09 December 2009

post-thanksgiving teaching

I teach (for one more week, at least) an undergraduate course on Revelation. (Typically, when I tell people this it is met with a reaction along the lines of 'are-you-nuts?' . . . or something like that.) But I've done this over the course of the last five years and have found a particular niche which connects well with the students I am given. We take many things lightheartedly, or tongue-in-cheek, throughout evangelicalism's embarrassing apocalyptic moments (cf. cbraaBmf). But it is also a powerful course in that we are able to capture (as does Revelation) the whole of the biblical narrative, played out in powerful symbolism and rhetorical device).

And I think that the class makes a significant impact for most of the students who take it, either because they have never had an encounter with Revelation or they find that much of what they 'knew' about Revelation isn't actually in the book. So we very quickly go to work on background and contextual material, pushing the actual study of Revelation to six weeks into the semester. This allows for a number of things: 1) establish the narrative of Second Temple Judaism; 2) introduce apocalyptic literature from that period; 3) set the story of Jesus within this context, especially messianic expectation; 4) begin to remove ideas which can be prevalent in certain evangelical subcultures, but which have very little basis in Scripture or orthodoxy.

I am happy with the course, though I continue to tweak as the semesters go by. I greatly enjoy teaching undergraduate, and often like to pause and reflect on life in the classroom. My latest insight has come through the realization that there is a significant difference between pre-Thanksigivng teaching and post-Thanksgiving teaching. The attitude of the students in Revelation (not necessarily my other courses) has a tendency to shift once we are regathering after the holiday break. Certainly not all, but a handful of students return being closed off - or outright angry - since the last time I saw them. And much of my headway is suddenly gone.

Why? Because this is Revelation and they went home for Thanksgiving break. Undoubtedly they shared some of what they have learned and have been 'corrected' by parents and pastors and now see me as a sham. No matter how many weeks of reading, listening and learning they have endured, the semester can be undone with a simple 'No' from their home. And, while I can appreciate their circumstance, it is almost irritating to deal with. Except for the fact that I am comfortable enough in my own position that I am not worried about 'winning.' These things will be sorted out on their own time . . . I have shared what I can.

We are dealing with a hotly contested piece of Scripture and tensions will continue to run high. Interestingly, the students are willing to be mad rather than speak to me personally . . . and the pastors, parents (or whoever else is involved) are too content to boldly proclaim without any challenge that a contact to the heretical professor might pose that they allow the student to carry the weight of the battle. It is sad that theology and Christian endeavor fall into such disappointing situations. Nevertheless, this is Revelation and one would have to be a little nuts to teach it to non-biblical studies undergrads . . . right?!?

(PS - Still, a high majority are positively impacted by the course and continue to have their lives changed because they saw Revelation in the light of which it was intended. For this, I thank God, for his message has come through in spite of my many shortcomings.)