“We don’t need books about teaching so much as books that teach.”
Considering Jesus himself taught in a variety of ways—parable, discussion, miracle performance, ritual observance—it seems that there can be no single, definitive, Christian method of teaching. How then should Christian teaching happen, especially in this time of significant change to theological education as an institution?
Mark Jordan addresses this question by first allowing various depictions and instances of Christian teaching from literature to speak for themselves before meditating on what these illustrative examples might mean for Christian pedagogy. Each textual scene he shares is juxtaposed with a contrasting scene to capture the pluralistic possibilities in the art of teaching a faith that is so often rooted in paradox. He exemplifies forms of teaching that operate beyond the boundaries of scholarly books and discursive lectures to disrupt the normative Western academic approach of treating theology as a body of knowledge to be transmitted merely through language.
Transforming Fire consults writers ranging from Gregory of Nyssa to C. S. Lewis, and from John Bunyan to Octavia Butler, cutting across historical distance and boundaries of identity. Rather than offering solutions or systems, Jordan seeks in these texts new shelters for theological education where powerful teaching can happen and—even as traditional institutions shrink or vanish—the hearts of students can catch fire once again.
Table of Contents
A Little Advice 1. Christian Traditions and Shapes of Teaching 2. Recognizing Scenes of Instruction Part One: Bodies 3. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Macrina 4. Marcella Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology 5. Classrooms Part Two: Sciences 6. Bonaventure, The Mind’s Path into God 7. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be 8. Theology and the Limits of Knowing(ness) Part Three: Moving Pictures 9. Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle 10. John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress 11. The Use and Abuse of Imagination Part Four: Children 12. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 13. Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower 14. Education and Resistance Part Five: Barriers 15. Johannes Climacus (with the Assistance of Søren Kierkegaard), Philosophical Crumbs 16. Simone Weil, Letters and Essays 17. Locked Gates Conclusion: Finding or Making Shelter Suggestions for Further Reading
Mark D. Jordan is the R. R. Niebuhr Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. He is the author of ten books, including Telling Truths in Church: Scandal, Flesh, and Christian Speech. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright- Hays Fellowship, and a Luce Fellowship in Theology.
Praise for the TEBT series:
“At once visionary and realistic, the books in this series offer fresh, short, and very different answers to the question, ‘What is theological education for?’ Studies of that question have appeared every couple of decades and seem to assume that ‘one-size-fits-all’ answers are possible. What’s new and groundbreaking here is that a group of theological educators from a broad array of very different religious traditions address the question in conversation with one another and in light of the changing place of faith communities in contemporary culture.” — David H. Kelsey Yale Divinity School
“The authors of this series invite us into an exercise of the imagination—to let loose of the theological school models we know so well and instead craft ways that we teach and learn as if we are living in the new Jerusalem. This is daring work. Will we have the will to grasp it? I encourage you to read and see.” — Emilie M. Townes Vanderbilt University Divinity School
“I would be hard-pressed to name any other resource that even approaches this series in its visionary outlook and wide perspective on the challenges and opportunities currently facing theological education. The authors represent an unparalleled selection of leaders in theological education whose views and experiences point to different paths into the future, all leading to true excellence and relevance in theological education.” — Justo L. González author of The History of Theological Education
“At a time of massive changes in churches and theological schools, as well as in society generally, the twelve-book series Theological Education between the Times presents an indispensable resource. Many people, especially younger generations, question as never before the necessity of religious practice or even belonging to a congregation. In this new context, the repercussions for theological education are many: What adjustments must leaders make to maintain support? How can faculty modify programs to meet the demands of modern times? What message will attract prospective students? Astute theological educators from diverse backgrounds prayed together and engaged in conversations that contributed to the authorship of this lucid and compelling series intended for anyone concerned about the fate of religion in society.” — Katarina Schuth, OSF Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity
“It may be hard to imagine a beautiful book about pedagogy. But Mark Jordan has given us one. More than a primer on great books or their consoling lessons in this age of existential panic about higher education, he shows how they teach. Evocative, disruptive, and learned, Transforming Fire is recommended not only for those interested in theological education, but all those who care about genuine learning.” — Eric Gregory Princeton University
“Teaching takes center stage in these wonderfully compelling recommendations for reinvigorating theological education today. Breaking through the narrow confines of academic norms, Jordan demonstrates in his own beautifully crafted and deeply affecting prose how theological instruction might regain the persuasive power to transform embodied lives.” — Kathryn Tanner Yale Divinity School
“Mark Jordan’s enactment of texts as ‘scenes of instruction’ is a thoroughly welcome, indeed crucial, intervention in the vexed world of curricula for ministry. Via the juxtaposition of texts at once staunchly ‘traditional’ and willfully ‘extra-canonical,’ his book enacts a series of reflective engagements—both of specific texts and of their comparison—that model generosity of spirit and an unmistakable, carefully calibrated critical sensibility. The book is a brief for the vitality of tradition and—what Jordan shows to be the same thing—the simple, perduring fact that all teachers are students, and all students teachers. To read closely is nothing less than to make the word flesh.” — Richard A. Rosengarten The University of Chicago Divinity School
“Anyone who worries that reforming theological education means leaving books behind will have their suspicions disabused by this volume. Through a deft review of a range of classic texts, Mark Jordan defends the importance of books for Christian teaching by reminding us that the value of words lies not simply—or even primarily—in conveying information, but in their power to shape bodies, imaginations, and desires for life in the world. In so doing he provides a sterling example of what he himself calls for: not so much a book about teaching, but a book that teaches.” — Ian A. McFarland Candler School of Theology, Emory University
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