Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some Thoughts on Teaching College Bible Courses

The Old and New Testament classes I teach are first-year, college level courses.

In both classes, we're halfway through the second units. What that means is, in the OT class we have surveyed the Five Books of Moses, plus Joshua through Kings, and some of the poetic books. Now we're into the writings of the prophets, going through in more less chronological order. In the NT class, we've done a fly-over of the Four Gospels and Acts and are now about halfway through the Letters of Paul (again, in something like chronological order).

If you've ever done something like this before, you know how difficult it can be. If you haven't done something like this, you might be surprised at the number of challenges it presents.

For instance, by definition, a survey course never gives you the opportunity to dive deep. The goal is to cover basic content, which creates a few dilemmas. For one thing, the teacher would like to spend more time exploring each book. The text begs for it, and that's hard to resist. I once heard about a teacher in an OT survey course who by the end of the semester had made it to the middle of Numbers. I regard that as false advertising. It's frustrating to students who expected what the course title promised. As it turns out, my preference for dealing with six books instead of sixty-six in the course of a semester is one of the least of my concerns.

Ironically, content survey is never easy in a Bible-Belt college. That's because of the pre-understandings that many of the students bring with them to class. For example, a good number of students arrive in a New Testament course thoroughly immersed in dispensational premillennialism, i.e, Left Behind-ism.

It usually starts a discussion--and gives the students some needed exercise in using a concordance--when I mention that "anti-Christ" doesn't occur one time in the Book of Revelation. In two 75-minute class sessions on the Revelation, I don't think that anyone is moved off of his or her paradigm for interpreting apocalyptic literature (provided they started with one). I consider it a small victory if students know something of what's in the book, that Revelation is far from unique, and that there's a wide range of interpretive takes, including the one I prefer, which is quite different from the only reading that most of my students know.

Anyway, those are just some of the dilemmas that go along with the real delights of my job. At the end of the day, I've gotten to study and think with and talk about Scripture. And that's a pretty good gig.


Adam Gonnerman said...

Once or twice I had profs at Harding poke fun at preaching schools that claimed to teach all 66 books of the Bible. It wasn't possible unless the courses were all fast and incredibly shallow. I still agree with the evaluation of my profs.

As for the pre-mill thing, that's sad but understandable. When I discovered that pretty much everything Jesus said about "end times" pertained to Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular in those days (fulfilled for the most part in 70 AD) it rocked my world...and that happened in just the past couple of years. I wasn't pre-mill before, but my thinking was heavily influenced by preconceptions I'd absorbed growing up.

Frank Bellizzi said...

About preaching schools and the Bible: I think that's an apples and oranges thing. At the schools of preaching, the entire curriculum is the Bible, and the setting is sort of like a Church of Christ yeshiva. (This is me sizing things up from their catalogs). At Christian colleges students take a much wider variety of courses. Not to mention that during the two years of a preaching school, classtime plus homework is like a full-time job.

The problems I see with schools of preaching have more to do with negative attitudes, traditionalism, KJV only, constantly looking for liberalism, a lack of serious language study (how many of them teach Hebrew or a bona fide course in Greek?), and almost nothing in all the other fields included in a classical education. The problem is not too little time with the Bible per se.

Matthew said...

Great insight. I hope to teach a college class some day.

preacherman said...

I wish I could take your class. It sounds like it would be so much fun and benifital. I know you are a great professor. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us all. Do you have tenure? I think that is so important for professors to have as they work for Universities. My mom and dad are both Professors. My dad is an adjuct professor for ACU. My mom is a professor at CJC in Abilene. She has also been a prof. at McMurry and Hardin Simmons. I know that each of them enjoy the work. ACU was really good to my dad and mom as they taught there over the years. I hope you have a great year Frank. I hope you enjoy it as much as my parents have enjoyed being professors for ACU, CJC, Hardin Simons and McMUrry. Don't be to hard on your students! :-)