Monday, October 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Books

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

These familiar words from A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens is near the top of the list of the 100 Best First Lines from Novels. Because it is in the public domain, you can read it online, check it out in print form, or buy it many formats. It immediately draws the reader in to want to find out what inspired such a paradox. If you read on, there is a litany of paradoxes in one long sentence. Clearly, someone has mixed feelings about something. We don't yet know who, about what, or why, but we can already relate.

This line came to mind because I have a tale of two books to share. My tale is certainly not as dramatic or well told as the classic Dickens novel but it does involve conflicting values. The two books, New Testament Introduction by Donald Guthrie and Introduction to the New Testament (rev. ed.) by Werner Georg Kummel, were both returned to our Circulation Desk with the sections ripped out of them--15 and 30 pages, respectively. In both cases, the entire section about the book of Romans was missing.

Immediately, I am drawn in by the mystery. Who would do such a thing? Why? How could they justify this behavior? Like the books, I would like to believe that the perpetrator was torn.

I assume it was a student because the books were on Reserve--meaning that only HIU students are allowed to check them out for four hours at a time and they are to remain in the library with them. (Even though it just so happens that there is a class currently being taught on the Book of Romans, all traditional undergraduate students are required to take exegetical courses such as BIB 3115 Literary Exegesis and Analysis for which these introductory works are on Reserve to support. Let me clearly say that there is no witch hunt afoot! I'm just taking the opportunity for a teachable moment and, since it is Theological Library Month, I am once again musing about theological education.)

As is typical of HIU courses, the mission statements of the University and of the College are found at the top of the syllabus for BIB 3420 The Letter to the Romans. They are followed by four general learning objectives of the Pacific Christian College of Ministry and Biblical Studies. Rather than the three R's (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmatic), they endeavor to address the four S's: Scripture, Service, Spiritual Formation, and Skills.

A brief course description follows, including this statement:
"Employing the imagery of the courtroom [to] observe how Paul argues his case before the 'jury' of the Roman church as he readies himself for his return to Jerusalem and his eventual mission to the West." 
Dr. Matson then clearly states his specific learning objectives and assessment criteria where he tells the students what he needs from them in order to know if the goals have been met.

The goal of this course is to help students demonstrate a growing appreciation for knowledge of the Bible by application of its truths for discipling the nations. More objectively, students will demonstrate accurate knowledge of Scripture, a strong exegetical approach to Scripture and competence in appropriate application of the text by: 
  1. demonstrating a thorough knowledge of the contents of Romans... a mid-term and final examination.
  2. utilizing the pertinent tools and methods of historical and literary exegesis in the study of the text of Romans... an exegetical paper.
  3. evidencing awareness of critical issues in Paul’s thought, particularly the contemporary debate about the meaning of justification in Paul... a comparative analysis paper.
Of course, some objectives are easier to assess than others. Knowledge can be demonstrated on exams and papers... but what is the evidence of spiritual formation? And can it be demonstrated in a single semester? If so, how much of it could really be attributed to the efforts of the instructor of one particular course? (Dr. Matson's Romans class is an exegetical course addressing the Scripture objective, not the Spiritual Formation objective.)

Christian education is tricky. We want to measure an intangible outcome.

Back to my tale of two books...

Further down on the course syllabus is the University's academic integrity policy--which mostly refers to plagiarism. There is a range of consequences for "a breach of academic integrity" that could include academic dismissal!

If we knew who tore the pages out of these books, what would be the consequences? Should it be considered on a par with a breach in academic integrity? Should it be ruled simple vandalism which requires restitution? What is the desired outcome? Punishment? Shame? Spiritual formation? How would we know that the outcome had been achieved?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I call the Apostle Paul himself to the stand. I would want who ever did this to learn the lessons Paul hoped for the Romans. It would be personally satisfying to know that, on some level, they recognize the irony of their actions. But I wouldn't know how to determine whether that is accomplished and I'm not sure Paul would claim to either.
Exhibit A: Guthrie

Exhibit B: Kummel

For prior musings on how research might affect us spiritually, see my post on this blog in May 2011:

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Robin Hartman is Director of Library Services at Hope International University. She is curious about how the organization and communication of information shapes society and is committed to equipping students to impact the world for Christ.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seeing the pages missing from these two profound and important exegetical aids deeply saddens me. I spent so much time with both Guthrie and Kummel's volumes while doing my exegetical and Biblical studies papers that I feel nearly as upset by this act as I would if someone had done this to my own books. I hope it was worth it.