Thursday, July 31, 2008

Probing your collective wisdom

Let us imagine you could teach a NT introduction course to 1st and 2nd year undergraduates in 10 sessions. In this imaginary scenario there is already a really superb looking syllabus, but you simply want to think through different options.

What would you suggest should be covered? What themes, NT books, background matters, exegetical approaches, etc. would you want to see discussed? Especially if you preach regularly, what have you found to be of the most enduring help when you look back on NT introduction courses?

I quickly dashed off the following without adding too many details – yet soon realised it was too much to cover in 10 sessions! Nevertheless, I will leave it unchanged and simply ask what would you alter, delete or add to the following:

Session 1: An overview of the Biblical Drama (A discussion on the basic trajectories of the biblical narrative(s), with an emphasis on the place of the NT in the unfolding drama; narrative criticism)

Session 2: Historical Jesus debate (The various modern approaches [Jesus as Cynic, restoration eschatology, etc.]. Testimony, historicity and theology – Bauckham)

Session 3: Matthew's Gospel (or Mark, or Luke?) – engaging in depth with one Gospel (what is a Gospel? the place of the Gospel story in the unfolding biblical drama; analysis of parables; the synoptic problem; miracles)

Session 4: The Olivet discourse, the passion and resurrection (including a look at textual and redaction analysis)

Session 5: Acts, and mission of the early church (historical criticism)

Session 6: Foundations for understanding Paul (epistolary and social scientific analyses, creation and covenant, Messiah, apocalyptic, monotheism, Paul's biography)

Session 7: Romans 1-11 (models of interpretation, Käsemann, Wright, Esler)

Session 8: 1 Corinthians (including a look at rhetorical analysis; Christology)

Session 9: Hebrews (middle Platonism or scripture? Intertextual analysis)

Session 10: Revelation (Apocalyptic and political subversion)

I would really appreciate any thoughts. For those of you who know what this is about, please don't say anything in the comments ...


At 7/31/2008 1:10 AM, Anonymous Ed Gentry said...

Excellent question. I look forward to the discussion. BTW how long are your sessions (much depends on this)? I have 13 3-hour sessions so my approach is somewhat different.

You are clearly choosing to focus on some key texts and issues instead of trying to cover the breadth. I'm still not sure what I think about it.

I'm a bit surprised that you don't have a lecture about 2nd Temple Judaisms and the Roman world. Perhaps you don't have time.

At 7/31/2008 4:24 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

My prof went front heavy on background issues covering history a little before Alexander the Great up to the time of Christ. I am glad he did.

he had us read much of Ferguson's Backgrounds of Early Christianity and Barrett's The New Testament Background.

At 7/31/2008 4:39 AM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

I was also going to bring up the length--you're trying to do quite a bit here.

Chris, I've done similar overview courses, and I've found I'm better off doing much more on the actual content than I would have ever dreamed, even for a relatively 'Christianized' audience. This would entail teaching elements of your overview (historical Jesus for instance; Jewish bkgd, esp Apocrypha and Josephus; Q; use of OT in NT; debates about law) could be addressed as they arise in discussion. And if they don't pop up, well, leave it to the readings, mate. Perhaps do a thirty minute "study session" to review important terms/ideas (Q, Messianism, Pharisees).

Depends in part also on what your readings are.

I say try to walk through significant chunks of Matthew, Galatians, Colossians, 1 John and Jude.

At 7/31/2008 10:03 AM, Anonymous simon said...

As a working, preaching minister, I have found myself having to fill in the gaps in my college courses. They were excellent and yet. The big hole that I have identified is Roman social history and how the early followers lived, worked and wrote in that living context.
This requires more than just an acknowledgement of the Roman background. It requires a detailed wrestling with how the social context informs our reading of the NT documents.
This is not to suggest that theological and literary issues are not important, just that social history is equally important.
I wish I had done more archeaology, more on Roman institutions (family, households, social relations, political organisation, etc)so that I could read the NT texts with some picture of the world that produced them in my mind.
I studied with great NT teachers at London Bible College (as was) and this is not a complaint about them. It's more a plea for more time to be devoted to background and context than is usually the case.
Hope this helps...

At 7/31/2008 1:19 PM, Anonymous carlsweatman said...


This is a great question indeed. I admit that my mind went immediately to, "what books would be good for each of these sessions?", but that is probably what you're not asking at this point (if at all).

However, I would want peruse the "What Are They Saying About" series in order to obtain a good gauge for what topics could be covered and how and at what length.

The only additions that I would suggest would be in reference to a few sessions:

(1) the biblical drama is ultimately a narrative of what God is (initially) doing in one small, remote pocket of the world

(6) in classes I've taught, I have introduced the tension between "the Paul of Acts" and "the Paul of Paul's letters"

(9) I would also have to throw in the last chapter in Lincoln's little primer on Hebrews

(10) Bauckham's short work on Revelation in the "New Testament Theology" series is a great overview of how to read Revelation, and the effects that come from such a reading

At 7/31/2008 1:46 PM, Anonymous Shane C. said...

Chris, worry less about the specific content, and more about how to present it (remember they will only remember 10% of what you say anyway). Whether you include this or that topic is irrelevant if your class is not engaged with your sessions - and if you don't encourage them to think for themselves. Use the creativity you have shown on this blog - show some video (try some gory extracts from Gibsons' Horid film) - ask them to think for themselves.

At 7/31/2008 7:29 PM, Anonymous tortoiseofdissent said...

One aspect of the NT Introduction course I took that made the biggest mark on me was the scheduling of Galatians early in the course (partly to fit with a lecturer's sabbatical, but I wonder also whether an early dating for the epistle had something to do with it?)

As the course progressed, this fed nicely into study of the 'parting of the ways' - as well as, for me at least, a fruitful comparison between early and later Pauline material.

Another thought - to what extent would you introduce and explore the issue of pseudepigraphia within the culture?

At 7/31/2008 7:40 PM, Anonymous Nijay K. Gupta said...

I like your sessions. Very good parring down to the "essentials," but I might add a discussion of "canon" and also a bit of time on the significance of authorship and pseudonymity. It may sound like a small issue, but it is much debated/discussed and worthy of touching upon.

I also agree that a bit of history (Jewish and Greco-Roman) is in order - especially some OT backgrounds (exile, exodus themes) and the Maccabean period.

At 7/31/2008 9:58 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Ed,

“I'm a bit surprised that you don't have a lecture about 2nd Temple Judaism and the Roman world.”

Yea, as I was laying in bed I suddenly thought of the Roman world factor!

Thanks for the book tips, Brian. Have you read Witherington’s NT History? How does it compare to those two?

Jason: That is helpful. Thanks. So perhaps less focus on methods of exegesis (narrative, rhetorical crit. etc)?

Why Jude, by the way?

Your comment does help, thanks.

In my outline I didn’t even mention the Greco-Roman background, a fact that you rightly note needs to be changed.

I’m writing my doctorate at LST with Max Turner, by the way.

Terry, a HUGE thanks for that link and your comment. I take your advice to heart.

Carl: Thanks for the heads up on the ‘What Are They Saying About...?’ series. I hadn’t heard of it before. And I must admit that I haven’t read the Bauckham book you mention. Looks like a must! Helpful comments. Thanks.

Shane: Thanks, mate. I take the let them ‘think for themselves’ advice to heart. Most useful.

Tortoise, I didn’t think of dealing with pseudepigrapha. But you and Nijay have mentioned it and it makes me wonder if it ought to be.

Nijay, Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, I hear you on the history. I need to do more of that, especially on the Roman side as the exile, exodus, restoration etc. themes were included in the drama of scripture in session one. But I had nothing planned on the Greco-Roman world there. A change of plan is necessary, I think!
I have to say, by the way, that you are the man! I love your blog; so informative!

At 8/01/2008 2:10 AM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

Jude is short; and you have very little time!

It has something of an apocalyptic edge to it; allows you to bring in source critical questions if you wish (2 Pet) though surely Gospels are more relevant; and opens up the question of the use of OT/2TJ sources. Also hell is one of your fave topics, so there you are.

At 8/01/2008 2:16 AM, Anonymous Mark Stevens said...

I would have loved some 1st century background in L1 or L2 of my NT course. It would have helped me with assignments all throughout my degree and now as a minister. I would include a minor assignment around 1st century context.

The other thing you could do Chris, is throw them a copy (gently because it is quite heavy and you don't want to take an eye out or ruin the book!) a copy of NT and the people of God and say, "Here, you have 10 weeks to read this from cover to cover!"

At 8/01/2008 6:33 AM, Anonymous Paul Cat said...

How about something on the unity of scripture? Namely how the NT flows from the OT and that being familiar with the OT helps to shed light on the NT.

At 8/01/2008 6:59 AM, Anonymous Weekend Fisher said...

When you asked "if you preach regularly" -- it made me wonder about the intended audience.

If the point of the class is to prepare a pastor for a lifetime of drawing water from the well for himself and for others, my first sketch would be this:

1. What is the Gospel? Jesus as Christ and the human condition. How hearing the message of Christ plants the seeds of faith, hope, and love; how knowing Christ anchors and nurtures the same.

2. "Who do you say that I am? - Part 1" Different identities/roles that Jesus fulfills according to his own words and those about him in the NT.

3. "Who do you say that I am? - part 2" The struggle over the identity of Jesus: through the development of orthodoxy, the canon, through to the Enlightenment and on to modern efforts to reinterpret Jesus. Criteria for evaluating various interpretations.

4. Major teachings of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount: proclaiming the God who blesses. The primacy of love: from the Torah to Jesus to Peter, Paul, and John.

5. The parables. Broken down by major themes: the God who plants a seed, the God who seeks, the God who gives justice, the God who forgives, the God whose kingdom comes.

6. Baptism and new life: Baptism, and repentance; baptism and forgiveness; baptism and the cross of Jesus; baptism and the cross we take up.

7. Jesus' death and resurrection.

8. The Holy Spirit: (you could teach a whole class on this easily, but in an intro I suppose only 1 session)

9. New creation and the coming kingdom: doctrines of hope.

10. Encouragement for pastors: the pastoral letters.

At 8/01/2008 7:09 PM, Anonymous Andrew Bourne said...

The best way is to begin with the text. In looking for books have you come across R.E. Brown`s `Introduction to the NT`. Even as someone well read in NT study his way is gentle but compelling. As a adjunct I would recommend N.T.Wright`s `New Testament and the People of God` what better way to see the worldview of 2nd Temple Judaism and Paul`s worldview

At 8/03/2008 6:02 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi JB,
Good points about Jude. “hell is one of your fave topics”. What that says about me, I am not sure.

Mark, I will certainly throw them a copy of NTPG. And JVG. And Climax of the Covenant. And Paul: Fresh Perspectives. And ...., well, you get the idea.

Paul Cat, Thanks, yes, that is so important. I intend to cover in detail.

Weekend Fisher
Thanks for your list! There is a lot there on Gospel related issues. But I like the practical, ministry orientated nature of it.

You know, I really must include Wright’s NTPG!


Post a Comment

<< Home