Friday, November 12, 2010

a way to teach theology

Here’s an idea for teaching theology. Say you have a format which includes tutorials. You also have readings you expect (!) students to read. And a concern that students don’t read enough.

Why not offer an introductory frame, based say around the Wesleyan quadrilateral – experience, tradition, Scripture, reason.

(Hat tip: Diagram from Scott McKnight)

(Or perhaps you’re a bit more hip and you want add a fifth – creation and culture – ie Wesleyan pentalateral!).

(Or the practical theology model offered by John Drane, After McDonaldization: Mission, Ministry, and Christian Discipleship in an Age of Uncertainty, page 129, which uses reading; tradition; life experience; passion)

Having provided the frame, as you hand out the readings, also handout to each student 10 cards – 2 experience cards, 2 tradition cards, 2 Scripture cards, 2 reason cards, 2 creation/culture cards.

Suggest the following tutorial format:

  • each week the lecturer will offer both a case study question and a set of readings. Say the topic is Spirit and the church. So a question could be “Can a person call themselves a Christian and not be part a the church?” and the reading could be a chapter from Clark Pinnock’s fantastic Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit
  • each week the lecturer will stand at the board and prepare to scribe the student discussion
  • each week discussion is invited. This occurs by inviting each student to play one of their cards. They choose whether they bring an experience, or a Scriptural reflection, or an insight from tradition, or some reason, or an artifact from creation/culture.  (Over 10 weeks, with 10 cards, they choose how they prepare for the tutorial and what they read/reflect upon.)  All must be in relation to the case study question.  Discussion and interaction occurs.
  • in the last 15 minutes you switch from discussion to reflection on the process. Overall, how do the “cards” integrate? are there missing or overabundant parts? what are the implications?
  • each student then writes up a 1 page reflection on the case study question, upon which they are graded. This is handed in at a later date and ensures that they are provided time to settle their own theological view in relation to the question. Students gain extra marks if they do extra research over and above the class discussion. So if a class finds a weakness one week in say tradition or Scripture, and the student goes away and does extra work in this area, credit is gained.

My hunch is that this would provide both an interesting way for students to engage in theology and a way for them to continually reflect upon the actual process by which they do theology. It would encourage reflection that is not just book based and would helps students develop in areas they are not instinctively strong in.


Posted by steve at 10:34 AM


  1. I like your suggestions and can see how it rounds out students. Like the idea of “playing cards”…how revealing that could be!

    I have used this same diagram from Scot’s website, and taught Wesley’s methodology to our home group, where we have used it to wrestle with some live issues. Perhaps the greatest gift in it is the way that it makes our thinking processes explicit. A few people have been surprised to discover that they possess a tradition, and we have all rethought the role of experience.

    Comment by kerry — November 12, 2010 @ 11:04 am

  2. Looks good. I sometimes get students to use Lego or Magnetix in class to do that same thing – different colour blocks represent different sources. Give a task/goal with the blocks and look at the diverse ways people put them together.

    How do you get around ‘over-assessing’? 10 weekly exercises (with all there components) can sometimes overload students and not allow time for material to sink in.

    Comment by Stephen — November 12, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

  3. Perhaps the most creative and interesting approach to tutorials I’ve come across. I love it. The students will enjoy it for sure. More importantly, they’ll be reading more!!

    The introductory frame based around the 4 sources of theology is a fantastic idea. After Barth, revelation cannot be left out either (Matt.16:17). Revelation and Culture added to the Wesleyan quadrilateral would go nicely.

    I agree with the previous comment. Various issues can arise relating to assessment.

    Comment by Sandra — November 12, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

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