Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Grammar of Baptism

Shurley Grammar starts teaching students in the First Grade the two-point expository paragraph. I’ve taught Shurley through five levels. I know the beauty of what comes next, and next, and so on. While the format may seem wooden and confining at first, it lays the foundation for a great deal more. In fact, to know the formula for the X-point expository paragraph is to be able to expand in essays that expound on any subject. Or, it can be crafted into a persuasive paragraph, which is the foundation for political speech and other formal writing. Once the student knows the basic form, he can return to it when his writing “falls apart” in order to regain structure and balance.

This is like the Dennis Van deMeer theory of tennis instruction. He broke every stroke down to its simplest part, then taught each one in the most structured way he could. Every player mastered the basics, and then moved on to add his own personal style. Later, when the player’s game fell apart – as each player’s game does at some point, he would go back to the basic stroke and build up from that again. The reminder of what does not change in each stroke is what helped to put the player back on his game again. It worked for players like Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. In its own way, it’s classical tennis education.

This student was having none of it with regard to paragraph writing. He wanted paragraphs his way. He knew how to write a two-point expository paragraph. He had written several in First Grade when I first taught it to him. He wrote one this year in Second Grade with no problems. Now for eight weeks he was struggling, or so it seemed. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, for a while. Not any more. I was no longer in doubt as to what he was up to.

I assigned the students a paragraph a week. Seven sentences, that’s all. They were all according to the same Shurley formula, and outlines were provided to assist them. Yet every week this one student wandered off course. There were too many points, or too many supporting sentences for each point. Or, his paragraph would actually be a science report or a story he’d made up. His excuse was always the same, “Oh, I forgot!” Eight weeks of these shenanigans and he’s no lightweight in the intelligence department.

Now, this kid likes to argue. It’s his favorite activity. So I thought I’d play to that as an advantage. I tried explaining to him the benefits of knowing the two-point expository paragraph as it led to the three-point expository, and then to the three-point persuasive paragraph. From there he’d learn to formulate debate, political speeches and the art of rhetoric. He stared blankly at me.

That’s when it dawned on me. I was discussing the benefits of doing things the right way with a terrorist. Not that my student was a terrorist in fact – far from it. I mean that the situation was comparable to a democratic nation engaging in negotiations with those who are incapable of understanding the benefits of peaceful coexistence in the first place.

The solution was easy. I issued an ultimatum. “Get the job done, do it my way, or you get a zero. You’ve had eight weeks of help from me, now you are on your own.” His reply was simple. “Yes, ma’am.” He hasn’t missed a week turning in his properly done paragraph since that day.

It occurred to me that when it comes to us God is dealing with terrorists, too. The First Commandment tells us to “fear love and trust in God above all things.” Yet we must confess that we have not kept this commandment. We must speak as Paul does and admit that we are hostile to God, and cannot subject ourselves to his will or his law (Ro 8:7). We hate God. That is the ugly truth about us. We do not even desire to do the things God wishes us to do. Unless he first threatens us with punishment, we do not even know we have a need for him. Even after God reveals his heart to us in his Son Jesus Christ, we cannot but grasp the barest glimmer of an understanding of his love for us (Ro 11:33). There simply comes a time when it is best to sit down, shut up, listen, and say nothing more than “Amen.”

This world despises authority. The good old days of addressing children according to “because I said so” are too often said to be “overbearing.” A kinder, gentler approach is suggested. Explain to the child what you are doing and why. Get him to understand. Sometimes that does work. But then again, children can also stand to learn that when their parents speak the world stops turning for that moment. That’s not necessarily authoritarianism, which is an improper use of authority. It is the right and proper use of the Fourth Commandment. Parents stand in the place of God in the home. To despise parental authority is to also despise the authority of the One who is behind the parents. Further, parents who cannot be believed when they say “No” are they who are not to be trusted when they say “I love you.” The God who tells the truth to us about our sins is the one who tells the truth about our resurrection.

God’s authority is not merely that of the Law, when he shakes us up to demonstrate to us that we are destined for hell. Baptism is about going to hell as well as heaven. For, everyone who is baptized is declared to be a sinner, and every sinner deserves hell. But Jesus does not let baptism rest in hell, for he only concerns himself with sinners. Sinners destined for hell die with Jesus on the cross, and are raised up with him in his resurrection. And it is then that baptism is for being in Christ in heaven.


Marie N. said...


I'm so glad I checked your blog today. I think the points you make in this post will be brought up in conversation tonight when I have a talk with my husband, the principal of our homeschool, about an errant student.

Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Thank you for your post. I am planning on linking to it!

chaplain7904 said...

Not bad for a girl.