Outcomes for Learning

Well chosen, clearly expressed, learning outcomes (or whatever you call them) are a joy to read. They also help students learn and teachers teach. By defining the skills and abilities that students should achieve, they can guide and give shape to a course.

However, in the real world, learning outcomes are most often prepared in a hurry (after all there are so many more fun things a teacher should be doing, like banging their head against a metaphorical wall in desperation at the latest nonsense poem foisted on them by dull but devious students in place of crisp and informative prose). Almost always, at least in theology, lists of learning outcomes are prepared by teachers who unconsciously envisage their subject as a load of topics to be “covered”. Content is king, isn’t that what they say?

The result is often lists that are too long. (I think so far 22 items is the most complex I have seen!) Lists itemise all the content areas that might be included. If the course is on the Old Testament prophets, then (self)evidently students should:

“know about:

  1. Isaiah
  2. Jeremiah
  3. Ezekiel
  4. The book of the twelve” (if the person who shaped the outcomes is a trendy modern scholar, if not the old fuddy duddy will have helpfully listed all twelve books.)

Learning outcomes prepared by a committee (as when several colleges need a common set) are even better, for each teacher adds their own pet topics to the topic list. Someone is bound to be an Ancient Near Eastern literature specialist, so the students must see the importance of cognate literatures. Another is into intertextuality, we have to include that… You get the idea.

Now, stage two, if you have learning outcomes, how can you demonstrate they are being achieved by your students? You assess them. All of them, since these are the things every student will have learned!

Just tell me one thing! With such a long complex and content oriented list, how?

Could you be trusted?

What would happen if somehow God in his infinite wisdom managed to explain to us the paradox of suffering in a world created by a good God? What if God had offered the simple brief explanation in a few verses of Scripture?

That’s the thought experiment professional Psychologist and amateur Theologian Richard Beck proposes in his latest blog post. Over the years I’ve often pointed to Richard Beck’s superb and thought provoking posts, as then you should go read this one! For those who need a taster, here is his (almost) conclusion:

And when you think about it, about what it would be like to have The Explanation, you’re struck with just how much damage and violence we’d do to each other with The Explanation.
Everytime we encountered a victim or a suffering, hurting person, we’d throw The Explanation at them.
So it seems to me that the most loving thing God could do for us, in the face of suffering, is to refuse to give us The Explanation. Even if we cried out in the darkness for the Explanation. Because without The Explanation we’re forced into silence and solidarity. Which is exactly where we need to be.

The Marcion Option

Still reconnoitering the book I was struck by this in the intro to chapter 3 (93-4), I find it difficult to see how he can defend the claim whilst reading passages like Mat 5:17ff. or Luke 16:14ff.:

[T]he NT as a whole understands Jesus to be the supreme revelation of God that culminates and supersedes all others.

The word “supersedes” seems to me Marcionite, and in direct contradiction to what Boyd has argued elsewhere. I’ll have to see what he really means when I look closer. (On similar grounds to claims that when Paul appears to deny women’s teaching ministry in church settings he cannot mean this as it contradicts his practice elsewhere, I will need to look for other ways to understand what Boyd is saying…

Another simple argument

if something we would otherwise always call “evil”—such as infanticide—must be considered “good” on the grounds that God commanded it, then we have to admit that there is no longer any intelligible distinction between what we mean by “good,” when applied to God, and what we would mean by “evil.” And on the principle that words are only intelligible if they meaningfully contrast with their opposite, this entails that the word “good,” when applied to God,is devoid of meaning.

Gregory A. Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2. Fortress Press, 2017, 387.

In other words there is a difference between saying that we cannot understand God and God’s ways, and saying that something plainly and obviously wrong is right because God is described in Scripture as commanding it.

Marcion redivivus?

I begin to understand why Boyd has been accused of Marcionism when I read at the start of chapter 8:

The problem of relating the Old and New Testaments is as old as the church itself, and the incongruity of the OT’s violent divine portraits with the nonviolent, self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing agape-love of God revealed in the crucified Christ represents the apex of this challenge.

Gregory A. Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2. Fortress Press, 2017, 335.
Though his subsequent remarks make clear how far such is from his intention. Such thoughts, as I continue my initial reconnaissance of the books, are beginning both to shape some questions for my review to try to answer, and yet at the same time make me impatient to see (in book two I assume) more details of his approach to a solution.

Not such a canonical view?

It seems that Boyd’s approach to reading ‘canonically’ will be the diametric opposite of Childs’ canonical reading, which seeks to take the divine inspiration1 of the whole canonical process, from oral delivery or early drafts through to incorporation and placing/ordering in the biblical codices, into account as contributors to the canonical meaning of Scripture.

[F]or a distinctly theological reading of Scripture such as we will be conducting in this work, nothing of consequence hangs in the balance on the extent to which we can (for example) confidently discern earlier, previously independent sources that were redacted together in the process of the canon’s formation. The theological reading of Scripture simply takes the final “God-breathed” form of the canon as its starting point, and it allows the interpretation of every particular passage to be influenced by the canon as a whole.

Gregory A. Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2. Fortress Press, 2017, 6.
Question: Is it Boyd’s desire to be an American Evangelical that leads him to this reductionist view of Scripture?

  1. A term Boyd disparages. []

Does the Bible depict ‘God as he appears to us’?

Hence, any Scripture that ascribed change or suffering to God was typically interpreted to depict God as he appears to us, not as he actually is. But until rather recently, no one has seen the need to apply this same strategy to reconcile Scripture with God’s moral attributes, especially as they are revealed in the crucified Christ.

Gregory A. Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2. Fortress Press, 2017, xxxviii.

Spinning for God

Concerning his study (aimed at a book) of places where “God commanded and engaged in violence in the OT.” Boyd writes:

My goal, which is shared by most Evangelical books addressing this topic, was to put the best possible “spin” on the OT’s violent portraits of God, demonstrating that God was justified in each instance in which he commanded and/or engaged in violence.

Gregory A. Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2. Fortress Press, 2017, xxix.

This is surely a powerful argument that something is rotten, that people feel driven to ‘spin’? But how many ‘Evangelicals’ find themselves ‘spinning for God’ like Job’s friends.

The experience of reviewing ‘The Crucifixion of the Warrior God’

Gregory A. Boyd, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2. Fortress Press, 2017.

This is not a book review. I will be writing a review of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, but this is not it. This post will reflect on the experience of reviewing this work, it is a sort of meta-review. Any that follow it may continue this reflection, or may address my responses to aspects of Boyd’s argument that interest me. I do not expect either of these things will appear in the review when I write it.

The book is enormous, two volumes nearly 1500 pages, seven sections six of which are themselves the size of small books. The work also addresses what is evidently one of the key “conundrums” for early 21st century Christians. Reconciling the texts of terror that appear to depict God as delighting in or commanding indiscriminate violence with the way of love revealed supremely in Christ. Extreme ‘solutions’ are sometimes proposed (at least on Facebook, but sometimes in more rarefied academic circles). Some suggest removing chunks of the Bible (most simply, but in the end not effectively, the Marcionite one Testament Bible).1 Others harmonise Scripture with their theology by the claim that, since God is God, whatever God commands is right and just.2

The book has powerful claims made for it before we reach the contents list. A large number of prominent biblical scholars and theologians (mainly from the Evangelical end of the scholarly spectrum) endorse Boyd’s work as ground-breaking, insightful and revolutionary.

My review will probably need to offer less than one word per page, so I will not be able to give much of an overview. Better scholars than me have evaluated it as important even seminal, so my review will not be evaluative. I think what I can realistically, and I hope helpfully, aim for is to assists people to decide if this is a book they should invest the time to address.3

  1. Not effective since the NT also contains its own texts of terror. []
  2. Whether this is true or not, it is not helpful. Since it risks replacing a God who is wrong with one who is a monster. []
  3. It only costs US$60, so the per page or per inch of shelf-space cost is very low! But at 1445 pages 1250 if you leave off the appendices, and perhaps only some 700 if you overlook the footnotes ;) it demands a considerable investment of time.  []

Learn Hebrew or Greek at home

The indefatigable Jim West is offering private tuition in Hebrew and/or Greek to anyone who is interested in learning to read the Bible (and probably lots of hard work – learning languages is fun, useful and inspiring, but always hard work.

Jim is thoroughly non-accredited and does not offer any diploma or certificate so only those who want to learn need apply!