How to teach theology

Seth Godin is one of my favorite bloggers. His brief and poignant observations are generally right on the money.

This past week, Seth posted on “How to teach science.” But reading the post, I quickly replaced the word “science” with the words “theology” and “the Bible” and was amazed at how helpful his guidelines are.

So, here’s his actual post with my replacement words inserted in brackets. Enjoy!

How to teach science [theology]

  1. Start with the method. Unlike just about everything else we teach, science [theology] is not based on human culture or history. If one wants to study literature or geography or the Kings and Queens of England, it begins with knowing all that came before, the work, the names, the lists, the battles. Science [theology], on the other hand, is above culture. Gravity [God] would have existed even if Isaac Newton [the Bible] hadn’t invented it [told us about him]. After two weeks of science [theology] class, students should know how to think like a scientist [theologian].
  2. Science [Theology] makes sense, it’s not magic. One of the challenges of teaching science [theology] in high school [church] is that there seems to be so much to cover, it’s tempting to cram all the formulas, names and theories in front of students. Just as there’s no room to argue about when they fought the War of 1812, we often present science [theology] as a bag of magical facts, not the result of a method [prayerful reflection on the Scriptures], a method students can implement [prayerfully].
  3. Then the vocabulary. Not first, not second, but third. Vocabulary is where science [theology] students tune out. When a word doesn’t mean anything, when it’s a random placeholder, the easiest thing to do is fail to understand it, forever. And then there’s no recovery. A strong vocabulary gives students the foundation to move forward, a weak one is the end, forever.
  4. Metaphors are how we understand. Most of science [theology], even physics [systematic theology] after a few months, is about the invisible, the tiny, the very large, the things under the skin. The more we give students metaphors to hook these concepts into a world that’s understood, the better.

Here are some statements worth avoiding:

Memorize this [verse], it will be on the test [you’ll win a prize in Sunday school].

Don’t worry about it, just be able to answer the question [listen to the sermon].

You understood the concept [passage of Scripture], but were wrong by a decimal point [but didn’t tow our theological line]. Zero credit [Heretic!]

Do the lab [sing the new worship song], even if it doesn’t make sense.

In my (limited) experience, just about everything we do to teach science [theology] is diametrically the opposite of the points listed above.

If it’s worth memorizing, it’s worth even more to understand it.

PS this works with anything scientific [theological], not just school science [seminary theology].