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.