new week 12 (posted 19 Oct. 2014)

It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks. (Albert Einstein, 1921, in response to Thomas Edison’s opinion that a college education is useless)

The growing precision of our understanding should enhance, and not diminish our sense of wonder. (Alfred Brendel)

In much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase in sorrow. (Ecclesiastes 1.18)

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. (William Butler Yeats)

You must unlearn what you have learned. (Yoda, Star Wars V: Empire Strikes Back)

The unexamined life is not worth living. (Socrates [Plato, Apology, 38a])

ΕΝ ΟΙΔΑ ΟΤΙ ΟΥΔΕΝ ΟΙΔΑ. (= Ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα.; Socrates)

ΓΝĹΘΙ ΣΕΑΥΤΟΝ. (= Γνῶθι σεαυτόν.; Temple of Apollo at Delphi)new



Na home

Westminster College

REL 102: Understanding Christianity

Fall 2014

Welcome to Religion 102: Understanding Christianity. This course is a general introduction to and an exploration of Christianity that will cover the basic beliefs and practices of Christianity (in various times and places) and their significance for the history of Western civilization and for us. More specifically, you will be able to:

•   discuss (1) the sacred texts, the doctrines, and the history of Christianity, and (2) their significance for Western culture, for the world, and for us

•   discuss significant developments and debates that have shaped Christian beliefs and practices, and thereby also Western culture

•   discuss significant figures that have shaped Christian beliefs and practices, and thereby also Western culture

•   demonstrate an appreciation of Christianity that is both critical and creative

Achieving these goals will require hard work on your part, which will bring many challenging, enlightening, exciting, frustrating, and rewarding experiences.

Accessibility Statement:

Westminster College actively strives for the full inclusion of all our students. Students with disabilities who require access solutions for environmental or curricular barriers should contact Faith Craig, Director of Disability Resources: 209 Thompson-Clark Hall; 724-946-7192;



This course is designed so that anyone, religious or not, who does the required work can attain the goals mentioned above. This course is not designed to persuade you to a particular faith or religious point of view. Nor is it intended to build up or disparage existing faith, although an informed understanding of Christianity can lead to a deeper appreciation of it. Students who consider themselves to be followers of any religion, or of no religion at all, are welcome on this semester journey to become better acquainted with Christianity, to learn to appreciate it better, and to become informed and responsible interpreters of it.


 Requirements and evaluation for the course


For my criteria for evaluation of assignments go to Evaluation and read the information carefully.

N.B.: If you have any questions about any assignment, please ask in class or make an appointment to see me.

N.B.: If you have any questions about any evaluation or how you are doing in the course, please make an appointment to see me.




Assigned readings should be completed before the class for which they are assigned—use your best judgment to divide the readings evenly for each week.

Occasionally I may assign additional readings, but these will ordinarily be short. You must come to class with at least 2 written questions or comments in response to the readings (see Participation). Cultivate the ability to ask informed questions about the readings based on the knowledge you gain along the way; the demonstration of your ability to formulate questions will affect the evaluation of your semester grade. Keeping notes on the readings is highly recommended. I would encourage you to use this form for every reading assignment (also on my.westminster).

N.B.: Not all the assigned readings may be covered in class discussions or exams, but they are assigned for your edification in achieving the goals of the course. The more you refer to them in class and in your work, the better your mastery of the readings will be. Your use of them in class discussion and in your work will affect the evaluation of your semester grade.



You will submit at a research paper on a particular (1) theme or controversy, (2) doctrine, or (3) theologian that interests you. Browse through the table of contents and index in the textbook for ideas or come up with your own topic for research. Consult the instructor as you pursue your interest and as you research (the earlier you do so, the earlier you'll know how feasible your research paper will be). Whatever your topic and thesis, make sure that connections with course materials are evident in your final work. You may also find the Tips for writing papers helpful.

Make an appointment as early as you can in the semester to discuss (1) your paper idea and (2) your preliminary bibliography (bring a hard copy). The narrower and more specific your thesis—i.e., the argument you plan to make in your paper—the better.


•   The paper should consist of 1,500–2,000 words.

•   The paper should represent original work (i.e., your own thoughts), not a mere digest of other people's opinions. Your own reading and re-reading of the relevant texts, as well as review of other materials, are fundamental to the task. I want to know what you discover in your engagement with your topic, whether or not you agree with the course books, commentaries, or opinions presented in class, including mine.

N.B.: Focus on honing your ability to argue for your opinions and conclusions by supporting them with evidence from texts (especially primary texts) and other relevant sources.

•   Your final bibliography (not just “works cited”) must contain at least 8 sources used in your paper, including 4 periodical (journal) articles. Electronic sources count only if you provide evidence that they are scholarly sources.

•   Use footnotes or endnotes to document your sources following the Chicago Manual of Style—for help: NoodleTools. Learn the automatic footnote (and endnote) function of your word processor.

•   Follow all the instructions given on my Evaluation page under Written assignments.


You may request permission to revise your paper after its evaluation. If you submit a revision, the final grade will be the average of the grades earned on the original and on the revision.


Throughout the semester, you will be responsible for learning significant terms covered in our texts or in class. You will be responsible for the definitions. Use (1) the course texts, e.g., glossary, index, (2) the resources listed in Resources to consider below, or (3) any other appropriate sources of information. The terms may constitute a part of any quiz or exam.




There will be a midterm exam covering all the materials in the course, including the reading assignments and terms we will have covered by the time of the exam. The final exam will cover the entire sweep of the course. There may be pop quizzes, the results of which will affect the evaluation of your participation. See my Evaluation page under Quizzes and examinations.


In lieu of the final exam, you may take a 30-minute oral exam. You must meet with me before November 15 to discuss this option.


Grades will be assigned as fairly as possible. See my Evaluation page under Grades for more information. The final grade for the course will consist of the following:

• research paper


Participation is a significant part of this course.

See my Evaluation page under Participation

for more information and instructions.

final exam


midterm exam


participation (including pop quizzes)



N.B.: If you have any questions about any assignment, please ask in class or make an appointment to see me.

N.B.: If you have any questions about any evaluation or how you are doing in the course, please make an appointment to see me.



You may earn extra credit any time during the semester.

•   Submit a paper consisting of 700–1,000 words relating something from popular culture (e.g., movie, play, TV show, book, any performance) to a particular course text or topic (consult the instructor).

•   The paper should be mostly critique (not mere summary or description).


N.B.: The instructor reserves the right to make the final determination concerning any extra credit. You can earn a maximum of 5% toward the final grade. You may write more than one, if you wish, but you won't receive more than 5% total in extra credit.


Required books

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001. (text file)

McGrath, Alister. Christian History: An Introduction. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.


Recommended books (* = highly recommended)

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (NRSV). N.B.: table of contents, introductions, essays, tables, glossary, maps, etc. are all very helpful. In all cases, you are encouraged to use other English translations (e.g., NIV) and Bibles in other languages in addition to the NRSV. The Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) is especially recommended for comparison of Old Testament passages.

* Achtemeier, Paul. Inspiration and Authority: Nature and Function of Christian Scripture. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

Allen, Diogenes. Christian Belief in a Postmodern World: The Full Wealth of Conviction. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992.

_______. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985.

_______. Primary Readings in Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992.

Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. [comparative history of the three major monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam]

* Brown, Raymond E. Biblical Exegesis and Church Doctrine. Wipf & Stock, 2002.

* _______. Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible. New York: Paulist Press,1990.

* Bultmann, Rudolf. Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

* Kerr, Hugh T. The Simple Gospel. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991.

Lane, Tony. Harper's Concise Book of Christian Faith. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984.

* Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. San Francisco: HarperOne, 1996.

* McGrath, Alister. Christian Theology: An Introduction. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2010.

* _______. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2012.

* _______. Theology: The Basics. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2011.

* Meyer, Paul. The Word in This World. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

* Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. 5 vols. Chicago: Chicago University, 1989.

* _______. Jesus through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Robinson, James M. A New Quest of the Historical Jesus. London: SCM Press, 1959.

Segal, Alan F. Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

* Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1979. (See my Resources page under Miscellaneous for the first edition of Strunk.)


Resources to consider

See my Resources page for McGill, AV, and Web resources (e.g., Catechism of the Catholic Church, The NT Gateway).

Early Church Textsnew

R-drive: course folder and the “NaFiles” folder

Bible concordances (McGill library)

Ferguson, Duncan S. Bible Basics. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995.


Keeping in touch

During the semester check your e-mail regularly for messages regarding course matters (e.g., changes in the syllabus). Visit and reload (refresh) this page for updates to the syllabus; see also my homepage for other information and resources related to the course. Please feel free to make an appointment any time about any course matters.


Tips from former students

For some practical advice from former students, see the tips page.


One last word . . .

Regardless of how demanding all of this is, I promise to be as fair as possible. I recognize that you will be very busy this semester pursuing various obligations and passions. I understand. I have my passions too, e.g., my family, music, philosophy, nature, mountain biking, fixing things, food. But I am also very passionate about education, both yours and mine—I mean not just the business of acquiring knowledge but more importantly the total development of honorable human beings. I do not require you to share my excitement about all the things we will cover, but I do expect you to do your best to complete the requirements for the course. To help you do that, I will make myself available outside the class time and the office hours. I will be glad to help you when you are struggling with an assignment. Or if you have any questions, concerns, complaints, and even compliments, I will do my best to take the time to listen and offer my response. Keep in mind that I am here to help you learn. So again, welcome to Religion 102: Understanding Christianity

Course schedule MWF 1400–1500     PH 108

REL 102

= required

+ = in the library (N.B.: Please do not check them out, so that others may read them in the library.)

bold = primary text(s) for presentation or class (discussion)

> = recommended / suggested

Week 1


Aug 25 M

Aug 27

Aug 29

General orientation: What is Christianity? What is the Christian religion? What is Christian tradition? What is Christian faith? What is Christian doctrine?

Course syllabus (including Evaluation link; review requirements, expectations, and criteria for grading—ask Qs, if you have any)

Westminster College Mission Statement

Fisher: Effective Learning (pp. 3 & 6; also in Inquiry text)


McGrath: pp. xv–xviii; chs. 1.1–1.2new

Nicene Creed; also here and here and here

Apostles' Creed; also here

Easter Quiz (NB: take this "quiz" before reading the following)

1Cor 15.3–10
Mk 15.40•16.8
Mt 27.55–28.20
Lk 23.48–24.53
Jn 19.25–21.25
Acts 1.1–2.4
Gos Pet (N.B.: Q10 on "Easter Quiz")

Think about the research paper topics
Remember: bring your written Qs & Cs to each class (see Participation).
Copy all relevant Web pages and resources to your hard disk or flash drive, etc. for easy access. Keep the copies updated.

>recommended resources (check out)

World-view (ppt link)

Optical conditioning

Optical illusion

World-view (context & perspective)

Number chaos-order

Context & perspective

What do you see?

Xmas Quiz

Greek NT: 1st page


Week 2


Sep 1 M

Sep 3

Sep 5


The Bible

McGrath: chs. 1.3–1.4new

Chalcedonian definition (excerpts); also here)

Reminder: bring your Qs & Cs to each class (see Participation)

Translation comparison

Transmission errors


Week 3


Sep 8 M

Sep 10

Sep 12

McGrath: chs. 1.4–1.5new
McGrath on religious experience, the 4th resource for Christian beliefs and theology

Week 4


Sep 15 M

Sep 17

Sep 19

McGrath: chs. 2.1.–2.2new

Week 5


Sep 22 M

Sep 24

Sep 26

Sep 26: TBA

McGrath: chs. 2.2–2.3new

Week 6


Sep 29 M

Oct 1

Oct 3

McGrath: chs. 2.3–2.4new

Lewis: preface, bk. 1new

Oct 3: movie night with the Nas 7:47 PM-ish
Feel free to bring DVDs of movies you think your classmates should see. For directions click here.

Week 7


Oct 6 M

Oct 8

Oct 10

McGrath: chs. 2.4–2.5new

Lewis: bk. 1new

Week 8


Oct 13 M

Oct 15

Oct 17

Oct 13: midterm exam

Oct 15: midterm examnew

Course syllabus (including Evaluation link; review requirements, expectations, and criteria for grading—ask Qs, if you have any)

McGrath: chs. 3.1–3.3new

Lewis: bk. 2new

Week 9


Oct 20 M

Oct 22

Oct 24

Oct 25–28


McGrath: chs. 3.3–3.5new

Lewis: bk. 2new

Week 10


Oct 29 W

Oct 31

Nov 3

McGrath: chs. 4.1–4.2new

Lewis: bk. 3new

Week 11


Nov 5 W

Nov 7

Nov 10

McGrath: chs. 4.2–4.4new

Lewis: bk. 3new

Week 12


Nov 12 W

Nov 14

Nov 17

McGrath: chs. 5.1–5.2new

Lewis: bk. 4new

Week 13


Nov 19 W

Nov 21

Nov 24


Nov 26–30


Nov 21 & 24: no class (review reading assignments and refine [edit] your research papers)new

McGrath: chs. 5.2–5.4new

Lewis: bk. 4

Week 14


Dec 1 M

Dec 3

Dec 5

McGrath: "Where Next?"new

Gabler: "On the Proper Distinction between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology and the Specific Objectives of Each" (Scottish Journal of Theology 33 [1980]: 133–58)

Meyer: "Faith and History Revisited" (Princeton Seminary Bulletin 10)

Nicene Creed; also here and here and here

Apostles' Creed; also here

Dec 10 W

F  i  n  a  l     e  x  a  m: 1130–1400 (regular classroom)

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!



Na home

Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously. (G. K. Chesterton)

Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die. (Anonymous)

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