Differences Between College and Seminary Textbooks

The paper below, “Differences Between College and Seminary Textbooks,” is an academic paper I presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion/The Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL), Central States Region, which met in St. Louis, Missouri on April 8, 1991.

As you can observe by the date of the presentation, the paper is almost 30 years old. This means that the books I cite in the paper are good books, but they are out of date. If I had to rewrite the paper again, I would select different books to illustrate the task faced by professors.

And yet, the information is still relevant. By this I mean that the principle I used to select textbooks would still be the same. The only thing that would change is the titles of the books.

The reason I want to share this paper with readers of my blog is to help them understand how a college or seminary professor selects a textbook to be used in the classroom.

In the paper below I share my views about textbooks and what motivated me to select one type of textbook and not another. After reading this paper you will discover that professors have different approaches in selecting textbooks to be used in the classroom. In this paper I mention the criteria I used in selecting a book that my students would read in my courses.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN COLLEGE
AND SEMINARY TEXTBOOKS

A paper presented at the annual meeting
of the AAR/SBL, Central States Region
St. Louis Missouri
April 8, 1991

As one evaluates the plethora of textbooks available for adoption in the classroom, either for college or seminary students, the words of Qoheleth become true again if one takes some liberties with the text: “Of making many textbooks there is no end, and the selection of one of them is a weariness of the flesh.”

Two factors weigh heavily upon the proper selection, evaluation, and adoption of the right textbook for classroom use. One factor is the audience for whom the textbook is written: beginning students in colleges and seminaries.

The second factor is the approach the teacher wants to use in the classroom in order to better convey the message and the content of the Old Testament. In this paper I will describe the four different categories of textbooks available for use in the classroom.

Then, I will present a generalized description of the average student in college and seminary today. Finally, I will characterize what I believe beginner students need as they approach the Old Testament for the first time, and then the kind of textbook I would like to see available for use in the classroom.

I. The Students

The most influential factor that affects the selection of a textbook for classroom adoption is the type of audience for whom the book is intended. In the context of our paper, the audience is composed of beginner college and seminary students.

a. College students

Most college students who enter Christian colleges and state universities today come fresh out of high school, with a very limited knowledge of the Old Testament. This knowledge reflects a lay person’s view of the Old Testament learned in Sunday School classes, youth Bible studies, and from sermons preached by pastors whose desire is to inspire and motivate and who seldom deal with the literary and critical problems included in most introductions.

In Christian colleges and universities most students are required to take a beginner’s class in Old Testament. Those majoring in biblical studies are required to take an introductory class and several electives in Old Testament. In state universities, unless students are majoring in biblical studies, they are not required to take Old Testament. Those who take Old Testament classes do so because they want to study the Bible.

b. Seminary Students

Today’s seminary students are different from seminary students of a generation ago. Most students in seminary today are adults who came to seminary after a career in a non-church related job. Many of these second career students bring with them a baggage of psychological and sociological problems that deeply affect their education . Most of them have been out of school for some time.

Many of them attend seminary part-time while working full time . Night classes have become a common event in many institutions in order to meet the demands of commuter and second career students.

In seminary, Old Testament requirements differ from school to school. In most seminaries, students are required to take six hours in Old Testament, while some seminaries require only three hours. Unless students are specializing in Old Testament studies, all Old Testament classes in seminary will be considered as electives.

Most seminary students have something in common with college students: their knowledge of the Old Testament is limited and superficial. Most seminary students come to seminary without having taken one introduction class in Old Testament at the college level. Their only knowledge of the Old Testament comes from sermons, from Church schools, and devotional readings of the Old Testament. It is the kind of knowledge that occurs by osmosis after many years of contact with church life.

As a teacher faces this situation, the question then becomes: how to approach the Old Testament in class and how to teach it to people whose knowledge of the Old Testament is very limited? Or to put it another way: what do these students need the most, when it is a fact that most of them will take only one required class and at the most one or two elective classes in Old Testament?

Do they need content? Should teachers emphasize Old Testament history or should they emphasize the literary, critical, historical, or theological study of the Old Testament? Should teachers give them a little of each and select a textbook that provides a potpourri of Old Testament subjects and hope for the best?

Should teachers take a synchronic or diachronic approach to the study of the Old Testament? Any decision or approach selected by teachers, either in college or seminary, will affect the selection of the textbook to be used in class. In order to meet the needs of college and seminary teachers, many textbooks have been written.

Each textbook represents what the author thinks is the better way to teach the Old Testament. Each book introduces a different approach to the teaching of the Old Testament. Each book is designed to meet the needs of teachers and students.

However, it is true that not every textbook meets all of the needs of students or all the expectations of teachers. The only way to bridge all the gaps is for a teacher to write his or her own textbook. Short of that, teachers have to select one or more books from the scores of texts available.

To be continued.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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