Reflection on Scripture through our Course

Has this course dissatisfied you? If so, I am not surprised. In fact, I share your dissatisfaction. There is much more to be done at the intersection of these fields. If you left "satisfied" you would not have been paying attention.

Has this course disappointed you? If so, I am not surprised. It was not the usual course in which a teacher takes a class through a body of material like a tour guide. Your expectations have been set by a lifetime of that kind of course, so naturally our way has been both unfamiliar and inconclusive, more like hacking our way through a jungle than following a map. All I can say is that I hope you learn to like this kind of education, because it is what you will be facing for most of the rest of your life.

I do not share your disappointment. In my introduction I set out my goals for this course:

  1. To prepare for this summer's colloquium!
  2. To take advantage of Westmont's liberal arts setting (and our multidisciplinary educations)
    (i.e., to learn lots of new words — and maybe even how to use them).
  3. To teach and learn pneumatology, an underappreciated but vital aspect of Christian theology (e.g., Galatians 3:1-5).
  4. To search for coherence in the fragmented and even hostile traditions of learning and living into which our Christian and secular cultures have initiated us.

I may have found ways to do these things more effectively — different books, a somewhat different format, and so on — but as I return to that list I am impressed that our readings and your participation have helped accomplish each of these. We did take advantage of our liberal arts backgrounds, and we did indeed learn lots of new words; we did investigate the Holy Spirit as theologians; we did search for coherence, and though we have not found as much of it as easily as we wished, we did the searching that works out the faith in God we profess. And I am much readier for my colloquium (though my essay draft is due May 15, so I've much more preparing to do). Thank you for your willingness to take on a difficult and elusive task.

On the other hand!

Part of the dissatisfaction and disappointment we face in these times — and you who are graduating seniors probably know this more vividly than you ever wanted to — is due to inexperience putting to work what we have been learning. That is not of the nature of the learning; it is of the nature of this stage in the learning. The dissatisfaction and disappointment are resolved by putting the learning to work. Over and over I have found that as I do that, the pieces fall into place.

Your final assignment is one more opportunity to put this learning to work in the practice that is at the heart of religious studies training in an evangelical liberal arts college: biblical exegesis.

Write an interpretation of the biblical passage (or complex of passages) of your choice. Draw out its meaning by appeals to science (as you have learned it elsewhere and especially in this course) and to pneumatology in such a way that significantly improves it over interpretations that do not feature those appeals.

You may not choose Genesis 1-2 or Psalm 104. Too easy! However, you may use them as part of a more diverse complex of passages.

(What is a 'complex of passages'? Perhaps the lectionary readings for a week, or several texts with an intertextual relationship, or a group of texts that shed light on one another in helpful ways, or a group of texts that seem to contradict.)

As you begin, I strongly suggest that you review your answers to the entrance examination I distributed to you at the beginning of the course. It may show you ways in which your exposure to pneumatology (and Trinitarian doctrines of God), the natural and social sciences, and theologies of science have developed your thinking over the past few frustrating months.

I also strongly suggest that you study LeRon Shults' interpretations of scripture as they appear throughout Reforming the Doctrine of God. You may very well find their guidance helpful, as he is a skillful interpreter of scripture whose readings draw on theology, philosophy, and science very fruitfully.

Finally, I will be looking for a sophistication and awareness that comes from a broad and occasionally deep understanding of our course materials: Witham's and Polkinghorne's tours of recent theology-science interaction, Polkinghorne's scientific/theological account of divine action, McDonnell's and Schults' theological reviews and constructive projects, and Welker's interdisciplinary conversation regarding charismatic pneumatology. In other words, I want you to take whichever of these resources (and others) that you find helpful to the task of interpreting your passage or passages, whether or not you agree with them.

You may find in the writing of this assignment that you have become better prepared than you thought.

Please keep your paper 5-6 pages, double-spaced, and follow the directions in my handout for writing papers.

Remember, I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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