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Introducing NT books: What’s important?

10 weeks.  That’s the length of a quarter term.  So, it is the amount of time I have to introduce (or survey) all of the books of the NT, except the four Gospels. In addition to the term limitation, I am teaching every other Saturday, skipping the Saturday that falls during Memorial Day weekend.  In other words, I will meet with the class just four times.  In order to get the necessary class contact hours, class sessions will be 7.5 hours long.  Are you getting a sense of what I’m up against?

But, I’m not throwing this out there to complain about the class set up.  It is what it is.  I’ll deal with it.  In fact, it suits my schedule well.  I don’t want to be away from my boys every weekend.

I’m bringing all of this up because with this class—more than “normal” ones I think—I realy must be selective with what I can hope to cover in the classroom itself.  The students will be reading some very good stuff (introduction, book on Paul, book on NT history, and a handful of dictionary articles).  I am not concerned that they will not be exposed to the kinds of things they need to be exposed to in a NT intro course. I am concerned about what it is I should say, do, and have students do for 7.5 hours this coming Saturday (and the three others to follow).  On the one hand, I do not want to waste their time simply repeating things they would have already read (assuming they complete the reading assignments).  On the other hand, I am not sure what things I can bring to the classroom that they will not already have read.  And, on top of the concern about content, I am concerned about attention and stamina—theirs and mine!

Also—this is a bigger issue and could open up a larger conversation—what are the important things any NT intro class should cover? It has been my experience that NT surveys spend an inordinate amount of time discussing authorship, dates, and the like.  I certainly do not want to neglect those aspects of a survey course, but I wonder how important those things are for seminarians. I’m more inclined to emphasize the books’ narrative/argumentative arcs, the important themes and topics, and the inter-relationship of these things among the various NT voices. Of course, to get at arcs, themes, and such, historical and cultural background issues will need to be addressed.  I’m just wondering what should receive the most emphasis.

So this is an open appeal to all, but especially more seasoned teachers and experienced students.  Teachers, what have you found to work in similar situations?  Students, what have you found to be effective for you as a learner?  All, what are your thoughts on the important matters to be covered by a NT intro course?

Of course, I’ve already developed the class structure and so these questions are being asked in order for me to reflect on what I’ve already got and not for me to come up with something. However, my style is a flexible one.  I rarely write full lectures and instead develop outlines or lists of talking points.  If I receive good advice, I can easily revise and adapt.  So, what say you? I’m all ears.

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6 Comments»

  Tyler Watson wrote @

I love these teaching posts of yours as it is a helpful lens into the education process from the professor’s perspective.

I was a bit critical of the NT process at Fuller — I thought we should have three NT intro courses. NT2 was way too crammed. I wouldn’t want to lose authorship and dating issues as I think these topics introduce people to academic theology. It reminds us that real people in real places wrote these texts to other real people dealing with real matters; they weren’t written in vacuums to a vaguely eternal audience. But perhaps these issues could better be addressed in reading rather than spending time in lecture. What I found most helpful, however, were the discussions about the themes and arguments of the books. In a lot of devotional reading, larger arguments of books are lost, so it is helpful to pay attention to books as a whole. The most helpful thing for me was to read the Bible and then read a good NT introduction text. (Who are you using, by the way?) Make sure the students read the Bible. Oh and discussions of the Canon’s formation would be interesting too.

Also, give Revelation enough time. This book needs to be taken back from the Left Behind interpretations. Show how this book when properly understood affects how we live now. I know many pastors who don’t want to step into the minefield created by strange interpretations of Revelation — I have this temptation myself — so as a student I found it extremely helpful and inspiring to walk through it in a way that respected its historical context.

  B-W wrote @

On the one hand, I do not want to waste their time simply repeating things they would have already read (assuming they complete the reading assignments).

That seems to be a dangerous assumption based on my experience, although perhaps Extension students are a bit more dedicated (and I can think of a few reasons why this might be so).

  Michael Gorman wrote @

Minimal class time should be devoted to so-called “introductory” issues. Get the class to tell you what they have learned about these issues, and then fill in the blanks. Spend most of your time on interesting and signficant literary features and on theological themes and/or topics. For a long day, split it up by doing some small group discussion–close reading of a key text or something–once or twice.

  Biblical Studies Carnival 29 (XXIX) « Dr Jim West wrote @

[…] Following Hobbinsianity is perilous indeed.  Chris Spinks asks a very good question when he asks, what should a New Testament Introduction course introduce the students to? What should be covered in such a course? My guess is the New Testament; but it’s still a good […]

  Danny Zacharias wrote @

Do you have access to moodle or blackboard? One thing I do to ensure reading is done is put small quizzes online that have closing dates – this will help ensure, as best you can, that they have done the reading —or at least cheated off of one student who did the reading.

[…] Spinks asks a very good question when he asks, what should a New Testament Introduction course introduce the students to? It has been my experience that NT surveys spend an inordinate amount of time discussing authorship, […]


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