It looks like I’ll soon be teaching again. I’ve had over a year of a break. I’m still not a member of the church I attend for various legitimate reasons, but I was approached about teaching a quarter of Sunday school in the spring.

I tried to veil my greedy enthusiasm. I suggested something early church as an alternative to the rather relentless Puritan & Reformed emphasis that was going down at the time. It was agreed.

Then there was a saga. That was the pastor I talked to at first. But he doesn’t really call the shots, the Christian Ed committee does. The pastor can influence, but not apparently determine. So the chairman had a different idea—how about Presbyterian History? I balked for two reasons: 1 the sheer irony, and 2 because it would be more Presbyterian & Reformed, from which a bit of relief I sought.

We got into an email exchange. I was down to 3 weeks of doing something early church and the other 10 would be someone banging on about THE REFORMED DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH. Somehow, out of that exchange (I thought of one reply for 16 hours before sending it), I ended up with all 13 weeks of the quarter—yay!

So now I’m reading! The committee meeting is Jan 22, but it seems pretty certain. If not, I’ll still have profited from these few weeks of reading. I learn better when I’m doing it in preparation for something public—not sure why. I had been doing desultory investigations before, but now I’m proceeding well.

I’ve already done Owen Chadwick’s lavishly illustrated history of Christianity. It is worth owning for the overview, but also for his comments on the art he includes. He’s a refreshing historian who is not just a specialist.

I’m doing Justo Gonzales, just the first two sections of vol 1. He’s interesting and very good. I’m surprised how good. I’ve always wanted to look through him and this provided the crucial incentive.

I’ve got Henry Chadwick’s Penguin History of the Early Church. He’s got to be good: he’s so good on Augustine.

I’ve got a chap called Freynd (or something like) on the early church too. Gonzales recommended him.

I’m also getting Bart Erhman’s take, his Teaching Company lectures. His notions of history are certainly not up to the standards of Lukacs. I have a book of primary sources edited by a couple of Canadians that take his approach: hermeneutics of suspicion, they call it. But a lot of interesting points.

Once I’m done with the overviews, I’m going to look for biographies.

Then there are the primary sources to read, with their introductions. I want to do some of that now, but I want to do those each week I’m preparing (April-June, I teach). It’s better because it’s fresher at the point, rather than trying to revive your enthusiasm through notes made before. I’ll read the primary sources in these months before I start, but I probably won’t take notes until I’m reading them to teach.

It’s a remote and difficult period of church history, but it also provides a lot of variety: teach a text, teach a figure, explain a situation, talk about the importance of a doctrinal controversy, read selected portions of the Epistle of Barnabas and have them judge whether it can possibly be authentic. And the main attraction for me: it isn’t what we’re always banging on about but something fresh.

6 thoughts on “Teach

  1. I find it curious that a church so interested in denominational polity would invite a non-member, even a non-Presbyterian(?) to teach anything at all, let alone Presbyterian history. Not to mention the unimaginable scenario of a Presbyterian church in which the presbytery’s hands are tied in a matter of teaching by a committee. That’s downright Babtist! But then it does explain why they need more classes on Presbyterian ecclesiology

  2. Well, if you’re looking for answers I can offer this:

    1 – I’m practically a member. The only missing part is the formal and by the time I teach I expect to be one. We are taking a long time because we are going through the inquirer’s class with a Chinese new believer so that she doesn’t have to do it alone. Also, it seems to me, Presbyterians do not take membership with quite the same shade of seriousness as Baptists do, though they do take it seriously. If your polity is not congregational, the average member is not going to be quite so important.

    2 – Our best teacher is an OSU PhD who would not describe himself as reformed. He is an OT guy and amazing. Moral Imagination, encyclopedic knowledge of his subject, everything. He only agrees to do a quarter a year for us. If he taught more, I’d sit an learn till the crack of doom. He’s in the congregation because if your polity is not congregational, it emphasizes agreement less.

    3 – The teaching by the members can be dismally bad sometimes. Sometimes outstanding. So uneven. One of the reasons I want to teach is I think I can do better, and I think as a church we can too but often we don’t. If there were better teaching I wouldn’t be so keen.

    4 – The session’s hands are not tied, but Presbyterians do everything by committee. They are organized that way. The result is a lot of compromise (the present Trinity Hymnal, for example, is a result of the consideration years back to merge the OPC and the PCA, and reflects concessions that do not reflect the OPC’s outlook; now that that is not on the cards, they’re working with the URC on a hymnal that will be a lot more . . . consistent and with a lot more psalms and I think more confessional stuff in the back). The pastor has a contract with the church, for example, where he retains the right to teach the fall quarter (didn’t this year), but the rest of the time it is managed by the committee. A member of the session I am sure is always on that committee and the pastor enters into their deliberations. He influences, he doesn’t determine monarchially. Key words: influences but does not determine. One of the reasons I’m pretty sure that I’ll get to teach is that he’ll be advocating my getting the quarter.

    5 – The OPC is its own ethos, truly. They are more on the sober side than the fervent side. Conservative evangelicals are by contrast more on the fervent than the sober side. It is a curious little denomination that is quite it’s own thing. They do not do or know excitement. It may have to do with having so many committees. They do have polity and procedures down.

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