Interview with Todd Bolen, Part 2: Teaching and the Bible

This is the second part of my three-part interview with Todd Bolen, focusing on teaching and the Bible.  My introduction and Part 1 are here.  Again, my questions are in bold.

What advice would you give to those considering teaching as a profession?

Teach.  First, you may not like teaching, or it may not like you, and so you’ll save a lot of time and money if you figure that out early on.  Second, you need practice.  When you teach regularly, you’ll be more perceptive of the teaching of others and more open to learning from their strengths and weaknesses.  If you wait until you finish school to start teaching, you will miss so many opportunities to learn from your teachers. 

To practice teaching, you don’t need a paid job.  You can sign up for Sunday School, find a nursing home, or start a study in your home.  If your goal is to be a teacher, you must master not only your subject, but you must master the art of teaching.  Note: this does not mean that you teach like someone else you admire.  I teach very differently from the teacher I learned the most from.  God has given us different personalities with different strengths.  Don’t try to be who you are not.  But learn where your strengths are and develop them.

What frustrates you most about the subculture of academia, whether the highest levels of scholarship or the basic mentalities of students?

I hate double-talk and I hate nuance.  I am not impressed when a teacher in class, after explaining something, tells the students how they have to be careful in what they say to their congregation.

I hate the desire to be applauded for one’s interpretation of Scripture by those who reject Christ and his Word.  I hate scholarship that is an end rather than a means.

Give us a few pet peeves you have as a teacher.

Girls who don’t wear enough clothes.  This bothers me not only in the class but at church and at weddings.  These girls either hate me or just act like it.

What are your favorite three books outside of the Bible?

Three books that are very important in my thinking are The Greatness of the Kingdom by Alva McClain, The Gospel According to the Apostles by John MacArthur, and Future Grace by John Piper.

What do you miss most about living and teaching in Israel?  What do you miss least?

I think the Lord knows that if I were able to remember well our time in Israel, I might be non-functional now.  He has really graced me with the ability to focus on the present and not be paralyzed by the way I wish things were.  I miss the friendships I had with students.  A couple of years of developing a friendship with someone at church here would have taken about three weeks at IBEX.  I miss traveling around the country in a car, by myself or with a few friends, exploring the amazing land that God gave to his people.  I don’t miss our kids’ schools or our visa troubles.

What are your basic philosophies and methodologies regarding teaching?  In other words, how would you summarize your approach to teaching?

If they’re not listening, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying.  If you love your subject, there’s a better chance that they will.  Push them, but tell them why.  Make sure that what you’re teaching is crystal clear in your own head.  If they know that you’re working hard, they’ll be more willing to work hard.  Don’t forget what really matters.

You have four kids, who I’m sure will never miss the real meaning of David and Goliath.  How is teaching them about God different than teaching your students?

My teaching with my children is very different than with students.  With students, you have a very limited amount of time (in my case thus far, one semester).  Also, they are at a point of maturity where they are making key decisions.  Thus I don’t feel the need to be restrained in my exhortations to love Christ and deny themselves.  With our children, we had to start from scratch, teaching them things appropriate to their age (to eat, to walk, to tie their shoes, etc.).  My kids, ages 5-11, are not ready to hear what college students are.  So we work on more foundational issues, such as the nature of God, the sinfulness of man, and a general knowledge of the Bible.  We’re also working at laying a foundation of right and wrong, responsibility, discipline, and hard work.  Some of these things will prepare them for more advanced teaching as they start to ask those questions.  Back to David and Goliath, my boys might actually know what I believe because they decided to sit in (adult) Sunday School that week, but they didn’t learn that from our family reading times.

Who have been the most influential teachers in your own life, and how did God use them to impact you?

There have been a number who have had a significant impact on my life.  I’ll mention just two.  Doug Bookman was my professor for OT survey when I was a freshman at TMC.  I don’t remember anything he taught that year, mostly because I often wasn’t listening.  But he got me to Israel for a semester.  That changed my life in many ways.  For one, I wanted to understand the Bible and to have answers to questions that were raised there.  Thus I signed up for several of his classes in the semesters that followed (and I listened).  Later, when I was in seminary, I would sit in on his Logos (Bible institute) classes and often I would think that I learned more in his 2-hour OT institute class than I did that whole week in seminary.  I was really just trying to catch up.  Bookman’s gift is his understanding of the whole Bible.  He is interesting and can be funny, but he puts the pieces together like few other teachers do.  The other teacher is Gabriel Barkay.  He’s an Israeli archaeologist, and I don’t believe that he trusts in Christ for salvation.  But he taught me what it is to know a subject, backwards and forwards, to love that subject, and to communicate it well, even in what is not your native tongue.  Archaeology is not my favorite subject, but when I am sitting under his teaching, I love archaeology.

How has suffering changed your heart, your life, and your teaching?

I have not suffered very much.  I know a little bit of how the Lord uses suffering to bring maturity, and I tell others this.  But I don’t want to suffer.  The little suffering that I have had has taught me the need to hold more loosely things that are not eternal.  It has taught me that God can always be trusted.  It has taught me that faith is a muscle, and if not exercised, it atrophies.  Suffering has helped me to long to be in the presence of Jesus, where he will wipe away every tear.  Suffering sobers.  Those who are drunk on life are less useful for service in the church.


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