A Review of Think.Believe.Do

A concerned member of the ELCA contacted me, asking me to do a review of a new curriculum from Augsburg Fortress’s Sparkhouse. That curriculum is entitled T.B.D.: Think. Believe. Do.  Sparkhouse touts it as their newest youth curriculum.  A blogpost describes T.B.D.

as a new small group series that gives students the tools to articulate, investigate, and test out their beliefs on a broad range of topics that connect to their daily lives. However, the goal isn’t to come away from each series with a settled idea about the topic. Although they might feel more settled than they did before. Instead. T.B.D. focuses on how students think, not just what they think.

https://blog.wearesparkhouse.org/youth-faith-process

Currently, T.B.D. offers six topical courses on Prayer, Sin, Mission, Salvation, and Bible, broken up into four sessions each.  Each session begins with a “Provocative Statement” before moving through three major sections: Think, Believe and Do.  After answering a series of thought provoking questions in their journals, students watch a video and reflect on two Bible Passages.  Following this, they come up with an honest statement of what they believe as individuals and as a group.  Finally, the group brainstorms a low risk way to test out that belief in the following week. 

The Video

In the videos that accompany each session, a young person wrestles with questions about the topic of the session.  This is very interesting.  Like many people today, both young and old, the character in each video turns to the internet, searching for an answer.  As you would expect, answers come from all quarters.  The internet search yields many quotes from the Bible.  Quotes are also given by Luther, Augustine, Calvin, Bonhoeffer, St. Benedict, and other Christian teachers.  Others come from more dubious places, like Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins.  This is what you would expect from an internet search.   The character in the video is left with more questions than answers as a result.  Pastors and catechists are very familiar with the kind of idiosyncratic views that people develop from their use of the internet. 

Values Clarification

The question is where to turn.  The answer is more than a little surprising.  After pondering challenging statements, watching the video, and looking up two Bible verses, the students are immediately asked to formulate their own responses to the questions.  The result is something very similar to the kind of “values clarification” that was practiced decades ago.  It’s almost as if the students are told, “You’re on your own.  The Bible is unclear and unreliable.  The Christian tradition is too varied and contradictory.  Who’s to say what is true.  You need to chart your own path.”

As a person who grew up in the 1970s, I am quite familiar with this way of teaching.  I learned to ask open ended questions and to accept the challenge to decide for myself.  Fortunately for me, I had pastors and college professors who pointed me to the answers.  (I attended a Lutheran college.) Otherwise, I would have been lost.  During my senior year of college, the process of asking open questions and deciding for myself overwhelmed me.  I realized that I was drowning in a sea of meaninglessness and purposelessness.  In the midst of this, I became acutely aware of my sinfulness.  It was then that I turned to the things I had learned from my pastors and professors.  In particular, I remembered what I had learned about the Cross and the Resurrection.  If I had been left entirely to my own resources, I don’t know where I would be.

A Third Resource?

In T.B.D., youth are presented with two resources with which to interpret the Bible: 1) the confusing diversity of answers given by the internet and 2) their own wisdom and the wisdom of their peers.   It’s too bad that a third resource is not introduced into the discussion, namely, the wisdom of the Creedal and Lutheran tradition of interpreting the Bible. If the person teaching this curriculum is a pastor or a well catechized lay person, T.B.D. might not be harmful.  The same would be true if it was used with well catechized youth.  As one reads the lesson book and watches the video, it is easy to identify answers to the questions that are raised. 

For instance, in the unit on Prayer, the video character, a young woman, wrestles with the meaning and purpose of prayer.  What does the Bible teach?  How is one to pray?  Does prayer change things?  Why pray if God already knows everything?  As I watched, I thought to myself, “It’s too bad the Lutheran tradition doesn’t have a simple but profound explanation of the meaning of prayer; or even better an explanation of the Lord’s Prayer.”  At one point, the character finds a link to an article on St. Benedict.  She decides to download his daily prayer schedule to her calendar, only to be shocked by the notion that it calls for prayer seven times a day.  Again, I found myself thinking, “Too bad Luther didn’t simplify the seven hours of prayer on behalf of the laity, reducing them to two or three times a day.”   At another point, the character does a search for the Ten Commandments, hoping that there is something there about prayer.  She concludes that the Ten Commandments are no help, since prayer is not mentioned.  As one knows, however, Luther’s interpretation of the Second Commandment has a lot to say about prayer. 

Unanswered Questions

After reflecting on this curriculum, I am left with a final question.  Is the failure to use the catholic and Lutheran tradition a bug or a feature of T.B.D.?  In other words, do the developers of T.B.D. assume that teachers and facilitators will make use of the Great Tradition and the Lutheran Confessions?  Have they simply forgotten to explicitly remind facilitators of these resources?  Or is the intent to encourage students to utilize the widest possible resources, from St. Benedict to Richard Dawkins, to formulate their own system of beliefs?  If so, the result will not be formation in the Christian faith, but instead in an eclectic post-Christian form of spirituality. 

Ironically, I can remember a time when Augsburg Fortress was criticized for being too Lutheran, too Confessional, too heavy in doctrine.  Other publishers, like Group Publishing and Youth Specialties, were preferred because they were more user friendly, more engaging, and more broadly Evangelical.  To see a curriculum that makes such sparse use of the Catechism and the Lutheran Confessions is surprising, and not an improvement. 




Devotion for Monday, September 3, 2018

“For you have made the Lord my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent.” (Psalm 91:9-10)

 

The things of this world will still press against you, but the evil of this world will be guarded against by the shield of the Lord. Know the Lord and know His might. Be comforted in the only hope there is; the One who made you. Come into the Lord’s presence and walk in His ways and know His goodness and mercy. The Lord is our Savior and He walks with those who come into His presence.

Lord, You know the difficulties of this world. You know how hard it is to navigate through the evil that is present. Walk with me that I may be guided by You through all this life brings. Keep me in the shelter of Your tent that I would be shielded from the evil of this world. Lift me up to be with You that I may now and always abide in Your goodness. Teach me to dwell with You.

Lord Jesus, You know how hard it is to walk the paths of this world. You have come to rescue those who are downtrodden, the weak and the lowly. Keep me close to You that I would now and always abide in Your grace. Abide in me as I abide in You that I may learn the ways of eternity. Let me see clearly the path You set before me and give me strength to walk that path. Amen.




Devotion for Monday, December 4, 2017

“They return at evening, they howl like a dog, and go around the city.  They wander about for food and growl if they are not satisfied.”  (Psalm 59:14-15)

Many live for the physical pleasures this life can give: wandering in the night and satisfying the lusts of the body like unthinking animals.  But you have been awakened to the truth of the Lord who lives forever.  Will you continue wandering like an animal or come into the presence of the One who created you?  This is the offer of salvation, that you would know the Lord who knows you.

Lord, I do spend my days wandering trying to figure things out while simply seeking to satisfy the longings of the physical realm.  Take my mind and awaken it to the reality of eternity that I would pursue what is good and right.  Lead me in the way I should go and then help me move in that direction.  Lift me up out of the pit and set my feet upon the path of righteousness.

Lord Jesus You have come to save as many as would be saved through Your grace.  Bring my mind, body and soul into the salvation You offer and help me walk in the ways You have established.  Keep me close to You now and always that I may walk in the salvation of the righteous.  Keep me from living like a mere animal and seeking the better portion.  Amen.




Saturday, October 28, 2017 Devotion

“Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.  Have the workers of wickedness no knowledge, who eat up My people as though they ate bread and have not called upon God?”  (Psalm 53:3-4)

 

The corruption in this world has affected everyone.  There are none who are exempt.  The wicked of the world follow after their hearts which are corrupt to pursue what is right in their minds.  Be guided not by the ways of this world, but by the truth of the God who created the world.  Seek not for yourself, but the greater things from the One who made all things.  Do not be consumed, but resume the path to which you have been called by the One who knows all things.

 

Lord, this world is crazy.  In the guise of something new, the same things happen over and over.  Each generation desires what it wants, not knowing what it really wants.  Let alone what it needs.  Help me, I pray to see through the cloud of confusion the truth that You alone are God and that there is no other.  Help me through Your Holy Spirit to come into the eternal truth of Your presence and purpose.

 

Lord Jesus, You are the One who has come that as many as turn to You would not be consumed, but through You restored to liberty and life.  Lead me now and always to walk in the ways I should go and not depart from them.  Help me see more clearly each day that I might walk on the narrow path You have set before me.  Through Your grace, enable me to be one who overcomes the adversity of this age.  Amen.




Sunday, October 22, 2017 Devotion

“By Your favor do good to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem.  Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.”  (Psalm 51:18-19)

 

Zion, the place for the redeemed, the place of hope and eternity, the new Jerusalem.  Zion is for those who come through salvation to live in the relationship eternally given by God through the means of salvation He has made possible through Christ.  Come then into the rest, even amidst the struggles of this age.  Come and make your sacrifices to the Lord who sees and knows the hearts of all.

 

Lord, You have offered the way of hope for those who turn to You.  Guide me in this path that I would walk where You have shown the way and live according to Your purposes.  Help me overcome all the difficulties of this world by trusting in You.  Help me keep my heart on the path of Your leading that I would walk in the ways You have established from the beginning.

 

Lord Jesus, King of Zion, by Your grace, You open the way for all those who come by faith.  You make the first and final sacrifice by Your own blood to free us to come as we are through You into citizenship in Zion.  Lead me by the grace You offer to live my life toward You, with You and in You that I may being the eternal life now that shall be lived forever.  Amen.




Thursday, October 19, 2017 Devotion

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.  Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You.”  (Psalm 51:12-13)

 

Sustain.  We ebb and flow in this world, good days and bad.  In the Lord there is the promise of being consistent.  That consistency, shines like a lamp in a world of darkness.  To have the joy of the soul restored and a willing spirit to live for the Lord is the promise of salvation for all.  Take upon yourself the salvation of the Lord and come into His holy presence and walk in His salvation.

Lord I hear these words and I like them, but then I walk in the way of sinners and their darkness is my darkness.  Lord, lift me up and sustain me now and forever that I may join in shining the light of Your glory in a dark world.  Guide me in the way of truth that I may now and forever abide in You as You abide in me knowing that only in You is their life and light, hope and a future.

 

Lord Jesus, Light of the world.  You have come in this world of darkness to bring the grace we need to be lifted up into the Father’s eternal presence.  You are the hope of joy in a weary world of flashing darkness.  Open my eyes to see first the glimmer, then continue to open them that they may learn to receive full light.  Bring me along Your path Jesus that I may be fully restored.  Amen.




Tuesday, October 17, 2017 Devotion

“Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice.  Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.”  (Psalm 51:7-9)

 

Where we start, and our call to where we have been invited, are two different places.  We must make the journey from where we are to where we are going.  The contrite heart and the one who repents begins the journey.  You have been invited upon this journey and it is ever deeper, for who can know the depth and breadth of the sin the lurks under the shadow?  Come to the Lord and He will make you clean.

 

Lord, bolstered by those around me, I often hide and believe I am better than most, yet it is not better, but perfection that You desire.  Guide me along the paths of righteousness for Your namesake that I would walk where You lead.  Guide me in the way I should go and help me follow where Your Spirit leads.  Make me whiter than snow through Your grace that Your will would be done.

 

Lord Jesus, You have come to prepare the way for all those who would follow in grace where You lead.  Guide me O Lord in the way I should go and keep me from veering from the path You have before me.  Teach me to trust in all that You have promised and to stop second guessing where I am and where I need to go.  Lead me Lord and grant grace for me to follow.  Amen.




Thursday, October 5, 2017 Devotion

In crises the people cry out to God.  Even those who do not believe.  Yet during most times they remain silent.  The evidence of the Lord is all around and any who will look only need to open their eyes to see.  Yet many will not.  The godly ones gather together and look to the Lord.  In Him is all that is needed.  Come to the Lord while you may and learn from Him truth and life.

 

Lord, like many around me I am a fair-weather friend and do not look to You at all times.  Lead my heart away from where it is to where it needs to be.  Guide me according to Your principles to live into the life to which You have called me.  Help me now and always to be with You and in You following where You lead.  Guide me to live into the covenant You have established.

 

Lord Jesus You have come to reveal God.  Guide me now and always to live in the way You have established and keep me from veering off of the path.  You have made the possibility of living in the covenant established possible through Your grace.  Lead me by grace to live into the life to which You call me.  Help me now and always to live seeing You as my Lord and Savior.  Amen.




Weekly Devotional for October 4, 2017

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (St. Paul, writing in Philippians 2:3)

As our nation faces another shocking set of murders, it’s good to pause and remember why Christians walk a different path.  After all, it’s one thing to know your morals, and quite another to know why they’re your morals.  Why should we reject rivalry and conceit?

We can surely see the danger of both sins.  Rivalry led to the first murder on earth: Cain killing his brother Abel because Abel had the more acceptable sacrifice.  Conceit abetted the worse murder on earth: Jesus on the cross, arrested by those who thought themselves better than him.  The spirit of rivalry and pride—the hatred of our neighbor—lurks beneath every murder.  

But knowing a sin’s potential danger is not enough.  Our sinful hearts can quickly imagine an exception for ourselves, a justification for sin that makes us imagine that we can manage the risk. Better to know the true foundation of our morality: God gave His Son for sinners.   

Because God stands at the center of all reality, that sacrificial love for all people stands there, too.  God counted sinners more significant than Himself, so significant that He gave His life for theirs.  Being His children, and thus desiring to live in harmony with Him, we follow on that same path: no rivalry, no conceit, no murder, but only loving neighbors as our true selves.  

LET US PRAY: Forgive me, Lord.  I’d rather love myself than my neighbor, and so I do, on most days.  I am not You, Lord, as You know full well, and I often forget.  Yet since it is Your glory to have compassion on the sinner, have compassion on me.  By Your Holy Spirit grant that I would learn to find my true self not in myself, but in Your Son, and so also in His neighbors, and thus forgetting myself, love You and neighbor alike; through Christ Your Son.  Amen

Pastor Steven K. Gjerde

Zion, Wausau