On the Virtue of Changing Your Mind: An Appeal to My Students (Skinner)

Changing MindTomorrow starts a brand new academic year and I am brimming with hopes for you, my students. I love to see the “light come on” in your brains as we cover new terrain. I love those awkward, occasionally uncomfortable conversations about what we’re learning and how it is making you uneasy. Studying the Bible in its social, historical, and religious contexts and in much greater depth than you’re used to can have that effect. I love that what I do with you and how I do it has the evocative power to bring you into and out of moments of intellectual angst and ecstasy. I also love that what we do, day-in and day-out, brings with it the potential to help you learn to change your mind.

Today I sat across from one of you and listened to your youthful, exuberant, and (honestly) half-baked theories about things you have yet to really engage in moments of serious thought. That’s okay. I will walk with you and do my best to help you see things you have not yet seen, just as others have walked with me. Please remember: you are here to learn and learning requires openness. True education means opening yourself to the possibilities that your previous thinking about an issue could potentially be wide of the mark and may need some leavening. I want you to know that it’s okay to be wrong or ignorant or misinformed. We have all been there and we are all there, to various degrees, continuously as we go on learning. Much more than that, I want you to know that true education means an openness to changing your mind. Too much of what passes for education is the rearranging or affirmation of your previously held biases. True learning requires that, eventually, you will change your mind about something.

I will make that my mission this semester. So sleep well and I will see you in class tomorrow.

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The Kind of Review I’ve Been Waiting For (Skinner)

Sarah HeromanBack in May my seventh book was released. It was written primarily for students and non-specialists and the goal was to take the fruits of modern scholarship and make them truly accessible to those without formal training in biblical studies. We’ve all seen those books written by scholars that are supposed to be for laypeople, but when you open them they have little chance of actually connecting with the intended audience. Since I consider myself a teacher first and foremost, I wanted to produce a book that would do for readers what I do for my students in person. So far the book has been well-received by other professors but I have yet to hear from someone in my intended target audience, until now……

This past week while vacationing with my family, I saw this review from Sarah Heroman in which she describes reading my book as “life changing.” I assume this is hyperbole, and while my writing goals are often more modest than changing someone’s life, I don’t actually mind the description of my work. 🙂  Here’s an excerpt from her review:

His writing is clear, and the use of analogies at the beginning of a new topic is helpful. Even better, once he’s done describing the analogy, whether it’s watching the movie Toy Story, or his wife’s feelings about the end of a great fiction series, his switch into academic language is not jarring. You get the sense that the author is a good classroom teacher- one who truly wants his students to get the topic and will meet them where they are without a condescending tone……

While reading, I found myself making connections and moving along a trail of thought only to find it confirmed at the end of the chapter/paragraph. That’s damn good writing right there, and it works on two levels. One, obviously- it helps guide the reader to the conclusion the author is making and two- it makes the reader believe in their ability to think/process/learn. Now I feel smart, or at the very least, not dumb. I think I can tackle Bauckham with less frustration.

I cannot tell you how encouraging it was to read this review, not just because it was so positive but mostly because it came from someone inside my intended audience. Also, if I’m being completely honest, this book is the one thing I’ve written over the past ten years that I am proudest of having written. If you know someone who wants to learn how to read the Bible with perspectives informed by the best scholarship, please consider recommending my book, Reading John. Also, many many thanks to Sarah Heroman for reading the book and taking time to review it!