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Friday, May 18, 2007
  Teaching the Universal Soldier
Scot McKnight has a couple of posts answering someone who asked him Why leave seminary for college? The first of which got me thinking.

[Now the context is different, the two places I've been teaching for the last few years are both at the same academic level, in NZ - as in the UK and Australia - we don't commonly use a graduate degree like an MDiv for clergy-training, but one is a Theological College: faith-based and essentially ministry-focused, the other is a secular University, with a much wider range of students. Different, with different joys and challenges, but I have loved both.]

One paragraph in his comments "fitted" my experience and feelings better than the others:
4. Faith teaching: My seminary students asked mostly exegetical and interpretive questions — my college students wonder if Christianity is true, why it doesn’t seem to make more of an impact, why their life is so thin and shallow and not joyous and fulfilling. They ask bigger questions in class than I was accustomed to in seminary — did the resurrection happen? Which texts in the NT show that Jesus was God? How can a God of love take out a whole city in Joshua? Not that my seminary students didn’t ask these questions, but that my college students seem to live with these questions more existentially.
The difference is not so strongly marked for me, but since the University students come from a much wider range of backgrounds:
  • denomination: Carey students are either Baptist, or members of an Evangelical denomination or from the Evangelical wing of the Anglican or Presbyterian Churches - the University students are from anywhere or nowhere in terms of church, I've sometimes had Donovan's "Universal Soldier" in the class: (s)he's a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain, A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew - actually I wasn't aware of the Jain... but maybe!
  • race: most Carey students are of predominantly European descent, that is true of the majority (though only just) of University students too but only just, at Carey most of the non-Europeans are Asian, at the University they are Māori, Polynesian.
  • destination: most Carey students envisage some form of professional Christian ministry at the end of their study, many University students do too, but many do not.
Like in Scott's classes this variety makes for wider and more interesting questions. White, Evangelical, Ministry students are afraid that any interpretation of the Bible which looks beyond the meaning of this passage (and preferably this verse) may risk being unsound or liberal. The Universal Soldier student is more concerned to wrestle with the text, and with life, and with God, trying to somehow bring the three together. And that is exciting for the teacher.

I love teaching both groups. (Cf. Scott's point 2.) I admire the ministry students' commitment passion and faith, but I fear their narrowness and legalism. I admire the University students' openness, but I wish some of them could "catch" the deep and life-changing faith that is the Carey students' motive.

In drawing this caricature I have maligned many students in both groups - I don't intend that, what I was trying to do was not capture the wild and wonderful richness of any class in a neat descriptive phrase (you can't thank God) but to summarise why over the years I've valued the joint Carey/University teaching, and why I'll miss the School of Theology when I Carey leave it at the end of the year (as Carey's participation ends).

[If this sounds grumpy, or offends you, please excuse me - I've been off today with stomach cramps and headache and mild fever, maybe I'm not quite myself!]

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