Thursday, February 01, 2007

Introduction to Christianity

Intro to Christianity

This course is structured around the central, total confession of the Christian faith as historically expressed in the Nicene Creed. As we proceed through the consideration of the Christian creedal tenets, we will explore foundational themes in Christian theology both in their historical context and in conversation between ancient and modern Christian sources.
The course readings are selected to reflect the process of Christian theology and historical interpretation of Scripture. Thus, each section on a tenet of Christian belief and experience requires reading that begins with relevant Scripture passages and proceeds to the summarization of the Scripture as historically interpreted by the Church, and currently contained in the excellent composite of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Students are invited to supplement their reading by comparing/contrasting positions in the Catholic Catechism with their own denomination’s Catechism or Confession. From time to time, the readings draw on excerpts from Patristic writers and key Christian theologians.
The course will be based on one weekly lecture, and one weekly discussion for the analysis of reading material. Each weekly discussion meeting will be led by the panel of assigned students for that week, who are responsible for coordinating the readings and facilitating discussion around the assigned issues for that week. For extra credit, a course blog will be available for ongoing discussion of relevant issues. It is critical that each student is prepared to participate actively in all facets of the learning of this critical material through timely and critical readings, and through regular and active class attendance.

Finally, students are reminded that least of all courses, this Introductory course is not approached in a vacuum. Most of us have been born into a context of cultural Christianity, such that the narratives and themes that we will cover are both familiar and personally associated with meaning, memories, and decisions. Some of us may be passionate devotees of Christianity; others of us may hate it. Probably the majority of us will find that we approach the more radical tenets of the Christian faith with distanced, disinterested contempt. It is therefore all the more crucial that, for purposes of our course, we engage one another and the material dialogically, honestly, frankly, personally, and with the utmost respect and charity. Each student is strongly invited to use this course to determine where he stands in relationship to the dominant faith of our modern culture.

Course Requirements

Weekly Comments. 30% Each student is required to submit weekly comments, questions, personal reflections, and identification of major issues by drawing on and citing the assigned materials in detail. These commentaries are to be no more than one page in length and are submitted by email each Monday.

Mid Term Examination. 20% The mid term examination will consist of two components:

A) The exam will provide an extensive list of terminology pertaining to key principles in Christian theology, of which each student will select and define twenty terms in a concise sentence that demonstrates conversational grasp of the vocabulary.

B) Each student will compose a thorough outline of major topics under each statement of the Creed covered to date.

Final Paper. 20% Each student will write a ten-page research paper outlining arguments for and against the Christian belief in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Apologetics Week. 20% Students will be grouped into small groups/conversation partners who will meet either in person or on line for a two-part assignment: 1) to persuade the other of the credibility of a Christian claim and 2) to persuade the other of the attractiveness of the Christian faith. Each student will participate in each part of the assignment. Students’ performance will be evaluated on the clarity, thoroughness, and validity of their arguments, and on their conformity to the Christian tradition as conveyed in class. The Instructor or TA will be present to evaluate conversations. Students who enter the conversation online may turn in transcripts of the conversation for evaluation.

Oral Final Exam. 10%

Extra Credit (up to 15%)

A) Participation in ongoing course blog discussions.

B) Upon careful reflection, a student may opt, if he wishes, to participate in a Sunday service of a denomination that is not his own during the term. Successful completion of the extra credit assignment will involve completion of a 3-5 page report detailing the (charitable) observances of the service, and the student’s response to them, to be posted for commentary on the class blog. Students are encouraged to participate fully in the worship service and to contact the appropriate pastor, clergyperson, or secretary to notify them of your visit and its purpose.


Required Texts.

St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo

Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (Paulist Press, 1984)

Benny Hinn, Good Morning Holy Spirit (Nelson Books, 1997)

The Holy Bible (Revised Standard Version)

Catechism of the Catholic Church
Supplementary Catechism/Confession, at student’s discretion

St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000)

Anne Rice, Christ the Lord (Knopf, 2005)

Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Word Publishing, 1982)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter (Zondervan, 1998)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998)

Course Packet
o Volf, God the Giver. Free of Charge, 2005.
o St. Victorinus, On the Creation of the World.
o Barth: Creation, Dogmatics III.1 (excerpts)
o Jon D. Levenson, Creation and Covenant. Creation and the Persistence of Evil. Part III, (Princeton University Press, 2003)
o Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi
o Anathemas of Chalcedon
o Kenneth Copeland, “On the Incarnation” (Audio Cassette Transcript)
o Karl Rahner, Dust You Are
o Gregory of Nyssa, On the Holy Trinity, and of the Godhead of the Holy Spirit, To Eustathius )
o John Calvin, Of Justification by Faith
o Martin Luther, Of Justification
o David Mills, The Snob’s Dogma: On Modernizing the Gospels (Touchstone Journal, 2002)
o Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel (Leo XIII, 1890)

Preliminary Reading Assignment:

Church History in Plain Language, Parts I-III (Jesus and the Apostles, The Age of Catholic Christianity, The Age of the Christian Roman Empire)

Course Agenda.

Week 1. We Believe

Required Reading:
o RCC, Part One: The Profession of Faith (17-23)
o Student’s Selection:
• Mere Christianity
• Or
• The Problem of Pain
• Or
• The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Student Presentations: Highlights of Lewis’ apologetic and explication of students’ personal experience of Christianity in terms of belief, encounter with “Christian” culture, ecclesial identification, and questions/problems to be presented to the Christian proposal throughout the course:

- As an exemplar of modern twentieth century convert turned popular apologist who promotes Christianity in the midst of a terrible World War, what does Lewis believe? Why does he believe what he believes?
- With what aspects of Lewis’ belief do you agree? What would you add to Lewis’ belief, if anything? With what do you disagree, if anything?
- What, if anything, would you define as a “Christian” culture? What has been your role in a Christian culture, if any?
- In your own words, what does it mean to be a Christian? Are you a Christian? If so, why? If not, why not?

Week 2. We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

Required Reading.
o Genesis 1-3
o John 1
o Volf, God the Giver.
o St. Victorinus, On the Creation of the World.
o RCC, Chapter 1, Article 1, p. 61-101
o Barth: Creation, Dogmatics III.1 (excerpts)
o Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil. Part III, Creation and Covenant. (Princeton University Press, 2003)

- The One God: His characteristics and promises revealed to Israel
- The One God Almighty and the Cross; Christian interpretations of creation

Panel Discussion Issues:
- What does it mean to confess “one” God?
- What are the implications of calling God “Father?”
- What are the implications of God’s being “Almighty?”
- What moral implications that are implicit in the relationship between the Creator/creature?
- If Christians read the creation story as revised and consummated in the Incarnation, are they warranted in doing so? Why or why not?

Week 3. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
the only Son of God, 
eternally begotten of the Father, 
God from God, Light from Light, 
true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

Required Reading:
• RCC, Articles 2 and 3 (p 120-159)
• The Gospel of Mark
• The Gospel of John
• Cyril, On the Unity of Christ
• Review Church History, Chapters 5, 7: (“The Rise of Orthodoxy,” “The Power of Bishops”)

Lecture I:
- Describe the orthodox statement on the Person of Christ, in contrast with major Christological heresies (Part I)

Panel Discussion Issues:
- Why was the early Church so intent on ironing out the details of who Jesus is? What does it really matter?
- Given only the Gospel texts, what sort of Christological statement on the nature of Christ would you arrive at?

Week 4. For us and for our salvation 
he came down from heaven: 
by the power of the Holy Spirit 
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, 
and was made man.

Required Reading.
o Matthew 1, Luke 1
o Anne Rice, Christ the Lord
o Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi
o Anathemas of Chalcedon
o Kenneth Copeland, “On the Incarnation” (Audio Cassette Transcript)
o Review Church History, Chapters 10-11 (“The Doctrine of the Trinity,” and “Christ in the Creeds”)

Lecture II:
- Re-visit orthodox statements on the Person of Christ, in particular contrast with Arius and Nestorius
- Highlight the emerging doctrine of the Theotokos
- Highlight Athanasius’ concept of the significance of the Incarnation as the ontological transformation of all creation.

Panel Discussion Issues:
- Why is it significant to state that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary rather than through?
- Is there a connection between the Theotokos doctrine and modern Mariology/Marian devotion?
- Compare/Contrast the anathemas of Chalcedon with the Copeland transcripts- how would Copeland have fared at Chalcedon?
- How is Athanasius’ concept of the efficacy of the Incarnation similar to or different than familiar notions of the efficacy of Calvary?

Week 5. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; 
he suffered death and was buried. 

Required Reading
o The Epistle to the Hebrews
o RCC, Article 5 (p 161-179)
o Anselm, Cur Deus Homo
o Karl Rahner, Dust You Are

Optional: View “The Passion of the Christ” (2004)

- Explicate atonement “options”/various atonement theories, including ransom, penal subsititution, demonstration.
- Draw together prior themes: IE, moral responsibility to the Creator, doctrine re Fall and sin corroborated by the doctrine of Christ’s atoning “sacrifice,” the nature of the Incarnation understood in light of the Cross.

Panel Discussion Issues:
- What themes of atonement can be derived from Hebrews? Can we pinpoint one mechanism of atonement or are we left with several?
- Does Anselm do justice to the Calvary event?
- Why was Jesus Crucified?
- In the Epistolary writer’s estimation, how does Christ pertain to “our sake?”

Week 6. Midterm Exam

Week 7. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; 
he ascended into heaven 
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
Required Reading.
o Resurrection Accounts: Matthew 28-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-25; Acts 1
o RCC, Articles 6-7 (p. 189-195)
o The Kingdom: Matthew 5
o Christ in Glory: Revelation 4, 5, 11
o Strobel, The Case for Easter
- Trace the general structure of the Resurrection account, not common Synoptic themes
- Delineate a Christian rationale for belief in the Resurrection

Panel Discussion Issues
- Do the discrepancies in the Synoptic Resurrection accounts pose serious problems to the credibility of the accounts? Why or why not?
- Why was the Resurrection so significant to those who saw the Risen Christ or heard about it? Is it possible that we could have “Christianity” without it?
- Given Christ’s description of what His Kingdom is like, how should we read the descriptions of the “glory” of the risen Christ.

Week 8. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, 
who proceeds from the Father and the Son. 
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. 
He has spoken through the Prophets. 

Required Reading.
o Relevant Passages in John’s Gospel
o Acts 2-20.
o RCC Article 8 (p. 197-210)
o Gregory of Nyssa, On the Holy Trinity, and of the Godhead of the Holy Spirit, To Eustathius )
o Benny Hinn, Good Morning Holy Spirit (Nelson Books, 1997)
- Explicate the doctrine of the Trinity
- Elaborate on Scriptural references to the Holy Spirit
- Anticipate following lecture with discussion of the Holy Spirit’s essential role in and relation to the Church.

Panel Discussion Issues:
- What is the best way of “imagining” the Holy Trinity?
- What would be Gregory’s critique of Hinn’s ideas? From the readings in Acts, would Hinn seem out of place or right at home in the Jerusalem Church after Pentecost? What are the implications of the conclusion to the latter question?

Week 10. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. 

Required Reading.
o Review Acts 2-20; The Epistle to the Ephesians; John 17
o RCC Article 9 (p. 215-250)
o Church History Parts 4-5 (“The Christian Middle Ages,” “The Age of Reformation”)
o Brown, The Church the Apostles Left Behind. Paulist Press, 1984.

- Highlight the nature of the early Church, its transformations up to the Reformation, and the rise of denominationalism (Constantinazation, Dispersion, Missions, Monasticism, Papal Schisms and Politics, Scholasticism and the Schools, Luther, Calvin, Counter Reformation and the Jesuit expansion)

Panel Discussion Issues:
- Among the shifts and changes in the Christian Church throughout history, it is possible to distill an “essential” or definitive epoch/pattern by which we might recognize the “authentic” Christian Church? Is this a good question to ask?
- According to the description of the Church given in Ephesians, how might the course of Church history be interpreted?
- Given Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17, what is a Christian response to denominationalism in the contemporary Church?

Week 12. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Required Reading:
o Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3
o RCC Article 10
o John Calvin, Of Justification by Faith
o Martin Luther, Of Justification
Augustine, On Baptism

- Delineate the key points of sacramental theology with regard to justification/sanctification and compare/contrast with Reformed perspectives.

Panel Discussion Issues:
- What are the exact points of divergence between Catholic/Protestant views of the sacraments? In what ways are these divergences reflective of the entire theological system?
- Given these divergences, is a reconciled theology of the sacraments possible (such as would be tenable for both Catholics and Protestants)?

Week 13. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Required Reading:
- I Corinthians 15
- RCC, Articles 11-12
- The Fun Stuff: select materials on Limbo, Purgatory, Heaven, Hell, The Communion of Saints, Praying for the Dead, Angels and Demons.
- David Mills, The Snob’s Dogma: On Modernizing the Gospels (Touchstone Journal, 2002)
- Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel (Leo XIII, 1890)

- Highlight theological grounds for the litany of the saints in the Church’s liturgy; emphasize the Christian imagination of the life to come and its present implications against the theology of Bultmann.

Panel Discussion Issues
- What if there were nothing more to look forward to than being forgiven; would Christianity still be compelling/credible/believable? Why do we “need” Heaven?

Week 14. Apologetics Sessions, Evangelism Sessions, Preparation for oral exams.


Blogger Patrick said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You

1:32 PM  

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