My Greek New Testament Course

For the first time in forever I am teaching a new course — one I’ve never taught before — at UNC, a class for classics students (and others who already know Greek) on the Greek New Testament.   It is obviously a very small class (6 or 7 students); to be in it students have to have already had at least a couple of years of Greek.   So the class is not teaching the rudiments of Greek grammar, but it assuming ...

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The Academic Study of the New Testament

Students who are thinking about signing up for my undergraduate Introduction to the New Testament sometimes ask me whether they will have an insurmountable disadvantage if they haven’t ever read, let alone studied, the New Testament.   It’s a completely understandable question.

Other students almost certainly take the course precisely because they think it will be easy-shmeasy for them: they grew up in church, and went to Sunday School their entire life, and so how hard can a course on the New ...

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My Graduate Level New Testament Course

Classes have started again and we are bursting into the term with vim and vigor!   For my graduate course this term I am teaching my “Problems and Methods in New Testament Studies” seminar (I offer this ever two or three years).  This is a kind of “Introduction” to the field of New Testament studies geared not for undergraduates but for graduates, all of whom have undergraduate degrees already and who (at least this semester) have already done some work ...

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Teaching Religion as an Agnostic

When I finally admitted to myself that I was an agnostic, I had already been teaching New Testament and the history of early Christianity for ten years or so, first at Rutgers in the mid 1980s and then at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill starting in 1988.   It comes as a surprise to some people when I tell them that my decision to leave the Christian faith made absolutely no difference at all, of any kind, in ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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Teaching the Bible as a Historical Book

Ever since I first put foot in a university classroom as a professor of religious studies, I have been firmly committed to the constitutional separation of church and state.  I have never seen it to be my mission either to convert someone to a new religious point of view or to deconvert them from their old one.  My goals have been to teach about the history and literature of the New Testament from a non-confessional point of view and to ...

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Teaching Religion in a Secular Environment

This little diversion of a thread was going to be a simply one-post on the talk I’ll be giving today to my undergraduate Introduction to the New Testament class, where I spill the beans about what I personally believe and why.  But it’s turned into a four-post mini-thread on my views of the separation of church and state. So far it’s been all background – how my twelve years of higher education were all done in Christian confessional contexts, not ...

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About Graduate Studies: A Blast from the Past

Two days ago someone asked me about doing graduate studies.  He had a master’s degree and was wondering about whether to do a PhD.  I told him that if he could imagine doing something else with his life, he probably should do so.  Doing a PhD is just too painful.  It’s long (in my field it typically takes about 6-8 years *after* doing a Masters; lots of students take longer), it’s really hard, it’s really painful, and there’s no guarantee ...

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Why I Am Not A Christian

I just now – fifteen minutes ago – came to realize with the most crystal clarity I have ever had why I cannot call myself a Christian.   Of course, as most of you know, I have not called myself a Christian publicly for a very long time, twenty years or so I suppose.  But a number of people tell me that they think at heart I’m a Christian, and I sometimes think of myself as a Christian agnostic/atheist.  Their thinking, ...

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