Connecting Christian History to Present Issues

Thanks to my scholarly wife, i receive the weekly Christian History Newsletter (at $12/year, it’s a bargain). One of the articles in today’s issue is entitled “Sasquatches, Unicorns, and . . . the History Assignment that Works“. The title alludes to the challenges teachers face in helping students connect their studies of the past to the issues in the church today. Chris Armstrong, the Bethel Seminary professor who authored the article, has found the assignment he describes to consistently produce high-quality reflection from students that helps them integrate their academic learning (in this case, a course surveying church history ) with contemporary Christian challenges.

Follow the link above for the details (they’re worth reading), but here’s an abbreviated outline:

  1. “Find a single issue in the church today that concerns you personally.”
  2. “Find a single historical crux—that is, a single document, single event, single person’s idea, etc.—from church history in which some version of that same issue emerges …”
  3. “Study that historical crux (document, event, person’s idea, etc.) by reading a balanced bibliography of primary and secondary sources …”
  4. Write a paper addressing the following three points:
    1. Describe your contemporary issue in detail, “… as if you were writing a brief editorial article for Christianity Today.”
    2. “… write a summary/analysis/interpretation of how that issue played out at your chosen historical crux.” (several important additional details here)
    3. Write a conclusion in “your Christianity Today editorial style”.

Does it seem crazy to suggest you write a paper if you’re not required to by some formal academic program?!? Maybe, but current research in learning theory strongly suggests you learn concepts much better when you write about them — writing for learning. So it’s not really about a grade for a course, it’s about your personal education (e.g. discipleship) in  what it means to follow Jesus today, based on knowing more about what’s happened in church history. This kind of writing is one of the reasons i blog: things simply stick better in my head when i take a little time to think them through and communicate them in writing. So you could always blog your response (if so, give it some distinctive tag like christianhistory so it’s more findable).

2 thoughts on “Connecting Christian History to Present Issues”

  1. What an excellent post! I find that writing always helps me no matter the problem I’m facing, so I always have a notebook or journal for such a purpose. Your suggestion of blogging is fantastic, but I wonder if, besides tagging, there are other ways of marking up important, searchable items within the posts? I remember something about a BibleRef microformat; is it still a going concern, or has anyone translated that to RDF?

  2. If you mean markup of important items within your own posts, the main contenders are microformats and the newer contender, RDFa. Microformats are the thing to use if they fit your semantics, and there are some interesting tools (like Operator for Firefox) that support them: but they’re a closed set. RDFa is still a little geeky, and still only has limited support (SearchMonkey is pretty interesting, though).

    If you mean other people’s content, i use for full web pages, but i don’t have a good way (other than blog posts) to manage and organize content at the micro-level (less than a page).

    BibleRef is still “out there”, but it certainly hasn’t caught fire. One reason is that the Logos RefTagger has made it even easier: for sites where you control the backend (e.g. a blog), just modify your template and you get a very rich system for free. That doesn’t address the problem of extracting references from sites whose content you don’t control: maybe this year we’ll get around to doing something there (like i’ve said for the past two years :-/).

    There was a proposal at (egads, almost 2 years ago now!) to use RDFa for recording Bible references. I still think there’s potential here, though it’s tied to the broader adoption of RDFa. As with many issues like this, the technology isn’t the hard part: it’s the tools and community adoption.

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