During our drive home from a wedding last weekend, Hubster and I listened to an Issues, Etc. podcast that I knew my students would love. Here’s how I structured a theologically-sound lesson plan:
Students copied a table from the board into their notebooks that looked like this:
The segment is called “Pop-American Christianity: Twisted Passion Narratives,” and the host Rev. Todd Wilken interviews Rev. Chris Rosebrough. I am a new listener to Issues, Etc., but it is a fascinating radio show for the Lutheran layman, and I think my students should be aware of such a cool resource.
Pastor Rosebrough shared soundbites from a sermon series out of the megachurch Church of the Highlands in Montgomery, AL. The sermon series was about the seven words of Christ spoken from the cross. Students listened for what the Church of the Highlands’ purpose of each statement was, and then added to their table the Lutheran discussion of that sermon soundbite. When finished, their table looked like this:
To see how this worked, look at the last row of the table about Jesus’ words of salvation to the thief on the cross “I tell you today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The Church of the Highlands’ pastor taught that Jesus meant these words as a life lesson that even in our own suffering, we should reach out and help fellow sufferers, rather than Jesus forgiving the thief and promising him eternal salvation (kind of a bigger deal).
I couched this lesson as a theologically-relevant application of the rhetorical analysis skills we use in AP English. We spend the entire year examining texts for author purpose and the “so what” factor of various techniques a speaker or writer uses. There is no “so what” more important than eternal salvation. They need to listen carefully and analyze what they are reading and hearing to make sure it runs completely in line with the Bible’s teachings; not just that the pastor is charismatic or really nice, or that that music is catchy and mentions Jesus. Also a useful skill when listening to political speeches! Don’t fall for the charisma without examining the content too.
My students had a lot of questions at the end of this podcast. They wanted to know if the pastors at the Church of the Highlands ever preached the salvation of the cross. I was proud of this question; they recognized that they only heard small snippets of sermons, not the entire text, and they might be hearing selectively edited text. I did not go on the Church of the Highland’s website and listen to the entire sermon series, and I told them this. However, the clips suggest that the focus of the homilies was how God’s word applied to our everyday lives. While we obviously use the Bible as our guidebook for our decisions, the crucifixion is about Christ’s sacrifice, not about how I can overcome a bad day. The pastors turned a gospel text into a law message and ignored the main purpose of the text.
I reminded the student of the sophomore class chapel, held just before my maternity leave, at which two students performed a duet of “Hallelujah.” Few students realized that far from being a Christian worship song, this song is actually mocking Christianity (“Maybe there’s a God above, but all I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who outdrew ya…”). Even on our local Christian radio stations we can find music that runs contrary to our beliefs; most commonly the evangelical idea that we can “accept” or “choose” Christ – Lutheran theology rejects the idea that we can “do” anything to gain salvation.
Several weeks ago we received an Easter mailing at our home for one of the local non-denominational churches. In addition to providing teen and youth groups they promised “Bible-based messages that actually apply to your life!” This was a sales point to get people to come to worship. If we are constantly looking for how we can apply the Bible to our daily decisions, the focus is on us, and not on the saving work of Christ on the cross. If it’s about what we do, then the work of salvation is on us, not as Paul writes:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9