The Pragmatism of John Dewey in “Experience and Education”

Late brunch at Yakun this morning with a visiting friend who’d just met with a group of Ministry of Education scholars now serving their bonds as teachers in various schools in Singapore. Said friend was aghast at their expressions of anti-government sentiment and their reluctance to teach anything about Lee Kuan Yew because it was “just government propaganda”.

Yakun Coffeeshop - kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs, coffee and teaSince I do not know these people personally, it would be hard to sieve through their muddled thinking to understand what exactly they disagree with and why – and perhaps, if they were heavy-users of clumpy thinking, they may not have the self-awareness to explain themselves either. The issue is not whether anyone is for or against Lee Kuan Yew; the issue is the failure to think critically and carefully, and avoid the trap of false dichotomies (you must either be for or against a person or an idea).

How to train people so that they don’t grow up like this? I suspect it’s not too different from what I’ve been thinking about sporadically over the last few months – the best pedagogical methods to use for teaching others to read the Bible for themselves. Possibly, common grace means it will be a mash-up of many existing education theories and learning and instructional hypotheses that are yet to exist.

The important skill, it seems (not just in properly exercising our democratic right as voters in any upcoming elections, or to read the Bible for ourselves but also in a global world with many competing voices), is the ability to make proper judgements, personally and collectively, having continuously learned and thought in a variety of situations, workplaces, platforms (virtual or physical), and having found and selected the right knowledge.

Yakun Coffeeshop - kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs, coffee and teaToday, I looked at the pragmatism of John Dewey in his seminal Experience and Education and the social learning theory of Albert Bandura.

Every learning theory and pedagogical method is based on certain ontological and epistemological presuppositions. Foundational to Dewey and Bandura’s theories seems to be the ontology of materialism and naturalism as expressed in pragmatism, and the epistemology of radical empiricism.

If the definition of pragmatism is that something is true only if it works, this assumes firstly that what “works” can be measured or observed, and secondly that the result can be viewed in the lifetime of the researcher.

Regardless, useful takeaways are:

  • the idea that learning takes place among and through other people and artifacts as relational activity;
  • experience must always have a context if learning is to take place and be transmuted to the cognitive and communicative sphere;
  • learning can occur by observing a behaviour  and the consequences of the behaviour (vicarious reinforcement);
  • in the symbolic model of observational learning, it seems that people’s constructions of reality depend heavily on what they see, hear, read, rather than what they personally experience;
  • (couple this with reciprocal determinism and you get a theory of why extremism in all sorts of thinking is on the rise in the internet generation).

Instructional theory-wise, progressive education and David Kolb’s experiential learning are key methods.

I have already started trialling a very similar method in training Bible study leaders, outcome akan datang.

“…it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently” (John Dewey)

Warnings to Followers of Calvin and Calvinists

Phillip Jensen of Sydney recorded a very useful interview about Calvin and Calvinism with Matt Perkins of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate in London. Calvin was a Bible man first and so was able teach the complexity of the Bible truth, whereas many Calvinists go to their simplistic systems first and are more interested in defending their systems. I thought he was quite nuanced in saying that this was a family quarrel about emphases, shibboleths, but recommended that we ask why moving away from expositional gospel ministry has led to unhappy outcomes.

Paul Levy of Reformation 21 then made a strange sneery comment about the video that contained no constructive argument and didn’t really engage with any of the points Jensen made. Elsewhere, Levy writes vaguely about the benefits of criticism, so perhaps he thinks that his gadfly-ing helps with the biblical ministry of others. Yet he simplistically assumes that all criticism is useful. His mockery is so incoherent that people (like Stevens and Ovey) generally have to help clarify his criticism before replying.

I would have dismissed him as yet another internet troll if he was not shepherd of the congregation at International Presbyterian Church, Ealing. Unfortunately, this appears to be his regular way of engaging with a certain tribe(?) of Christian brothers – a quick search turned up a not-very-nice comment on Lee Gatiss on the same Reformation 21 site, as well as a very gracious reply from John Stevens to his criticism of FIEC, and a generous response by Richard Perkins putting this all down to Levy’s Welsh wit.

Perhaps these are backhanded compliments? But he is quite complimentary about many others without a lot of nasty words. Even if we’ve misunderstood his “Welsh wit” (or precisely because it would be globally misunderstood all the way from America to Australia), James’ injunction about controlling the tongue comes to mind.

Demonstrating what useful commentating looks like, Mike Ovey, principal of Oakhill Theological College, wrote a good article on the topic. Quoting it in full in case it gets taken off their website*:

Family rows: Followers of Calvin and the Calvinists

‘… yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible…’ Paradise Lost Book 1, ll. 62-3

It is always a tad awkward when two people one highly respects have a go at each other’s positions on the Web. Thus, Phillip Jensen has drawn a distinction in a recent video between followers of Calvin and Calvinists, very much to the latter’s disadvantage, while Paul Levy has responded with a piece affecting to see this as advanced Australian satire. He suggests this is simply revisiting the tired and discredited old idea that the Calvinists are at odds with Calvin.

I admire and respect both men. As a further complication, my day job involves teaching systematic theology and it is difficult not to feel that I amongst others am in the Jensen crosshairs.

What to do?

Let me focus on what I think is the central and most important point Phillip raises: the risk of preaching a human theological system rather than the Bible. Phillip argues that Calvinists are not true followers of Calvin, because where Calvin was a Bible theologian first, Calvinists are systematic theologians first and when preaching the Bible end up preaching their system because they approach the text with that so strongly in their minds.

In particular, while we need to systematise when we teach, Phillip says, preaching the system does not allow for the rich complexities of the Bible. Followers of Calvin do what Calvin did, not what Calvinists do. Phillip goes on to argue that the outcome of Calvinism is to kill evangelism in favour of education and to commit us to presuppositional rather than evidential apologetics.

We must now distinguish several different issues of varying importance.

1. Is this a fair characterisation of Calvinists, who do, after all, labour under the impression that their views bear some passing resemblance to those of John Calvin and would count themselves precisely as ‘followers of Calvin’?

2. Does this capture what Calvinists think they are doing when preaching the Bible?

3. Who are these Calvinists anyway?

4. Does this capture what in fact happens when a Calvinist preaches?

Of these, the last is the most important. Do Calvinists preach a system rather than the Bible? Given that the Bible is to be our final authority in life and doctrine, of course this is the most important question and, since I am, as I type this, not yet perfect but am still tempted to disregard God’s Word, I do well to listen to Phillip’s challenge and examine it. I am after all, simul justis et peccator, both justified and sinful: mild apologies for letting my systematic theology peep out there.

Let me make some comments on this primary question.

First, yes, of course there is a risk that Calvinists preach their system and not the Bible. They are humans who are not yet perfected and that risk is therefore always there. Phillip is giving me a sharp but valuable warning.

Secondly, this risk is not confined to Calvinists. History is replete with those who end up teaching their systems rather than the text. The obvious contemporary example are Jehovah’s Witnesses. We may say that the risk Phillip highlights is not simply due to the fact that one is a Calvinist, but more to do with the fact one is human.

Thirdly, the risk is greatest for those who claim they do not approach the Bible with preconceptions but just allow the Bible to speak on its own terms. Again the church scene is and has been full of those who say just this: Open theists today and, come to that, various 19th century liberals would claim precisely that they were the ones handling the Bible ‘properly’. In fact, my blood runs cold when I hear someone say they just give me the straight Bible with no preconceptions: this is one of those cases where Phillip is right to remind us that the Bible gives us a complex picture.

Part of its complexity are those texts which remind us not just of the corruption of our hearts pre-conversion, but of the ongoing temptation and falling into sin we experience post-conversion (1 John 1:8, 2 Timothy 4:3). If I am to handle God’s Word rightly for others, I do well to examine my own heart and how I as a human creature in space and time continue to be affected by the world around me. I cannot assume I approach the Bible with purity.

Fourthly, a key issue is this: when am I preaching my system and when am I doing the necessary systematisation of which Phillip approves? There is a danger here. It is tempting to write somebody else off as ‘just preaching their system’ and vindicate myself as ‘just doing necessary systematisation’. This is dangerous because if I say ‘Squiggins is just preaching his system – again’, then I tend to stop asking if Squiggins is in fact right.

The language of ‘over-logical’, ‘logic-chopping’, ‘doing theology by numbers’ does not help clarify matters. I am very much afraid it sometimes serves us as a way of saying, ‘I don’t like this, but can’t see where it’s wrong, so I’ll just write it off without thinking properly by dismissing it as logic-chopping’. If we get to that point, then we are in real danger of becoming unteachable ourselves. And I am at my most unteachable when I hold opinions so deeply I am not aware even of holding them. The most uncorrectable systematic theologian is the one who denies he or she has a systematic theology.

What counts as over-logical? At its best, ‘over-logical’ describes a position I have deduced that does not fit with the teaching of the whole counsel of God. At its best, ‘over-logical’ arises when I am simply wrong because, for instance, I have disregarded the complexity of the Bible. I am completely with Phillip to that extent. My problem arises not simply because of questions asked about Calvinists – they should be asked. My problem lies in the very unfortunate implication that the ‘followers of Calvin’ do not face the same issues, and sometimes fall into the same traps.

*also, can’t seem to find any copyright info there. hope this is ok!

Good Faith and Context – John Rawls

Just like the context (historical, social, political etc) of the erection of a building is key in understanding and appreciating a piece of architecture, so it is with reading philosophy.

"Rawls" by Samuel FreemanReading Samuel Freeman’s (such a lovely family name!) Introduction to his book on Rawls, made one get rather fond of Rawls even before he began to speak:

Of his teaching Rawls said:

“[One] thing I tried to do was to present each writer’s thought in what I took to be its strongest form. I took to heart Mill’s remark in his review of [Adam] Sedgwick: “A doctrine is not judged at all until it is judged in its best form”…So I tried to do just that. yet I didn’t say, not intentionally anyway, what to my mind they should have said, but what they did say, supported by what I viewed as the most reasonable interpretation of their text. The text had to be known and respected, and the doctrine presented it in its best form. Leaving aside the text seemed offensive, a kind of pretending. If I departed from it – no harm in that – I had to say so. Lecturing that way, I believed that a writer’s views became stronger and more convincing, and would be for students a more worthy object of study.

Several maxims guided me in doing this. I always assumed, for example, that the writers we were studying were always much smarter than I was. If they were not, why was I wasting my time and the students’ time by studying them? If I saw a mistake in their arguments, I supposed they saw it too and must have dealt with it, but where? So I looked for their way out, not mine. Sometimes their way out was historical: in their day the question need not be raised; or wouldn’t arise or be fruitfully discussed. Or there was a part of the text I had overlooked, or hadn’t read.

We learn moral and political philosophy, and indeed any other part of philosophy by studying the exemplars – those noted figures who have made cherished attempts – and we try to learn from them, and if we are lucky, to find a way to go beyond them. My task was to explain Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, or Hume, Leibniz and Kant as clearly and forcefully as I could, always attending carefully to what they actually said.

The result was that I was loath to raise objections to the exemplars – that’s too easy and misses what is essential – though it was important to point out objections that those coming later in the same tradition sought to correct, or to point to views those in another tradition thought were mistaken. (I think here of the social contract view and ultilitarianism as two traditions.) Otherwise philosophical thought can’t progress and it would be mysterious why later writers made the criticisms they did.” [from Rawls’ Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy]

In his lectures Rawls emphasized the importance of reading the preface to any philosophical work, to gain and understanding of a philosopher’s reasons for writing the book.

I think this demonstrates good faith in wanting to further the discussion for the general good of humanity, rather than trying to score political points or win the applause of the masses with some new! fresh! extreme! ideas or even to gain tenure. It is also a refreshing breath of humility.

Killiney Kopitiam and Existential Pedagogy

When we lived on Grange Road, Killiney Kopitiam (67 Killiney Road, Singapore) was my breakfast haunt on Saturday mornings. It was best to go alone, or with someone who didn’t want much chat, score a seat outside, next to the road, and read the Saturday Business Times between mouthfuls of lemak curry chicken and roti prata, finished off with slices of kaya toast. A good time too for thinking.
Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney Road

Am still brooding over pedagogical methods for teaching people to read their Bibles.

Was looking today specifically at the sort of instructional design that emerges from idealism, phenomenology, and existentialism. Might have misunderstood stuff, but here goes anyway:

Idealism is an ontological concept that says that reality consists only of minds. The physical world is only an illusion, a product of minds.

Phenomenology (closely linked with Edmund Husserl) is the epistemological concept that says therefore that all we know is our subjective reality. It is meaningless to seek out an objective reality. Our perceptions and internal experience are all that matter. As Albert Camus put it:

This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world around me I can feel, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction.

Existentialism (Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre et al) then says, in light of the above, that since there are no truths about human nature, the individual is free to make his/her life in whatever way he/she wants.

In this worldview, inauthenticity is the biggest crime one can commit. Inauthenticity is when the individual allows him/herself to be defined by social categorisation, by conforming to the pressure to be a certain sort of person, or to adopt a particular manner of living, or to ignore their own moral or aesthetic judgements. Inauthenticity is being a “moral person” because by doing so, one subjects oneself to traditional external ethics.

Authenticity then is to be true to one’s own personality, spirit, character, despite external pressures.

Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney RoadThe aim of education within an existential worldview would be to allow students to learn that the world is absurd and without intrinsic meaning, and their lives are limited and temporal. They must then learn to be authentic by unilaterally creating and re-creating their lives through their own free will.

Of the educational curriculum, James Magrini in Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Education calls us to recognise and seek:

to overcome the injustice of a curriculum that embraces and privileges certain modes of knowing about others, such as an epistemological model favouring analytic-logical-empirical clusters of knowledge over more intangible forms of knowledge, those associated with the arts, which include the intuitive-perceptual model of knowledge…
Curriculum making conceived existentially, as opposed to following a product-process model (Tyler, 1949), which in great part determines the trajectory of the education in advance of actual student learning, would attempt to adopt a process-product line of curriculum development (“curriculum-envisioning”). This would allow for the curriculum to develop and evolve autonomously as the learning unfolds. In this “existentially” conceived curriculum, benchmarks are merely temporary, transitory, and malleable, they develop along with the learning process.

Instructional design then, is along the lines of the constructivist model I looked at previously. Magrini again:

The method of pedagogy must allow for the student’s development of her own unique possibilities, which is why the existentialists would reject a standardized curriculum and an authoritarian model for teaching. An “existential” curriculum would include a diverse content as well as an array of varied pedagogical methods, which would, importantly, include ample opportunities for peer-initiated and peer-directed learning.

Educators should plan lessons that embrace and incorporate aspects of the student’s emotional and intellectual autobiography (Grumet, 1992). However, it is not only the aspects of one’s unique life-story that matter, it is also important that students understand the major role that “history” and “heritage”play in shaping who we become-history’s authentic role not only forges our past but as well contributes to the future enactment of our possibilities that we gather from our“heritage”

The instructional methods employed should not be resemble the out-dated authoritarian model,where the teacher is the “superior” possessor of knowledge and the student the “inferior,” empty vessel waiting to be filled (Freire, 1970). This is model for pedagogy views knowledge at an objective remove from the student, and demonstrates no concern for the place of the existential “lived world” in the curriculum as shared by both teacher and student. Knowledge, according to the existentialists does not reside at a remove from our “lived world”  and in addition is constructive. Thus pedagogical techniques should stress the co-creative, co-responsive, and co-participatory aspects of education. This is not to indicate that the teacher allows the student to dictate each and every aspect of her education, for teachers need to be in command of the subject matter in order to first tailor it to fit the students needs. In relation to this issue, Heidegger (1952) famously stated that the most difficult task for educators was to learn how to let students learn

kaya toast, Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney Road
One’s first instinctive criticism of this worldview would be that there is no evidence or basis for these theories. But of course, that would be refuted by the presuppositions of this worldview – that there is nothing objective that can be quantified or measured.

And the Christian would object that it is God who defines right and wrong and morality, and reality, and the meaning of life, and the certainty of the future. At which, the existentialist would blow a giant raspberry and point to the self-referential pre-suppositions of existentialism.

But hardly any existentialist is a true solipsist of the Eastern mysticism persuasion, I’d think, so while I’m not too bothered with the validity of the worldview itself, its practical application suiting the convenience and what seems to be the natural self-centredness and selfishness is saddening.

However, might some of the pedagogical designs that emerged from this worldview be useful for a worldview that sees ample evidence for divine revelation?

ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road and the Authentic Artist

Having grown up amongst paintings and drawings and their artists, I am particularly fond of art workrooms strewn with unfinished work, a paint-splattered floor, inspiration boards in a mess, smelling strongly of acrylic or watercolour paint. So was delighted for a free hour or two to mosey about the open studios at ArtWalk@Wessex (facebook) and chat with some of the residents.

ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeOther than the happiness of being in a workspace and discovering new art, I had two aims: (i) to subtly help artists sell their work; (ii) to see what sort of artists occupied the Wessex Work Lofts.

ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeTo achieve the first aim was relatively easy. Artists have different temperaments and worldviews:

  • some are in it for the alleged (mostly elusive) easy money. Lots of schmoozing ensues;
  • some want a lifestyle that is non-office droney (or, depending on your perspective, undisciplined) and gives them hipster and authenticity points with their friends and society. Lots of “hey look how cool and alternative and smart I am” ensues;
  • others just want to make art but obviously need to feed themselves so have put on their scratchy best shirt and try their hardest to be friendly to visitors. But they’d rather be in front of an unfinished canvas.

With the last, a few well-placed questions, especially when it was obvious that potential customers in the studio were not quite appreciating the art for lack of commentary, was just the push they needed to them them going. Many collectors like to know the story behind a piece of art, the vision of a work, and several stopped to look more closely after sullen artists started getting more animated and chatty. Hopefully some went from “I’m not sure this goes with our decor” to “actually, I think we can repaint the wall”.

To achieve the second aim, I’ve learned from years of attempting to extricate myself from the over-friendly hard-sell of schmoozers to dress down as much as possible: slippers, shorts, a t-shirt that has seen better days. Artists who prioritise sales more than educating people about their art would ignore someone like that, and a handful did. It was their freedom to do so, and it was great because it helped me concentrate on those who were less commercial-minded and who just wanted to chat about their projects and were curious about the lives of visitors as well.

Frances Alleblas. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Frances Alleblas. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Frances Alleblas. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeFrances Alleblas (2 Woking Road, #02-03)

Max Kong Studio, ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Max Kong Studio, ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Max Kong Studio. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeMax Kong Studio (3 Westbourne Road, #01-01) – sun and moon – he demonstrated how the pieces would look different in daylight and at night without artificial lighting.

Saya Yamaguchi. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeSaya Yamaguchi (also 3 Westbourne Road, #01-01) Tsujii Junko. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore girl adding to a painting by Tsujii Junko. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Tsujii Junko. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Tsujii Junko. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeTsujii Junko (3 Westbourne Road, #03-05) CdeM Atelier & Art School. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore CdeM Atelier & Art School. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore CdeM Atelier & Art School. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore CdeM Atelier & Art School (5 Westbourne Road, #01-02. facebook) by Patricia Cabaleiro. Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Milica Bravacic. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeMilica Bravacic (5 Westbourne Road, #01-01) – inspiration from Peranakan tiles.

d'Art Studio - Dick Lim (Chye). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore d'Art Studio - Dick Lim (Chye). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore d'Art Studio - Dick Lim (Chye). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapored’Art Studio (5 Westbourne Road, #02-03). Dick Lim who signs his work as “Chye”. Amazingly versatile artist. Particularly liked the black-and-white canvases with a little thing of red.

Beng (Benny Goerlach). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Beng (Benny Goerlach). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore Beng (Benny Goerlach). ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeBeng (8 Woking Road, #02-03. facebook), who isn’t the Hokkien vulgarity-spewing long-fingernailed man you thought he would be.

JoyClay Studio & Gallery. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore JoyClay Studio & Gallery. ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, SingaporeJoyClay Studio & Gallery (10 Woking Road, #01-01).

Authenticity in art, in terms not of provenance but artistic motivation, is a big criteria for me. It sounds a bit esoteric but owning a piece of art is like purchasing a sliver of the artist’s soul – and I would like one that is kind and generous and passionate and well-thought-through (about a cause or a message, not Mammon or ego).

Perhaps this comes from being used to people holding out the Christian gospel to others: they do so for the glory of God whom they think should, rightly, be worshipped, and they do so for the good of the people to whom they are speaking – for their salvation. While missionaries, evangelists, pastors, Bible teachers may be paid for their work (just as an ox is fed for treading out the grain), to preach the good news merely for monetary or other personal gain would be anathema!

ArtWalk@Wessex 2015, Wessex Estate, Portsdown Road, Singapore

Ontology, Epistemology, Learning Theory, Instructional Theory, and Instructional Design

Have been thinking again about how best to teach the various groups I’m to train over the next few months. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin thought about how instructional design is based on theories of instruction, that are themselves based on theories of learning, that must be based on different epistemological and ontological theories. Cheap and quick, so probably many errors.

ontology, epistemology, learning theory, instructional theory, instructional design, and Stump Jump GSM

Materialism says that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions. Knowledge, therefore, comes only or mainly from sensory experience and can be evidenced.

Its/their natural (not nurtured?!) children are:
(i) behaviourism (primary psychological paradigm 1920s – 1950s): humans are born tabula rosa (blank slate), resulting behaviour is a result of stimulus and response, the environment.

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.” (John B. Watson).

Related instructional theories would therefore be something to do with conditioning, whether classical (Ivan Pavlov), operant (B.F. Skinner), or social learning (Albert Bandura). And the attendant instructional design would be stimulus-response, reinforcement by rewards-punishment, and modelling. Skinner would also advocate practice as part of reinforcement – by for a reason different from that of David Ausubel (see below) who wouldn’t have cared for repetitive rote-learning.

(ii) cognitivism (primary psychological paradigm 1950s-1990s): humans are born with minds like black boxes that influence behaviour. Focus is on neuroscience, the brain, memory (long-term, short-term). Cognitive development occurs in stages (Jean Piaget) by the construction of a series of schemata to understand the world (schema theory – Frederic Bartlett, Richard C. Anderson). Therefore instructional theory emphasises learning styles (for different minds), repetition and mnemonics (to aid the memory), progressive differentiation and advance organisers (David Ausubel).

Phenomenalism says that physical objects do not exist as things in themselves but only as may be perceived through a person’s senses or with their mind. We cannot experience anything beyond the phenomena of our perceptions. Solipsism then states that actually, we can only be sure that our mind exists. Therefore, it agrees with rationalism that truth is best discovered by the use of reasoning and logic rather than by the use of the senses. Learning is therefore done in the context of constructing on what is already known (constructivism) rather than acquiring new knowledge.

Each person has a different interpretation and construction of the learning process. But this can be aided within a zone of proximal development (Lev Vygotsky). Instructional theory would therefore include scaffolding (because of ZPD), collaborative learning, active learning, discovery learning, knowledge building. This would result in instructional design outcomes like problem-based learning, assignments, disputations, interrogations, individualised programmed learning.

And critical theory probably says that none of these theories are valid because they include oppressive use of authority by educators! 😉

*this is not to say though that each of these instructional design theories must definitely be based on the corresponding ontological and/or epistemological theories as set out above.

Worldview Bias in Instructional Models in Education, and Stalking Flat Whites in the Coffee Shops of Singapore

If Singapore was a safari and flat whites were exotic animals…

[In your best David Attenborough voice] Singapore. One of the many places on earth where  you can experience the full majesty of the coffee bean. There’s so much more in the bean than we ever imagined…etc…

It came as a shock to me, one day in my not-very-innocent-anyway youth, to realise that the glorious (educational) nature programmes like the ones Attenborough narrates are by no means objective; they are heavily skewed in favour of the worldview of the writers/narrators.

Then this afternoon, while considering the instructional design model to use for several groups I’ll be training in the next few months, I realised again that such models are by no means objective:

  • they are highly dependent on learning theories, and
  • these are themselves dependent on epistemological presuppositions,
  • which cannot be separated from all sorts of wobbly foundations of metaphysical nature.

Which would be best to instruct people on how to understand the Bible for themselves, rightly interpreting Scripture?

To be discussed another time. For now, the continuing search for the best flat white in Singapore, and an attempt at objective reviews of the coffee (disregarding ambience, instagrammability, service, convenience of location etc.):

Wimbly Lu, Singapore Wimbly Lu, SingaporeIn the lowlands of Lorong Chuan, a curious red-and-white beast marks the entrance of Wimbly Lu (15-2 Jalan Riang, facebook). Within the narrow confines of the cafe, the smell of chocolate is strong. For a place where coffee isn’t the focus, they make a decent cup.

One Man Coffee, 215R Upper Thomson Road, Singapore One Man Coffee, 215R Upper Thomson Road, Singapore One Man Coffee, 215R Upper Thomson Road, SingaporeOne Man Coffee (215R Upper Thomson Road)

  • beans: One Man Coffee Seasonal Espresso Blend (Brazilian, Columbian), Axil Coffee Roasters (facebook)
  • crema x microfoam: bright
  • flavour x body: a promising decent cocoa-citrus body at first
  • aftertaste: watery

Assembly Coffee, 26 Evans Road, Singapore Assembly Coffee, 26 Evans Road, Singapore Assembly Coffee, 26 Evans Road, Singapore Assembly Coffee, 26 Evans Road, SingaporeAssembly Coffee (26 Evans Road, facebook)

  • beans: Speakeasy Blend, Liberty Coffee (facebook)
  • crema x microfoam: good microfoam, cocoa
  • flavour x body: creamy milk chocolate, macadamia nut
  • aftertaste: medium finish

The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, Singapore The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, Singapore The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, Singapore The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, Singapore The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, SingaporeThe New Black Coffee (1 Upper Circular Road) – was very excited to stumble upon this. Almost like a enomatic machine for coffee!

  • beans: Caballero (Honduran), Tim Wendleboe!!
  • crema x microfoam: micro-smoothness, red fruit?
  • flavour x body: creamy chocolate
  • aftertaste: long finish
  • beans: Sermon (Brazilian, El Salvadoran, Ethiopian), Verve Coffee Roasters
  • crema x microfoam: smooth
  • flavour x body: a hint of blue berry in cocoa
  • aftertaste: medium finish

Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore chicken ramly. Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, SingaporeChye Seng Huat Hardware (CSHH) Coffee Bar (150 Tyrwhitt Road, facebook)

  • beans: probably Terra Firma, Papa Palheta?
  • crema x microfoam: cocoa, nut, smooth
  • flavour x body: cream, cocoa, nut
  • aftertaste: medium finish

Making Dumplings and Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching Bible Reading / Bible Study / Bible Interpretation

What pedagogical approaches are there for teaching people to read the Bible for themselves? I asked several people as a small assembly line of chatterers produced dumplings for dinner.

making dumplings on the second day of Chinese New Year, Singapore(Dumplings, Chinese dumplings and other ones in the same skinned family – Latvian and Russian pelmeni eaten with sour cream and Mongolian Бууз (buuz) slick with the oil of boiled mutton and Georgian khinkali, are best contained a delicate membrane that just about holds the filling in but can be broken with a decisive chomp. Too thick a skin and poor granny might be chewing till kingdom come. Also, when chopsticks are the utensils of choice, the food needs to be bite-sized to avoid all sorts of ungainly contortions (or perhaps that’s just me).

Lucky Peach magazine’s recent dumpling obsession under the banner of Dumpling Month, has resulted in a nice cluster of anecdotal articles on dumpling diplomacy (complete with recipe for shui jiao), the familial socialising that comes with communal making of jiaozidumplings shaped to look like mice.)

Biblical interpretation is mostly about good comprehension skills, yet at the same time it is about God’s word being used by God’s Spirit as a sword for God’s people. So the first and most important thing about biblical interpretation is prayer – depending on God to enable us to understand what he is saying in his word.

But what about comprehension? How can comprehension be taught? Whether or not unique to the school programme I was in, but I don’t remember being formally taught to read or understand a passage. It was just something picked up as we went along.

An English teacher, while rolling out the dough, admitted that even in the normal education stream in Singapore, understanding a passage isn’t a priority in most Singapore schools. Rather, students learn how to ace exams by knowing how marks are allocated for certain sorts of questions. This might explain the dearth of constructive political-social discussions online and offline.

making dumplings on the second day of Chinese New Year, Singaporeugly dumplings

This is very preliminary sketch of things. Have to train a few groups in “Bible reading” and Bible study leading in the next few months, and typing things out helps me think. Wish someone else more competent could do it, but here I am. So, future me, here are some very vague, possibly confused, thoughts about how I might go about it. Please edit as mistakes become apparent:

Session 1 – Priority of God’s Word (Why do Bible study at all?)

Several people have suggested that we dive straight into the skills bit and skip all this “boring doctrine”. But I think that understanding the divine origin of God’s word, and the implications of that undergirds the whole of the human life. Most people would agree its priority in the Christian life, but what exactly does this mean?

There is so much to talk about, including:

    • the trustworthiness of the word because of its divine origins;
    • the necessity of the word because of our sinful creatureliness (cf. John 1:18 – cue cheeky question of “if Christ is the Word of God, then Christians are those who believe in Christ, not in the Bible” etc. Nope, false dichotomy.);
    • the sufficiency of the word to accomplish God’s purposes in the world and in us (1 Corinthians 2:6-16, 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:6). Therefore we focus on planting the word faithfully, not ensuring the fruit, eg. the experience the word should produce, the community that the word should gather, the repentance that the word might extract;
    • the power of the word to do this (2 Timothy 3:15-16);
    • confidence in the word – clarity and purpose (cf. reader-response);
    • the ultimate authority that lies in the word (cf. the Pie of Ultimate Authority); and
    • as a warning against bibliolatry, how the Bible is merely the means to an end and not the end.

Maybe Timothy Ward’s excellent Words of Life: Scripture as the living and active word of God as set reading? Or some David Jackman? Jackman’s always good.

Here’s one facet:

  • Q: What is God’s plan for the world? His will and plan is, in the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).
  • Q: Since we Christians are part of “all things”, how are we to be united to him? Once we were separated from Christ and far off, but have now been brought near and united with each other and in Christ through his blood (Ephesians 2:11-22). But that’s not all – we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit, build up the one body of Christ until “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • Q: What does God give us to enable the body of Christ to be built up? Bible (apostles, prophets), people to tell us about Jesus (evangelists), people to proclaim Christ/teach us about Jesus from the Bible (shepherds, teachers) (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • Q: Why are these necessary for the building up of the body?
  • Q: Who builds the body of Christ?
  • Q: How do they do it?

-> Q: What does this tell us about the usual way God accomplishes his plan for the world?

-> Q: What then are we seeking to accomplish in our times of Bible study?

-> Q: Why would the idea that “everyone can make the Bible say anything they want” be blasphemous?

-> Q: What specific ways would this change the way we personally lead Bible study this year?

 When I was little, Bible study was a chore that you avoided the best you could. But the reality is that it’s not just necessary for growth as much our daily food and water, it’s also like sweet fresh water after you’ve crawled about in a hot acrid desert, or, when you’ve come in from the snow, stamping your feet and sniffling, a steaming pot of slow-cooked stew, rich with red wine, bobbing with tender beef chunks and good carrots and tomatoes .

working on God's word in the Bible with some reference material - Timothy Ward's "Words of Life", Andrew Sach and Richard Alldritt's "Dig Even Deeper", Andrew Sach and Tim Hiorn's "Dig Deeper into the Gospels"Session 2 +++ – Grammatical-Historical Bit and Expositional (Book) Context (What is he saying and why is he saying it?)

God chose to make his official communication through human agents, using human language, expecting human minds to comprehend the same…but not without hard work.

Ask an evangelical minister for book recommendations for a toolkit to interpret the Bible and you get:

As a young Christian, neither of the first two books worked very well for me. It was all very well to have a catalogue of tools to use and a few worked examples, but I still couldn’t understand how they were to be deployed. “It’s more of an art than a science.” they said. Oh thanks very much, I said then, could I have someone hold my hand please? (The latest in the Dig Deeper series is really very useful in this regard, I think.)

Many years on now, I find myself agreeing that it’s more of an art than a science. But let’s see how much of a process we can put on it to help others.

It is clear that to understand the Bible correctly, we need to understand what the human author of that particular passage is saying. God chose to work through prophets and apostles and they wrote at a specific time, to a specific people, in a specific situation.

So our interpretation would have to be two-fold:

(i) working out what the human author is saying; and

(ii) understanding, as far as is necessary, the historical context into which he is writing. working on God's word in the BibleQ: How do I work out what God, through a historical author, is saying?

Here goes an attempt at a process (although I suspect one usually moves back and forth between most of these points in any ordinary reading exercise):

  • read through the whole book once preferably, if you are distracted by such things, without editor-imposed headings and sub-headings
  • note any obvious themes, statements of purpose for writing
  • hypothesize a structure to the book (how the Gospel writers build their argument/evidence for Jesus as the Son of God etc, or for Paul’s epistles, perhaps his argument flow)
  • hypothesize a structure to the given passage
  • work through individual chunks to test hypothesis – bearing in mind the genre of the book or of the specific chunk, dealing with the grammatical stuff like nouns, verbs, tenses, cases, use of metaphors and idioms, and using the usual comprehension skills (eg. in Dig Deeper‘s terminology, “linking words”, “repetition”, “narrator’s comment”, “tone and feel”, “quotation / allusion”) or equivalent in the language in use for that study (Chinese? Tamil? French?)
  • work through the details – this is somewhat controversial in certain circles: my SLOB leader was adamant that one must not spend alot of time working on the details, whereas a lecturer at The School was convinced that the main point of what the author was saying was dependent on the details and the more elusive our understanding of them was, the harder we needed to work at them. I suspect it’s the more-art-than-science thing of knowing when to pursue the details and when to leave them alone because it is unlikely they will contribute much to the main point.
  • check hypothesis of structure to given passage
  • from the structure, hypothesise the main point, that is, the thrust of the given passage

Q: What do we do with the historical context and the expositional/book context? Check how the hypothesised main point might fit into author’s context, intended audience, and the overall purpose of the book as a whole. After all the breaking up of a book into passages for bite-sized studies is artificial.

  • How would this passage link to previous chunk?
  • How would this passage help to develop the purpose of the book (if stated)?
  • What would be missing if this section was not here?
  • Why is this here? What would change if this passage was moved somewhere else in the book?

So:

Q: What does the passage say?

Q: Why is the passage saying this?

Q: Why is it saying it here?

Then come to a conclusion as to the main point of the given passage. Write what some people call a purpose statement – stating the aim of the human author in this chunk of the book. Ensure that it is a clear and specific sentence, not something that can be applied to any other part of the New Testament (eg. not “God loves you and his son died for you.”)

But we need to hold our horses – a nice succinct purpose statement is not the point of Bible study; responding rightly to what God has said is (see Session 4).

(Pedagogical approach-wise, wonder if, instead of doing endless exegetical exercises, we could just work through the text together with the leader modelling how he/she was thinking about it as we went along. Very NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) “pseudo-science”, but it’s certainly the way I personally learn best.)

not quite shashuka Session 3 – Redemptive-historical Context Hmm, it’s really artificial to break all this up into different sessions, but seeing that I have only an hour for each session…

All Scripture (and all of us) fit in somewhere on God’s timeline for the world. Knowing where our particular book fits in eschatologically would help us understand not only what God was saying to his people then, but also what he is saying to us now as we head towards the consummation of all that he has promised.

Loads of biblical theology (“the study of how every text in the Bible relates to every other text in the Bible”) books to choose from here: Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel and Kingdom and Vaughan Roberts’ God’s Big Picture trace the storyline through the Bible with themes of kingdom and covenant, Michael You’s Read Mark Learn: Bible Overview studies at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, and Thomas Schriener and D.A. Carson have a good number of books and articles on this between them.

Session 4 – Living in Light of God’s Word

The main point of the main point is to understand God’s word so that our minds can be changed and we can live differently. Michael You has said in several of his talks that broadly, there isn’t that much that God wants to tell us:

  • he wants us to acknowledge that he is God and we are not;
  • he wants us to see that reality is quite different from what we might think. Our baseline is usually that this world is all there is, will continue forever. But the world isn’t like that – God exists, he made this world, this world will come to an end, whether you like it or not, and Jesus will return to judge;
  • he wants us to change our worldview that shapes how we think and how we act. If we think that this world is all there is, then we want more money, and to get that we will decide on a well-paying job even if we have to work all days of the week. Even if we were brought up in a Christian family, most of us have a worldview that tells us that we have security because of the things of this world. But the reality is that this world is passing away and God wants us to want the new world to come. We must want what God wants, his goals, eternity, new creation.
  • God is not an arbitrary spoilsport. He cares for us with his infinite power and love and he wants us to be assured that we can leave our lives in his hands.

Our right response to God’s word will totally transform our lives. Will this work? Pray so. Now to get some dinner.

Mutton and Süütei Tsai (Salty Milk Tea) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia)

Locavore, self-sustaining, free-range, and even…organic, might be some adjectives used of Mongolian cuisine if these historical nomads were minded to describe their food in terms understood by the Western city folk.

But the vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, and other plant-based diet fans for whom these labels are gold would be sorely let-down. Mongolian cuisine consists mostly of meat (with very little seasoning), animal fat, and salty milk (tea).

Exhibit 1:
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Бууз (buuz) in oil-slicked soup.

(An aside. I’d like to trace the history of dumplings in the world. While in Latvia, we had pelmeņi at the self-service weight-priced XL Pelmeni (7 Kalku, Riga):
XL Pelmeni, 7 Kalku, Riga
XL Pelmeni, 7 Kalku, Riga
XL Pelmeni, 7 Kalku, Riga

In Moscow, it was khinkali (Georgian dumpling) at Duhan Chito-Ra (Kazakova Street, 10/2, Moscow 105064):
Duhan Chito-Ra Save Kazakova St., 10/2, Moscow 105064

and also good old-fashioned pelmeni with sour cream:
pelmeni with a side of sour cream

A great idea for cooking meat in bite-sized portions. But who had the idea first and what would the passage of that idea through different geographical areas over time tell us about the exchange of ideas in human history? Curious minds want to know.)

Exhibit 2:

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
More Бууз (buuz – Mongolian dumplings) and сүүтэй цай (süütei tsai – Mongolian salty milk tea).

Exhibit 3:

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
хуушууp (khuushuur) which is basically buuz flattened and deep fried. Yum. We ended up at this shop because Mongolian friends were reminiscing about the Naadam Festival and how the area around the competitions would be full of people frying and selling khuushuur.

Many tourists complain about the food in Mongolia. “Just mutton and more mutton and animal fat,” they grumble.

Should there be a universal standard for taste, or even, what might be considered healthy? How many foodie magazines consider the environment from which different cuisines emerge? How many “scientific” studies consider the impact of environment on the nutrients and calories needed by a person living in that different situation?

The sub-zero temperatures of Mongolia make eating mutton and drinking salty milk tea a great pleasure (and even, a necessity), especially when one is not being driven around in a vehicle with more than adequate heating. Much more so for the nomads cattle-herding on the steppes outside the cities.

“You must drink this,” advised several Mongolians,”It will warm you up.”
“And you must eat the fat of the meat, it will keep you strong.”

For this reason, they were leary of vegetables and fruits, seeing them as pernacious attempts by the Chinese to weaken their constitution.

Oh and by the way, Mongolian barbecues? Not Mongolian. They were popularised in Taiwan in the 1970s and then exported to America, then re-exported (or imported?) to Mongolia! The fable put about was that Mongolian soldiers would gather large quantities of meats and prepare them with their swords on their upturned shields over a large fire.

I just had to partake of this irony, so decided to check out BD’s Mongolian Grill, part of a U.S. chain:
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
It cost 5 times as much as a meal in an ordinary Mongolian eatery. The meat was overcooked and, because I did not want to pay for the buffet, not enough for the amount of trekking I was doing. Boo.

Nystekt Strömming and Drop Coffee Roasters in Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam -> Copenhagen -> Stockholm

Photograph Stockholm C, Stockholm Central Station by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px Stockholm was an easy and comfortable 5-hour train ride on the SJ X2000 (with in-train wifi) from Copenhagen.

The interior architecture of Stockholm C (Stockholm Central Station) was a good indicator of how the rest of the city would be: not ostentatiously design-conscious, but sort of like that conservative relative who has kept their understated 1970s stuff so well that it is ready for the return of the trend.

Photograph Stockholm metro furniture by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph sans serif signs at Stockholm metro station by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Nystekt Strömming, Södermalm, outside Slussen station by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Nystekt Strömming, Södermalm, outside Slussen station by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph fried herring, Nystekt Strömming, Södermalm, outside Slussen station by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph fried herring wrap, Nystekt Strömming, Södermalm, outside Slussen station by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px Chatted with S over very good fried herring (no excess oil or batter; fresh fish) at Nystekt Strömming (just outside Slussen station, Södermalm), about life as a Swede. Was very glad to hear about how instrumental the Nordic Chinese Christian Church summer camps had been in her coming to faith. Still, it’s not just starting the race that is important, but persevering and ending well. This comes not by clinging on to some historical commitment doggedly, but in learning more and more about this Jesus in whom we have put our trust. And his trustworthiness shines through very clearly in the Bible, but poor preaching and teaching unfortunately often obscures this!

An inspirational verse for the day here and a verse-hop through Scripture there to find back-up for my latest crackpot-or-not theory makes use of the Bible for our own ends rather than letting it show us the character of God and Jesus. Which is why expositional preaching and teaching (that is, working systematically through a book of the Bible) and a good grasp of biblical theology is important.

Photograph Drop Coffee Roasters, Södermalm, Stockholm by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Drop Coffee Roasters, Södermalm, Stockholm by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Drop Coffee Roasters, Södermalm, Stockholm by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph flat white, Drop Coffee Roasters, Södermalm, Stockholm by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Drop Coffee Roasters, Södermalm, Stockholm by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px After lunch, we paid a visit to Drop Coffee Roasters a few streets away. It was crowded and hot, but both the flat whites and almond pastries were excellent. And I guess tasting that the Lord is good and trustworthy and glorious is just as plain from reading any bit of the Bible.

 So, take the second bit of chapter 1 of John’s Gospel:

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree’, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

(John 1:19-51)

It amazes me how big the Bible is on giving more than sufficient evidence to enable us to trust that what Jesus claims of himself is true. After all that mindblowing stuff in the first part of John 1, you’d be waiting for John to back-up that bluster. Here, he names three incredible witnesses:

  • John the Baptist (a big historical figure, mind. Josephus wrote about him in Antiquities of the Jews) –  Herod might have perceived him as a threat, but missed the bigger threat to whom John the Baptist was pointing: Jesus. The whole aim of John’s ministry was to prepare people for the arrival of the king, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord” (as prophesied by Isaiah, oh, maybe 700 years before. See Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 4:5.).
  • God the Father himself – now part of John the B’s witness was to observe and proclaim that God the Father himself had borne witness that Jesus was the Son of God, by the visible descent of the Spirit on him (this again had been prophesied by Isaiah. See Isaiah 42:1.)
  • the Old Testament – not only did were these events prophesied by Isaiah. It was clear that the Jews had already been waiting for the fulfilment of other prophesies in the Old Testament (Moses and the prophets): the coming of the Lamb of God, the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15), the anointed one (the Messiah, Christ), the Son of Man (Daniel 7).

 As we end this passage in John, Jesus says rather tantalisingly to Nathanael,”…you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”, a reference to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28:10-12 where he saw angels going up and down from heaven on a ladder. So Jesus is promising to be the one who links earth to heaven, who is the path to God, who enables the fulfilment of God’s covenants.

But we’ll need to read on in the Gospel of John to see how all this panned out! Exciting stuff.