Friday, August 30, 2013

Back Into the Classroom… as a Student?

This semester we are trying out a new type of class: Readings in Theology 1. This class is a readings and discussion course covering major works of Christian thought and theology. In this class we are reading 12 key books written between the 1st century and 1500 AD that formed and defined the Christian church. The class focuses on reading the books together and discussing them and is taught by several PIU faculty members. I am leading a couple of the weekly discussions but I am attending most of the classes as a student. I think that this is one of the major holes in a typical American evangelical theological education. We read ABOUT our heritage as Christians (some don’t even do that) but we don’t actually read the books themselves. “Educated” Christian leaders often have an appalling lack of knowledge about church history, which often leads to falling into easily avoidable pitfalls in the church. So I am diving in to try patch up some of the holes in my education.

In the first class we read Plato’s Apology. Most of our readings will be from Christian theologians but Plato is important because many of the Church Fathers tried to put Christian theology into a Socratic/Platonic (making it relevant to the culture they lived in) framework. Thus, it is important to know Plato to understand what they were doing, and, of course, to understand the foundations of how we think. One discussion question dealt with a comparison between Socrates and Jesus. Was Socrates a kind of a pre-Christ Christian, as Justin Martyr considered, or was he “actuated by a different spirit” as Tertullian said? I enjoyed the reading and discussion and am looking forward to reading Irenaeus next Thursday.

My favorite quotes from Plato’s Apology

And by the Dog, men of Athens [22a]—for I must speak the truth to you—this, I do declare, was my experience: those who had the most reputation seemed to me to be almost the most deficient, as I investigated at the god's behest, and others who were of less repute seemed to be superior men in the matter of being sensible.

You do not speak well, Sir, if you think a man in whom there is even a little merit ought to consider danger of life or death, and not rather regard this only, when he does things, whether the things he does are right or wrong and the acts of a good or a bad man. [28b]

[32a] A man who really fights for the right, if he is to preserve his life for even a little while, must be a private citizen, not a public man.

For I tried to persuade each of you to care for himself and his own perfection in goodness and wisdom rather than for any of his belongings, and for the state itself rather than for its interests, and to follow the same method in his care for other things.[36c]

But, gentlemen, it is not hard to escape death; it is much harder to escape wickedness, for that runs faster than death. [39b].

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