Written by Nathanael Vissia
For far too long the Church has said, “This is what this Bible story means” without first (if ever) teaching her students how to think about the story for themselves.
As Christian educators, not only is it our job to increase Biblical literacy, it
is also our job to help our students analyze the Bible stories that they are becoming
familiar with. Teaching analytical thinking is not easy, but there are some relatively
Three of these analytical tools are: Perspective, Context and Symbolism
This post discusses the importance, purpose and usage of perspective in Christian education.
There is an old story of six blind men seated before an elephant (without knowing it). They were asked to describe the object that was before them.
The blind man who felt a leg said the object was like a pillar; the one who felt the tail said the object was like a rope; the one who felts the trunk said the object was like a tree branch; the one who felt the ear said the object was like a hand fan; the one who felt the belly said the object was like a wall; and the one who felt the tusk said the object was like a smoothed walking stick.
A wise man then spoke to them, “All of you are right, but not completely. The object in front of you is an elephant. You who only touched its ears and you who only touched its trunk or its belly, you each spoke of the elephant differently. You even argued about what the object really was. If only you had walked to your neighbor’s spot and felt what your neighbor felt, then you would’ve realized your one spot was not the whole story.“
How big is God? Larger than an elephant? And yet, how often do we, Christians, claim
to have cornered the market on knowing God? Often enough that the ever-
Such division is far from attractive. Even more repulsive than the arrogance of claiming to know the truth is the simultaneous insinuation that everyone else is wrong. The fall in regular church attendance, the loss of younger generations as well as the rise in atheism in America has a multitude of reasons behind it. And while our certitude cannot be the only cause for blame, it is not doing the Church any favors in this area.
Some, maybe even most, of this division and arrogance is made easy due to a lack of perspective. It is easy to stand in one spot and claim it as the right spot. It is easy to say, “I’m right because of what I can see.”
However, an infinite object, be it God or otherwise, is by definition, a topic larger than our ability to encompass it with our senses, writings, teachings, and conversations. Therefore, to make pronouncements about God without introducing the concept of perspective misrepresents the subject to our audience just like each blind man mistakenly misrepresented the elephant.
As Christian educators, then, it is imperative that we teach our children and members in our congregation both the usefulness and the flexibility that perspective provides.
We can incorporate perspective in the Sunday school classroom in four simple steps.
Step 1: Teach your students about perspective. Start by defining it. Perspective is a point of interaction that informs our understanding of the object before us. Perspective can be affected by line of sight, angle, focus, lighting, time and distance. It is also informed by the previous knowledge and experience of the observer.
For younger kids, especially, this is not an easy concept. Offering an example always helps. For instance, view this picture:
Do you see a heart or do you see two people jumping? Or maybe you see both things? Or maybe you see something else – like a heart that is about to be torn apart. Whatever it is that you see hinges on what you choose to focus on – which may very well be influenced by how you’re feeling right this minute.
This is the power and flexibility of perspective.
Step 2: Acknowledge that each Bible story offers important pieces of the God puzzle, but not the whole puzzle. Enacting Step 2 is pretty straightforward. Once a class or an audience is clear about the role of perspective in your teaching approach (Step 1), all you have to say when starting a lesson is something like, “Today, we’ll be looking at a perspective of God’s healing in today’s story about Jesus.”
Step 3: At the end of class, list or suggest other perspectives that you are aware of in the story. You can also invite the students to share perspectives that they think they see in the story. This practice helps the students know and remember that the lesson they just learned is not the only way to think about and understand that particular Bible story.
Step 4: Consider the frequency of “core perspectives” when you and your church develop, edit and/or review your scope and sequence of Bible stories for Sunday school. This final step of teaching perspective recognizes that many Bible stories share and repeat certain perspectives about God, Jesus, the human condition in God’s presence, the human condition without God’s presence, etc. Therefore, as our students’ Biblical literacy increases, so too are our students better exposed to these more frequently occurring “core perspectives.”
The analytical tool of perspective helps our students develop their own theology
of God while avoiding the conflict that can often take place between student and
teacher regarding whose belief is correct or more important. The usage of perspective
as a teaching tool allows differing angles of the same object to co-
This is the strength of the teaching tool of perspective: It offers our children
and church members a highlighted, vast and varied panoramic view of God, as culled
from the faith stories. This in-
Again, it is very easy to stay inert, to only look at God from one perspective, to only interpret the stories and scripture passages in the Bible that supports one narrow perspective.
But why choose to emulate blind men who squabble? Why take the greatness of an elephant and diminish it to the ordinariness of rope?
I encourage you to do the more difficult, but rewarding thing: Move over to where your neighbor is. See and experience God in the way your neighbor does. Welcome the perspective and add it to your “Perspectives of God” library. Then share your own perspective – not because you think you’re right, but because you think the more perspectives of God that are known, the better it is for you, for your students and, ultimately, for the world.
An essential tool when talking & teaching about God
View an rfour.org lesson that teaches the concept of perspective (2nd class in the Confirmation curriculum)