The assignments for this course are:

Participation (10% of final grade): every week, students will collaborate on preparing questions for ministry practitioners.  These will be discussed during the first and subsequent class sessions.  Students who are taking the class asynchronously will email questions to Dr Stepp (pstepp@dallas.edu) each week in time for the class to discuss them prior to hosting the next guest minister.

Discussion Forums (20%) (addresses outcome 1): explain the features, implications, underlying rationales of various views on women’s roles in the church.

  • Week 1, professors will assign a specific people / sources who have discussed our question (e.g., John Piper, Junia Project, Scot McKnight, Christians for Biblical Equality, Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, etc.) to students.
  • With professor’s guidance, students will find a concise statement of their source’s views, read, summarize, and critique. DO NOT POST THIS IN THE DISCUSSION FORUMS; this is preliminary work for writing your posts.
  • Before class begins week 3, students will post the following in the Discussion Forum:
    • Where they found their source’s views (web address, book or article reference.)
    • A neutral (non-critical) summary of the source’s views (150 words)
    • What was good, or what they liked; or what they agreed with and why.
    • What was bad, what they didn’t like; what they disagreed with and why.
    • What surprised them, and / or what they learned that they didn’t know before.
  • In addition to their original set of posts, students will interact substantively with three other students’ posts.  Substantive interaction = more than “Me too” or “That’s dumb” or “That’s brilliant”.  Students must interact with at least ONE other student before class begins on week 4. Students must interact with two more students before the end of the class.  Students must make a total of six substantive comments, not counting their initial posts.

Summary of biblical teaching paper (20%) (see outcome 2): the ideal paper will summarize women’s leadership activity in the Old Testament (Deborah, Hulda, others) and the New Testament (Jesus’ ministry, Paul’s ministry, Acts, Paul’s letters.)  Can be an outline—just use consistent format, correct spelling, neat appearance.  Five pages +, single spaced.  THIS IS NOT A RESEARCH PAPER.  All references, including biblical, must be cited parenthetically.  Due by the beginning of class, week 4.

Exegetical presentation (30%) (see outcome 3): Students will be assigned specific New Testament passages and use Fee & Stuart’s model to explain and apply their assigned text.  Factors that will be assessed include:

  • How well students explain the cultural backgrounds and possible situations in the life of the early church pertinent to the passage.
  • How well the application balances the teaching of the assigned passage against other pertinent passages.
  • How well students relate the text in context to parallel situations in today’s church.

Students who do not attend live (either face-to-face or via Zoom webconference) will need to record their presentations to YouTube and post a link for their presentation to a dedicated thread in the Discussion Forums on Moodle.

In an online poll on Moodle after the first week of the class, students will indicate how they plan to make their presentations: live face-to-face, live via webconference, or by recording uploaded to Youtube.

Students who do not make a live presentation must interact with each other in the Discussion Forum (in addition to the interaction under assignment #2.)  Students in this forum must interact with three other students in this forum before the end of the class.  Students must make a total of six substantive comments, not counting their initial posts.

Personal statement project (20%) (see outcome 4): before 11.59 p.m. CST, Monday, 2 November, students will turn in a project meeting outcome #4 (page 2, above).  This is a project that the students create themselves, not something found from another source.

Research or reflection papers will be acceptable, but creativity = at least 10% of the grade. The less text, the better; BE CREATIVE.  If students turn in a statement using visual arts—a sculpture, painting, website, etc., they can add a brief explanation.

Death, Be Not Proud


Several recent deaths in and around my circle; I always remember John Donne’s famous poem at times like this.

I LOVE how Donne depicts death’s temporariness against the vastness of eternity, the childhood bully aspect of death’s power and terror, someday to be outgrown when even death shall die.

Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

WOMEN IN MINISTRY SYLLABUS, PT 1: Student Learning Outcomes


What follows is part of the syllabus for the class I’m teaching in Dallas Christian College’s FLEXCampus™ starting this week.

Catalog description of the class:

A study of women’s roles in Christian leadership from a theological, historical, and practical perspective.

Student Learning Outcomes:

This class focuses on a single complex question, “What limitations (if any) should churches today place on the leadership roles taken by women?” Students will:

EXPLAIN the features, implications, and underlying rationales of the two major views (egalitarian and complementarian) and variations thereof on the issue of women’s ministry / leadership roles in the church.

  1. SUMMARIZE the biblical teaching on the question.
  2. INTERPRET one of the major NT passages (as assigned) addressing the question by applying the model from Fee & Stuart (How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, chapters 3-4) and formulating recommendations for churches today.
  3. CREATE a mature project explaining the student’s own views on the issue, their reasons for holding this position, and how this class has affected (either affirming or changing) their position.  The project can be a research or reflection paper, but creativity (e.g., visual arts, mixed media, etc.) will be rewarded.

Required texts:

James Beck and others, Two Views on Women in Ministry, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).  ISBN: 978-0310254379.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). ISBN: 978-0310246046.

Weekly Recap


In Theology for Normal People, I wrote four new posts this week about reading the Bible theologically; the first is at https://theophiluspunk.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/1-07-how-i-approach-theology/

I won’t be making any new Theology for Normal People posts next week. I’m writing a new class on Women in Ministry, and need to get it ready for Thursday night, 24 September. I will post a couple of things from that class next week; not sure what days yet.

But I’ll be back to Theology for Normal People on the 28th, with new posts addressing the question, “Who / What is God?”

1.10. How I Approach the Bible, pt 2


As I said:

My main approach to theology is biblical theology. In other words: I start with passages from the Christian Bible and move from those texts into descriptions of the things I’m studying, the things I see there.

When I approach the Bible, Old or New Testament, I try to read it two ways. First, I try to read it historically; that’s the post preceding this one.

Second, I try to read it as part of the biblical story. The Bible consists of 66 books, written by dozens of authors over a period of 1,600 years, but it has been arranged to tell a single story. There are echoes and internal threads within those 66 books, allusions and cross-references, conversations between the different authors, all of which connect the separate books into a single entity, a single story.

An alliterative shorthand description of the plot of the story goes like this:

  1. CREATION: God creates the world, and the creatures of the world. And as the crown of creation, God creates man and woman. Everything God created is good. Everything has a purpose and fulfills its purpose.
  2. CORRUPTION: the humanity God created rebels against him. Their rebellion doesn’t just affect them, it effects all of creation. The parts of creation begin to forget their purpose, and don’t do exactly what they were created to do. All of creation is cursed because of human rebellion.
  3. COVENANT: in order to deal with the corruption, God seeks out a family of people (Abraham’s family, the Jews) who will be more or less (frequently less) faithful to him. He promises to be their God, and to keep them as his people, even when they aren’t faithful. He promises to bless them so that he can bless the whole world through them.
  4. CHRIST: the ultimate fulfillment of this promise to Abraham is Jesus of Nazareth. In him, God the creator became a human being. He lived a life of perfect love and service, was executed for his trouble, and rose from the dead. His resurrection seals God’s redemption of creation; it undoes the curse from #2. To save his creation, the creator had to bear the curse himself.
  5. CHURCH: in order to spread the news of his victory over the curse, God worked through the followers of Jesus, those who were more or less (frequently less) faithful to him. He is their God, and they are his people, even when they aren’t perfectly faithful. He promises to bless them so that he can bless the world through them.
  6. COMPLETION: God’s redemption of creation is not yet complete. For a time, he allows people to hear about what he has done and decide if they want to be involved in it or not. But the time of deciding is not infinite; when individuals die, God judges them based on what they did with the knowledge of his plan that they had. And the day is coming when God will replace the present creation with a new, uncorrupted creation.

1.09. How I Approach the Bible, pt 1


As I said:

My main approach to theology is biblical theology. In other words: I start with passages from the Christian Bible and move from those texts into descriptions of the things I’m studying, the things I see there.

When I approach the Bible, Old or New Testament, I try to read it two ways.

First, I try to read it historically. That means asking the question, “What did the writers mean to say when they wrote this?” What was going on in their churches, in the nation of Israel, in their lives, when they wrote the words of the Bible passage I’m studying?

What did the writers want their readers to get from this text? I’m assuming they wrote their parts of the Bible to be understood. It’s not just a pastiche or scam, or something that was written to make the writers sound wise but incomprehensible.

I’m assuming that the writers wanted the things they wrote to have effect; the readers were supposed to DO SOMETHING with what they wrote: believe something different, do something different (or keep on doing something difficult the same way, refusing to give up.)

These are HISTORICAL questions. What did the writers mean when they wrote this? What did the readers understand when they read this?

1.08.  Me and the Bible


As I said:

My main approach to theology is biblical theology. In other words: I start with passages from the Christian Bible and move from those texts into descriptions of the things I’m studying, the things I see there.

My graduate degrees (MA, PhD) are in New Testament Studies. That means that I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the background of the New Testament. I can read Greek, the language that the New Testament was written in. I have a fairly broad knowledge of the history, culture, and literature, from the time of Alexander the Great (330’s BC) to the end of the 2nd century AD, about the time of Marcus Aurelius. I know a little bit about a lot of things from this period.

I know a lot about the documents of the New Testament: the arguments about who wrote what and when, the arguments about the content of the different documents and what the writers did and didn’t mean when they wrote.

Does that mean I’m an expert on the New Testament? Kind of, I guess.

When I teach the New Testament, I try to think of myself as a tour guide. I’m leading a group of people through terrain that I’ve looked at long enough to have some ideas, some opinions about what’s there. I’ve seen a lot of what’s there, and thought about a lot of what’s there.

But have I seen everything? Of course not.

Is it possible that one of the people in my tour group will ask me a question I haven’t thought through adequately? Is it possible that one of them will see something I haven’t seen, or made connections I haven’t made? OF COURSE! That’s what makes it fun to be a tour guide.

I’m a student before I’m an expert. I’m an expert because I’ve been a student for such a long time, and will continue to be a student until I die.

1.07. How I Approach Theology


My main approach to theology is biblical theology. In other words: I start with passages from the Christian Bible and move from those texts into descriptions of the things I’m studying, the things I see there.

About the Bible, in case you don’t know: the Christian Bible is usually divided up into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Old Testament is the story of Abraham and his family, the Jews. Four thousand years ago, God made a covenant with Abraham. In that covenant, God promised that he would belong to Abraham, bind himself to Abraham, for better and for worse. He would be Abraham’s God, and Abraham would be his man.

God promised to bless Abraham, and by blessing Abraham he would bless the whole world. Christians understand the ultimate fulfillment of this promise to be Jesus, the “Son of David, Son of Abraham,” as the Gospel of Matthew calls him (Matthew 1.1 and 1.17).

The New Testament is the story of Jesus and his followers, the Church. Two thousand years ago, God the creator entered his creation and became a human being, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He lived a life of perfect love and servanthood. He taught people a completely new way to relate to God, to themselves, and to each other.

Because he threatened their power base, and exposed their hypocrisy, the Jewish religious leaders had him arrested and executed by the Romans. But because he was God in the flesh, and to seal God’s victory over human rebellion and its consequences, God raised him from the dead.

After his resurrection, he empowered his followers to spread his teachings about how to relate to God, to themselves, and to each other. At its best, that’s what the Church is. That’s what Christianity is supposed to be.

1.06. How Worldviews Work


A few examples.

1. Let’s say John believes that society’s systems are designed to help rich, powerful people screw poor people out of the little they have, so that the rich can get richer at their expense.

And let’s say Gina has a somewhat opposite belief, that society works if everyone does their part, that orderliness and conformity lead to good outcomes for everyone, that we should assume the people in authority are honest and act society’s best interests.

John and Gina have their money in the same bank. The bank president spends several months siphoning money out of hundreds of accounts, including John’s and Gina’s. Based on their beliefs, John and Gina are likely to respond in completely different ways. Even if the FDIC makes both of them whole in the end, so that neither is permanently out any of the money from their accounts, they’re STILL going to have very different reactions to the whole episode.

2. Let’s say John believes that society’s systems are racist. Racism is an institutional thing, not just prejudices that reside in the hearts of the majority. And police, being part of the system, function to maintain law and order to benefit the majority at the expense of minorities.

And let’s say Gina believes that racism is primarily private. Laws should be color-blind, and not favor one group over another. Police maintain law and order to benefit everyone, to keep everyone safe, to restrain disorder and chaos and evil.

How are the two of them going to react when a black woman dies in police custody after a traffic stop? After a young black man is shot dead by police during an encounter where the policeman’s description is very different from the prevalent description in the community where the encounter took place.

These are examples of how worldviews work. What you see when you look at an event, an issue, depends a great deal on where you sit (your experiences and background, what we sometimes call “locations.”) This is an important realization; what you see depends a great deal on where you sit. “Where you sit” is a synonym for “worldview.”

1.05. Theology and Worldview


Several times in the last few posts, I referred to “What they think about God and how they understand themselves in the light of it.”

These are two questions that relate to “worldview.” A worldview is a mental framework, a set of attitudes and assumptions you make about how the world works, about what’s important and valuable (and what’s not) that tells you how to react to situations and events.

One way to think of worldviews is by listing the questions that worldviews try to answer. Different people have tried to define worldview with slightly different lists of questions. I think these six provide a good, thorough, basic picture.

1. What (who) is God? If you don’t believe in God as he is traditionally conceived of, “What is ultimate reality?” will do. If you believe “ultimate reality” is that the physical, observable universe is all that there is, and that nothing spiritual or beyond the physical universe exists, then you’ve answered the question.

2. What am I? Or “What does it mean to be human?” If I may oversimplify: Christians believe that human beings are special creations of a loving God. Atheists generally believe that we are the result of eons of evolution and chance. (I said it was oversimplified.)

3. Where am I? Or “How should I understand the world around me?” Is this world somehow under the control of a loving, powerful God, who for his own purposes is allowing things to happen that we don’t understand? Or is this world random and chaotic, with suffering one of the few constants?

4. What’s the problem? Most worldviews admit early on that the world isn’t what it’s supposed to be. For Christians, the Bible seems to teach that the world—which God made good and perfect—has been corrupted, warped by human rebellion against God. Other belief systems see other culprits: economic inequality, superstitious belief in and dependence on religion, violence and speciesism, etc.

5. What’s the solution? This goes along with #4. Is there a solution to the problem? If the problem is violence, then universal embrace of pacifism and non-violence is the answer. If the problem is economic inequality, then creating a society that has no classes, where all are equal and equally provided for, is the answer.

(Buddhism is interesting here, because it says that the idea that there’s something wrong is itself an illusion. The problem with the world isn’t that there’s a problem with the world, but rather that we THINK there’s a problem. If we’d get rid of the desire for things to be different, Buddhism says, then we could be happy.)

6. Where are we headed, and how fast? OK, that’s two questions, but they’re woven together. Is history progressing in a particular direction? Some worldviews are optimistic, and see the world rising toward greater sophistication and universal prosperity? Other worldviews are pessimistic, and believe history is cyclical; we’re headed for another dark ages, another time of chaos, after which the world will experience another time of progress, which will be followed by …