Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The History of Christianity in One Hour

If you had only one hour to cover the history of Christianity, from the Reformation to the present, what would you talk about? This was my dilemma today as I guest lectured in a course on the "Introduction to Religion."

I spent most of my allotted time speaking on the Reformation, including common Protestant beliefs, Martin Luther, John Calvin,  the Anabaptists, the formation of the Church of England, and the Catholic Reformation. I then moved on quickly to talk about Puritanism, Pietism, and evangelicalism. I argued that American Christianity shows traces of all these influences, not only in our religious beliefs, but in our attitude towards culture.

It has been some time since I taught a basic, general education, undergraduate course, and so I was reminded of the differences between  these types of courses and upper-level electives. In "Introduction to Religion," I had to work for the audience's attention. Most of the students appeared disinterested at first, and perhaps bored at the idea of a guest lecturer speaking on Christianity. I decided to take this as a challenge, and so worked harder than I normally do to emphasize specific points, integrate funny anecdotes, and use more hand gestures. I'm not sure how successful I was, but I was pleased that some of the people who put their heads on their desk at the start of class had by the midpoint showed signs of life.

I contrast this lecture with my earlier course on "Modern Christian Thought," an upper-level elective that I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 9:25am to 10:40am. The benefit of an elective course, from my perspective, is that students choose to take it, rather than enroll to meet a requirement to graduate. Today, I spoke on the life and thought of Paul Tillich. I have blogged before on the question of whether Tillich's thought is too difficult to teach in an undergraduate course. Although it was challenging for them (and me) to grasp some of Tillich's philosophical concepts, students were interested in trying to understand him and how he integrated philosophy and theology with culture. I look forward to Thursday's discussion on Reinhold Niebuhr, and next week on Karl Rahner and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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