Random reflections after two years of teaching the Bible in South Korea

After spending most of my life never planning to go, much less live, in Asia, I can now say South Korea is my home. I haven’t posted a blog since being home in the US and reflecting on what it was like to be gone for a year and a half, longer than I had ever been away, and then return. Since then I’ve been busy. My new principal, whom I love, green-lighted a proposal a colleague and I made to completely reshape the Bible curriculum at our school. The changes were so severe we were taking class time away from other core classes, classes that help Korean students on their version of the SAT, which is the most sacred of all sacred cows in Korean society. The cut was deep, and the fallout was not small, but we are doing it. I say that to say my head has been down, buried in curriculum design and implementation, trials and errors and fixes, collaboration, and tirelessly learning about the full scope of Christian education and then ruthlessly defending my key convictions when they are threatened (I say with equal measures of pride and shame). And all of this in an ESL, cross-cultural context (AKA hard). Yesterday was the last day of the semester. I’m tired, but yet again, like a switch being flipped, I’m reflective, and I am blogging. I don’t know why this is a pattern for me, but it is.

One of the things that takes up a lot of my brain space is comparing the history of Christianity and evangelicalism in the western cultures that are very native to me with what I see here in Korea, particularly how the youth I teach are aware of and responding to it. There are similarities to be sure. They have been brought up in Sunday school learning basic stories of the Bible. They have a basic framework of what the Bible is and says, and what a biblical worldview is, or what it should be. However, Christianity is very young in Korea. While young, in some ways it is deeper. Christianity attached to Korea in a time of desperation and identity crisis at a culturally systemic and deeply profound level. Korea has been invaded countless times and its people forced to change and be subservient in ways that most Americans can’t comprehend. It leaves a lasting impact, an imprint on the collective psyche, especially as a collectivist culture. There are words in their language that capture this deep sadness. They all carry it, and I as a fellow human can grasp it generally, but as a foreigner will never grasp deeply. Christianity in Korea steps into that sadness, and sinks into the souls of those who follow Christ here, and it gets into crevices of the human soul that I’m still learning about. In the West Christianity goes deep intellectually, and historically. In Korea it goes deep spiritually and emotionally.

That distinctive in Korean Christianity buys it something. It buys passion, and community. It buys profound and energetic prayer lives and assertive evangelistic efforts. Korean churches send more missionaries out into the world than any other nation with the exception of the USA, and I think per capita they take the cake. However, there are clear and present deficiencies and I see them all the time. I teach many Korean missionary children and the other children I teach are usually kids of faithful, local Korean Christians. I think it is fair to say I see a sample of the future of Korean Christianity every day in my classes. To be honest, there are some disturbing realities on the horizon.

The lack of Christian history in Korea specifically, but Asia more broadly, combined with the increasing rate of secularization, is concocting a potent mix. I see many of the same trends from when I was in high school, trends that mirror the American millennial generation. The same questions and concerns that arise from those who are done with church, and/or claim no religious affiliation. This is concerning on a few levels.

One is almost purely cultural. This collectivist culture is losing its collectivism in relation to family and religion, which is being replaced by the internet. What do we all know about the internet? It’s good and bad, but there’s a lot of porn, there are a lot of video games, and there’s a lot of advertising. With the diminished voice of family and church in the lives of youth, these other sources of “knowledge” and “pleasure” are becoming the primary sources of “life.” Korea boasts the fastest internet in the world, and I love it and hate it. Content needs curation, and curation is the fruit of wisdom, or the lack thereof. I see a great dearth of wisdom in Korean Christian youth. There’s a cultural gap between old Korea and the new as well as Korean culture and western culture. There is some overlap, but not all of new Korea can be called western, per se. It’s complex, and there are few if any contemporary, native, Korean Christian leaders speaking to youth in a way that makes sense to them. One of the biggest complaints in my class is they want to talk about the stuff we talk about in class with older Koreans, but can’t due to these cultural gaps in experience, knowledge, identity and worldview. They are being told what to think but not how. Korea, with its fast internet, the longest working hours in the world, it’s reputation for its rapid rise as a capitalist economy, has a fast paced culture.

Another level of issues is ecclesial. The church has syncretised with this fast paced cultural reality without enough reflection, and the youth are paying the price. I find my biggest asset as a foreigner is that I have to go slow by default in order to do anything. It turns out that that is what these kids need. The language barrier helps us both slow down enough to process the information in the Bible, and in Christian history, and the intersection between those things and modern Korean culture and what it all means, in general, and for them specifically. I’m still learning how to do this well but it is being done. I know I’m not a savior, for damn sure. I hate anything I see or find in myself that smacks of spiritual imperialism. I have much to learn from Korean Christians. But missionaries and/or Christian educators, empowered by God the Spirit and equipped with the Bible, are nothing if they are not able to speak with at least some authority on these matters. I tell my students, “as an outsider I’m an observer who can serve as a mirror to let you know what I see, but it’s up to you to change things.” After two years I can say with authority that Biblical literacy in Korean youth is poor, theological literacy is dismal, and ethical literacy is a flaming meteorite penetrating the atmosphere and is going to hit with epic impact. These students have been so primed to focus on their math and science education such that the humanities are not an afterthought, they are hardly a thought at all. It’s Korean SAT (KSAT) or die. Churches have full days of prayer for the their youth on test day. Students, by government mandate, are allowed to skip a huge majority of my (and all) classes in the Fall semester order to receive special tutoring  for the KSAT, and churches are falling in line. The suicide rate in Korean youth is highest the day the KSAT result come out. It’s literally life and death. Most of my seniors say the number one reason they haven’t committed suicide is for fear that they will go to Hell. I appreciate the church’s discipleship around biblical authority on the doctrine of Hell, but I find their lack of discipleship on Christian identity deplorable. My Korean colleagues are mixed on this issue, and my head goes spinning most days when something related to this comes up in staff meetings. Welcome to my life, and my personal lack of ability to be diplomatic despite my best efforts, I read the biblical prophets too much…

At this point, I’m just tired as I write, but I felt compelled to do so. I’d like to think that others can benefit from my reflections in some way as I do from so much content I try to curate on the internet. I hope this is the case. I’ll try to write more as I have energy. These reflections are fresh, and born out of the tired end of a long and laborious semester in a foreign context. I love what I get to do, and what I do feels important. I feel inadequate to the task, but I trust God brought me here for a reason, so I rely on him as exclusively as I am able day to day.

 

Active awareness of the anatomy of the Gospel as key to spiritual formation in Christian education. Part 3 of 3: Glorification

glorification

The time has finally come to conclude this blog series, as I also conclude this school year and the year overall as well. My writing fell off a cliff the last couple of months as other priorities anchored me to other tasks. It feels good, right and appropriate to have waited until now to reflect on the wonderful doctrine of glorification and it’s implications on my life and particularly in Christian education.

In part one I laid out the need for a robust understanding and active awareness of justification as critical to a distinctive learning and working environment for Christian education.

In part two I laid out the need for a robust understanding and active awareness of sanctification as critical to the same ends.

Now I turn to glorification, and I’m glad to on many levels. In justification we are saved from the eternal penalty of sin by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. In sanctification we are being saved from the power of sin day by day, which is made possible by Christ’s justifying work, and enabled by the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in us helping us fight sin day by day until we die or Christ returns. But what happens then, why does it matter, and why is it crucial to spiritual formation in Christian education?

Justification achieves it’s goal, it saves us completely from the penalty of sin. But sanctification has a goal yet to be realized, and that goal is to make us perfect, just like God is perfect.

48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48)

Glorification is the truth that one day we will be saved from the very presence of sin and evil. Justification saves us from sins penalty, sanctification is saving us from sins power, and there is an end to that, and that end is when we are glorified, made perfect, and our salvation is complete when we die or he returns.

There are many worldviews one can have. There are many ways, both subtle and not so subtle, that competing worldviews will take root and corrupt the Christian worldview by attaching itself to it. Most worldviews have a goal of some form of their own version of glorification. The perfect humans, the perfect cities, the perfect world, that is built by that worldview’s version of a superior class or race or religion. Christians don’t believe in a man made utopia, but that God through Christ by the Spirit’s power is preparing us to be perfect in a redeemed world that he is preparing to dwell with us in once Christ returns.

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Php 1:3–6)

Without a deep understanding of this and an ongoing and active awareness, two potential pitfalls present themselves. One is pride. We will allow humanistic worldviews to seep in and corrupt the truth that only God has the power and the effective plan for making things perfect, and saving us from the evil that is within and without. We will believe in the power of men to save and put our hope in them and ourselves otherwise. The second is despair. We, as Christian educators, could allow a nihilistic worldview to corrupt the truth that God has a definite plan and purpose for the evil and sin in the world, and that he is and will save us completely in the end. We will believe in the absolute power of the evil we see and experience and lose all hope and devalue life including our own if we fail at this.

Glorification is the truth that is the antidote to pride and despair, and it completes a full picture of our spiritual formation from beginning to end, and it must actively penetrate every facet of the Christian education initiative wherever it is found such that all involved are actively aware. We must remember, and remind often, we must consider it at every turn with every decision.

Personally, if it weren’t for these truths, which are so masterfully and beautifully captured in the pages of the Bible, and so incredibly teased out through the history of salvation from the beginning of time, through church history and to the present day, I would not teach at a Christian school. I definitely would not teach the Bible. And I certainly would not do it in an international context where I am misunderstood, constantly put in positions where I can only fail, and treated like an outsider most of the time. In spite of all that, fighting to make Christ known fully, to make the details of his grace actively known and not passively assumed, is worth it. It’s the only thing that’s worth it to me. I don’t always live or act like that, because I am weak and easily distracted, but I have been saved from sin’s eternal penalties, I am being saved from it’s destructive power day by day, and one day maybe I’ll forget what sin ever felt like, because I’ll be in a glorified state with Christ for thousands of years, perfect and purified. If I don’t have that, I have nothing. If I do have it, I have everything.

This concludes a rough and tumble display of my firm convictions and beliefs about the anatomy of the Gospel and it’s critical role in the spiritual formation of staff and students at Christian education institutions. I hope it has been helpful, or at least a decently presented grouping of ideas to disagree with or improve upon.

Active awareness of the anatomy of the Gospel as key to spiritual formation in Christian education. Part 2 of 3: Sanctification

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Continuing on in this series of posts, I’d now like to discuss the necessity of an active and pervasive awareness of sanctification as vital to spiritual formation in Christian education. Last week I made an introduction and discussed justification. Without an active, ongoing, commitment to an organizational culture saturated in the reality of our justified state in Jesus Christ, there will be no foundation upon which a healthy culture of sanctification can be built, period.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:19–22)

The simple fact of the matter is that education from a Christian perspective, as all vocation is, a sanctifying work in the life of a Christian. In fact, Christian education’s purpose is to harness that reality to full potential. Where there are erroneous or heretical views of sanctification within institutions of Christian education, there will be spiritual abuse of all kinds. If anything other than Christ’s atoning work in the lives of Christians serves as the basis by which all spiritual growth springs, there will be idolatry and false worship. Christian education presents unique opportunities and challenges in this arena of Christian living and worship.

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Th 2:13–14)

Justification is the penalty of sin having been paid, full stop. It is a past, present and future reality that is completely finished by Christ’s death on the cross. Sanctification is the act of Christ through the Holy Spirit saving us from the power of sin day by day. Justification: I have been saved from the penalty of sin. Sanctification: I am being saved from the power of sin, it is a present reality that does not end until death or the return of Christ. Justification is static, sanctification is dynamic.

11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Co 6:11)

Christian education exists to provide an arena for administrators, teachers and students alike to grow in wisdom and stature under the loving lordship of Christ, which occurs only with an active awareness of who Christ is, what he has done and is doing. It exists to be an engine of maturity and preparation for life with a clearing view of the sanctifying work of Christ through all of life. It is vital to understand that we are not sanctified by education, but only by Christ. The primary text is the Bible as God’s word, whereby all things are viewed through it’s lens. This is the anatomy of a Christian worldview, and this is the guiding measure of a distinctively Christian spiritual formation.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Ti 3:16–17)

Leadership is perhaps the hottest furnace of sanctifying experiences in an organization. Much of the troubles rise to the top, and the burden sits uniquely on the shoulders of leaders. It is their task to engage prayerfully as a united front seeking God’s will at all times. How will our decisions, demeanor and communications play out in the reality that we and everyone in our care are currently fighting against the powers of sin as Christ seeks to make us more like himself? When I fail, am I able to own it and repent? When I succeed, am I able to remain humble? How am I setting the standard by which those in my care will learn to go through life leaning on Christ’s power for growth in grace?

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Co 11:1)

Teachers in Christian education have the task of educating minds and encouraging hearts in the reality of the ongoing battle with the power of sin in their own lives and the lives of their students. How will the daily interactions in the class serve to create a social culture where it is believed that Christ will be working to make us, not just smarter, but holier, as he uses all things to bring about spiritual maturity in our lives? How will our curriculum be built to reflect the active awareness that the Holy Spirit is working in us every day to lead us to a greater relationship with our creator because of what Christ has done for us? How will our classes reflect the reality of the penalty of our sins being paid, but our fight with the power of sin raging on to a definite end? Every subject area deals with the brokenness of the world, the question is how does Christian education uniquely form the spirituality of its students? Though it can be answered in many ways, perhaps the simplest is to say through cultivating an active awareness of the Gospel, specifically Christ’s justifying work that pays the eternal penalties of sin, and the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work that is saving us from the powers of sin day by day.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Th 5:23–24)

Nobody is good at sanctification, it’s really not ours to be good at. No one can boast. All we can do is realize how it works according to scripture, and worship Jesus as we experience the reality of his work in our daily life and the lives of those around us. As workers in Christian education, it is our delight and privilege to teach this to the next generation through every avenue available to us. We want students who come out knowing, I’m not perfect, only Jesus is, and he is making me more like himself everyday. We get to demonstrate that we are not perfect as well, and display Christ as students watch us grow.

I grew up believing the lie that Christians should be perfect in every way or they are not truly Christian. Many Christian youth have had this experience. As I learned the anatomy of the Gospel, the details, I was and continue to be comforted by the reality that I can rest in my justification even as I wage war against sin in my sanctification through God’s power. A few years ago when I was taking a class that focused on this in detail, I was so moved I wrote a poem I titled “An Ode to Imputation.” Imputation is the teaching that our sin is imputed or given to Jesus on the cross, and Jesus’ righteousness is imputed or given to us through faith in him. As I thought about that truth, about how I can rest in being saved from sin’s penalty, and that my daily battle with sin’s power is not hopeless, I thanked God. I want my students to thank God for those reasons too. I hope you will find it helpful as you keep a balance between the head and heart of these precious realities.

An Ode to Imputation

Did You consider my condition

Before You sent me on Your mission?

 

Before You called me from the grave,

Where devils rule and have their way,

Where I was a slave,

 

Did You         see me?

 

Was not my sin—

Dark and reprobate,

My perfectly punishable state—

Was it not in view?

 

Was it my mouth—

Where there is both cursing and praise,

Double tongue setting the world ablaze,

Blaspheming, demeaning, demonstrably damned—

Was it my mouth You saw?

 

Was it my hands—

Cursed beyond repair,

Hailing the prince of the air,

A listless, lost, and wasteful pair—

Was it my hands You saw?

 

Was it my feet—

Unready and wavering,

Stubborn and sin savoring,

Running feral on the path of ruin—

Was it my feet You saw?

 

Was it my mind—

A library of lust,

Indolent and gathering dust,

Beacon of idolatry, adultery, and pride—

Was it my mind You saw?

 

Was it my heart—

Damnable at best,

Lifeless stone inside my chest,

A fountain of fetid desires—

Was it my heart You saw?

 

Did You         see me?

 

From where came this mouth of mine,

Filled with golden tongue,

Fountain of things divine?

 

From where came these hands at my side

Calloused in service

Perfect and purified?

 

From where came these feet ,

Ready with the Gospel of peace,

In holiness replete?

 

From where came this mind anew,

A library of Love

Only satisfied in You?

 

From where came this softened heart

On which a Law is written

From which it won’t depart?

 

To whom do I owe this nature

That is not my own,

Who is my Savior?

I must conclude thus:

In His sovereign Will

He has given me His righteousness.

 

His Name must be great!

His Ways must be mysterious!

His Love must radiate!

His Wrath must be furious!

 

What does it mean,

For me to be looked upon

And it be Christ who is seen?

I am dead,

And He lives in me.

 

This is my condition

As You send me on Your mission.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Ro 3:21–26)

 

Sanctification.
Term meaning being made holy, or purified, it is used broadly of the whole Christian experience, though most theologians prefer to use it in a restricted sense to distinguish it from related terms, such as regeneration, justification, and glorification.
Definition.
A comprehensive definition of santification by the New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833) states: “We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means—especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer” (Article X).

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1898). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

 

SANCTIFICATION Process of being made holy resulting in a changed lifestyle for the believer. The English word “sanctification” comes from the Latin sanctificatio, meaning the act or process of making holy, consecrated. In the Greek NT the root hag- is the basis of hagiasmos, “holiness,” “consecration,” “sanctification”; hagiosune, “holiness”; hagiotes, “holiness”; hagiazo, “to sanctify,” “consecrate,” “treat as holy,” “purify”; and hagios, “holy,” “saint.” The root idea of the Greek stem is to stand in awe of something or someone. The NT usage is greatly dependent upon the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint, for meaning. The hag words in the Septuagint mostly translated the Hebrew qadosh, “separate, contrasting with the profane.” Thus, God is separate; things and people dedicated to Him and to His use are separate. The moral implications of this word came into focus with the prophets and became a major emphasis in the NT.

Cranford, L. L. (2003). Sanctification. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1443). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

 

SANCTIFICATION—involves more than a mere moral reformation of character, brought about by the power of the truth: it is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the whole nature more and more under the influences of the new gracious principles implanted in the soul in regeneration. In other words, sanctification is the carrying on to perfection the work begun in regeneration, and it extends to the whole man (Rom. 6:13; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10; 1 John 4:7; 1 Cor. 6:19). It is the special office of the Holy Spirit in the plan of redemption to carry on this work (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13). Faith is instrumental in securing sanctification, inasmuch as it (1) secures union to Christ (Gal. 2:20), and (2) brings the believer into living contact with the truth, whereby he is led to yield obedience “to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come.”

Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.