Galatians: Introduction for Teachers Only

This summer, June – August 2012, we’re studying Galatians in the adult Bible classes, the college class, and in the high school class. It’s part of the multi-generational strategy we adopted last year.

We’re going to mix up the teaching method a bit for the adults and college students, adopting the pattern used by Community Bible Study, a non-denominational Bible study popular in many areas, including Tuscaloosa.

Here’s the idea:

* The first week is an introduction and overview of the book. This will be especially helpful for Galatians, which is a tough text to read cold.

* Thereafter, the study of Galatians will be a daily rather than weekly event.

* Students will be expected to do homework — nothing terribly hard. For the five days preceding class — Tuesday through Saturday — they’ll be expected to read a passage and answer a few short-answer questions. The passages will be posted at the church’s website with the questions each week (and available as hard-copy handouts at the building). The church office will email copies of the upcoming week’s material at noon on each Sunday, so students will have the review material as soon as they get home each week.

* On Sunday, the questions will be quickly reviewed. Where the facilities permit, the class will break into table top groups to discuss answers. The class will end with a discussion class led by the teacher.

* On Monday, the students will read a commentary (posted at noon on the Sunday, the day before) that summarizes the week’s study.

The high school classes will have their own materials, written in parallel. These materials will include thought questions for parents to discuss with their children. We want to encourage parents and teens to study together.

This is, of course, a very different approach from traditional church Bible classes. Particularly unusual is giving the lengthy reading after the class as review material, rather than at the beginning as material to be mastered before the lesson. The idea is that the students should begin by reading and reflecting on the Bible itself. The commentary comes at the end.

I have created a WordPress page, posted at the top under the banner, with all the Galatians lessons listed, with the dates for study, to make it easy for teachers and students to download materials.

For teachers, there are training videos posted at the CBS website. I especially appreciate the Rick Anderson video.

One of the biggest challenges is the schedule. This summer, adult classes are only 45 minutes long. We need to start on time — even if the students aren’t there yet. If you start on time this week, they’ll come on time next week. If you start late this week, they’ll come late next week.

I’m not sure whether we’ll be able to do teacher prep each Wednesday night — if I have to do them all — because we have two minister searches going on that will often keep me away. We can discuss alternatives.

I do think that it’s imperative that teachers attend the first few Wednesday evening teacher preparation classes. We need the opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other, especially with this new format. There will be challenges we need to handle together. Frankly, I see the need continuing and figure we need to run the Wednesday night classes for the entire quarter. But I know that a non-elder will have to handle some of them.

Another challenge is  making Galatians relevant to each age group. The idea of “free to live for Christ” will mean different things to different age groups.

Those in their 50s and older will be wrestling with residual legalism. To them “freedom” will mean freedom from a rules-bound religion. For this group, a teacher should read Do We Teach Another Gospel?, which deals specifically with this issue.

Those who are younger will be mixed. Some will have come up in Churches just as legalistic as us old folks (and their teacher will also need to have read Do We Teach Another Gospel?). Others will have come from other denominations or from Churches that had no struggle with legalism — or may have been converted as adults. For them, “freedom” may be a different concept because they’ve not suffered greatly from Church of Christ versions of legalism.

However, they’ll be extremely interested in certain issues — particularly the role of women and instrumental music.

The role of women is important to younger women because they live in a world in which they have (nearly) equal rights. Many are very accomplished teachers and managers of men in the work place. The role of women in church is often extremely foreign to what they experience outside the institutional church, and they see the difference as immoral — and frustrating because they know they have gifts they can use in God’s kingdom.

We’ll reach this topic when we get to Gal 3:26-27, and there will be no avoiding it. Be ready to discuss — and to be challenged.

Instrumental music is not dealt with directly in Galatians, but many students will wonder whether instrumental music is a contemporary version of circumcision. At some point, the question will be raised, and we need to be ready to discuss it — understanding the sensitivities of both sides of the question, not over-teaching Galatians on this point while being very faithful to the text.

But we should also be sure that freedom includes the ideas of willingness to change and racial and denominational reconciliation. After all, the circumcision issue that drives Galatians was about an effort to segregate Gentiles from Jews — or to force Gentiles to become Jews in order to be part of the church.

Today, we commit a very similar sin when we force new converts to become like us in ways that have nothing to do with the gospel as a condition of being part of us. When our church culture and ways become a barrier to reaching Jesus, we are teaching a form of circumcision — and this is very relevant to our youngest students and anyone else who is active in evangelism. We should be willing to change (without compromising the gospel) in order to invite the lost in.

Galatians itself is about racial barriers being taken down as cultural and even religious practices were changed to make it easier for Gentiles to be converted.

Paul’s teaching on salvation by faith and baptism — central to chapter 3 — will weigh heavily as we consider the importance of unity across religious and racial lines built on a united, single gospel and faith in Jesus. It’s a challenging issue today, but one we dare not avoid.

Thus, if we let the discussion descend into a diatribe against 1950s Church of Christ legalism, we’ll lose the young students and alienate many others. But if we speak in terms of the issues the truly drive the book — removing barriers in order to unite because the gospel requires unity – we will speak to very real, present needs, and the issues will be dealt with by getting the bigger issues right.

More broadly, one of the key points of Galatians is the power of the Spirit in our lives and its importance to our Christianity, and this is a topic that will appeal to all ages and which permeates the book. We need to be prepared to discuss how the Spirit is part of Paul’s entire discourse. Helpful to this will be the series, in the process of being posted, “Faith That Works.” TEACHERS MUST READ THESE POSTS.

The series is still being posted, but the following are the posts so far:

Faith That Works: On the Meaning of “Works”

Faith That Works: On the Meaning of “Justification”

Faith that Works: On the Meaning of “Does Not Work”

Faith that Works: On Why the Lazy Make Us Mad

Faith That Works: The Relationship Paradigm

Faith that Works: Paul’s Defense in Romans 3

Faith That Works: Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

Faith that Works: Meandering from Romans 6 to the Spirit

Faith that Works: Romans 8 — The Torah of the Spirit of Life

Faith that Works: Romans 6 – 7 Read With the Spirit

Faith that Works: The Indwelling Spirit

Faith that Works: Slavery, Sonship, Suffering and Glory

Faith that Works: Attaining to the Image of God and Torah

Faith that Works: Living Sacrifices

Faith that Works: Love in Community

This series is much deeper than the Galatians study will be in this format, but the study will give teachers the depth and richness of the text to help them present the Spirit as more than a patch on the old wineskins of traditional Church of Christ thought.

Moreover, both the Faith that Works series and the Galatians lessons will approach the text differently from our traditional reading. We traditionally read New Testament texts in isolation, rarely bothering to serious study the background of the book or the over-arching scriptural themes that drive the discussion.

Worse yet, we almost always ignore the Old Testament background, skipping the references to the Old Testament altogether or, at least, not pausing to see why Paul refers to this or that prophecy at this place.

And so in Galatians, we’re attempting a reading of the text that fits it within the over-arching narrative of scripture as well as the story of God’s work in spreading the gospel to the Gentiles as described in Acts (to fit Galatians into the last two quarters where we studied Acts).

Studying the Spirit will lead to Paul’s other point: becoming transformed people. And that’s the ultimate goal of God’s work in us. He wants us to become like his Son, who is like him. And the Spirit does this. Again, this is covered in the “Faith That Works” series, largely through Romans, but also Galatians.

The point of that series is not to teach Galatians so much as Paul’s theology, which will help you understand Galatians so you can teach it better.

And this will answer the other question that is central to Galatians: “If we’re saved by faith, why bother to do good works?” The traditional answer is to impose a layer of legalism — salvation by works — on top of our teaching on grace, essentially erasing grace.

A better answer is found in personal transformation by the Spirit — which is where we want to go with this lesson. After all, one key goal of the series is that students understand grace so well that they feel motivated to submit to God’s transforming work through the Spirit in them.

That’s a lot to ask of this series, but that’s the goal. And it’s an even bigger goal than persuading the students to give up legalism for freedom.

Thus, a key thought is that the very purpose of Jesus’ crucifixion is so that we come to faith, be saved, be brought into Christian community, receive the Spirit, and be transformed — and that this is sufficient. Circumcision is not necessary — and indeed can be damning when insisted on as a requirement to be saved — because it makes faith and the Spirit’s work within us insufficient and thereby throws away the crucifixion. And that’s a great, great sin.

I don’t know. I’d love to do two quarters on Galatians. But the CBS book (which I can’t get) is only six weeks. This format is not really designed for deep, deep theology. Then again, if we can get our members to spend 7 x 13 days on Galatians, a lot of good should happen.

Leave a Reply