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The Life Story I Tell My Students

As I’ve indicated, my last class of the semester in my Introduction to the New Testament course is optional.  In it I explain to anyone who wants to come what I really believe and why I believe it.  The way I do it is by telling my life story, from childhood till today.  That takes about twenty or twenty-five minutes, and then I answer any questions for the rest of the time.  The questions could go on for hours – students have a lot of them – and some of the questions are very personal.  But I try to answer them as directly and honestly as I can. The story I tell starts with me as a church-going Episcopalian as a child, committed to the church, saying the Creed, confessing my sins, believing in God and Christ, serving as an altar boy.  And then in high school, I had a religious transformation.  I started attending a Campus Life Youth for Christ meeting that involved a social event every week and ended with a spiritual lesson [...]

Spilling the Beans on my Beliefs on the Last Day of Class

About fifteen years ago or so I started doing something completely different on my last day of class in my New Testament course.  I have a lecture scheduled for then, of course, but the scheduled lecture rehashes material that is earlier covered in the class and that students can pick up easily from their reading – so it’s not one of the crucial class periods of the semester.  Sometimes that last class is not even that (depending on how the semester schedule works out) but is a kind of review session. But about two weeks before the end, I tell the students that I have an option for the last day, and I’ll let them vote on it. The option is to do the class as scheduled or, instead, to have a non-required class (no taking of attendance, no reason to come unless they want to) in which I explain what I myself really believe and why I believe it.   That is of some relevance to the class, of course, since the beliefs I’ll be [...]

Can Teaching Be Objective?

I have been discussing how I see the separation of church and state when it comes to teaching religious studies in a secular research university.  All of this has been a lead up to what I do on my final day of class in my course, Introduction to the New Testament.   On that last day, if students want, I tell them what I actually believe and why. I feel constantly torn between two different perspectives on teaching, which I call the Socratic and the Kierkegaardian models.   For Socrates (at least as reported by Plato) (which means that this may be Plato’s view, rather than Socrates’s) truth was truth, and the person who spoke the truth was irrelevant to the question of whether it was true or not.  What matters is whether one can establish through logic, reasoning, and evidence that claims are true or not.  The person delivering the claim has nothing to do with it.  Fools can speak the truth (sometimes) and savants can utter nonsense (often!). The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard [...]

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