new weeks 13 & 14; new paper due date  (posted 17 Apr 2013)

new final exam link ready  (posted 22 Apr 2013)

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)

Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.

(G. K. Chesterton)

In much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase in sorrow.

(Ecclesiastes 1.18)

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


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])


(Ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα.)


Na home

Westminster College

Westminster homepage

 REL 102: Understanding Christianity

Spring Semester • 2013



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.

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

NB: If you have any questions about 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. Keeping notes on the readings is highly recommended. 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 you have about the readings (see Participation). The primary focus throughout the course will be on cultivating the ability to ask informed questions about the readings based on the knowledge you gain along the way.

NB: Not all the assigned readings may be covered in class discussions or exams, but they are required for your edification. The more you refer to them in class and in your work, the more impressive your mastery of the readings will be.

Research paper

You will submit a research paper at on a particular 1) theme or controversy, 2) doctrine, or 3) theologian that interests you. Browse through the table of contents in McGrath's Christianity: An Introduction 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 choice of topic 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 be 3–4 pages long.
Include at least a historical-critical understanding of the text(s) and present possible meanings in it (them).
If possible, include an analysis of the structure of the text(s).

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 the biblical text, whether or not you agree with the course books, commentaries, or opinions presented in class, including mine.


NB: 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. NB: 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 (or Turabian)for help: NoodleTools. Learn the automatic (foot)note function of your word processor.

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


Throughout the semester, you will be responsible for learning significant terms covered in our texts or in class (see the "terms" file on the R-drive). 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 April 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


NB: participation is a significant part of this course.

See my Evaluation page under Participation

for more information and instructions.

final examination


midterm exam


participation (including pop quizzes)



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

NB: If you have any questions about how you are doing in the course, please make an appointment to see me.
Extra credit

You may earn extra credit any time during the semester.

Submit a 2–3 page reflection paper relating something from popular culture (e.g., movie, play, TV show, book, any performance) to a particular Christian topic or figure (consult the instructor). The paper should be mostly critique and not a mere plot summary.

  Do other extra credit assignments described in the file on the R-drive.
NB: 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)new

McGrath, Alister. Christianity: An Introduction. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.

 Recommended books (* = highly recommended)


The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (NRSV), 3rd ed. (NB: table of contents, introductions, essays, tables, glossary, maps—all are very helpful) You may use another Bible, if you wish, but the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) will be the common text for class assignments and discussions. 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 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,
* 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.
* 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, & Web resources (e.g., Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Early Church Textsnew

 Keeping informed and in touch

During the semester check your e-mail regularly for the latest messages from me regarding course matters (e.g., changes in the syllabus). Also visit this page for updates to the syllabus, as well as 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 complete the requirements for the course. To help you do that as well as you can, 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.

 C o u r s e   S c h e d u l e            REL 102

MWF 14001500          PH 108 


Assigned readings

= required

> = recommended

+ = read in the library (do not check out)


Project / texts

bold = primary text(s) for class discussion

red bold= dates to remember

highlight = R-drive file


Class / topics

Week 1

Jan 16 W

Jan 18

Jan 22 T

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

Fisher: Effective Learning

McGrath: Preface; Introduction; ch. 1

Nicene Creed; also here and here and here

Apostles' Creed; also here

recommended resources

Keep (& update) copies of all relevant webpages

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

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 (NB: Q10 on "Easter Quiz")

General orientation

World-view (ppt link)

What is Christianity?

What is the / the Christian religion?

What is Christian tradition?

What is Christian faith?

What is Christian doctrine?

Optical conditioning

Optical Illusions

Adam and Eve

Context & perspective

What do you see?

Xmas Quiz

Greek NT: 1st page

Week 2


Jan 23 W

Jan 25
Jan 28
McGrath: chs. 1–2

>recommended resources

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

Translation comparison

Transmission errors



The Bible

Week 3


Jan 30 W

Feb 1

Feb 4

McGrath: ch. 3

>recommended resources

•The Old Testament

Week 4


Feb 6 W

Feb 8

Feb 11

McGrath: ch. 4

>recommended resources

•The New Testament

Week 5


Feb 13 W

Feb 15

Feb 18

McGrath: ch. 5

McGrath on experience, the 4th resource for Christian beliefs and theologynew

>recommended resources

•The Background of Christian Belief

Week 6


Feb 20 W

Feb 22

Feb 25

McGrath: ch. 6

Lewis: bk. 1

>recommended resources

Nicene Creed; also here and here and herenew

Apostles' Creed; also herenew

•Core Christian Beliefs

Week 7


Feb 27 W

Mar 1

Mar 4–10 (break)

Mar 11 M

McGrath: ch. 6
Lewis: bk. 2

>recommended resources

Nicene Creed; also here and here and herenew

Apostles' Creed; also here
Chalcedonian definition (excerpts); also here)new

•Core Christian Beliefs

Week 8


Mar 13 W

Mar 15

Mar 18

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

McGrath: ch. 6
Lewis: bk. 3

Nicene Creed; also here and here and herenew

Apostles' Creed; also herenew

>recommended resources

Mar 13: midterm exam

•Core Christian Beliefs

Week 9


Mar 20 W

Mar 22

Mar 25

McGrath: ch. 7
Lewis: bk. 4

>recommended resources

Nicene Creed; also here and here and herenew

Apostles' Creed; also here

Chalcedonian definition (excerpts); also here)new

•History of Christianity

Week 10


Mar 27 W

Mar 28 R

Mar 29–

Apr 1 (break)

Apr 3 W
McGrath: ch. 7

>recommended resources

•History of Christianity
Apr 4 R

Movie night at the Nas' 7:48 PM-ish

Feel free to bring DVDs or VHSs of movies you think your classmates should see.

For directions click here.

Week 11


Apr 5 F

Apr 8

Apr 10

McGrath: ch. 7

>recommended resources

•History of Christianity

Week 12


Apr 12 F

Apr 15

Apr 17

McGrath: ch. 8

>recommended resources

Apr 15: Last day for research papers (

•Christianity: A Global View

Week 13


Apr 19 F

Apr 22

Apr 26 F

McGrath: ch. 9
Lewis: bks. 3 & 4

>recommended resources

Apr 26: no class (review course materials; work on research paper)new


•The Life of Faith

Week 14


Apr 29 M

May 1

May 3

McGrath: ch. 9

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

>recommended resources

Apr 29: Last day for research papers (

May 10: Last day for extra credit papers (

Apr 29: no class (review course materials; work on research paper)new

Biblical theology & dogmatic theology


Faith, history & text

•Final thoughts

Final week

May 10 F

F  i  n  a  l     e  x  a  m: 11:30–2:00 (regular classroom)

Have a great summer!

Na home