Teaching


St. John’s College, Nottingham, has a number of great You Tube videos on theological topics. I found this well-produced, 14-minute clip of Tom Wright summazing his view of Pauline Theology. I think I’ll air this in my summer school Romans course next week when I introduce my students to Wright. (I’m trying to do more of these kinds of things in class so it’s not always just me representing other scholars, but allowing scholars to speak for themselves).

 

Since I regularly teach book studies in the Pauline epistles to students who have no knowledge of Greek, and I generally dislike assigning lengthy commentaries as textbooks, I am always on the look out for non-/less-technical, affordable academic resources focusing on individual NT books. A good example of what I mean is Bruce W. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God: The Transformation of Identity in Galatians (Abingdon, 1998). Although Longenecker’s volume provides a focused reading of Paul’s letter and engages various scholarly debates, the book itself is intended to be accessible to non-specialists and does a fine job of showing how one scholar interprets all/most of Galatians. Additional examples include Timothy Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (InterVarsity Press, 2010), and Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (InterVarsity, 2004). Similar, though in certain ways quite different, is Joseph Hellerman’s Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today (Kregel, 2013), which, dispite its title, is really a distillation and more practically-oriented version of his SNTS volume Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum (CUP, 2005).

I’m seeking to identify additional titles belonging to this genre. If readers know of similar resources, please do share in the comments. Thanks!

I presented a paper yesterday at the SBL Midwest Regional Meeting hosted by Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Despite the rather small presentation screens, it was a fine venue and in all a successful event–though, sadly, I could not stay for the entire conference. I presented in the Paul Section and my paper  was titled “Sold under Sin: Echoes of Exile in Romans 7.14-25.” Essentially, I argue that just as Paul alludes to both Eden and Sinai (though mainly the latter) in Rom 7.7-13, so he alludes to the Babylonian captivity in 7.14-25, echoing Isa 49.24-50.2 in Rom 7.14 and 23-25. In short, I try to do for Romans 7-8 what Rodrigo Morales does for Galatians 3-4 (cf. The Spirit and the Restoration of Israel: New Exodus & New Creation Motifs in Galatians [Mohr Siebeck, 2010]). There were about a dozen other people in the room (neither the best nor the worst turn out I’ve had), and I even recognized one quite respected scholar in the back. What struck me, though, was the fact that, at the end of what I felt was a fairly well-executed paper, nobody asked any questions.

Now, this has happened to me before, and I’ve seen it happen to others as well. And while it is somewhat of a relief not to be raked over the coals in front of your peers, it is also quite anti-climactic for there to be total silence at the end of a 25-minute talk–given the time, effort, and nervous energy that goes into the entire process. I mean, you wrack your brain for a paper idea, craft the abstract, submit it, wait for its acceptance, get funding, write the paper, travel to the event, and finally after months of anticipation courageously share some of the most creative thoughts you’ve had in your life, only for nobody to make a single comment or ask a single question. What is one to think about such an empty reaction? Have my ideas simply been accepted uncritically, or was my thesis so uninspiring and unambitious to be undeserving of constructive feedback?

Well, after a period of pondering the implications of my silent audience, I reached the following conclusions:

  1. If, in the future, I truly desire feedback and it doesn’t seem to be immediately forthcoming, I should break the ice myself by asking the audience a question about one or more elements of my argument. Changing roles like this can be awkward, but I’ve done it before and have found it beneficial for getting things going.
  2. If I truly desire feedback, my paper should intend to provoke, pushing my evidences to their limits. Sometimes scholars require intellectual bait. That’s what it takes for my students to be interactive in class; it shouldn’t surprise that many professionals require the same. Indeed, unpublished conference papers should be bold, and mine can be quite a bit bolder. Conferences, after all, exist for scholars to take risks, to test drive ideas without the fear of having to commit to them forever. The feedback won’t always be positive, but it will probably be helpful and stimulating.
  3. If, in the future, I don’t get any feedback, silence is an acceptable response. At the end of the day, worse things can happen in a presentation than receiving no questions. After all, if I were to hear from a journal editor that no corrections were required for an article I had submitted, that would be good news; the same can be true with presentations.
  4. Still, this and other experiences have encouraged me as an auditor to be more interactive with conference presenters, especially those like me in the beginning stages of their career. Without a two-way exchange, the entire experience can feel like a bit of a waste of time.

As avid fans of the television series “Friends,” my wife and I try to incorporate clips of the show into our teaching as often as possible (science for her, Bible for me). In class today, I illustrated the Antioch Incident in Galatians 2:11-14 through the following clip (season 4, episode 11):

 

There was an interesting article at CT last week with three opinions about what changes seminaries need to make. The first view (Dan Kimball) argues that seminaries must be more missionally focused so that seminaries become ‘missionary-training centers’.

The second view (Cheryl Sanders) suggests three ways to change. First, theological training needs to be more ‘pracitical’. Sanders isn’t thinking simply of how one does ministry; rather,the piont is that students should be taught ‘to think about what these truths mean in specific and changing ministry contexts’. Second, Sanders also argues that there needs to be greater ethnic diversity in the seminaries. Third, seminaries need to diversify the teaching methods.

In the final view Winfield Bevins opines that seminaries should be producing more church planters and a part of the curriculum would be that students would do an internship with a church plant.

Two things in particular stood out to me. First, the idea that our seminaries should be turned into missionary training centres or church planting factories seems to leave out those of us who are not going into these forms of ministry. Where will the next generation of scholars go for training if the seminaries are so oriented toward missionaries or church planters? Surely our seminaries need to be more diverse and recognise that there are all sorts of ministries. Second, the emphasis on doing seems to have forgotten what education is about. Seminary should be a place where one goes in order to have his or her mind stretched, to encounter new ideas and to develop the skills to evaluate and assess the ideas. Seminaries should be producing thinkers. Some of these thinkers will go on to be scholars well others will become missionaries and church planters or indeed pastors of an already existing church.

What is needed from our seminaries is not a narrower vision focused on a few people and a few types of ministry but a stronger emphasis on the value and point of education itself.

I’m looking to incorporate some in-class feedback from students, test exam questions, etc. by allowing students to answer questions by sending text messages.  I don’t intend to do it very often, and thus don’t want to pay anything–everybody wants something for free, right?  But, I was interested to see if anybody has used this and prefers of the of several services that offer the service.  It seems that there are several options (in the US): like smspoll.net or polleverywhere.com.  Thoughts or recommendations?

I was thrilled to learn some weeks ago that following the retirement of Dr. Dennis Dirks, who served as Dean of Talbot School of Theology for an impressive 20 years, Talbot has named as Dirks’ replacement the school’s own Clint Arnold, a Professor of NT. As one of Dr. Arnold’s former students, I believe he is eminently qualified for the position. Not only has he spent the vast majority of his adult life at Biola/Talbot (Biola, B.A., ’80; Talbot, M.Div. ’83; on faculty since ’87), but he possesses the enthusiasm for and experience in both the church and academy to direct Talbot into the next chapter of the school’s ministry. So, congrats to Dr. Arnold!

I thought it also interesting that Talbot’s choice for the position is a NT scholar. I normally don’t pay much attention to administrative decisions like this, but several NT scholars have been appointed to seminary dean positions in recent years. In addition to Arnold at Talbot, Richard Hays at Duke Divinity School and Margaret Mitchell at the University of Chicago Divinity School were also appointed to the dean of their respective institutions in the past two years. NT scholar Harold Attridge has served as Dean of Yale Divnity School for some years, and according to the YDS website, NT scholar Gregory Stirling, current Dean of Notre Dame Graduate School, will be appointed as the new YDS dean in October. So what does all of this mean? Is there something about being a NT scholar that translates well into administration? Maybe…

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