Master Teaching

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Expanding our Understanding of a Noble Vocation

A Review of Thinking Theologically about Language Teaching: Christian Perspectives on an Educational Calling edited by Cheri Pierson and Will Bankston[1]

by David Broersma

book coverI approached reading Thinking Theologically with great anticipation. For more than 25 years, I have been teaching English and teaching others to teach English as a second/foreign language, and I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the meaning and purpose of this work.

My initial expectation was that Thinking Theologically would give me additional frameworks to understand how to integrate concepts of ultimate purpose into the day-to-day activities of a language teacher. The book met my expectations, but it is more than that; as a collection of essays written by nine separate authors with a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences, the different sections of the book will speak more to some readers than others. Some of the chapters dealt with the intersection of the fields of theology and language teaching while others reflected on the meaning of language and communication on a global level, and still others focused more on practical advice for making language teaching less spiritually superficial.

Will Bankston was the only author who contributed two articles—in addition to co-editing the volume—and his two articles were highlights for me. The first article by Bankston explores the contrast between language form and use and reflects on speech act theory as a way of making sense of the way that divine words “do not merely inform, they transform.” The second article by Bankston discusses the identity implications of being created in the image of God, and this reality makes it possible for us to join in the dialog that the Creator initiated. These articles appealed to me because they related to many things I had been reflecting on in my own work, but as I read the other articles, I realized that the perspectives of the authors offer something to people who have very different needs when they approach the book.

The articles by Powell and Baurain describe the crucial role of humility in the life of a teacher both in terms of our relationship to a loving Father and in terms of recognizing our own need to learn from those we are teaching. Stetina offers advice for approaching the reading task when reading theology, and Lessard-Clouston outlines Biblical themes that inform classroom content and relationships. Several of the articles give more specific ideas about our work in the classroom such as Pierson’s reflection on method as metaphor and Lewis’s thoughts about Biblically inspired classroom management. Gallagher encourages attention to the role of the Spirit in teaching practice, and Smith’s chapter on incorporating morality in deeper and more life-changing ways is particularly inspiring for teaching in certain contexts.

In the past, I have turned to both The Gift of the Stranger: Faith, Hospitality, and Foreign Language Learning[2] by Smith and Carvill and English Teaching as Christian Mission[3] by Snow for reflections on intersections between faith and language teaching. Smith and Carvill primarily use the concept of hospitality to frame their understanding of the calling of a language teacher, and Snow emphasizes the role that teachers play in reconciliation. Both books have added considerably to my understanding of my role as a language teacher and teacher trainer. Thinking Theologically is a solid addition to this genre, and it offers great starting points for further reflection and discussion.


[1]   Cheri L. Pierson and Will Bankston, Thinking Theologically about Language Teaching: Christian Perspectives on an Educational Calling, (Cumbria, UK: Langham Global Library, 2017).
[2]   David I. Smith and Barbara Carvill, The Gift of the Stranger: Faith, Hospitality, and Foreign Language Learning, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000).
[3]   Donald B. Snow, English Teaching as Christian Mission: An Applied Theology, (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001).

Post Author

broersma conference pictureDr. Broersma is an Associate Professor of TESOL and Linguistics in the Languages and Literature Department at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. Before joining Lee in 2014, Dr. Broersma lived and worked in Moscow, Russia for 17 years at the Russian-American Christian University and Hinkson Christian Academy. He is also a professor in the MA in TESOL at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania.

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This entry was posted on January 16, 2019 by in book reviews, David Broersma, resources.

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