Our first assignment for Titus was to read Seven Laws of the Learner by Bruce Wilkinson; in fact, we were to read it prior to starting class. Michael and I read much of this book while sitting in The Well in Alliston while we were in Ontario just over a week ago. Wilkinson’s clear and personal writing style, coupled with sipping tea and eating delicious gluten-free cookies, made this assignment a pleasure.
What are the “seven laws” you might ask? They are the laws of:
Each law is assigned two chapters – the first chapter deals with beliefs around teaching, and how they can be changed for better, more effective teaching. This first chapter focuses on “mindset, model, and maxims.” The second chapter outlines ways that a teacher can put the law into practice, focusing on “method and maximizers”. Throughout the book, Wilkinson illustrates his “laws” with stories from his own life and his own teaching experience. In fact, if I were to fault this book, I would almost say that at times, I would have liked a few less stories! That being said, I found this book truly impactful as a teacher.
Something I found especially interesting was Wilkinson’s study on the word “teach,” based on Deuteronomy 4. I’m no Hebrew scholar, but according to Wilkinson, the word “learn” and the word “teach” have the same Hebrew root word (if you’re a Hebrew scholar reading this, and I’m interpreting the author’s Hebrew lesson incorrectly, please let me know)! This has tremendous implications for what it means to teach. According to the Hebrew grammar interpretation of the author, the Bible essentially shows that the definition of teaching is “causing learning.” This means that if my students don’t learn, I haven’t taught them. I could get up in front of a classroom and speak, but if my students don’t learn what I have said, I haven’t really taught. That is challenging, and makes me want to invest in what it takes to be a better teacher – a better causer of learning.
Another challenging take-away comes from the law of application, specifically from the maxim: “application and information should be balanced.” Wilkinson has posed the question, “What percentage of the average Sunday school class or sermon do you think is devoted to content (what the Bible means) compared to application (how I’m supposed to live)?” to thousands of people, and he has found that most people say that of the sermons and teachings they hear, 90% is content, and 10% is application. Wilkinson says that he once prided himself on being a teacher who focused on content 99% of his teaching time. I would say I’m in the same boat. But as he looked more into the teaching styles of his favourite preachers, including Charles Swindoll, D.L. Moody, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, and some favourite writers, he found they all averaged between 45 and 75 percent of focus on application. This led him to look at the Bible, hoping to find that there, content would be king. But sure enough, application won out. When Wilkinson looked at Paul’s writing, he found most of his letters were 50/50 on content and application. 1 Peter is 60% application. And Christ’s sermons, as recorded in the Gospels, average 65% application. This was convicting for Wilkinson, and it is for me. Yes, part of teaching is getting the content of the material across. But if it is not changing lives, why teach the content at all? As we begin Titus, I’m hoping that I can grow in my “percentage” of application.
The law that may have influenced me the most is the law of revival. While I found that the previous six laws had quite a bit of overlap, the law of revival addressed a topic that isn’t often touched on, at least not in my experience. When we think of revival, many of us think of large sweeping movements that cause transformation in a nation. While that is an example of revival, Wilkinson emphasized that widespread revival begins with personal revival. Wilkinson defines spiritual revival as “the bringing back to full life a Christian who has been spiritually alive but has slipped back into sin and rebellion…and is living in disobedience to the Lord.” As a conflict-avoider, I found this chapter insightful and encouraging; I don’t have to be a counselor or a mediation expert to be part of revival. In fact, as a believer, I have a level of responsibility for revival, as Galatians 6:1 tells us, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” We are called to point one another towards Christ, especially when we know a fellow believer has slipped into sin and rebellion. It is the most loving thing to do, and it is the responsibility of the teacher to point his/her students towards Christ in this way and in these circumstances.
Overall, I would certainly recommend Seven Laws of the Learner. It is a lengthy read, and it can feel repetitious at times, but as Wilkinson states, “Repetition is the way that material is eventually memorized”! As you read, watch how Wilkinson skillfully uses his own laws to get his message across, and be prepared to be challenged, especially if you are a teacher!