A counseling assessment of “A River Runs Through It”

Redford, Robert, 1992. A River Runs Through It. Produced by Columbia Pictures. 123 min. Columbia Pictures. Videocassette.




The Maclean family has sought counseling after the tragic and violent death of the youngest adult son whose badly beaten body was found in an alleyway.  The death comes as an unexpected shock to the parents.  Though the oldest child expected something “bad” to happen to his younger brother (due to his destructive lifestyle), he never expected him to be murdered.  The family is having a difficult time coping with the loss of Paul. 

Through the gathering of information for this assessment, it was discovered that there was a long history of competition between the boys for their father’s attention.  A pseudo bond existed between Rev. Maclean and his sons, whose mode of bonding was through fly-fishing (a sport that offers little interaction).  There is no communication or other verbal exchanges during fly-fishing, and participants are not in close proximity of each other.  This form of “bonding” appears superficial and void of any emotional closeness. 

Norman’s self-report indicated that he never told his father of Paul’s destructive lifestyle and addiction to gambling.  Norman never divulged what he knew about Paul, even after Rev. Maclean asked him, “Is there more?”  Open communication is lacking in this family, and negative behavior had been ignored.  The parenting style of both Rev. and Mrs. Maclean was determined to be “detached” due to their noninvolvement in their children’s lives (this was evident when Norman described fist fighting with other children often while growing up, yet his parents were unaware of it).  For this report, each family member was asked to provide insight that might aid in the grieving process and facilitate family closeness.  Since Norman knew Paul relatively well, he supplied the background information for him.

Norman Maclean

Norman is the older of two sons, raised in a religious home headed by his minister father.  While all his friends were attending public school, his father home schooled him.  He enjoys fly-fishing, a pastime he and his brother enjoyed with their father.  Norman is very observant, and had noticed that Paul was always trying to prove he was “tough.”  Norman recounted a time when he and his brother were teenagers.  Paul coerced him to ride the rapids in a “borrowed” boat.  The water was rough and led them to capsize at the end of the falls.  This angered Norman because he was put in a dangerous position.  What troubled him was that his brother had no regard for his own safety.  Then when their parents found out about the incident, Paul took all the blame and this made Norman angrier.  Norman was mad at Paul and they threw punches at each other over a sandwich.  Norman said Paul’s “flippant” attitude enraged him.

When Norman came back from an east coast college, he found out that Paul had a drinking and gambling problem.  This concerned Norman because the policeman informed him that they “frequently” picked up Paul for public disturbance and drunkenness.  Although Paul seemed “out of control,” Norman admired him because of his outspokenness and zeal for life. 

Norman exhibited classic birth order characteristics of the “oldest child.”  According to research conducted by Alfred Adler, an “oldest child” is often convinced that siblings will “outshine them,” they are self-critical and a perfectionist, their parents have high expectations of them, and they are “most likely to succeed.”[1]  Other characteristics include, an “unconscious” hostility, nurturing and protective towards others, elevated feelings of anxiousness, good organizational skills, “sees things” as right or wrong, and is uncooperative.[2]  Norman feels guilty because he was envious and sometimes resentful of his brother.  Things just seemed to come so easy for Paul, even Norman’s girlfriend was attracted to him.  His parents seemed to favor Paul, probably because he led an exciting life and always had a story to tell.  

Norman is dating Jessie Burns, a woman who comes from an obvious dysfunctional family.  Norman was there when her older brother came to visit from California.  He tried to impress them with stories, and then he smacked the family dog because it “bit” him.  It was apparent to Norman that the man was not being true to himself or his family.  The family arranged for Norman to take Jessie’s brother fishing with Paul.  Norman said that Jessie’s brother missed the scheduled fishing time (6:30 am), and brought a “harlot” with him to the fishing spot.  Instead of fishing, he went into the woods with the woman and was gone for several hours.  Both were found naked and sunburned on their backside because they passed out from drinking so much alcohol.  When Norman brought him back to his family, Jessie’s mother became upset and screamed, “What have you done to him?”  This flabbergasted Norman.  Jessie then looked at him and told him to leave.  Norman said he stood his ground and told her how much he loved her.  She asked, “Why is it the people who need the most help won’t take it?”  Norman thought about Paul and could not answer her question.

Paul Maclean

Paul was the younger of two sons in the Maclean family.  He was fearless and often took uncalculated risks.  He never drifted far from home; in fact he attended college nearby and became a writer for a local newspaper.  He had no interest in venturing away from Montana.  Towards the end of his life he was heavily addicted to gambling.  Norman believes that he might have been killed because he had a high gambling debt.  Paul frequented a place just outside of town, known by locals for its prostitution and gambling trade.  Norman saw first hand the magnitude that gambling and drinking had on Paul’s life when he witnessed an altercation between Paul and the other gamblers.  Paul refused to leave the premises even after Norman insisted.  Norman also stated that Paul often went for days without any sleep.

Based on Norman’s observations, Paul exhibited typical personality traits of a “second born” or “youngest” child.  Paul was unique because he was both a “second born” and the “youngest.”  Both categories were considered.  Alder’s birth order characteristics that best described Paul were the following: highly motivated and competitive, cooperative, easily discouraged, desire to excel in “everything,” is dependant on others, and is “unrealistically” ambitious.[3]  Another source depicted the “last born” as, “easy going,” the family “clown,” not taken seriously, enjoys the “limelight,” charming, and often has difficulty “deciding what to do” with their life.[4]

Being dependant on others may not seem like a trait Paul possessed, but his unwillingness to leave Montana or the proximity of his childhood home would negate this characteristic.  Based on the information gathered about Paul, it is believed that Paul may have suffered from Manic episodes as evidenced by meeting four of the DSM-IV criteria: “inflated self-esteem or grandiosity,” decreased need for sleep, increase in “goal-directed activity” (especially with Paul’s work with the newspaper), and excessive involvement in “pleasurable activities” that have a “high potential for painful consequences” (such as sexual “indiscretions,” excessive alcohol consumption, and a dangerous gambling habit).[5]

An example of Paul’s “excessive involvement in pleasurable activities” was when he brought his Native American date to an “all white” club.   He charmed and persuaded the bouncer to admit her into the establishment.  Many stared in disgust as he and his date danced in a sexually suggestive manner.   Later that evening, the police department called Norman to pick up his brother.  He found Paul and his date in one of the holding cells “passed out” from drinking too much alcohol.

Paul was not afraid of a challenge.  The last time Paul went fishing with his father and brother, he risked his life to catch a big fish.  He was in the water trying to reel the fish in, but it kept swimming farther down the river toward the falls.  Paul went under the rough water for a few moments, which worried Norman and Rev. Maclean.  Paul never gave up and caught the fish.  Norman was amazed at Paul’s persistence and his ability to turn the “mundane” (like casting reel) into something extraordinary (creating his own artistic method of reel-casting).

Reverend Maclean

Reverend Maclean is a married Presbyterian minister and the father of Norman and Paul.  He had difficulty verbally expressing love for his sons.  His way of showing love was through fly-fishing.  He made sure his sons knew how to use the proper fishing lures and cast reels.  Both boys loved fishing, but Rev. Maclean noticed that they were different from each other.  He recalled an incident when Paul was 8-years-old.  The family was eating oatmeal together, but Paul refused to eat it.  Rev. Maclean firmly told him, “grace will not be set” until he ate his oatmeal.  A battle of wills ensued.  Paul sat at the cleared supper table while Rev. Maclean patiently waited in his office room.  Even though Paul never touched his oatmeal, Rev. Maclean brought the family together to “set grace” (a family ritual of praying after the meal has been consumed).  This act of forgiveness is evidence that Rev. Maclean loved his son.

Rev. Maclean misses Paul, and remembered all the stories Paul used to share about meeting people like the President.  He was like the family’s connection to fun and excitement—a welcomed break from their monotonous lives.   Since Paul’s death, Rev. Maclean is plagued with wanting to know the details behind Paul’s death.  He’s been asking Norman for more information about Paul’s personal habits, but Norman does not divulge anything.

Rev. Maclean appeared to have had a distant relationship with his sons—he was physically present, but emotionally absent as a father.  He exhibits a combination of two parenting styles, “Dismissing” and “Laissez-faire” as evidenced by Paul’s disregard of his own emotions as well as the family’s avoidance of negative emotions in dealing with Paul’s destructive lifestyle.[6]  Rev. Maclean felt an addition sense of loss because none of his sons went into the ministry.  

Mrs. Maclean

Mrs. Maclean is never referred to by her first name.   She is the epitome of a minister’s wife—submissive and supportive to her husband.   She is a good mother, and loves her family very much.  She recalled the day when she stopped the fistfight between her two sons.  It happened after a night of wondering and worrying about the boys’ whereabouts, then discovering they had stolen a boat to ride the rapids and could have been killed.  The shameful thing about the whole situation was that “everyone” knew what her sons had done—stolen a boat from one of the neighbors.  This upset her the most. 

She and Rev. Maclean blamed Norman for the incident because he was the eldest and “should have known better.”  It surprised and confused them that Paul accepted the blame.  It disturbed her that they were fighting, but she never asked the reason for their dispute.   This act of avoidance validates her passive parenting style. 

Family Systems Analysis

The family structure consisted of married parents with two biological sons.  At the time of Paul’s death, Rev. and Mrs. Maclean had launched their children from their home and were enjoying “midlife.”[7]  The church and religious practices (such as “setting grace”) have been “triangled” by Rev. and Mrs. Maclean to avoid facing serious issues (such as Paul’s addiction).  Paul “triangled” alcohol, gambling, and indiscriminate sexual practices to avoid his feelings of being unloved by his father.  He and his brother had an emotionally absent dad, which resulted in “acting out” behavior and open defiance (as in the oatmeal incident).  It could be that the stress of being in a ministry family and feeling like the town is constantly scrutinizing them contributed to the negative behavior Norman and Paul exhibited (concern of parents to appear “perfect” was incongruent with the “reality” of their family life).

Lack of communication between family members was noticeable.  There was a period in early adulthood when the brothers were distant, both in proximity and relationally.  Discussion centered around superficial topics, usually Paul’s adventures.  The family became evidently bleak after Paul’s death because their instigator of conversation was gone.  The sons never witnessed intimacy between their parents.  The father/son bond was felt only during fly-fishing (which turned out to be a pseudo intimate form of bonding).  Fishing became the pattern of perceived bonding for males in the Maclean family.

Rev. Maclean has difficulty showing affection.  He avoided intimate activities with his sons by substituting a non-communicative sport like fly-fishing for a “heart-to-heart” discussion.  He offered the traditional inquiry about each son’s future goals when they became young adults, but since open communication had never been established, the boys were reluctant to share information with him. 

Rev. and Mrs. Maclean lead secluded lives and never had friends at their home.  Their lives revolved around the church.  They lived in a modest house and were able to provide their sons with a college education.  There was a continual conflict and rivalry between Norman and Paul since childhood as they vied for the “title” of the “toughest.”   This led Paul to practice unhealthy “risk-taking.”  Norman summed up what his brother meant to him with this statement: “Those we live with elude us, but we can love them without complete understanding.” 

Treatment Plan

 Each family member will provide the counselor with their expectations of the counseling journey and their suggestions of how their expectations could be accomplished (also known as goal setting).  The family needs to mourn the loss of Paul, however there is a pattern of avoiding emotions, especially negative ones.   Each family member will write a letter to Paul, emphasizing the emotions they are feeling about his death.  The letters will be shared with other family members following an individual counseling session.  They will also join a local grief support group.

To facilitate open communication among family members, family counseling will be conducted on a weekly basis whereby communication skills will be learned and practiced.  Each person will be required to write in a journal at least three times a week about their particular feelings and the circumstances behind the feelings.  The journal will be brought to the weekly individual counseling sessions where contents will be discussed.

To facilitate intimacy, Rev. Maclean must verbally tell Mrs. Maclean that he loves her on a daily basis.  Rev. Maclean and Mrs. Maclean are encouraged to talk about their feelings and practice active listening skills at least 30 minutes per week.  They must attend a marriage seminar before the 6-month counseling reevaluation.  Rev. Maclean and Norman will discuss portions of their journal (as each feels comfortable) or talk about other feelings at least 30 minutes per week.  Rev. Maclean and his son are to spend “quality time” together (an activity other than fly-fishing) at least once a month.  Expressing “negative” feelings such as anger, disappointment, and sadness will be initially expressed during individual counseling then discussed in a family session.

Family members will provide three personal prayer requests to share with each other.  They will pray for these requests on a daily basis.  Each individual as needed may update prayer requests.  The family will continue to attend worship services together at least once a week, and commit to daily personal devotions. The effectiveness of counseling intervention will be reevaluated after six months.  At that time it will be determined if counseling modifications are warranted and if further sessions are necessary.  


Communication and closeness can be built between the remaining members of the Maclean family.  All of them are willing to work on their relationship and have verbally agreed to utilize various interventions to improve their family dynamics.  Although Paul’s death was tragic, it made everyone realize that a problem of expressing emotions existed.  Although family members were upset about his death, no one cried or showed other signs of grief.   Through journal writing and guided open discussions, healthy grief and mourning responses will be achieved. 

Coaching Norman to express his feelings will enable him to be a good future husband to Jessie (he has indicated that he and Jessie will be married soon).  Premarital counseling is strongly advised.  In focusing on expressing negative and positive emotions, the likelihood of establishing open communication among family members is a likely outcome. 






American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., 1994.


Gottman, John. Talaris Research Institute, 2002. The Dismissing Parent [on-line].  Retrieved 30 November 2003. Available from http://www.talaris. org/spotlight_style1.htm; Internet.


Red Rocks Community College, Psychology department, 1999. Characteristics of Various Birth Orders [on-line]. Retrieved 24 November 2003. Available from http://rrcc-online.com/~ psych/Birth1.htm; Internet.


Redford, Robert, 1992. A River Runs Through It. Produced by Columbia Pictures. 123 min. Columbia Pictures. Videocassette.


Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Facts About Alfred Adler, 2003 [on-line].  Accessed 24 November 2003. Available from http://www.rpi.edu/~ verwyc/ADLEROH.html; Internet.


Wigginton, Scott E.  “Genograms & the Family Life Cycle” handout. Psychology & Theology of Family Relationships, 2003. Louisville: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.



[1] Red Rocks Community College, Psychology department, 1999, Characteristics of Various Birth Orders, Available from http://rrcc-online.com/~ psych/Birth1.htm [on-line], retrieved 24 November 2003, internet.

[2] Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Facts About Alfred Adler, 2003, available from http://www.rpi.edu/~ verwyc/ADLEROH.html [on-line], retrieved 24 November 2003, internet.

[3] Ibid.


[4] Red Rocks Community College, Psychology department, 1999, Characteristics of Various Birth Orders, Available from http://rrcc-online.com/~ psych/Birth1.htm [on-line], retrieved 24 November 2003, internet.

[5] American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th ed., 1994, p. 332.

[6] John Gottman,  Talaris Research Institute, The Dismissing Parent, 2002, available from http://www.talaris. org/spotlight_style1.htm [on-line],  retrieved 30 November 2003, internet.

[7] Scott E. Wigginton, “Genograms & the Family Life Cycle” handout, Psychology & Theology of Family Relationships, SBTS, 2003 Fall Semester.

Copyright © 2012 M. Teresa Trascritti

My bias for online education

I had to write this brief paper as a faculty exercise. Below is my bias =)


“The Future of Online Teaching and Learning”

I thought this article would be interesting to read because it was about online teaching and learning, but it also focused on higher education. The article starts out by saying that eLearning is experiencing a “perfect e-storm” because educators are trying to merge “pedagogy, technology, and learner needs” in delivery modes such as “electronic books, simulations, text messaging, podcasting, wikis, and blogs” (Kim & Bonk, 2006, p. 22).

The authors examined several surveys that had been conducted and discovered that “only 23-45 percent of online instructors actually used online activities related to critical and creative thinking, hands-on performances, interactive labs, or data analysis” (Kim & Bonk, 2006, p. 23). This was surprising to me because I would expect the number to be much higher since there is so much technology that is available now.

The authors conducted a survey of 562 online educators (66% were teachers and the rest were administrators or instructional designers) (Kim & Bonk, 2006, p. 24). Participants were asked to complete a 42- item questionnaire regarding the “current status and future trends of online education in higher” (Kim & Bonk, 2006, p. 24). Some of the interesting findings of the study were as follows: (1) “a majority of the respondents predicted that the quality of online courses would be superior to (47 percent) or the same as (39 percent) that of traditional instruction by 2013”; and (2) “learning outcomes of online students would be either the same as (39 percent) or superior to (42 percent) those of traditionally taught students by 2013” (Kim & Bonk, 2006, p. 26). I think these findings show that the perception of online learning has changed. I remember when I first started taking online classes; people were telling me that I would not learn as much as I would in a traditional classroom, but depending on the instructor and how the course is implemented, I think more learning can take place in an online environment because there are more opportunities to help students one-on-one (for example, students can contact the instructor via email or contact the instructor through instant messaging).

This article caught my attention because of the title. I have taught online for a few years now and my preference is to teach online. I first started teaching on-campus classes, and when I switched to online teaching I was told that more work was involved with teaching online. I have come to realize that both on-campus and online teaching has the same workload, but I prefer online teaching because I can interact with the students more. I feel like I am making more of a difference in their lives.

This article relates to my current professional role because I an adjunct instructor for several schools with online programs. I believe that the future of online education will increase, and in fact I have more students now than I did a few years ago. I think this article confirms that online education (eLearning) is more widely accepted now and is almost the educational “norm” for working adults (meaning it is the main way of getting an education if someone has a full-time job/family). What is amazing to me is that the quality of online education and the learning outcomes of online learning are perceived to be superior by 2013. I believe this is because more educational tools can be utilized in an online environment versus a traditional classroom. To me, traditional classrooms (i.e. lecture only format) will be a remnant of an old educational practice. Our society is full of technological gadgets and programs and we have to find a way to utilize it for educational purposes if we want to make education less boring and mundane. Incidentally, this article stated the following, “bored students are dropping out of online classes while pleading for richer and more engaging online learning experiences” (Kim & Bonk, 2006, p. 22). I can see the advantages of online education and I can also see how eLearning can be richer than a traditional setting—there is no better way to merge education with technology than online.

Kim, K., & Bonk, C. J. (2006). The future of online teaching and learning in higher education. Educause Quarterly 4, 22-30.

Book Review: Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer (IVP Books, 2006)

Although the book is subdivided by several sections, there are really two concepts to this book: (1) See the image of God in others— which encompasses the ideas of “welcoming others into our presence,” “communicating respect for others, “ “building confidence in relationships,” and “seeking information that changes you;” and (2) Show Christ to others— which involves “posture of the servant,” “becoming like Christ to others,” “biblical foundations for change” and “the servant and leadership/power.”


The section entitled, “Acceptance,” basically suggests that Christians ought to see the image of God in others.  Acceptance is “The ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person” (58).  To illustrate the meaning of “acceptance,” the author shares 1 Corinthians 8:13—“An accepting Christian values the other person so highly that he or she would rather sacrifice a personal preference, even a right, than risk losing the relationship or being a stumbling block to that person” (61).  If a Christian believes that people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), then there is “common grace” that is bestowed on all people. 


The author explains it in this way, “Acceptance of others is to proactively communicate respect and dignity to each human being based on the fact that each is an image-bearer of God” (75).  In a similar way, acceptance of others as image bearers of God is found in Galatians 3:28—“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (NIV).  One does not need to be a Christian in order to bear the image of God as illustrated in this passage:  “Yes, you must execute anyone who murders another person, for to kill a person is to kill a living being made in God’s image” (Genesis 9:6).


The author reminds the reader, “By virtue of being made in the image of God and God’s common grace, every person can contribute to our learning” (109).  He then shares a story about his wife, Muriel, who used the villagers’ story about killing lice to help lower infant mortality in Mozambique (110).  This type of humility helps Christians to become better servants (115).  Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him (Christ) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or power or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (NIV).  If Christians truly believe this passage, then what the author says in page 119 makes sense: “For the priesthood of all believers to function properly, we must all nurture each other, listen to each other, see the beauty of Christ in each other and seek God’s grace from each other.”


Elmer shares a story of missionary who set the example of true hospitality towards people in the area by inviting them through the front door to dine with him (183).  This practice was unacceptable to the other missionaries so as a result he was ostracized by them.  However, this act of showing Christ to others changed the way foreign mission was done in that country (184).  The reaction that this particular missionary received from the other missionaries was very much like the reaction Jesus received from the Pharisees in Luke 15:2—“The Pharisees and the Scribes complained saying ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them’.”  This is a good example to follow—invite the people in the area to eat with us.  Extend the invitation for them to join us over a meal.  The Book of Hebrews supports this idea, “Do not forget to do good and to share” (Heb. 13:16).


The act of sharing a meal is what the author calls “openness,” which is to “accept people as they are and build trust with them” (196).  Elmer supports the idea of “openness” by stating, “This is the foundation for revealing Christ to others” (196).  In fact showing Christ to others is a way of revealing the Gospel to unbelievers.   It is having the light shine through us so that others are pointed to Christ (Matthew 5:14). In a way, it is doing what John the Baptist did—“God sent a man… to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony… he was simply a witness to tell about the light… the One who is the true light… to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:6-12).


Christians are to be different—“If you love only those who love you, what good is that? If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?” (Matthew 5:46-47).  The idea of being different is also expressed in Mark 10: “But among you it should be quite different.  Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others” (Mark 10:33-35).


“Cross-Cultural Servanthood” is not only for international missions; it is very useful for pastors of stateside churches in rural or ethnic regions of the country.  It supports the biblical fact that we are to see all people as an image of God and to be different in our expression of being “salt” and “light” to the community.  The book made me realize that despite the criticism that we may receive from other churches for doing unconventional things, we must continue in our efforts.  We must follow the example of Jesus and “dine” with sinners.


Copyright © 2008 M. Teresa Trascritti

Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders

Sanders, J. Oswald. 1994. Spiritual Leadership. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

Godly leadership is more than being the most qualified to lead. Leaders in Christian ministry must understand and practice servanthood as taught by Jesus. Sanders compares the characteristics of “natural” leadership to spiritual leadership. In “natural” leadership, the emphasis is on power— specifically the ability to get subordinates to do things “they don’t want to do” and forcing people to act (27). Spiritual leadership is “influencing others spiritually” (28).

Spiritual leaders must not only possess leadership skills, but be ready and prepared to fight a spiritual battle (53). Sanders reminds readers that “God prepares leaders with a specific place and task in mind” (51). Even though many Christians are not called to a full-time ministry, all Christians are leaders since they influence people (109). Sanders insists on a leadership model in which leadership is “from the top down”—“never” from the “bottom up” (113). This philosophy is consistent with his other statement, “no cross, no leadership” (116).

Sanders’ description of spiritual leadership seems bleak by “natural” standards: a leader “lives with loneliness” (117), “fatigue is the price of leadership” (119), and “no leader lives a day without criticism” (119). Sanders’ leadership model is very biblical in that it reflects the principle of leadership under God’s guidance—“ Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid of them! The LORD your God will go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you” (Deu. 31:6 NLT).

Leadership “from the top down” starts with God at the top. God is the Lord over creation, man, and the Sabbath and all is consecrated to Him. Ezekiel 37:23-24 explains, “They will truly be my people, and I will be their God.  My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and keep my laws.” In the same way, leaders should think of themselves as a vessel that is accountable to God.

Copyright © 2008 M. Teresa Trascritti

Foundational Issues in Christian Education by Robert W. Pazmino

Pazmino, Robert W. 1997. Foundational Issues in Christian Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Christian education encompasses more than traditional teaching based on historical practices, sociological and psychological theories. It incorporates Biblical and theological truths with educational philosophical ideals. The foundation for such education is based on the fact that all people are created in the image of God, but due to the Fall have been separated from the Creator God, and that everyone in faith can be reconciled to God through the redeeming power of Christ’s death on the cross (70). The main goal of the Christian education is “passing on the commandments of God to the next generation” (20). The task is to incorporate students into the Christian community by loving others, building and sharing one’s faith, worshipping God, and actively participating in ministry (45).

In compiling a thorough book, Pazmino examines the contributions of educational, sociological, and psychological theorists. Utilizing the insights of people such as Cremin, Pazmino suggests that Christian educators should “carefully assess” the effects of secular educational institutions on their students, and to offer ways for people to share their knowledge with others (149). Christian education should incorporate ideals such as liberty, equality, and fraternity by reframing it in Christian terms. For instance, Pazmino redefines liberty as “the freedom made available in Jesus Christ,” and fraternity as “the common humanity of all persons and the unique relationships that exist in Christian community” (151).

Pazmino reminds readers that the acquisition of knowledge occurs through all modes—communities, institutions, and groups (175). However, ultimate knowledge is “transcended by being known by God and encountering God’s love” (177). Though the book contains good information regarding education, too much emphasis is given to the various theories. Pazmino dedicates a couple pages to discuss an “interactive Christian model,” but it would be better if he dedicated a whole chapter to this topic. The main educational topic of the book is true to its title—“foundational issues.”

Copyright © 2008 M. Teresa Trascritti

Teaching to Change Lives by Howard Hendricks

Hendricks, Howard. 1987. Teaching to Change Lives. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers.

Communication and caring compassion is the key to teaching. Hendricks uses the acronym, “TEACHER,” to relate his concepts. The examples of teacher-student interaction shared in his book illustrate the importance of communication and show of care that motivates students to learn. He states, “The greatest teachers are not necessarily the people up front with high visibility. They are the people who have great heart. They communicate as a total person, and they communicate to the total person of their hearers (87).”

Another way to be a “person of impact,” is to be “vulnerable” with one’s students. Not only is communication and compassion important, but preparation. Hendricks relates, “Teaching involves a delicate balance between facts and form, between content and communication, between what you teach and how you teach it (77).” If teachers want to prepare their students to “think, learn, and work,” then four skills need to be taught: “reading, writing, listening, and speaking” (48). Though this book is written for Sunday school teachers, it contains helpful suggestions for use in other teaching venues. For instance, Hendricks suggests a “self-examination” in which teachers ask three questions: “What are my strengths; what are my weaknesses, and what do I have to change?” (35).

Great teachers are the ones who continue to grow in their own personal learning. Hendricks’ book is a good reminder for all teachers of the main purpose for Bible teaching. Even if the teacher teaches in a secular institution, the basic principles of the book can be utilized. For instance, students will be more willing to try harder and put more effort into their school work if they know the teacher truly cares for them. This book has changed the way I teach. It made me realize that teaching is more than lecturing to students.

Copyright © 2008 M. Teresa Trascritti

Fashion Me a People by Maria Harris

According to an online dictionary, the meaning of “curriculum” is “all the courses of study offered by an educational institution” or “a set of courses constituting an area of specialization” (dictionary.com). In “Fashion Me a People,” Maria Harris paints a multi-dimensional picture of “curriculum” within a church context. In fact, “curriculum” is not “reducible to resource materials” (8), nor is it simply “indoctrination” or “giving instructions” (48). Curriculum is “an activity, a practice of a people” (8), carried out by the “whole community” of believers (46). According to Harris, there are five forms of curriculum: (1) koinonia—the curriculum of community; (2) leiturgia—the curriculum of prayer; (3) didache—the curriculum of teaching; (4) kerygma—the curriculum of proclamation; and (5) diakonia—the curriculum of service (5). In other words, “curriculum” is the teaching about God (didache), how to worship God (leiturgia), how to love God’s people (koinonia), how to love those outside the church (diakonia), and how to tell others about Christ (kerygma). These five forms of curriculum must be done by all believers.

Weaknesses of the Book

The idea of “curriculum” is said to be a type of education that “includes education to and by community” (48). The title clearly shows that the curriculum in question is for the church, so it is unclear if the author intended to include the community of unbelievers in the context of curriculum. It makes sense that the church’s curriculum would be to the community, but this type of education cannot be reciprocated unless the “community” are Christians. In the same sense, her chapter on “the curriculum of service” was essentially social care. There is nothing wrong with helping people to meet their need for food or clothing, but if the five forms of curriculum are to be fulfilled then there must be some sort of teaching or proclaiming about God intermixed with the act of service to the community.

In one part of the book, Harris uses Paulo Freire’s description of “human beings as subjects” (67). Although its inclusion was to expand one’s understanding of the “many layers of subject matter,” the descriptive words used to show the tension of every human seemed confusing. For instance, Harris quotes Freire, “for human beings the essential decision is between speaking or remaining embedded in a culture of silence, between naming ourselves or being named by others, between remaining an object or becoming a subject” (67). One could assume that the intent of this quote was to illustrate that people are in need of “knowing” and “being known,” a “need” expressed by Maslow.

Harris takes old concepts and presents them as something new. For example, she shares, “in a newer educational ministry framework, the whole community is educating and empowering the whole community to engage in ministry in the midst of the world” (46). This concept is found in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 2:44-47 which essentially states that Christians ought to support one another and proclaim Christ to all people. She claims that the “present direction” is to “engage in ministry in the midst of the world,” but it has already been mentioned by Paul in Romans 12:2.

In her chapter on the “curriculum of prayer,” Harris includes that prayer toward “God our Mother” or “God as the Great Sphere” is acceptable because some people are “desiring imagery for God” in order to pray (96). This act of creating a god does not properly convey leiturgia, didache, and kerygma.

Strengths of the Book

The author did an incredible job of expanding the definition of “curriculum.” She made it very clear that “curriculum” was more than just a textbook—it was the activity or duty of all Christians. In fact, Harris shared that the word “curriculum” came from a Latin word that meant “to run,” and she stressed, “Curriculum is a course to be run” (55).

Her use of the word “curriculum” is very much in line with the Bible’s use of the term “run.” In the Book of Hebrews, Christians are told to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1), while Isaiah reminds believers that those “who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength…they shall run and not be weary” (Isa. 40:31), and Paul tells Timothy in his last letter, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Following each chapter, Harris included questions that induced rumination and contemplation that directed the reader to practical application of the chapter’s content. One exercise in particular was an examination of the church’s overall curriculum—the “explicit,” “implicit,” and “null” forms of curriculum as it pertained to the five forms of curriculum. Earlier in the chapter she had pointed out that the “explicit” curriculum was anything written, while “implicit” was the aesthetics or “patterns, organization, or procedures” of the explicit curriculum (i.e. “attitudes” or “design of a room”) (69). The “null” curriculum was basically the unwritten rules or the curriculum that is unmentioned, such as “points of view” or “design of worship” (69).

Applicability of the Book

Harris’ redefinition of “curriculum” makes it possible for churches to evaluate their whole ministry in terms of the congregation as a “curriculum,” meaning that the aspects of “community, prayer, teaching, proclaiming, and service” is taken into consideration when seeking the best way to engage God’s Word (175). I would say that the book is written for the church, although it would not help in actually finding written curriculum.


Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti


Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse (AACC Counseling Library) by Diane Langberg

Dr. Langberg presented every dimension of sexual abuse-its mental and physical aftereffects on the victim, and how the abuse impacts one’s spiritual well being by hindering the individual from coming to Christ. Dr. Langberg has been working with sexual abuse victims for nearly twenty-five years. She included one woman’s graphic story of abuse, which brought tears to my eyes. I felt pain and sorrow for the little girl in the story. Anger welled up inside of me as the woman depicted an escalation of abuse as she grew older, in which her father prostituted her to other men. This woman, Meeka, was denied love, protection, and a childhood.

Dr. Langberg listed several “indicators” which manifests as chronic symptoms (migraine headaches, muscular tension, TMJ, gastrointestinal problems, anger difficulties and deep grief) or “somatic effects” (though she warns that these are not proof that abuse had actually happened) (88). Emotional aftereffects of sexual abuse include a mistrust of others, fear of intimacy, and a feeling of being “different” (89). Dr. Langberg described child sexual abuse as “tentacles that reach throughout the adult life of the victim” (92). I believe any abuse is detrimental to the person as it is to ministry because it can prevent people from ever being close to others at church. Dr. Langberg recognized that abuse forced people to “live with a split identity…to pretend she was not abused” in order to maintain “even an appearance of a relationship” (128).

I found Dr. Langberg’s detailed list of “survivor’s needs” very helpful. She tapped into the core of practical ways someone could help a survivor, such as not simply offering help but following up with phone calls, notes of encouragement, and invitations of fellowship (278). Then she listed “hindrances” to helping. For example, Dr. Langberg expressed that counseling survivors is a long process so one should not counsel with the unrealistic assumption that the person will be healed after a few sessions. She also recommended that only trained women ought to “walk alongside” survivors since a male’s intervention would probably elicit fear and other negative responses. Dr. Langberg’s graphic description of sexual abuse enlightens the reader of the magnitude of evil that is committed upon a child. It is no wonder that the survivor must face many “truths,” namely, “I was not the abuser,” “I was not protected,” “I was a victim,” and hardest of all truth- “I am capable of abusing others” (146).

One of Dr. Langberg’s treatment methods is to have survivors rewrite Isaiah 53 as a way to draw closer to God by recognizing that Jesus also suffered (150). She included one survivor’s gripping reinterpretation, which seemed to incorporate personal hurts of the writer. This exercise allows survivors to realize that they are not alone and have not been abandoned by God despite the emotional and physical torture they had encountered.

In the second treatment exercise, Dr. Langberg uses scripture to restructure the survivor’s image of “self.” By rewriting a passage in the book of Ephesians as if to herself, the survivor thwarts the untruths about herself– such as what abusers have said “she was” or what her feelings say “she is” (153). Dr. Langberg relies on scripture as a means of healing survivors and though she understands that the “results” are not “instantaneous,” she believes it is a powerful practice because “they involve the eternal Word of God” (155).

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti

The Cycle of Leadership: How Great Leaders Teach Their Companies to Win by Noel M. Tichy

Tichy described the “interactive teaching/learning process” as a form of “synergy” whereby “1+1=3” (10). Synergy is defined as the “process of mutual exploration and exchange during which both the teacher and the learner become smarter” (10). Though he uses this term to illustrate the teaching and learning process, he esteemed the four “E’s” when choosing potential leaders. The criteria included the following: “Energy” (coping ability for change), “Energize” (ability to excite/inspire), “Edge” (making tough calls), and “Execute” (always delivering, never disappointing) (129). To better support his argument for interactive synergy, Tichy should have included another “E” category– Educate (the ability to teach, mentor, and guide). Tichy, himself, framed teaching as “opening people’s eyes and minds…teaching new ways to see the world and pointing them to new goals…teaching them to teach their own knowledge and teach others” (74). His statement was void of an element in interactive/circulatory teaching.

Tichy referred to Roger Enrico’s process of teaching ten “rising leaders” for a consecutive number of long hour days (11).” After a period of teaching, Enrico would send his students home to “work on projects” and brought them back for “follow-up sessions” (11). This illustration was a poor choice on Tichy’s part because it has nothing to do with “synergy” and does not appear to align with his definition of a “teaching organization.” Not only does Tichy use irrelevant examples and definitions, but he also seemed unclear about the process of the “Virtuous Teaching Cycle.” In his introductory statement, Tichy said, “Virtuous Teaching Cycles are dynamic, interactive processes in which everyone teaches, everyone learns and everyone gets smarter, everyday” (xxiv). Yet his next statement about the leadership process does not incorporate this philosophy: “No institution can be great unless it has a great leader at the top who develops leaders at all levels of the organization” (xxiv).

People who described themselves as “always paranoid” or “never let anyone best him” would seem to be less likely to participate in an interactive process of teaching as depicted by Tichy. The book falls short in conveying a true “interactive teaching process.” Not only were there no tangible examples of companies using this approach, but also the main ideas of “greatness” and “winning” represent selfish gain and have nothing to do with having a “teachable point of view.” The truth is that without Christ as the teacher leading by example, no one can possibly participate in a process that separates one’s pride and power for the humbling experience of learning in an interactive process with a subordinate. Jesus said it clearly: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (John 13:13-16 NKJV).

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti

The Pressure’s Off: There’s a New Way to Live by Larry Crabb

Dr. Crabb wrote this book to share his ideas about the “two basic approaches to life”: the “Old Way,” described as “deciding what you want most out of life, and doing whatever it takes to get it,” and the “New Way,” which is “wanting God more than anything, that even His blessings will not satisfy you (Jacket Cover).” The dilemma of every Christian is to “take matters into his own hands” and fall into the pattern of “the old way,” which gives the person more control over their situation. They run their everyday lives with their own energy and become sad when things do not go as they planned. There is a sense of selfishness because our needs become more important than the needs of others, including spouse and children-” it’s all about me” (66). People expect to receive blessings from God just because they have done certain things “right” (i.e. “godly businessmen who observed the highest level of integrity and expect that God will bless their bottom line”) (55). Dr. Crabb shared, “No Old Testament saint was ever good enough to merit God’s blessings…none of them earned God’s favor by performing up to God’s standards” (55), then stated, “We’re never more deceived than when we think we’re living for God but in fact are living for His blessings” (82).

Dr. Crabb inspires the reader to “value God the most” and to consider blessings as secondary “passions”(103). This statement is not revolutionary because it is a foundational command: “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” (Mark 12:30), but instead of offering practical ideas on how to accomplish this, Dr. Crabb reiterates the differences between the “old way” and the “new way.” He does, however, offer some vague suggestions on how to live the “new way of the Spirit”: (1) Reflect on where you are; (2) Recognized the fork in the road that is always before you; (3) Refocus your goals; (4) Realize what God provides as the means of grace; and (5) Reorient your prayer life to match New Way living (159-61).

When a Christian desires to align himself to God, then the steps Dr. Crabb shared happens naturally. The problem is his recipe for “living a new way of the Spirit” lacks concrete structure. He never addressed the “how” part of living the “new way.” He spent most of his time explaining then re-explaining what it means to live in the “old way.” He called Christians to live more authentic lives and contrasted the characteristics of both ways. Dr. Crabb said, “Followers of the New Way accept the unresolvable tension in life because their hope is in the invisible God,” and “Followers of the New Way struggle to be truly authentic, however their rest is in the present God” (171). He spoke of the end results of living the New Way, but he never addressed “how” one is to get there. On page 174, Dr. Crabb asked a pondering question, “Could I praise God without them (blessings)?” It seemed too harsh for Dr. Crabb to state, “The Old Way is demonic (175).” Maybe some people see blessings as an indication of God’s care for them.

The book of Job is an extraordinary example of the “new way” Dr. Crabb discussed (which really is not so “new” since we have a biblical example of it). Job’s dedication to God is what our faith should be, but people are generally weak and sinful. People are affected by circumstances and can become distracted by them- which can come in between them and God. Dr. Crabb said, “I’m not wrong for asking God that both I and the one I love will experience deep contentment and rest. But I am wrong for wanting the trouble to go away more than I want to draw near to God (210).” I understand Dr. Crabb’s position, but I also know there are other reasons why people ask for blessings. This book is just like any other of Crabb’s books-new way versus old way with little practical application.

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti