Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teaching Redemptively: A Book Review

Cover photo from Amazon.com

“True Christian educating immerses students in the grace of the gospel.” -Donovan Graham

“The grace of Jesus is radical, unlike anything else we have seen or known.” -Donovan Graham

Teaching Redemptively, by Donovan Graham, beautifully addresses our need to be participators in God’s redemption and restoration of all things, as His image bearers, in the classroom. According to the book, there are “two bases that form the foundation of redemptive teaching—teaching according to biblical norms and teaching within the framework of grace” (Graham, Donovan (2009-01-01). Teaching Redemptively: Bringing Grace and Truth into Your Classroom, p. 224).

Donovan Graham suggests what we should all be striving for as teachers in the preface of his book when he says, “The mere process of creating a learning experience for others that flows from one’s deeply held beliefs is a picture of redemption at work in itself” (Graham, Donovan). In Teaching Redemptively: Bringing Grace and Truth into Your Classroom, we learn how we are participating in God’s redemptive purposes as Christian teachers who have been redeemed. As teachers, we are actively participating in God’s redemption of our students and we are participating in His redemption of the world.

Graham captures this thought best at the beginning of his book, in the acknowledgements, when he says, “If teachers are rightly to become disciple makers, their own walk with God must reveal what the redemptive grace of the gospel is all about. It is imperative that they be able to live redemptively in order to teach redemptively” (Graham, Donovan). We bring our own relationships with Christ into the classroom. This walk with Christ should express His redemptive work in all we do, especially in our teaching. Living redeemed lives that express God’s grace in the gospel will lead our students to the God who is redeeming them and who is redeeming all of creation.

Teaching Redemptively is divided into three major parts: Beginning Considerations, Biblical Beliefs that are Foundational for Redemptive Teaching, and Beliefs About the Teacher.

In Part 1, Beginning Considerations, Donovan Graham looks at four foundational considerations: 1. The Complaint: All That Claims to Be Christian May Not Be, 2. Building Something Biblical, 3. Creation-Fall-Redemption: A Framework for Building, and 4. The Grace of the Gospel and Redemptive Teaching.

In Part 2, Biblical Beliefs That are Foundational for Redemptive Teaching, Graham looks at Beliefs About Purpose through the following: 5. Biblical Norms for Educational  Purpose, 6. Secular Distortions of Purpose, and 7. Distortions in Christian Thinking About Purpose.

Then, Graham looks at Beliefs About the Learner through the following: 8. God’s Image in Individuals, 9. God’s Image in Relationship to Others, 10. The Image Marred, and 11. The Image Restored.

Next, Graham looks at Beliefs About the Teacher. Here he explores the following beliefs about the teacher: 12. An Image Bearer Who Is Also Fallen, 13. Personal Characteristics of a Redemptive Teacher, and 14. The Roles Teachers Fulfill.

Then, he looks at Beliefs About the Learning Process, looking at these beliefs: 15. Basic Ideas About Learning, 16. Motivation and Learning, 17. A Conceptual Framework for Learning, and 18. Engaging in Learning.

Finally, Graham looks at Beliefs About Subject Matter, looking at the following: 19. Perspectives on Content, and 20. Content and the World Around Us.

In Part 3, Redemptive Teaching at Work: Building on Norms and Teaching with Grace, Graham explores the following aspects of norms and grace: 21. A Different Kind of Place: Omega Christian School, 22. Curriculum Design, 23. Learning Activities, 24. Measurement, Evaluation, and Grading, 25. Classroom Behavior and Discipline, 26. The Heart of a Disciple Maker: Walking with God, and 27. Bringing It to Life—Individually and Together.

In Teaching Redemptively Donovan Graham addresses many important considerations for teaching redemptively. As Christian teachers, we must bring God’s grace and truth into our classrooms. God’s grace does not exclude His truth, nor does God’s truth exclude His grace. These two fundamentals are to be held in balance and in tension. Graham says this about grace and truth: “Some people think that if grace is true, justice and discipline must then be eliminated. Justice and mercy cannot seem to coexist. This is not so, however. Justice was accomplished at the cross. God did not overlook our sin; He emptied His full wrath toward it on Jesus. The price was paid, but by God, not us. At the cross, justice and mercy kissed” (p. 45, Graham). It is this grace, and this “kiss” between justice and mercy, that we bring to our classrooms as Christian teachers.

As educators, we are to be incarnational with our students. We are God’s image bearers who are teaching students who bear the very image of God. We are to see the reflection of God in our students and should reflect Christ to our students. Our job as teachers is to live out the incarnation with our students. Donovan Graham captures this well when he stated, “God Himself identified with His people and came to them to live in their presence. The incarnation is a marvelous lesson in how we are meant to live out the image of God in the current age” (p. 114, Graham). We are to be incarnational, in that we embody Christ in our classrooms.

Because we are interested in shaping students, the culture and the world toward restoration and redemption, we should create “assignments that expect reconciliation, renewal, deliverance, justice, and peace” (p. 118). Teachers are demonstrating, modeling and facilitating redemption in our students and in the world. As Graham points out, “God will one day redeem the material creation from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:19–21) (Graham, p. 190). This is an awesome and powerful truth, which God invites us into as teachers who are being redeemed and who are participating in His redemption.

One of the most helpful sections of Teaching Redemptively can be found in Part 3, The Bible as a textbook. In this section, Graham looks at the importance of the scriptures as a framework for education. He emphasizes the truth that the Bible is not our textbook for our subjects, unless, of course, that subject is Bible. However, the Bible does provide an essential framework by which we understand all of God’s truths. Graham says this about Biblical truth as a framework: “The Bible lights our path so that we can understand reality. It should neither be removed from relevance to the academic endeavor nor should it be viewed as a textbook source for any part of the curriculum, except the Bible course itself. The Bible also provides us with the norms and themes necessary to enable us to explore the academic disciplines” (Graham, p. 204).

In this same section, an essential truth of Christianity and of Christian education can be found. This essential truth is that there are “No sacred/secular dichotomies” (p. 206). Graham asserts, “While much of our cultural tradition forces us to separate life into the sacred and the secular, they should not exist as such in a biblical framework. All that we do has a spiritual basis, and earthly endeavors have heavenly significance. We cannot allow any part of life or study to exist apart from its Creator” (Graham, p. 206). Part of our jobs as Christian teachers, is to ensure that our students understand this reality and that they integrate their faith into every area of their lives and integrate their lives with their faith. We must ensure that these false dichotomies are not perpetuated and our students have a Biblical understanding and worldview. We want our students to think Christianly.

It is essential that we teach, and our students know, that “all truth is God’s truth.” God has revealed Himself in all of His creation. As Graham states, “God’s revelations in His living Word (Christ), His written Word (the Bible), and His spoken Word (the creation) are all taught in such a way that students may experience them integrally. God’s revelation of Himself through all three of these sources is the foundation of study” (Graham, pp. 215-216). We must teach God’s complete revelation, both His special revelation and His general revelation. 

Scripture should be integrated carefully and thoughtfully into our teaching. When considering the Bible and curriculum, we must recognize, as Graham says, “major biblical themes form the foundation for the study of various subjects and units. The teachers [should] weave themes such as stewardship, community, environment, worship, and the purpose of life into the study of the academic subjects” (Graham, p. 220). We do this as Christian educators because, as said before, we believe “All truth is God’s truth.” Graham goes on to say, “When we look at the materials used and the subjects studied, we [should] find that … God’s truth is not limited to what Christians think and write. Students [should] read books by authors whose ideas are not consistent with Christian thinking” (Graham, p. 223).

This review is posted on my blog, My Two Mites, and is also published on Amazon.com, goodreads, CBD, and Examiner.com.


Graham, Donovan (2009-01-01). Teaching Redemptively: Bringing Grace and Truth into Your Classroom (p. 45). Purposeful Design Publications. Kindle Edition.

Teaching Redemptively: Bringing Grace and Truth Into Your Classroom on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Redemptively-Bringing-Grace-Classroom/dp/1583310584/ref=pd_cp_b_3

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