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

Monday, August 18, 2008

Free Course in Biblical Hebrew

What efforts I spent on that task (i.e., learning Hebrew), what difficulties I had to face, how often I despaired, how often I gave up and then in my eagerness to learn began again … I thank the Lord that from a bitter seed of learning I am now plucking sweet fruits! --Jerome, Epistula 125.12.

Beginning Tuesday, September 2, a course in Basic Biblical Hebrew will be offered at Amarillo Bible Chair. There are no pre-requisites for this course. No previous knowledge of the language is expected. Anyone interested is welcome and encouraged to attend.

The class will meet each Tuesday evening, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at the Bible Chair building, 2501 S. Jackson (corner of Jackson and 25th), just across the street from the south parking lot of the Washington Street campus of Amarillo College.

Students should plan for class sessions lasting about two hours (until 8:30). But sessions can go a little longer if body, spirit, and time permit. A full school year of language study will require students to remain committed through May 2009.

Regarding textbooks: To begin, students must purchase Biblical Hebrew, Second Edition SET (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004). The two books and three audio CDs may be purchased as a package. The SET is available for purchase at the Amarillo College Bookstore, located in the College Union Building on the Washington Street campus of AC. Because the College bookstore has been kind enough to order several copies of the SET, students are requested to purchase these materials from the bookstore.

Questions? You may call the instructor, Frank Bellizzi, at (806) 372-5747, or send an email to

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Talk: Rick, John and Barack

With so much attention focused on the Olympics right now, I almost forgot about tonight's big event: Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, will interview both John McCain and Barack Obama, separately, in a public forum at the megachurch in Lake Forest, California.

For all of his fanfare, I really don't know that much about Warren. At this point, I'm just wondering how close he'll come to doing what most people hope he'll do: be a sort of religious version of the late Tim Russert, who always asked tough, thoughtful questions.

If you could ask both candidates one question, what would it be?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thinking about Proverbs

1986 saw the publication of a massive anthology edited by Wolfgang Mieder, The Prentice Hall Encyclopedia of World Proverbs.

In the 1990s, Harold Cordry produced an even larger collection, The Multicultural Dictionary of Proverbs. The subtitle reveals the scope of this work: "Over 20,000 Adages from More than 120 Languages, Nationalities and Ethnic Groups."

More recently, Jon R. Stone has added the Routledge Book of World Proverbs.

Each book is filled with thousands of proverbs coming from every corner of the earth.

The Sumerians, residents of Southern Mesopotamia, developed the first language for which we have written evidence. Among their documents, 4,000 years old, are proverbs by the hundreds.

Like many of today's proverbs, some that were circulated among the ancient Sumerians take up the question of money: Wealth is far away; poverty is close at hand.

Others address what you say and credibility: Tell a lie and then tell the truth: it will be considered a lie (reminiscent of the boy who cried "wolf!").

Evidently, not all of the Sumerian proverbs were written and remembered by men: To be sick is acceptable; to be pregnant is painful; but to be pregnant and sick is just too much.

It sounds like an exaggeration. But it's true: Throughout recorded history, and in every part of the world, people have always come up with short sayings that encapsulate the wisdom that comes from experience. Every culture at every time has had its proverbs.

Perhaps that makes it all the more remarkable that in ancient Israel, a certain collection of these kinds of sayings came to be recognized as holy Scripture, the biblical Book of Proverbs.

Soon, I'm supposed to give a short introduction to the Book of Proverbs. Got any suggestions? Ideas?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Learning Experience?

Teaching is not a lost art, but regard for it is a lost tradition.

The test and the use of a man's education is that he finds pleasure in the exercise of his mind. --Jacques Barzun

Today's issue of the Amarillo Globe-News contains a story that hits pretty close to my home. Apparently, some people have voiced their objections to a billboard ad campaign for Amarillo College.

I hadn't even noticed the billboards. The geezer in me won't take his eyes off the road. I proudly say in my raspy, old-man voice: That's twenty-seven years without an incident!

Anyway, here's an example of the controversial ads: One of the billboards pictures a shopping cart full of bagged groceries. The text: I wanted a job with choices. "Paper or plastic?" wasn't what I had in mind. At the bottom appears the Amarillo College logo next to the tag line: "Hire Education."

It seems like all of the negative reaction so far is of one sort. It says that the ads demean people who, for whatever reason, never went to college, folks who work for a lifetime in jobs that don't require a degree.

One of the many things my parents consistently taught me was that any honest, productive work should be honored. In my adult years, that view has become my own settled conviction. So I find myself siding with those who consider the ads irritating on that count.

What I don't hear about is how the ads tend to reflect and reinforce the debasing of higher education.

College is all about job satisfaction?

It's all about a better career? (And let's face it, in this climate better is code for more money).

No learning for learning's sake?

No becoming fit for public service?

No quest for knowledge or search for truth?

I know, in our current atmosphere, some of these questions sound ludicrous, a reflection of the problem.

Anyone who knows college life in the United States is well aware that student apathy and academic cheating are two of the biggest obstacles that professors face. There are reasons for that.

My question is why should a college ad campaign promote that culture of cynicism which undermines the academy's best reasons for being? For all of its instructing, shouldn't a college teach something of a higher order?

For a closer look, here's the story: Amarillo College ad campaign draws fire.

I'm curious. What do you think about this?

Friday, August 08, 2008

God in His Sovereignty

In his book The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper writes:

Years ago during the January prayer week at our church, I decided to preach on the holiness of God from Isaiah 6. I resolved on the first Sunday of the year to unfold the vision of God’s holiness found in the first four verses of that chapter:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the threshold shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.

So I preached on the holiness of God and did my best to display the majesty of such a great and holy God. I gave not one word of application to the lives of the people. Application is essential in the normal course of preaching, but I felt led that day to make a test: Would the passionate portrayal of the greatness of God in and of itself meet the needs of people?

I didn’t realize that not long before this Sunday one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being sexually abused by a close relative. It was incredibly traumatic. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under that message. I wonder how many advisers to us pastors today would have said: “Pastor Piper, can’t you see your people are hurting? Can’t you come down out of the heavens and get practical? Don’t you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?” Some weeks later I learned the story. The husband took me aside one Sunday after a service. “John,” he said, “these have been the hardest months of our lives. Do you know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God’s holiness that you gave me the first week of January. It has been the rock we could stand on.”

The greatness and the glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.

This is one of those books I've gone back to again and again if only to be stirred by the mind and the passion behind it.

What books do that for you?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Sovereignty of God: A Neglected Teaching?

Last week, I mentioned and asked about my recently-assigned topic: The Sovereignty of God. Several ideas and suggestions came in. Thanks!

Getting started in my study, just for kicks I did a few searches over at Restoration Serials Index, a really useful resource I've blogged about before. Here are the words I keyed in, followed by the number of matches:

attendance: 291

obedience: 801

baptism: 1570

sovereignty: 45

reign: 44

supremacy: 10

Now, I know, simply giving the number of hits for certain words is arbitrary. (Ever tried to find the word love in the Book of Acts?) At the same time, I can't help thinking that the huge disparity of those numbers has to be saying something.

It's reported that G. C. Brewer once preached night after night about the greatness of Christ, the sacrifice of Jesus. A church member asked him, "When are you going to start preaching the gospel?" Brewer understood what he meant. He was asking, "When are you going to start talking about the mode, necessity, and purpose of baptism?"

It seems that in the Churches of Christ we've talked a lot about certain acts of obedience. And that is extensively appropriate. According to Romans 1:5, the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us "to the obedience that comes from faith."

However, what we haven't done so much is to talk about the source and the reason for our obedience. Earlier in the same verse, Paul mentions it. The apostolic mission of announcing the gospel of Jesus Christ is "through him and for his name's sake."

We must obey the Lord. We must continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But the reason and the power must come first: "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:12-13).

Got any thoughts about this you'd like to share? I'm still studying and thinking, and would be glad to hear what comes to your mind.

Monday, August 04, 2008

What Non-Books Do You Read?

Book talk. It's one of the many things I like about blogging.

I like to hear about that great book someone else has discovered. I like to hear about classics, old favorites that people keep going back to again and again. And, of course, I like to talk about books that I'm reading or have read.

But this time, I want to ask about non-books:

1. What are some of the journals, newspapers, and magazines you regularly read? Why those?

2. Which single publication would you want delivered if you could get only one?

3. Is there a subscription you'd like to add to your current list?

4. Do you think you receive too many serials? Not enough? Or are you with Goldie Locks in "just right" territory?

5. Do you read non-books mostly on-line, or mostly paper-in-hand? (Or do you mostly print off stuff that you found on-line?)