On being a teacher of theology and Scriptures

I have done a lot of lecturing this week, both inside and outside the classroom. It has given me a chance to reflect on what it means to be a teacher, especially of theology and Scriptures.

I used to think, as a student, that teachers were paid to come up with new ideas and novel approaches to problems. Sure, they can and sometimes do, in fact, provide these things. However, as an instructor myself, I have come to realize that very little of what I say in class is “original.” Rather, my role, if we performed, is to:

- Selectively offer the insightful pieces of information, amid the vast amount of literature I access weekly

- Distill the centuries and decades of scholarship in my subject

- develop analogies and models that help contextualize the theoretical information I have learned, to better serve young or uninitiated students

- tacitly and explicitly make a case for the usefulness of theological reasoning and interpretation in everyday life

- help students and other learners process the method through which they read the Bible and think about “theology” and religion

This moves me further away from what I all along expected to be in academia – an information giant. Rather, we (as teachers) are roaming interpreters, moving between book and community, rapackaging heavy loads into bearable ideas and exhortations.

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4 thoughts on “On being a teacher of theology and Scriptures

  1. Hi,

    thanks for your thoughts on this. I myself are an research/faculty assistant at german bible college at the moment and I am preparing my first lessons right now.

    I always imagined three layers of “teaching” in the church context:

    There are thos cutting-edge theologians, who are researching new stuff, writing innovative papers and books that chart a piece of the “terra incognita” on the theological landscape. They are teaching – if they are at all – PhD and ThM students.

    Then there is the “middle level:” They are able to understand those cutting edge theologians on the level mentioned above. But they are also able to present what they have learned themselves through those theologians to their students in the way you mentioned above: They don’t have to be pioneers. Instead they make those pioneers accessible for their students.
    They are teaching on BTh or MA etc level.

    And then there are those who are able to learn from those in the middle level and present it as “church teacher” (pastors, youth ministry etc) to the “laymen” in church etc (not in a pejorative sense).

    Although there will always be mixed forms and smooth transitions between those levels it helped me to explain myself and others, that those on the research level do not have to write and teach their stuff in a way that nanny smith in church will understand it- Although many of them might be able to explain their stuff even to nanny smith, this is not their primary concern.

    And that does apply to the middle level as well: They don’t have to be those cutting-edge theologians, struggling with the uncharted “terra incognita” on the theological landscape. That’s not necessarily their primary concern, although many of them could do that as well. But their primary concern is to understand those others and explain their thoughts in an accessible way.

    Etc.

    Just my 2¢ on that subject. Sorry for babbling so ling ;-)

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