Thursday, August 21, 2008

Good Questions for a New Testament Course Outline

The college course syllabus has changed.

As some of us can remember, years ago a syllabus might take up no more than one side of a single sheet. Three pages or more seemed hefty. But nowadays a syllabus can run to five or six or seventeen pages.

One reason is because colleges now see the syllabi distributed by their faculty as contracts between the students and the institution. Provisions and expectations are spelled out in great detail. For example, many of today's syllabi include performance/learning objectives (which tend to be written in Education-ese), as well as the college's disability statement, word-for-word from the catalog, etc., etc.

To me, some of it seems excessive and tedious. I think that to college administrators, it seems like very cheap insurance.

Anyway, there's one thing that I think really belongs in a syllabus: a course outline and calendar. This is the part that details the smaller segments of the course and identifies what will be discussed and on what date(s). When done right, this part of the syllabus will benefit both instructors and students.

It requires instructors to plan a semester's journey from beginning to end, and to identify what will be seen along the way. This seems like a reasonable expectation for tour guides.

For students, the course outline and calendar spells out what they can expect as well as what will be required from them. A good course outline will provide those who are being taken on the trip answers to questions like, Where are we going today? What will we see when we get there? And how do I prepare so that I can make the most of this part of the tour?

This is where I'd like to ask for your help. I've already put together the outline for the 15-week survey course that is to cover the New Testament. Not an easy task, by the way. For each of the one-week units, I want to include in the course outline at least one thought-provoking, discussion-starting question, the kind of question that might actually get students reading (or at least considering) the book(s) to be covered ahead of time.

What follows are the numbered weeks and the titles I've given to the corresponding units. In some cases, I've added a few notes about what is to be covered. For any or all of these units, what question(s) might you include in the course outline?

1. Getting Started. (I know, this could go anywhere. To be more specific, in this first week we will explore (a)some possible good reasons for studying the New Testament, (b) the question of the NT Canon, and (c) the historic, cultural significance of the New Testament).

2. Introducing the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke (includes raising the question of why the earliest Christians remembered and wrote down what they did regarding the words and the deeds of Jesus; also includes an introduction to the Synoptic Problem, which I rather like to call "the Synoptic Question").

3. Exploring the Synoptic Gospels: Similarities and Differences among the Siblings (explores the evangelists as, well, evangelists, and also provides some guidelines for interpreting the parables of Jesus).

4. Christianity as the Promised Restoration of Israel: The Unique Vision of Luke and Acts

5. Light, Signs, Belief, and Life: The Gospel of John

6. The Life and Thought of the Apostle Paul

7. Some of Paul's First Letters: Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians

8. The Corinthian Correspondence

9. The Letter to the Romans

10. The Captivity Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon

11. Letters to Paul's Delegates: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus

12. Hebrews and James

13. The Letters of Peter and Jude

14. The Letters of John

15. The Book of Revelation

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