site in Liberia is also a great place to plug into because our local partners there also have a network of K-12 schools. Classical Christian schools here in the US have been building relationships with them, and there are opportunities for us to support and encourage the work of Christian education in Africa.

The total cost for this trip is $3,800. I’ve already raised 90% of the cost through the generosity of many supporters. The cost of the trip covers roundtrip airfare, ground transportation, housing, meals, travel insurance, class materials, as well as covering the costs for the students to get to the training site, and purchase the textbook at a reduced price. So, the money isn’t just for me–it also goes to help the African pastors and leaders.

What can you do? (1) Pray! This is spiritual warfare. The seminary is built on the site of a sacred grove that was used in traditional African worship. No one else wanted to build on the site, because they believed they would be killed. So, they came to the seminary leaders and asked if they wanted it, because, as they said, “You’re God seems to be able to handle this sort of thing.” Liberia has suffered from centuries of spiritual darkness, political oppression, and plague. The church is ground zero for renewing this culture. God has given us the opportunity to bless our brothers and sisters there in an amazing way.

(2) Give. I’d like to ask for your support. All the money goes straight to the trip–I don’t touch a cent. Thanks for prayerfully considering this! Here is a link where you can donate. You can also mail a check: all checks must be made payable to “Training Leaders International” and mailed to the donations address below. Please include a separate piece of paper with my name and trip name on it (ex: Gregory Soderberg, Liberia, August 2022):

Training Leaders International

PO Box 310

Wheaton, IL 60187

I hope to post more about my preparation, as I try to figure out how to teach church history in an African context, as well as share what I’ve learned after the trip.

Education on the Front Lines

Now in my 21th year of teaching, I sometimes wonder if it has been worth it. These moments are fleeting, but the fact is that hardly anyone gets rich through teaching. Thankfully, I’m not in this for the money. There are more important things, as all the sages have told us. As a Christian educator, I believe education is similar to “boot camp,” especially in this time of cultural upheaval. I see my mission as equipping students of all ages to engage in the spiritual battle that rages all around us (Ephesians 6:10-18). God has given everyone unique gifts and abilities that he expects us to use for His glory, and for the good of others. For me, teaching is not just a job, or an occupation–it is a calling. I can’t desert my post.

While going through J. Gresham Machen’s classic Christianity & Liberalism with my students at Logos Online School, I was encouraged by Machen’s words. Not only was Machen profoundly prophetic in discerning the fundamental differences between Biblical Christianity and theological liberalism, but he also is surprisingly practical in his treatment of cultural and political matters. In his final chapter, Machen presents an agenda for countering the aims of liberalism. He writes:

“In the fourth place–the most important thing of all–there must be a renewal of Christian education. The rejection of Christianity is due to various causes. But a very potent cause is simple ignorance. In countless cases, Christianity is rejected simply because men have not the slightest notion of what Christianity is. An outstanding fact of recent Church history is the appalling growth of ignorance in the Church” (176).

This intellectual and theological atrophy is due to one of the main tenets of theological liberalism:

“The growth of ignorance in the Church is the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity” (177).

What should we then do?

“It must be remedied primarily by the renewal of Christian education in the family, but also by the use of whatever other educational agencies the Church can find. Christian education is the chief business of the hour for every earnest Christian man. Christianity cannot subsist unless men know what Christianity is; and the fair and logical thing is to learn what Christianity is, not from its opponents, but from
those who themselves are Christians” (177).

It is this sense of urgency that keeps me going through the long hours and all the grading. At both Logos Online School and at the BibleMesh Institute, I have the immense joy and privilege to help students learn, grow, and develop their unique talents, interests, and abilities.

The work of Christian education is immensely important. Writing this on an Easter weekend, I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15. The Biblical Gospel is founded on a historical fact. If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is vain. So, teaching my students about history, and about how to read texts, is essential. We are engaged in a spiritual battle, where ideas have consequences and worldviews bring either life or death (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). So, my students read the Bible, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Martin Luther and John Calvin, as well as the Qur’an, the Communist Manifesto, and Brave New World. My students at the BibleMesh Institute learn to deal with challenges to their faith, and how to present the Gospel in various cultural contexts.

In all of this, we seek to pursue wisdom, truth, goodness, and beauty. God is Himself the source of all of these qualities. As we pursue them, we reflect his image more and more (Colossians 3:10). And we don’t do this simply as cranky conservatives. We try, through the Holy Spirit sanctifying us, to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Belief in absolute truth should not make us jerks. As Machen wrote: “If the Word of God is heeded, the Christian battle will be fought both with love and with faithfulness” (178).

Every society and culture has transmitted its values through education. The Church needs to reclaim this task and takes this job seriously. Teachers are on the front lines, and we look forward to a bountiful harvest that we can’t even begin to imagine. We plant seeds now, and we trust God for the results (1 Corinthians 3:6-11).