>Theology Letterman Style
This is a little break from NEGST, but it is something I’ve been thinking about as I process my Wheaton experience. I appreciate many of these classes at Wheaton much more now in light of the classes here at NEGST, and noticing differences in how I think about and approach things.
*Note: Ranking anything is a tricky and not always useful enterprise, especially when people are involved. The following should not be considered a list of the best classes I’m had, although that does inevitably play a role in my consideration. The numbering system is also somewhat arbitrary, and not hard and fast by any means. However, in considering my intellectual development, the following classes were highly formative for me, and have permanently affected how I think and study. Thus I believe the list is constructive. It is most useful to those still attending Wheaton, and for anyone else it may not be nearly as interesting.*
1) New Testament Criticism – Dr. Burge
This class made theology seem real and so addictively fascinating. When I was reading about the battle raging for the integrity of the Bible, the dating of Galatians, and the rigorous methods employed to respond to attacks on the biblical text, it was so exciting for me. Generally it seems the more that is expected from me in a class, the more I learn, and this was certainly true in this class—one of the most intensive classes I’ve ever taken. Through dealing with form criticism and working to defend the gospel accounts as legitimate portrayals of the historical life of Christ I felt like I actually grasped—at least on a basic level—the dynamics of criticism and how to enter the conversation.
2) Old Testament Cultural Environment – Dr. Hill
This was a relatively short class taken during my last semester, but it really challenged so much of what I believe about the Bible, and how I’ve always thought it was written. Looking at the similarities between various flood and creation accounts was illuminating in showing the cultural and literary effect upon the Bible. Dr. Walton’s book on the cultural world of the Old Testament painted a vivid picture of the culture and worldview that characterizes those writing the OT, and so many of his insights were new and revolutionary in my understanding of the text.
3) History of Philosophy – Dr. Benson, Dr. Talbot and Dr. Borden
Reputedly the 2nd (behind organic chemistry) most difficult class at Wheaton (it’s not), this class spans an entire year and is the essential foundation of the philosophy major at Wheaton. This class certainly had one of the highest ratios of information I had never heard before to information I already knew. Discussing and working through these issues was so thought provoking and difficult, and these issues have strongly defined how I have interacted with almost every class ever since. Some concepts that really stand out are Plato’s notion of recollection, Locke’s blank slate, Kant’s concept of the neumena and the phenomena, Kant’s categories of understanding information, the transcendental turn, and various postmodern ideas about knowledge and language. This class was an excellent compliment to Historical and Systematic theology, which I took concurrently to the two halves of this class.
4) Hermeneutics – Dr. Schultz
This was my second Bible class at Wheaton (during my freshman year) and set the stage for many of my later techniques for studying the Bible, finding resources, doing research, and using the library. Fairly difficult and extremely crammed because we were doing a semester’s worth of work in a quad (it has since been expanded into a semester class), I found the lectures, exercises, and final exegesis paper all very helpful. Definitely this was a class I enjoyed.
5) Senior Seminar: Global Christianity – Dr. Treier and Dr. Cohick
Another class with a very high percentage of new content, this was one of the most interesting and unique classes I have taken. This is one of the few classes in which I would check the clock with dismay because time was running out and I found the discussions so fascinating. I wish theology from all over the world was integrated into all theology classes at Wheaton and not tacked onto the end in one class. I learned a great deal from the considerable reading for this class. The concerns in theology in Africa, Asia and South America are so different and have much to teach us in the West. Our discussions in this class were great and I feel that we were able to interact and meaningfully engage the content we were reading. Student presentations at the end explored many issues I would have never been able to consider otherwise. Researching the nature of deliverance ministry and demonology in Ghana was a new project for me, and quite pertinent given that I was already planning on going to Africa for seminary.
6) Theology of John Calvin – Dr. Spencer
Most of this class went way over my head, and I felt very much out of league, but still I gained a basic knowledge of John Calvin, and also some important principles for studying theology. The amount of reading assigned for this class was absolutely overwhelming, the most I have ever had for any class. Two things stand out that have shaped how I consider theology ever since: the principle of “foils” and that of accommodation. The idea of foils is fairly straightforward despite its strange sounding name; all that it means is that often when approaching an idea there are two extremes on both side, and the correct way lies between the two. Often when I have come upon a problem this idea has shaped my initial response. First, I determine the extremes, and then I attempt to determine a mediating answer. This does not fit all issues but has been very helpful for me. The second principle gained from this class is one that Calvin emphasized through his theology: accommodation. In revelation God has accommodated Himself to us, which is in many ways an incredible thought, and this has far-reaching implications for biblical interpretation and application.
7) Historical Theology – Dr. Lauber
My favorite thing about this class was the textbook, which read like a novel to me: I would read it just for fun. Learning about the early church and the debates over the nature of God and theology was at times confusing but essential for a genuine understanding of the church. This is one of the classes that led me to choose history over philosophy as a double major, even though it’s not even a history class, technically. This is the class where the study group that would help sustain me most of the way through the theology major started. This was also my introduction to Dr. Lauber, who became one of my favorite profs and has written several key recommendations for me.
8) Doctrine of Scripture – Dr. Spencer
I have come to very much appreciate Dr. Spencer’s style for doing a class: reading the best authorities on a subject and wrestling through the stances they take. Elaborating a solid theology of the scriptures as the Word of God is difficult, and I am much more aware of the various disagreements and tricky areas. This is probably the main class that I actually understood some of what Barth was saying, which I consider an accomplishment!
9) Systematic Theology – Dr. Treier
One of the most fundamental and notorious classes of the Bible/theology major at Wheaton, I did not learn as much from this class as I expected but I did still learn quite a bit. The most helpful exercise was the assignment due at the end: writing your own confession of faith. Having to take a stance upon many issues of which I am still not sure of a position was helpful and thought provoking. Many of the topics treated in the class overlapped with the content of historical theology, which I took first, but it was a good repetition. I still get confused with several of the heresies…
10) The Bible as Literature – Dr. Ryken
This class stands out as one of the most memorable and time consuming classes of my Wheaton career. Anyone who has taken this class, or any class with Dr. Ryken, will immediate understand—the pig of progress, dress up day, optimum day, use of “technology”—but for those who have not it is impossible to adequately describe. The time I spent on this class drained much of the time that would have gone to systematic theology instead, largely explaining my disappointment with that class. This class was an excellent survey of the literary approach to interpreting the Bible, and Dr. Ryken is one of its pioneers and leading proponents. When I was taking hermeneutics at NEGST, and he was listed under literary approaches, I was able to question certain aspects of how the subject was presented, since I had an in-depth exposure to this methodology.
Honorable Mention: Intro to Christian Education with Dr. Root, Theological Ethics with Dr. Lauber, Theories of Origin with basically the entire science department, and History of Christianity in North America with Dr. Long