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. Your group will read and work with a common text (see below). Further team and group responsibilities and guidelines are available in the leadership section of my rules of the game.

Office hour appointment. I consider thirty minutes spent with a student in person a much better investment for both of us than thirty 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 will allow us to go through the written work of your small group face-to-face, so that you can report back to your whole group on its progress. If time permits, or in any additional appointments you may wish to schedule, we can also get to know each other better, address concerns, tailor the course to your particular interests and needs, and extend what you are learning. Make an appointment on my office door. If you forget your appointment, grovel, apologize profusely, and make a new one on my office door. If I cancel your appointment unilaterally, make me grovel, please accept my apologies, and make a new one on my office door.

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).

I will hold informal meetings some Thursdays at dinnertime at the DC for discussion of the readings. Attendance is optional for regular students; honors students should consider it required unless they cannot attend.

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 either pop quizzes in class or as part of exams. 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, on-line chat logs, annotated reading notes, prose outlines, review 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), some of them during office-hour appointments. 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 40% 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 read a prepared 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. In the style of an upper-division or graduate seminar, presenters will simply recite a prepared text and answer questions from me and from fellow students for a total of fifty minutes. A discussion text should be no more than one tightly written, single-spaced page. At the end, include a list of 'credits' indicating which group members did what (writing particular sections, 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 two in-class midterm exams and one final exam. The first midterm and the final will cover major terms and topics in the lectures and required texts. The second midterm will cover the shared readings only (Newbigin, Wilken, Donovan, Camp, J. Wilson's Primer, and Narciso or Newbigin, Wilken, Donovan, Hauerwas, Barth, and E.O. Wilson). The final will cover lectures and your group's reading (Newbigin's The Light Has Come, Torrance, Donovan, Kallenberg, Augustine, J. Wilson's Gospel Virtues, or Ekblad). All examinations will cover up to the day of the exam. We will grade midterms in class. The final exam will concentrate on the last part of the course, though it will also have a cumulative component. The first midterm will count as 10% of your total grade; the second midterm and the final will each count as 15%.

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.

Any spot-checks on these assignments will be included in the average grade for your written exercises. That means they can bring that part of your grade up if they are better than your typical work, or down if they are worse. I may also award only partial credit or no credit at all if the substandard quality of the submission merits it.

Website extra credit. If I can make it happen this semester, I will award extra credit for substantial contributions to a shared webspace that describes the Christian faith for the benefit of everyone — believers, non-believers, and waverers alike. I especially encourage contributions informed by your special reading. Contributions may include design, coordination, writing, posting, critique from others in the group or class and friends not in the class, critique of others' contributions, and revision. My hope is that as the site grows from week to week and semester to semester you will want to share it with those who may benefit. If suitable, your work will count as an extra credit written exercise.

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
Pointers for Presentations
Chatting to Learn and to Teach
Peer Review Guidelines
Review Form (PDF)