Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Resources: The Theology Program and 2 New Podcasts

I am currently taking the Spring 2008 Introduction to Theology course provided by The Theology Program (TTP) of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries. It's a program that describes itself as "a comprehensive and in-depth training program for the layperson". So far I have enjoyed the course, which personally I'm taking as a way of further exploring the idea of going to seminary.

However I believe most folks who take this course and enroll in TTP are not necessarily intending to enter seminary but nevertheless desire quality, seminary-level resources for learning theology. Thus far I have found the materials to be of excellent quality (downloaded videos and workbook, website resources). Course books must be purchased, although alternate free readings are offered to those who may not be able to afford the required textbooks. Each week, there are 2 online class sessions in which students interact with the instructor and with each other. Weekly assignments and comments are posted online and students may interact with one another's comments on the course blog. The course may be taken for free, or students may enroll in the more challenging certificate program. Certificate courses are $100 per course, and some scholarships are available. Successful completion of the series of six courses earns a certificate.

Instructors for the course are C. Michael Patton, Th.M, and Rhome Dyck, Th.M, both graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary. The aim of the program is to learn about theology historically and biblically, and to gain a methodology for the study of theology that is pursued in an irenic (peaceful), rather than a polemic fashion. Though Mr. Patton is a Calvinist and a cessationist, the program does not attempt to convert participants to these particular views. Rather, the course is about learning how to "do theology". As written on their website,

The contents of TTP are created from a broadly evangelical perspective, engaging other traditions in a persuasive yet gracious manner. In short, we seek to help people think theologically by understanding what they believe and why they believe it.

It has been quite interesting to interact online with others from varied backgrounds who are taking the course, and the weekly assignments and discussions are challenging in that they don't ask students just to regurgitate answers, but to thoughtfully engage with the material. of course the more time and effort one puts into the course work, the more benefit one will derive from the material.

My only frustrations (which may be more personal rather than problems with the course) is that the chat discussion sessions seem a bit superficial in their engagement with the material. I don't think it's easy in a chat room environment to stay focused on the material and not be distracted by all the extra commenting going on. My other frustration is with the broad, irenic approach that characterizes the program. On the one hand, I can see the benefit of this approach, in its openness to hear and engage all viewpoints. Having an accurate understanding of other viewpoints, even those one disagrees with, would help one to think through one's own positions better and develop more strongly considered convictions. On the other hand, I think it important to come to conclusions, and it seems that the irenic method may lend itself to the postmodern tendency of endless discussion and reluctance to point to what is true and to reject what is false. Nonetheless taking the course has been a good experience and I would recommend it especially to those who have no plans to attend seminary but want a structured, quality program for gaining a strong foundation in Christian theology.

The Program also emphasizes trying to bring this program into local churches, and persuades interested students to facilitate this process. Since many if not most churches don't provide systematic theological training, this program may be useful for helping laypeople learn theology. But I'm not yet entirely sure whether I think a program like this would be superior to one that teaches more didactically (from a reformed viewpoint).

New Podcasts/Players- "The Theology Program: Introduction to Theology Course" and "Best of Apologetics Podcast"

Having discovered a method for creating podcasts of audio materials posted on the web, I have created two new resources. One is an audio podcast of all the sessions from The Theology Programs- Introduction to Theology Course, which I described above. You'll find this resource at this link on my Netvibes page.

Also, under the Apologetics section here on Jordan's View, I've created a "Best of Apologetics Podcast Player", into which I'll regularly post Christian apologetics audio from a variety of sources.

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