Grading Classroom Participation

Grading classroom participation, if you are like me, has always been somewhat subjective. I start out with the best intentions of keeping good track of participation, but get caught up in the teaching and quite often drop that ball.

I’ve just added a new section to the Faculty Development Canvas course which specifically addresses this area of instruction, titled “What is the Best Way to Grade Participation.” You can find it in the OnSite section of the Development Modules. I think there are some good ideas there that should help in this area.

There has also been some confusion regarding how participation grades are to be recorded in the on-ground courses for Adult Studies. After receiving some clarification, the process going forward is to consider each week to stand on its own and mark participation for that week. If you have any questions about that, please get with your Dean or contact me at rupchurch@belhaven.edu

Blessings,

Rick

Reflections from CAHEA – Teaching practices with Adult Students

by Dr. Larry Ruddell, Dean Belhaven-Houston

Dr. Joseph Flowers spoke on “Basic principles and practices for teachers of non-traditional adult students” at the annual Christian Adult Higher Education Association (CAHEA) conference. We have several good articles on instruction in this blog, but it always good to review and remind.

Dr. Flowers started by emphasizing that our roll in teaching is not necessarily to “teach” students but to “create an environment for learning.” Thus, people with different strengths and gifts can “help students learn.” A small few have the gift of teaching and can lecture effectively because of that gift. Others bore students after ten minutes of lecture but can help students learn through a number of other class activities.

Flowers reviewed the basics about andragogy but went further to introduce three “radio stations” (two of which are pertinent) that helped explain adult learners and their perspectives.  The first station is “WII-FM” which stands for “What’s in it for me?” It highlights the importance of relevance in instruction, answering questions like; “why do students need to know this information, how will it benefit them, how can they use it in practical ways, and do students know what to expect?”

In other words, students need to see value in what they are learning, so as instructors, we always need to be building bridges between the course material and how the knowledge can impact students. As Flowers points out, “adults feel the application of information is the primary motivation for undertaking the learning project.”

The more the instructor has experience in the topic covered and relate professional experiences and evaluate course content based on actual professional experiences, the better for students. So, we as instructors should bring this experience into the classroom each week.

The second channel covered by Flowers is “MMFG-AM” which stands for “Make me feel good about myself.” In other words, “instructors should value the learners’ life experiences.” So, as instructors, we must walk the line between covering the course material and valuing and encouraging the individual student. Respect is critical. We must always keep in mind that advanced degrees don’t make us better than anyone else. We must value the experiences of our students whether working in major corporations, small businesses, non-profits, churches or educational settings.

Part of making “students feel good” is mentoring them in personal responsibility and confidence in their ability to perform. A “well done” when a student knows a professor maintains high expectations for performance actually means something versus a platitude for “participating” by submitting an assignment. In fact, when I’m fishing for something positive to say about a lackluster paper, I’ll write at the end of the comments, “glad you were able to submit something.” It sounds trite but depending on the week, it may have been all the student could do to just submit their assignment so even that effort, even though not highly lauded, should be acknowledged.

You want students to complete assignments but hopefully can give them flexibility in how they handle assignments based on their own interests and goals for learning. As Fisher points out, “adults need to be independent and direct their own learning.”

Finally, make sure to chunk material together so it can be memorable. Do not rely too much on PowerPoints. Include three modes of learning; auditory, visual, and tactile. And “tell, show, and experience.”

So, we removed some basic principles of teaching adults from Dr. Joseph Flowers who presented at this year’s annual CAHEA conference. Hopefully some of these points are good reminders for continued success!

Coherence: The Grammar of God and Why It Should Matter to Us

by: Jon Pirtle, Atlanta

According to Scripture, coherence is inseparable from God. Paul writes, “And he [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 English Standard Version). Another English version (NKJV) translates the verb phrase as “consist”: “And He [Jesus] is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” The ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, and the NIV reveal that the Lord Jesus holds all things together. He is sovereign over all things; therefore, the universe is characterized by orderliness. It is not random; rather, it holds together because God himself is a God of order and we creatures are designed to reflect that orderliness (though imperfectly) through our writing. As God’s people, we ought to reflect the logos/grammar/coherence of God; writing well does that.

In teaching literature and writing courses at Belhaven over the last few years, I have witnessed many students struggle with written expression. Therefore, during each class, I spend up to half an hour addressing some common errors in contemporary culture’s written expression. For example, it’s is not the same as its. And there is not the same as their or they’re. Fragments, misplaced apostrophes, improper use of contractions, confusion over affect versus effect, etc. seem to plague many American writers. How much more important is it, therefore, for us to inculcate the essential role of correct grammar and coherence in writing?

I appreciate so much the rubric that Belhaven uses for student writing. It consists (pun intended) of seven parts: content, organization, fluency, word choice, conventions, voice, and worldview analysis. When students use the rubric effectively, their writing holds together. The “meat” (content) of the ideas they’re exploring and evaluating (worldview analysis) flows (fluency) in an orderly design (organization). When they write in a believable and convincing tone (voice) with proper syntax (word choice) and correct grammar (conventions), the writing satisfies what we as readers crave—coherence.

When meeting with students individually about their essays, I indubitably ask this: “What is the main idea you wanted me to see here?” The answer to that simple question reveals much. Very often, life-changing learning occurs shortly thereafter. Why? Because all of us (students and teachers) crave coherence.

We are designed by a God of order who revealed himself–not haphazardly but coherently. When we write well, we honor our brothers and sisters in Christ and glorify our Father in heaven.

Academic Rigor

What is Academic Rigor? I suspect that the definition of that phrase is somewhat nebulous in most of our minds. When we do think about academic rigor, we tend to think in terms of extensive and/or weighty assignments that “really make the students work.”  Some will equate the phrase with a harsh grading of those “weighty assignments,” or any assignments for that matter. Others will  also include a classroom environment which is suitably “serious” and “no-nonsense.”

None of these, however, address the case for academic rigor. Without understanding the philosophy behind the call for academic rigor, it can quickly devolve to the concepts mentioned above. Foundational to academic rigor is the consideration of the spoken and unspoken objectives/outcomes for the course. The spoken (or listed) student outcomes for the course are included in the module.  These outcomes spell out what the student should know by the end of the course. They are course specific and the accomplishment of these outcomes is the understood reason for the course in the curriculum.

The unspoken objectives/outcomes for the course aren’t listed in the module, but are part of the overall objectives for those in the Adult Studies program, i.e. graduates should be able to:

  1. Apply learning experiences to professional and other situations
  2. Be able to articulate a Christian worldview and its implication for their home, work, and society.
  3. Demonstrate habits of clear, constructive, critical thought,
  4. Demonstrate a command of standard oral and written English.
  5. Evidence a lifestyle of moral and spiritual integrity
  6. Compete in the job market for positions in keeping with their major course of study
  7. Incorporate ongoing learning strategies toward the fulfillment of their life goals.

Achieving both sets of objectives, spoken (outcomes listed in the module) and unspoken (objectives for the Adult Studies Program) is the instructional goal. Appropriate academic rigor is that which will accomplish this goal.

This will include appropriate assignments that are focused toward the spoken objectives, but managed by faculty within the scope of the unspoken.  For instance, we fail when we grade a paper without also taking into account the writing quality (point 4 above) or whether or not it reflects “clear, constructive, critical thought” (point 3 above), etc. This applies not only to grading but to the conversations, lectures, and activities within the classroom.

Our role as teacher places us in a precarious position. In God’s eyes we carry extra responsibility for our students’ learning. For me, grading has always been the more challenging aspect of the instructional process. The temptation is to only give a cursory look at the papers to make sure the major content points have been hit. I confess to you, THAT IS WRONG AND LAZY THINKING. We owe our students and ourselves better than that. Each submission should be read and marked so that it contributes to learning as much as assessment. Each submission should be considered both for the spoken and unspoken objectives, and the grade given fairly reflects the work the student has done. Giving a good grade when the work is only average, or less, is an insult to the student and speaks poorly of our own integrity and the value we place on the role we have accepted.

I ask you to reflect on the phrase academic rigor. “Like” or make a comment in response to this post. More importantly, please consider these things when you are focusing upon academic rigor in your courses.

Webinars to Inform and Improve

Greetings,

We are working on a re-design for the Faculty Resources tab of our site and in the process the webinars, which have been listed there, have all been moved to YouTube for easier access.  As I was compiling these links I reviewed some of the webinars and was reminded of the wealth of information these contain.  I’m posting that information below and encourage you to look over the list and review a couple yourself – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Don’t forget to register for the upcoming Webinar of the Faculty’s Role in Student Retention – see the calendar link on this page to register.

APA and Grading Writing Across the Curriculum. Presenter: Dr. Everett Wade https://youtu.be/HFeLIpg2lUk

Bring Life to Your Classroom. Presenter: Dr. Ed Garrett https://youtu.be/urKi7DGVGQM

Christian Worldview: Practical Applications for the Classroom. Presenter: Dr. Paul Criss https://youtu.be/jFm9nNoFoXc

Effective Use of Library Resources. Presenter: Dr. Kim Priesmeyer https://youtu.be/CxpBGF8AHAs

Introducing Critical Thinking into the Classroom. Presenter: Rosemary Foncree https://youtu.be/HotogEC0PEc

Plagiarism: Helping Your Students Avoid It. Presenter: Dr. Kim Priesmeyer https://youtu.be/jFmhBggVdzw

Student Engagement Strategy: Experimentation. Presenter: Dr. Thomas Randolph https://youtu.be/vvOAQl2Q_48

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Foster Critical Thinking. Presenters: Dr. Jerald Meadows & Elizabeth Juneau https://youtu.be/Qdt7Mu5sGno

Using Canvas to Facilitate Team Projects. Presenter: Dr. Rick Upchurch https://youtu.be/RWuMnPtAvZA

Millennials in the Classroom. Presenter: Emma Morris https://youtu.be/0kgNsVN3SDs

Canvas Updates 2017. Presenter: Joe Villarreal https://youtu.be/0wWkVfKNNbA

Andragogy: Adult Learning Theory Applied. Presenter: Dr. Rick Upchurch https://youtu.be/KnDc3zfpvrs

Accessing Case Studies from Belhaven Library. Presenter: Charles Gaudin https://youtu.be/3k_X6RQ5jvM

The Soul of the University

I’ve just started reading Restoring the Soul of the University by Perry Glanzer, Nathan Alleman, and Todd Ream.  In the introduction they state, “Redeeming the Christian university’s soul starts by recognizing that if we are made in God’s image and the world is made by God, we must first know God if we are to truly know who we are and what the world is.” (p.10)  As I reflect on this quote and the title of the book, I am thinking about both in the context of Belhaven University.  What I see reassures me that, at least at Belhaven, there is no need to restore the Soul to the University, for Belhaven can truly sing “It is Well With My Soul.” You no doubt have heard of the upcoming retirement of Dr. Dan Fredericks, our Provost.  Due to his efforts and, many others, the Soul of the University has been carefully strengthened and nurtured over the years.  The emphasis on fully incorporating a Christian World View into every aspect of Who and What Belhaven is has impacted lives, and through our graduates, their communities and the world.

For us, it is not about restoration.  Instead, it is about maintaining and enhancing the ground already gained.  This is the charge for all of us in the roles God has called us to play here at Belhaven. For Faculty, you nourish the Soul of Belhaven through your interactions in the classroom: teaching, counseling, and modeling what it means to be called of God and saved by grace. Your faith, your commitment, your discipleship are a reflection of His love into the lives of our students and our University. We cannot rest on the past, as Paul writes, “I focus on this one thing; Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Phil 3:13b,14)  I am excited to see what God has in store for the future of Belhaven University.

2018:MLK50

by Dr. Paul Criss, Dean – Belhaven University Memphis/DeSoto

2018 commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. As we celebrate the life of Dr. King this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and then prepare to commemorate the tragic day of his assassination, it seems important to reflect on his life and message. I am sure that many of you will have questions raised in your classes and you will want to encourage your students to take some time for reflection. This is especially needed due to the social unrest we have been experiencing in our country and even in academia recently.

Many students and leaders in academia are looking for glimpses of hope and truth within the current social framework. I believe our best source for reflection is history and Scripture, as did Dr. King. In his book on the history of the Civil Rights movement, David L. Chapell describes the movement as not political, but as primarily religious and spiritual. White liberal leaders in the North who were allies of the African American civil rights leaders were not advocates of civil disobedience or of a direct response to segregation. Believing in the goodness of human nature, they supported education and enlightenment to bring about social and racial progress; however, that would not be enough. Chapell argues that African American civil rights leaders were rooted in the biblical understanding of the human sin nature and in the rebuke of social injustice offered by the Hebrew prophets. He also shows that it was their vibrant faith that empowered them to press for justice despite the often violent opposition to this biblical standard. Chapell concludes that there is no way to comprehend what occurred until you see the Civil Rights movement as a religious revival.1

Dr. Timothy Keller builds on this understanding specifically addressing Dr. King’s living out of this biblical ethic in his book The Reason for God:

“When Martin Luther King, Jr., confronted racism in the white church in the South, he did not call Southern churches to become more secular. Read his sermons and ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ and see how he argued. He invoked God’s moral law and the Scripture. He called white Christians to be more true to their own beliefs and to realize what the Bible really teaches. He did not say, ‘Truth is relative and everyone is free to determine what is right or wrong for them.’ If everything is relative, there would have been no incentive for white people in the South to give up their power. Rather, Dr. King invoked the prophet Amos, who said, ‘Let justice role down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream’ (Amos 5:24). The greatest champion of justice in our era knew the antidote to racism was not less Christianity, but a deeper and truer Christianity.”2

That is the key, not only to all intellectual endeavors, but also to all social progress – to become truer as individuals and as a society to a deeper and truer Christianity. As your students inquire and as you reflect on what happened 50+ years ago and on what is happening today, it is hoped that we will personally inch closer to the biblical standard and that we will lead others to do the same.

Resources

1 Chappell, David L., A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (University of North Carolina Press, 2003).

2 Keller, Timothy, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Random House, 2008).

Helpful Online Resources:

  1. kingcenter.org; http://www.thekingcenter.org/books-bibliography
  2. http://www.aascu.org/programs/ADP/publications/MLK/
  3. rca.org/resources/mlkblackhistorymonth
  4. http://www.poetpatriot.com/holidays-martin-luther-king-jr-day.htm
  5. desiringgod.org/articles/dont-waste-martin-luther-king-weekend
  6. http://www.churchmarketingsucks.com/2015/01/martin-luther-king-jr-day/
  7. http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-65/martin-luther-king-jr.html
  8. crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/inspiring-quotes/31-powerful-quotes-by-dr-martin-luther-king-jr.html
  9. dclibrary.org/mlkday
  10. edutopia.org/article/resources-martin-luther-king-jr-day-matt-davis
  11. nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-lecture.html
  12. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/martin-luther-king-jr
  13. tes.com/teaching-resources/blog/commemorating-martin-luther-king-jr-day
  14. thoughtco.com/martin-luther-king-day-federal-holiday-45159
  15. thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/evangelical-history/the-day-martin-luther-luther-king-jr-prayed-at-the-billy-graham-new-york-crusade/ .
  16. http://edsitement.neh.gov/feature/i-have-dream-celebrating-vision-martin-luther-king-jr

7 Laws of the Learner

7 Laws of the Learner is the title of a book by Bruce Wilkinson published in 1984.  The focus is on understanding how students learn and ways to enhance student learning. Because Dr. Wilkinson is a Christian, biblical principles are applied throughout the material.  He draws out the word for teach in Deut. 4:1 and learn in Deut 5:1 and shares that they have the same root.

According to Hebrew grammar, the fundamental idea … means to busy oneslef eagerly with student’s learning. Do you see how the Bible’s mindset is the opposite of the normal mindset? The Bible says that teaching means “causing learning.” This is the heart of the Law of the Learner. No longer can you or I consider teaching merely as something the teacher does in the front of the class.  Teaching is what the teacher does in the student.  How do you know if you are a great teacher? by what your students learn. p. 26-27

I know we have great teachers working at Belhaven. I know you are passionate about your students and their success. I know you go beyond expectations to do all you can to achieve student learning.  We are blessed by a faculty who recognize the biblical foundations of what they do and strive to do what they do “as unto the Lord.”

May God bless you for all you do and the lives you are impacting by your faithfulness.

A Student’s Expectation

A mentor of mine once shared with me that most students graduating from college expect to be able to write well enough not to be embarrassed when submitting reports to their boss.  His point was that a student’s expectation of earning a college degree included this ability IN ADDITION to the content knowledge of the major being studied.

I’ve thought about that many times over the years since I first heard that.  I’ve talked with students and have become convinced that what my mentor said still holds true. The very nature of graduating with a college degree SHOULD include the ability to write at a professional level. Sadly, I also know that even as students hold this expectation, they will do almost anything in their power to avoid learning this important skill. It is one of those mysterious paradoxes which surround us.

This reminds me of what I learned about sermon preparation; that we start with the audience’s felt needs and then work toward their real need. Students’ felt need is to get through each course with as little work as possible.  Their real need is the ability to write and to embrace the subject content. As Instructors, the one cannot be neglected at the expense of the other. Whenever we default on holding students to a high expectation in writing we fail them at a deeper level which can potentially sidetrack their career and derail their dreams.

I know it is challenging and time-consuming to do so, but I cannot urge you strongly enough not to neglect your responsibility to your students to do what they may not want but desperately need; hold them to a high standard in writing.  By doing so you serve the student now AND facilitate their future.

How the Reformation Reformed Education

by Dr. Paul T. Criss, Ph.D.
Dean, Belhaven, Memphis/DeSoto

On October 31, 2017, what do we celebrate? No, the answer is not All Hallow’s Eve. The answer is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation epitomized in Martin Luther’s nailing of 95 Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. The point was to debate the statements to bring about a greater understanding of Scripture and a greater adherence to what Scripture taught. The Reformers reformed the church by the five solas:

  • Scripture Alone (sola Scriptura)
  • Christ Alone (solus Christus)
  • Grace Alone (sola gratia)
  • Faith Alone (sola fide)
  • God’s Glory Alone (soli deo Gloria)

The first principle of Scripture Alone sparked a hunger for knowledge and a reformation, not only of the church, but of education as well. The following is a summary the great research of Hugh Whelchel (https://tifwe.org/how-the-reformation-changed-education-forever/), David Murray, William Boice, and R.B. Peery (Luther’s Influence in Education).

Martin Luther has been called “the father of modern education” because he was almost as great a reformer of education as he was of religion.  John Calvin was known for reforming higher education. The Reformation took salvation out of the hands of the clergy and placed it, under God, in the hands of each individual. This necessitated each individual possessing the potential to have a Holy Spirit illuminated understanding of Scripture. It also directed Christian belief away from the dictates of the church and vested it in the Word of God; to teach each person to derive their interpretation of the Bible, not from the church or clergy, but through personal prayerful investigation of God’s revealed Word. All of this required that each person be able to read Scripture him or herself. It also meant that each individual must learn to read and to think clearly and critically leading to a reformation in education. The reformer’s concern did not stop at literacy; they were interested in both the theory and practice of education as well.

In nearly all of this writings, Luther references better education; however, his principles are clearly outlined in the letter “To Mayors and Alderman of the cities of Germany in Behalf of Christian Schools” (1524) and his sermon on “The Duty of Sending Children to School” (1530). The following ideas draw heavily from these writings unless otherwise noted.

Education for Everyone

Prior the Reformation, education was strictly the purview of the clergy and aristocrats, but the reformers believed that education should be available to everyone. The schools they started were the first, in line with Jesus and Paul, to educate girls and desired that every child of God reach their full potential for God’s glory. Luther expressed, “Even if there were no soul, and men did not need schools and languages for the sake of Christianity and the Scriptures; still, for the establishment of the best schools everywhere, both for boys and girls, this consideration is of itself sufficient, namely, that society, for the maintenance of civil order and the proper regulation of the household, needs accomplished and well-trained men and women” (1524). Joel Beeke in Calvin for Today states, the later reformers like John Calvin “opened the way for people to raise themselves by education and by the diligent use of their knowledge and abilities.”

Who is Responsible for Education?

The reformers taught the parents and the church held the primary responsibility of educating children under the authority of God’s Word (with possible support from the state). Luther and Calvin personally started numerous schools with existing churches. Parents were expected to reinforce instruction at home and church leaders would assess the instructional process and a student’s progress throughout the school year. Luther encouraged the state to provide stability to education by undertaking and supporting primary and secondary schools. He said, “Therefore it will be proper for the civil authorities to exercise the greatest care and industry in regard to the young; for, since the interests of the city are committed to their trust, they would not do well before God and the world if they did not seek with all their might to promote its prosperity. Now, the prosperity of a city does not consist alone in the vast treasures, strong walls, beautiful houses, large supplies of muskets and armor; yea, when these things are found, and fools exercise authority, it is so much worse for the city. The best and richest treasure of a city is that it have many pure, learned, intelligent, honest, well-educated citizens, for these can collect, preserve, and properly use whatever is good” (1524).

Education Should Be Theological & Practical

The reformer’s perspective on the sovereignty of God over all creation affected how they approached the study of all topics. All truth is God’s truth and theology, as the queen of the sciences, unifies all knowledge and understanding under the guiding principles of Scripture. As Mark Thompson wrote in Engaging with Calvin, “According to Calvin, science was a gift of God, created for benefit of mankind. The real source of natural knowledge was the Holy Spirit. Whoever dealt with it acknowledged God, obeyed the call of God, and focused on God’s creation. Thus, biology was also theology.” The reformers knew that the Reformation movement would grow through the study of arts and sciences through the lens of scripture. They also thought of education as a way to prepare students more efficiently to easily perform their daily duties in life. In some way even the concept of adult studies was encouraged, or at least schools at hours which would not interfere with the work schedule of those obligated to earn their living; these guidelines were recommended to authorities of both the church and state. Luther stated students should “spend an hour or two a day in school, and the rest of the time at work at home, learning some trade and doing whatever is desired, so that study and work go together…” (1530).

 Education Requires Gifted Teachers

The reformers viewed the position of teacher as very important. They actually viewed teachers as officers and servants of the church. The call to “Scripture Alone” required teachers who would teach how to read and understand the Word of God. Because of this, they required teachers not only to have expertise and education in their discipline, but also to obtain a degree in theology and to demonstrate high character. They also thought that teacher’s compensation should be high enough to provide education to the poor who could not afford to pay for their own instruction.

Education and Citizenship of Church & State

John Calvin founded the Genevan Academy. It became the model for colleges and universities for several centuries. Hugh Whelchel describes, “the Academy was a university that offered higher learning in a number of subjects, including theology, training pastors, and those preparing for other vocations.” The Academy also viewed its purpose to prepare those who would serve in the church and in government. Historians affirm that wherever followers of the Reformation went, they founded churches, school, and colleges. In fact, many of America’s early colleges, like Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, were originally based on the model set by the Genevan Academy.

Broad & Rich Curriculum with Best Teaching Principles

Luther advocated for a broader range of subjects to be taught to students based on liberalis study that taught students to contribute to society rather than servilus education that simply taught one skill to keep people in servitude. He retained the normal course of study for the clergy (Latin, Greek, and mathematics), but he also recommended Hebrew, more mathematics and additionally he insisted on nature studies, the sciences, rhetoric, gymnastics, history, and music. He realized the cultural power and practical value of music. Of course, Luther gave priority to the Christian teaching in all educational endeavors, so perhaps he was one of the first reformers to teach the Christian Worldview (along with Calvin). By using the Bible and the Catechism, he focused on developing the heart as well as the head. He also insisted on teaching being in the vernacular. He believed that students should not be subject to the medieval tradition of harshness, but rather should be dealt with gently and kindly, being ruled by love and not fear so they would find joy in learning. He also began the tradition of Academic Freedom by allowing liberty and opportunity for self-expression and questions within the classroom.

What Does This Mean for Us Today?

Scriptural reformation and education are the keys to cultural transformation. James Montgomery Boice in his book Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? Recovering the Doctrines that Shook the World illustrates for us: “Here is a particularly striking example. In 1535 the Council of Two Hundred, which governed the city of Geneva, Switzerland, decided to break with Catholicism and align the city with the Protestant Reformation. They had very little idea what that meant. Up to this point the city had been notorious for its riots, gambling, indecent dancing, drunkenness, adultery, and other vices. The citizens of Geneva would literally run around the streets naked, singing indecent songs and blaspheming God.

They expected this state of affairs to continue after they had become Protestants, and the Council did not know what to do. It had passed regulation after regulation designed to restrain vice and remedy the situation. They thought becoming Protestant would solve the problem. But that did not do any good either. Genuine moral change never comes from the top down by law, but from the bottom up through a transformed people. Geneva’s morals continued to decline.

But the Council did one thing right. They invited John Calvin to become Geneva’s chief pastor and preacher. He arrived in August of 1536, a year after the change. He was ignored at first, even by the Council. He was not even paid the first year. Besides, his first preaching proved so unpopular that he was dismissed in early 1538 and went to Strasbourg, where he was very happy. He had no desire to go back to Geneva. Yet, when the situation in Geneva continued to deteriorate, public opinion turned to him again and, driven by a sense of duty, Calvin returned. It was September 13, 1541.

Calvin had no weapon but the Bible. From the very first, his emphasis had been on Bible teaching, and he returned to it now, picking up precisely where he had left off three and a half years earlier. Calvin preached from the Bible every day, and under the power of that preaching the city began to be transformed. As the people of Geneva acquired knowledge of God’s Word and were changed by it, the city became, as John Knox called it later, a New Jerusalem from which the gospel spread to the rest of Europe, England, and the New World. This change made other changes possible. One historian wrote:

Cleanliness was practically unknown in towns of his generation and epidemics were common and numerous. He moved the Council to make permanent regulations for establishing sanitary conditions and supervision of markets. Beggars were prohibited from the streets, but a hospital and poorhouse were provided and well conducted.

Calvin labored zealously for the education of all classes and established the famous Academy, whose influence reached all parts of Europe and even to the British Isles. He urged the council to introduce the cloth and silk industry and thus laid the foundation for the temporal wealth of Geneva. This industry…proved especially successful because Calvin, through the gospel, created within the individual the love of work, honesty, thrift and cooperation. He taught that capital was not an evil thing, but the blessed result of honest labor and that it could be used for the welfare of mankind. Countries under the influence of Calvinism were invariably connected with growing industry and wealth…. It is not mere coincidence that religious and political liberty arose in those countries where Calvinism had penetrated most deeply.

There probably has never been a clearer example of extensive moral and social reform than the transformation of Geneva under the ministry of John Calvin, and it was accomplished almost entirely by the preaching and teaching of God’s word.”

It has been said that we are to ever be reforming. For Christians, this means that we compare our beliefs and practice to the Word of God; it we do not line up to what the Bible says we reform or change to meet the biblical standard. May we, in obedience to Christ, follow in the steps of the reformers and be agents of ecclesial and cultural transformation through our efforts in education.

Recommended Resources

An excellent and accessible book on the Reformation is Erwin Lutzer’s Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2016). If you are looking for ideas on how to celebrate the 500th Anniversary or incorporate it into your class, investigate the following sites: