Saturday, May 05, 2007

Teaching a Course on Paul

It appears that next year I will be teaching a course on Paul. While I can say that I know at least a few things about Paul, (well at least I think I do, others may disagree) preparing to teach a course on the subject is a daughting task. Several fundamental questions arise at the beginning:

1) What will this course be about? Paul as a historical figure, Paul's theology, Paul's letters, all of these?
2) What is essential and palatable for undergraduates? Complicated discussions about Paul and the Law will be way over their heads.
3) What about exegetical method for reading Paul? Should I introduce and have them practice exegeting Pauline texts?
4) What should I use for textbooks? Is there a good accessible primer on Paul? (Of course when Mike's book comes out this will be the class text)

If I have learned anything this first year of teaching, one cannot cover all that much in one semester with undergraduate students. I have had to reign back my expectations many times in the midst of a course.

In addition, I am an exegete by training and by passion. I would not characterize myself as either a historian or theologian, although I think exegesis involves or should involve both. So my default approach is to take students through a Pauline text and introduce Paul inductively by studying his letters. Furhtermore, since one cannot cover all Paul's letters in on semester -- at least not thoroughly, I have thought Romans would be the best text to work through. One can get at the major structure of Paul's thought and presuppositions through this letter as well as introduce him as a person.

Does anyone have recommendations on approaches to teaching Paul to undergraduates and/or suggestions for textbooks?


Daniel Kirk said...

Joel, as far as textbooks are concerned, you clearly need to distribute PDFs of Mike's new Paul book!

In terms of material to cover, I think that focusing on a particular book can be good. Here's something to ponder: use a topically oriented textbook, but a Pauline letter that is more clearly situationally dependent (e.g., 1 Cor). The fear I have about using Romans is that it might foster the illusion that Paul is an abstract theological thinker rather than an ad hoc missionary thinker.

1 Cor allows you to hit on some very important issues, but keeps those in active conversation with a particular conversation's issues.

Then a textbook that covers topics or issues could help students get at synthetic issues, or "concepts" that help hold Paul's letters together.

Patrick George McCullough said...

I agree with your instinct to go through the letters inductively. From a student's perspective, thinking back to my own undergraduate experience, some time spent on historical issues may be worked in as the text is read through, but the text was most important (and most interesting).

For a textbook, I would highly recommend Michael R. Cosby's Apostle On The Edge: An Inductive Guide To Paul (Amazon), which Hendrickson was taking a long time to publish (I think there were formatting issues with the inductive questions) and appears to now be available for purchase through Amazon. This incorporates an inductive approach as one goes through Paul's letters, including some good questions as well as helpful insights. Cosby was my undergraduate advisor at Messiah College and the Paul classes there used photocopies of the manuscript for years (I went through it in my class on Paul and his letters). He writes in a very accessible style.

[He also has a similar book on Jesus and the Gospels available on Amazon as a Search Inside book. So you can get a peek at his approach.]

Eric Rowe said...

In my opinion, a good book that would navigate a sound balance between the person of Paul and the content of his letters at a level that would be accommodating to undergraduates, academically challenging, and reflecting a high view of Scripture, is Paul: Pioneer For Israel's Messiah, by Jakob Van Bruggen. You could build your syllabus around his chapters and use them as points of departure into study of the epistles. Or you could orient the course around the epistles and assign his book as supplemental reading.

Bob MacDonald said...

I had a 19-year-old young woman read the entire letter to the Romans as if she was Phoebe delivering it to a synagogue in Rome (with Nanos, I think there was still a connected assembly in Rome) - the English she used is here: - the argument is 55 questions in 10 sections - it is a wonderful read - takes about 1 hour. There were a half-dozen of us listening. The impact will remain.

J.Skjou said...

Im an undergrad and i enjoyed "Paul: A Short Introduction" by Morna D. Hooker. It is thematic, consise and it generally covers the signifcant topics with clarity.

Josiah K. Walters said...

For Pauline studies at an undergraduate level, I doubt there are many books that would surpass F. F. Bruce's excellent work Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free.

Michael F. Bird said...

All good advice above, but I cannot go past Michael Gorman's book "Apostle of the Crucified Lord"! Order a review copy from Eerdmans!!

Patrick George McCullough said...

Scratch my last note about Cosby's work, I've just learned that it will not actually be available through Hendrickson, which is a long story.

Cosby would be willing to provide a PDF version of the pre-publication form for usage, though. See his contact info on the Messiah College webpage.

My apologies for jumping the gun there.

Damian said...

As far as textbooks related to Pauline thought/theology, I could not go past Virginia Wiles' Making Sense of Paul: A Basic Introduction to Pauline Theology. It is explicitly written for undergraduates, does not assume a great deal of prior knowledge, is littered with helpful analogies to "real life" as an aid for comprehension and questions for reflection, and covers all the necessary bases. It's also cheap. Amazon has it with "read inside" for a quick look.