Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Brief Teaching Tips

Having recently finished his MDiv, my brother Garrett shared three teaching tips—for current as well as hopeful professors—that I thought were worth re-posting over here. The second one in particular is at once basic common sense and, naturally, the exact opposite of undergraduate and seminary practice in theological studies:
1. Do not orient a course to the student in the class with the least knowledge of the subject matter. Only one person learns when you do that. Rather, aim to challenge your most advanced students. That way, everyone should learn something.

2. Giving a theology student a book about how to think theologically or how to do theology is like giving 7th grade students a book about how to read fiction novels instead of putting To Kill a Mockingbird in their hands. To learn to read fiction, 7th graders need to read fiction. To learn to do theology, graduate students need to read and engage substantive theological proposals.

3. Give choices for reading assignments. I love when a professor offers three books on a subject and lets you decide which one to read depending on your personal interests. If students pick their books themselves (within your parameters), they are more likely to read and enjoy them. One idea I have thought about pertains to teaching a course on Church History. Instead of trying to give even treatment to Latin American, African, North American, European, and Asian Christianity in a general introductory textbook, let students select the geographic region that they are most interested in and read extensively on Christianity in that region. Of course, students will need some general introductory textbooks to read together and class lectures should give each region a fair shake, but allowing students to choose one of their textbooks will likely lead to deeper engagement of the readings.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Christian Wiman (I)

Upon hearing the recent, very happy news that renowned poet Christian Wiman has been hired to join the faculty at the Institute for Sacred Music at Yale Divinity School for (at least) a five-year appointment, I immediately ordered his most recent collection of poems, Every Riven Thing. It is at once bleak and hope-ridden, unflinching and delicate, formally exemplary and invitingly inventive. It is, in other words, as good as promised. I look forward to engaging his work (both poems and prose) further as time goes on, not to mention potentially in the classroom. I'm sure this will be but the first of many of his poems shared in this space. Enjoy.

— — — — — — —

Small Prayer in a Hard Wind

By Christian Wiman

As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,

which, with its paneless windows and sagging crossbeams,
its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,

seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,

wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,

shatter me God into my thousand sounds . . .

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

John Calvin on the Excuselessness of the Divine Command of Universal Love

"The Lord commands us to do 'good unto all men,' universally, a great part of whom, estimated according to their own merits, are very undeserving; but here the Scripture assists us with an excellent rule, when it inculcates, that we must not regard the intrinsic merit of men, but must consider the image of God in them, to which we owe all possible honour and love; but that this image is most carefully to be observed in them 'who are of the household of faith,' inasmuch as it is renewed and restored by the spirit of Christ. Whoever, therefore, is presented to you that needs your kind offices, you have no reason to refuse him your assistance.

"Say he is a stranger; yet the Lord has impressed on him a character which ought to be familiar to you; for which reason he forbids you to despise your own flesh. Say that he is contemptible and worthless; but the Lord shows him to be one whom he has deigned to grace with his own image. Say that you are obliged to him for no services; but God has made him, as it were, his substitute, to whom you acknowledge yourself to be under obligations for numerous and important benefits. Say that he is unworthy of your making the smallest exertion on his account; but the image of God, by which he is recommended to you, deserves your surrender of yourself and all that you possess.

"If he not only deserved no favour, but, on the contrary, has provoked you with injuries and insults,—even this is not just reason why you should cease to embrace him with your affection, and to perform to him the offices of love. He has deserved, you will say, very different treatment from me. But what has the Lord deserved? who, when he commands you to forgive all men their offences against you, certainly intends that they should be charged to himself."

—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion III.7, cited in Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), 77-78