Tasks

These tasks are inspired and governed by my rules for the game of Christian liberal arts education. You should be aware of those rules.

Small Group Membership. You will join a group of three (or four) students, choose a captain, and schedule your first meeting before the first written assignment. Further team and group responsibilities and guidelines are available in the leadership section of my rules of the game.

Office Hour Appointment. I consider twenty minutes spent with a student in person a much better investment for both of us than twenty minutes spent writing comments on an essay or in an e-mail. So you will meet with me one-on-one at least once during the semester during my office hours. This is an opportunity for you and me to get to know each other better, address concerns, tailor the course to your particular interests and needs, and get direct feedback on your work. Make an appointment on my office door. If you forget your appointment, then grovel, apologize profusely, and make a new one on my office door. If I cancel your appointment unilaterally, then make me grovel, please accept my apologies, and make a new one on my office door.

I have no agenda for these appointments, but common questions you can think about beforehand include: (a) How is the course going for you? (b) Do you have comments, criticisms, objections, or questions about specific topics, texts, or class sessions? (c) How is your faith? (d) How is it here for you at Westmont right now? (e) Can I help you with any upcoming assignments? (f) Are there theological issues you would like to chase down on your own with additional reading or alternative assignments? (g) How are things going for your small group? (h) Do you have thoughts or questions about future work in theology, religious studies, other majors, or ministry?

Active Attendance. You will attend class sessions and group meetings and participate in discussions. These times together are integral parts of the course. Our subject is best understood when lived and discussed, not just when heard and read. When you fail to attend, you frustrate not only your education, but that of your teammates and especially those in your group. I don't take roll or require that you speak in class. However, I do reserve 10% of your grade for course participation in whatever forms it may take for you (including appointments).

The syllabus often contains links to lecture outlines, but beware: I frequently make points in class that are not on the outline. Where I do skip points in an outline, you are not formally responsible, but you should still browse the whole outline to see how I would develop the topic if we had more time.

Reading. You must read material for class discussions before class. You should read all other required material either before the class sessions that follow them, or immediately afterwards. You must be caught up on readings before group meetings. Bring up misunderstandings at group meetings and in class. Assignments draw on lectures, readings, and discussions, so you are accountable soon anyway. Do not fall behind, or you and your teammates will be sorry!

Memorization. You will memorize the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. They will be the subjects of pop quizzes in class or as part of exams beginning mid-semester. No one is competent in Christian teaching who is not intimately familiar with these texts. Successful memorization counts as part of your final exam grade. It was good enough for Martin Luther, and it is good enough for you.

Written Exercises. You will write occasional exercises on lectures and readings. These may be essays, outlines, reading notes, in-class presentations, letters, or reading journals. You can find each assignment from a link on the syllabus. These are like 'problem sets' meant to get you into readings and lectures before you forget the information (this doesn't take long, believe me), to keep you caught up, and to train you in how to study, understand, apply, and write about theology. You will review and discuss these with group members and occasionally in class. As you write, please refer to my suggestions for writing papers for helpful suggestions, cautions about Internet "research", ultimata regarding late papers and plagiarism, and so on.

I cannot grade all of these personally. Instead I will spot-check a sample of each exercises (as well as extra credit exercises), guaranteeing that each student will be graded on three or more of them. The other exercises you submit will receive the average grade of your spot-checked exercises. (For instance, if you receive a B average on the exercises I grade, you will receive a B on every exercise I do not grade. So to be sure of a high evaluation, you will need to have consistently high performance.) The exercises will count as 50% of your grade.

If you believe the essays I have chosen are fundamentally unrepresentative of your exercises as a whole, you may resubmit all of your written work at semester's end for me to evaluate.

In-class group presentation. Each small group will give an in-class presentation or a response to a presentation on a text during sessions devoted to discussing that text. Presenters will (a) remind us of the reading, (b) provide helpful context and analysis, (c) make observations, and (d) raise questions for us to discuss. Respondents will correct mistakes, add important points, and be ready to take the lead in discussion. The point is to facilitate a productive discussion. Presentations may take several forms: Recitation of a text for discussion, lecture, or some other format (the choice is up to you, in consultation with me). A discussion text should be no more than one tightly written, single-spaced page. At the end, include a paragraph of 'credits' indicating which group members did what (writing, editing, fact-checking, etc.). Please distribute copies to the whole class on the day of your presentation. Respondents need not distribute copies to the class. Your presentation or response will count as one written exercise. All participants, but especially presenters, will want to consult my list of pointers for presentations. As you write, please refer to my suggestions for writing papers for helpful suggestions, cautions about Internet "research", ultimata regarding late papers and plagiarism, and so on.

Peer Review. You will peer review the written work of other students in your group, evaluating the writer's style, organization, use of sources, and strength of argument. Refer to my peer review guidelines and use my peer review form (in HTML or Acrobat). How well you perform your peer reviews will affect your own grade as the equivalent of one exercise.

Examinations. You will take one in-class midterm exam and one final exam covering major terms and topics in the lectures and required texts. The midterm will focus on the section just ended, covering up to the day of the exam. We will grade it in class. It will count as 15% of your total grade. The final exam will concentrate on the last part of the course, though it will also have a cumulative component. It will count as 25% of your total grade.

Optional Extra Credit. Are you on a scholarship or headed to graduate school, and obsessed with your grade? If you complete all other assignments in the course and you are passing the class based on the rest of your grade (and your good standing in class is not compromised for some reason), you can earn extra credit by submitting additional exercises. Each acceptable and adequate exercise will add one-sixth of a grade point to your overall grade. What a deal! That means submitting two such exercises will raise your grade from, say, B+ to A-. Extra credit assignments are posted on the syllabus. You may be able to make arrangements with me for others; I am always on the lookout for creative and helpful suggestions.

Spot-checks on these assignments will be included in the average grade for your written exercises. They can bring that part of your grade up if they are well done, or down if they are poorly done.

You will not engage in academic dishonesty (as described in the student handbook). Students who do will fail the course.


"You know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). There is perhaps no more responsible position in the Church than teaching doctrine and preaching Scripture, whether behind a lectern, in a small group, or around a dinner table. In grading these assignments, I will resist grade inflation. I have found (as both a teacher and as a student!) that this way students are more likely to improve, and grades are just as high at the end of the course because of that improvement.

Having trouble understanding the reading? I may sometimes post introductions to readings in advance. Look up unfamiliar terms in a dictionary (for instance, the on-line New Advent Catholic Dictionary), or google them. If even these suggestions do not help, then I leave you with the advice of Thomas Cranmer:

"I cannot understand it." What marvel? How shouldest thou understand, if thou wilt not read nor look upon it? Take the books into thine hands, read the whole story, and that thou understandest keep it well in memory; thou that understandest not, read it again and again: if thou can neither so come by it, counsel with some other that is better learned. Go to thy curate and preacher; show thyself to be desirous to know and learn: and I doubt not but God, seeing thy diligence and readiness (if no man else teach thee) will himself vouchsafe with his Holy Spirit to illuminate thee, and to open unto thee that which was locked from thee (Preface to the Great Bible 6).

In other words, giving up on difficult material is not an option.

Course
Vision
Reading
Tasks
Schedule
MATERIALS
Rules of the Game
A Few (Strong) Suggestions on Essay Writing
Peer Review Guidelines
Review Form (PDF)