I asked my students how many of them thought that only men are created in the image of God. Of the twelve students in the class—a mixed group of men and women—six raised their hands.
The third course in TLI's nine-course curriculum trains leaders how to interpret narrative and law. We teach narrative using the book of Genesis, and to learn how to interpret Old Testament law we study the book of Exodus. Our goal is to empower our students to faithfully interpret the Bible's stories and legal codes. That way, they will know how to reach faithful doctrinal conclusions through their own study.
In many places in Africa—as our National Partners have told us, with lament—women and children are treated as having lower importance than adult men have. This takes a variety of forms, from relatively minor things, like disparities in division of household labor, all the way up to legal prejudice in the courts and even the law. Scripture empowers the church to be counter-cultural when culture conflicts with God's word. But what happens when Christians don't know what Scripture says, or lack the training to study it for themselves?
In one class in Liberia, a question arose about the relative value of men and women. The question was simple, but the issues behind it complex: are both men and women created in the image of God?
To answer this question, we simply read the first chapter of the book of Genesis together. We practiced the exegetical skills that very course was designed to teach.
After considering Genesis 1 together, in particular how the word "them" is used in 1:26–28, I asked my students how many now thought that only men were created in the image of God. None of the students' hands went up. Just to be sure, I asked how many thought that Adam and Eve were both created in the image of God. Every student in the classroom raised a hand!
These kinds of doctrinal misconceptions are all too common in regions that lack access to theological education. It isn't possible for western missionaries to simply give our students "the answers"—first, we aren't wise enough to do that. And second, such shallow "teaching" only makes the global church dependent on western teachers. Instead, TLI seeks to equip the pastors and church leaders we train to study the word for themselves—and to faithfully apply what they find there to the questions their own culture is asking.