My New Semester: Creating Appreciation for American History

In two weeks, all the faculty meetings begin; in three weeks, classes start once more. My summer of research, reading, and preparation for the new semester will come to an end. I will begin my 30th year of teaching university students.

One of the courses I’ll be teaching this fall is the one I always teach in the fall: my basic American history survey course that covers America from its colonial days through Reconstruction after the Civil War.

I’ve used one book for the survey course continually throughout my 13 years at Southeastern, and I would hate to ever set it aside. British historian Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People is unique. It’s not your typical textbook put together by some kind of collaboration between professional historians and/or a committee that seeks to dumb down history reading and make it as staid and unenjoyable as possible.

Johnson has wit and is not afraid of offering his interpretation on various events in the history of America. Is he fair? After all, he’s British and may have hard feelings about such things as the American Revolution (aka, The American War for Continued Self-Government) and the War of 1812.

Not at all. He says there was a world of difference in leadership during that Revolution between the Mother country and its colonies. He praises the genius of many of America’s Founding Fathers.

While some students struggle with Johnson, I don’t mind trying to stretch them. It’s good for them to read a truly worthwhile writer.

The other book I use is now out of print but I’m told there should be enough copies this time around (I pray that’s the case). James Hutson’s Religion and the Founding of the American Republic emanates from the Library of Congress (where Hutson works) and performs the marvelous task of revealing to students the sources from which we can identify just how significant Christian faith was to the majority of people during that era.

It’s a wonderful complement to the Johnson book, helping students see how Christianity formed the basis for culture and law at that time. Given the drive to excise that portion of our heritage from the teaching of history, it offers a great corrective. I hope the students appreciate it.

Teaching a survey course can be fun and exhilarating when students respond; it can be the worst of all worlds if they don’t care. I try to be consistent in my teaching methods and create interest, even if it doesn’t seem to exist at first. Sometimes the students catch that spirit; sometimes they don’t.

I’ll be teaching two sections of the course, back to back each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It will be interesting to see if there is a qualitative difference in the level of interaction from one section to the other. My prayer is that students in both sections, even though they are comprised of hardly any history majors, will go away from this semester with a deeper knowledge and appreciation of what occurred in the founding of this nation.

That’s one of four courses I’ll be teaching. I’ll explain the others in future posts.

About This Teaching Ministry

I don’t have a hard time trying to stay busy. Now I know some would question that; after all, as a university professor, I get the summers off, right? Well, I do appreciate the breather from the routine that I receive in the summers, so I agree—but only in part.

What have I done this summer? I’ve prepared for the five courses I will be teaching this fall at Southeastern University; I’ve worked on a new course I will be teaching in the spring on “Religion and the Presidents” (yes, I have to work that far ahead).

That’s all for my day job. In addition:

I’ve completed developing a class I will be teaching at my church on Wednesday evenings from September through December—that one is on C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis; I’ve attended two conferences, where I presented a paper at one (which required a lot of reading and preparation) and spoke at a church while attending the other.

I’ve also just agreed to begin teaching an adult class at my church on Sunday mornings, beginning in September.

Oh, and while teaching those five courses at SEU and teaching at my church, I’ll also be grading papers for about 30 high school students who are part of the Classical Conversations homeschool program.

Yes, I stay busy.

Keep in mind this is not a complaint. I love everything I do because it’s all wrapped up in the ministry God has given me.

In the midst of the coming fall semester, I already know, by about late October-early November, I will begin to feel overwhelmed. The temptation will be to start complaining (too much grading; too few students who really want to learn, etc.).

What I need to remember at that crucial time is that every day that I teach a class session, God have given me an opportunity to help direct the thoughts of the upcoming generation. More than that, He has given me the opportunity to demonstrate to them through my own life that God’s love reaches out to us all and that we need to respond to that love.

I’m in the same position as the apostle Paul (and all other Christians, frankly), as he reminds us in 2 Cor. 5:20:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

I’m not just a university professor. Most university professors are only doing a job. For me, it’s a ministry, a calling, a sober responsibility to hold out Truth to everyone who hears me.

I accept this ministry gladly. This year is my 30th year teaching at the university level. It’s been an interesting ride all those years, filled with both high points and very discouraging moments at times. Yet the calling has never been revoked.

The goal of my teaching has not changed:

To equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, to equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming.

Pray for all those who have this ministry that we will be faithful to the calling.

Teaching the Generations

Many of you know how you can read a Scripture passage and something jumps out at you that you never saw before. I attribute that to the leading of the Holy Spirit. A few days ago, I was reading in Psalm 71 when my mind (and spirit?) was arrested by just a few words—verses 9 and 18—separated from the rest of the text but united in thought.

Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone. . . .

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

What did this mean to me? Well, first of all, although I am certainly getting old-er, I don’t yet consider myself old in the classic sense. My strength is not yet gone, I am not yet seriously contemplating retirement, and I don’t feel forsaken of God.

I am gray; I’ll grant that one. But if none of the rest is totally applicable to me, why was I affected by these words?

One never knows when one’s strength will ebb more quickly, and I believe I have a lot to do still in my life and in the ministry God has given me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was grading students in finals week, another semester nearing its end.

It was those final words that meant the most to me, especially when coupled with the potential onset of older age: I teach the next generation; I want those students to know of God’s power, His mighty acts, and His abiding presence that He wants to implant within each one of them.

I began my university teaching career rather late. I didn’t receive my doctorate until I was 38, which was the time I got my first fulltime position. My 30th year of teaching will begin this upcoming fall, and I am now seeing, via Facebook, some of my former students beginning to send their children to college.

That is stunning to me. How can this be, I ask myself? The old cliché about time marching on is rearing its head. If any of my former students were to send their children to Southeastern to study under me, I would be teaching a second generation. Astounding. Why? Because in my mind, I’m not that old.

I am grateful for the many years the Lord has given me to teach those who will carry His light into this sad parody of a society we live in today. I look forward to continuing that quest. My health is still good; my strength is not gone; the vision remains vivid in my spirit.

And to all of my former students, I offer this word: send your children to me and I promise to give them all I can, everything the Lord has placed in me to pass on to the next generation.

Reflections of a Natural Introvert

I’m an introvert. Really, I am. Whenever I inform students of that fact, they have a hard time believing it because I’m animated when I teach and love to interact with humor.

But I am an introvert.

BooksMy natural inclination is to sit in my recliner in my study, surrounded by books, and devote myself to them. Let the world go away. Give me my peace and solitude. That, and a cup of coffee, is a pleasurable way to pass the time.

I’m constantly reading. Here’s what I have going right now on my reading schedule: C. S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love (slow going for someone who is not well versed in medieval writings); Paradise Lost (taking up a challenge because I’ve never read it and I would like to understand Lewis’s preface to it—another future reading); Jonah Goldberg’s The Tyranny of Clichés (honing my cultural analysis); Os Guinness’s new book, Impossible People (a clarion call for Christians to be thorough Christians in our culture); and another Stephen Lawhead novel (because I just love his writing).

Yes, I’m reading all of those simultaneously. When classes begin again, I’m not going to get quite as much reading done as I am now.

That natural inclination to withdraw and enjoy my own little world comes into conflict with the urge within me, planted by God, I believe, to break out of the cocoon and speak His truth.

That’s why I teach, and that’s why I write this blog. Personally, I would love to avoid all controversies. I would relish leaving politics behind, especially this year when I see no viable option for the presidency.

Yet there is this “calling.” I’ve mentioned the prophet Jeremiah before, the one who cried out to God that he didn’t want to speak anymore because he kept getting bad reactions to his words. I understand.

Take My YokeThis is what God does to (and for) us, though. He pushes us out of that place of comfort. He tells us to take up His cross and be His disciples. He never promised that we would sail through life without burdens to bear.

I know that. Some days I embrace it; other days I utter the Jeremiah complaint.

The Lord allows us to withdraw at times; Jesus did the same in His ministry. But all withdrawals are for one purpose: regaining the strength to continue the calling. Withdrawals, if done properly, are the times we draw on His reservoir of grace so that we will be the most effective witnesses of His truth that we can be.

All of my reading is part of the preparation to be what God wants me to be in that world out there. As long as I keep that perspective, and not make an idol out of those relaxed times of peace, He will be able to use me for His ongoing purposes.

That’s my reflection for today. I thank God for the time to reflect. It steels me for whatever lies ahead.

Another Personal Reflection

This daily commentary takes stock of current events in light of Biblical truth. It’s just who I am. I don’t have to force or impose a certain meaning on those events because I quite naturally interpret everything through that Biblical prism. Today, I want to step back a bit and simply be thankful for what the Lord has given, and what He has allowed me to do. We should all do this regularly.

I’m thankful, above all else, for being redeemed from a selfish existence, devoid of meaning. I’m grateful the Lord loved me enough to intervene in this world to provide a path toward Him and out of spiritual darkness. There is no purpose apart from the One who created all from nothing. He is the reason we even have an existence.

From that firm foundation, He opened a door for the possibility of other relationships. Today, I want to publicly offer thanks for forty years of marriage to someone who has stuck with me through every difficulty. The past two years have been particularly hard, with my wife undergoing cancer treatments. Currently, the cancer is gone, but we are realistic; we know it is an aggressive one and may come back, but we are living every moment with the knowledge that even death cannot separate us from the love of God. This life is only a preparation for what is to come.

Although our children are now out of the house, married, and having children of their own, that doesn’t mean they are out of mind. Once parents, always parents. I can say without qualification that I appreciate my children more now than at any time in my life. Perhaps that’s maturity. One would hope at the ripe age of 61 maturity would be a more constant companion.

Those children have now given us five grandchildren—with two more on the way this year. Being a grandfather has been a whole new phase of life. At first, I wasn’t sure how I would take to the word “grandpa,” but it’s now one of my fondest titles. I’m anticipating seeing them reach their early adult years at least, and want to have as much influence on their lives as I can, trusting in the mercy of God for more time to do so.

Those of you who read my mini-life-story back in my December posts know that the Lord gave me a second chance to teach. There are some certainties in life; one of mine is that I am meant to be a teacher. The place where He has put me now affords ample opportunities to speak His truth in history. The students He has given me are my responsibility; I must be faithful to His calling. I’ve experienced rough patches along the way, but, overall, I enjoy this ministry, believing I am contributing to the number who will enter His kingdom and that I will have helped many grow in their faith.

As an extension of the classroom, the Lord also has allowed me to write. While I am not as prolific as some in my field, I am satisfied that every article and book I’ve written has been worthwhile. I have no regrets for thoughts expressed or wording used. Like Noah Webster, I want to be sure that nothing I’ve published ever led anyone to sin. My completed manuscript on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers remains without a publisher currently, but I maintain faith it will find a home eventually. There really is something about God’s timing. Meanwhile, a new writing collaboration is brewing that could be exciting.

Bottom line: life with God is always an adventure, and regardless of the obstacles that undoubtedly await, I have the assurance He is with me at every juncture.

So, now it’s time to get on with life today. Thank you, Lord, for making it worth the walk.