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(Part II) What Do Biblical Studies Professors Actually Teach?

February 17, 2011

Both James McGrath and Brian LePort responded to my previous post on this subject and I wanted to offer a few qualifying remarks on my earlier statements. In the previous post I wrote that it is possible to compartmentalize one’s faith and one’s teaching. While it may not be possible to put one’s presuppositions completely behind them, it is possible to teach a class where things like critical methods and scholarly consensus are the major emphases. I like to begin every introductory course I teach with a series of premises. These premises are meant to guide the course and shape the thinking of the students. They are as follows:

(1) There is no such thing as a “view from nowhere.” I have a set of “lenses” you cannot see but without which I cannot see. They are the lenses of my education, experiences, upbringing, faith commitments, gender, raise, age etc. They inform, color, shape, and even taint my very best attempts at objectivity. [I say to my students: “All of you are in the same boat!”] I use this admission as a springboard to help students recognize, embrace, and question their own “lenses.”

(2) What we bring to an area of investigation is often as/more determinative in the interpretive process than we we find there. Once we know what our presuppositions are, we are better able to recognize how they can, and often will, lead us to conclusions (legitimately or not). (Especially in exegetical courses, what we bring to a text can be much more persuasive in our exegetical decisions than what the text presents to us. I encourage my students to recognize an ongoing “internal conversation” between what the text shows us and what we bring to the task).

(3) This class is not about finding the definitive answers, it’s about forming the foundational questions.

This approach has enabled me to teach effectively, students from all backgrounds. My students know that I am a Christian. They also know that I’m a demanding professor who insists on a critical approach to the subject. They know that the purpose of their course with me is not conversion but conversation….dialogue not certitude. In reality, I cannot divorce myself from my presuppositions as a Christian. However, in the narrow context of the course I can create an atmosphere characterized by intellectual honesty, academic rigor, and critical reflection

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2011 9:49 pm

    Christopher: Thanks for the further clarifications. I can see how that would be possible. I very much appreciate your forthrightness regarding presuppositions. This is something that should be valued. I think it makes for better dialog and learning if one admits from where one is coming. Likewise, if one’s presuppositions need to change it is more likely this will be done if they know them rather than deny them.

  2. Mike Gantt permalink
    February 18, 2011 1:40 pm

    “There is no such thing as a ‘view from nowhere’.”

    I love this quote. It makes me think about how much we 21st century humans have overused and misused the term “objective.”

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  1. Week in Review: 02.19.2011 | Near Emmaus

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