Saint John the
HST 501: Christian Doctrine and
This introductory course is an examination of the
Christian tradition and of Christian self-understanding in theological,
historical, social, and cultural contexts. Its themes include among
others the meaning of God, the nature of religious experiences, Jesus in
the Gospels, the development and history of theological doctrines, the
historical roots of Christian diversity, and the relevance of
Christianity in the 21st century global world.
Core Learning Objective 1 is to describe and compare
central Christian ideas and practices with three other global regions
and cultures: the Mediterranean world (Rome, in particular), Arabic
cultures (centered around Islam) and Asia.
Core Learning Objective 2 is for students to reflect critically on
their own beliefs and understandings in relationship to the larger human
experience of religion.
Introduction to Christianity, 4th Edition, by Mary Jo
Weaver and David Brakke (Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009).
*This course relies on a steady encounter with the
Hebrew and Christian scriptures in the Bible. All students should have
ready access to a bible, either in print or in electronic form (e.g.,
You will write two short essays (3-4 pages and
double-spaced) of an analytical nature selected from five paper topics.
The essays will give you a chance to reflect on the readings we will
discuss in class and respond to questions listed on the course schedule
There will be two tests during the course of the class.
There is no final exam, however. Instead, you will write a research
Students are expected to write a research paper 2000-2500
words in length (approximately 8 to 10 pages) not counting notes and
references. The paper will focus on one of six possible topics:
1. Knowledge of God
Christianity, like all revealed religions, claims knowledge of God and
attempts to negotiate what living according to Gods will means and
implies. This paper will focus on how Christians envisage God can be
known and can include such themes as revelation, natural theology,
scripture, religious experience, as well as a discussion of their
2. The Word of God
Christianity considers the Bible revelatory of God, that is, of Gods
actions in the world and of Gods will for the world. However, what is
considered canonical and how the biblical texts should be read has been
an issue of discourse for as long as Christianity has existed. This
paper will focus on the Bible, its history, approaches to
interpretation, and theological implications of specific ways of reading
3. Theology and Philosophy
Christian theology and philosophy have always been closely related. In
fact, as Catholic theologian Karl Rahner once observed, theology and
philosophy are inevitably interlocked. Throughout history, philosophy
has shaped Christian theology and, thus, the way Christians understand
themselves in their relationship to God. This paper will address this
interlocking of theology and philosophy by analyzing one particular case
in point (e.g., Aristotelian philosophy in Thomistic theology).
4. Ancient Religion Contemporary Questions
As a religious tradition of two millennia, Christianity encounters
contemporary questions as a challenge. More often than not, the
Christian message seems to clash with contemporary worldviews, moral
sentiments, philosophical positions, or even the experience of the
individual. This paper will look at one contemporary issue that either
seemingly or really is in conflict with the Christian worldview. It will
reflect on this tension and either attempt to resolve it or substantiate
the claim that the situation is indeed irreconcilable. Themes may
include topics such as the relationship of Christian theology and the
natural sciences, sexuality, medical ethics, the role of women, etc.
5. The Trinity
The Trinity constitutes the central faith commitment for numerous
Christians. But what does one mean when one says that Jesus the Christ
is the incarnation of God? Or how do Christians envision the divine to
be immanently present in the world qua the Holy Spirit? This paper will
look at the development of Trinitarian though throughout Christian
6. Christianity and Politics
As the last presidential elections have once again shown, Christianity
has long played a significant role in US American politics. This paper
will take a look at how different Christian groups have used politics to
further their goals and how politicians have used Christianity to
Additional information on this project will be provided by the
1. Introduction to the Course:
Aims, Themes, Expectations
This introduction will give a brief overview over the course,
its aims and themes as well as its requirements. We will take a close
look at the syllabus address some of the underlying question of a class
concerned with the Christian tradition.
2. Sources of Religion
Given that Christianity is a revealed religion, we will focus
on what Christians consider the sources of revelation. These include,
among others, experiences, historical events, but also the Bible.
Types of revelation.
Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 1.
3. Beginning of Religion
The unit will seek to establish the metaphysical foundations
of theology. In many ways, theology still is what St. Anselm captured in
his famous formula fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking
understanding). Here, now, the attention seems to shift from
understanding in the sense of intellectual control to a more existential
grasp of ultimate reality that affects ones entire life. We will also
ask how theology differs from religion.
Fides quaerens intellectum.
Theology as a science.
Faith as ultimate concern.
Experiences and their interpretations vis-ΰ-vis personal and general
Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 2; Mk 1; Mt 11:25-30.
4. Who was Jesus?
Was Jesus human or God or both, fully human and fully God?
This unit will focus on the Bible accounts of Jesus and their early
Jesus as Middle Eastern Jew.
Jesus as the Christ the Messiah.
Son of God.
Incarnation of God.
5. Christianity and Rome
Rome and Christianity share a long history. We will address
the question how Rome influenced the early course of events in
Roman occupation and religious responses.
Green, Ch. 1
6. Paul and the First Christians
We will look at the life and work of Paul. We will try to understand the
meaning of conversion and the role it played in early Christianity as
well as perhaps today. We will ask specifically how Christian theology
emerged and explained what Christian Jews believed.
Paul the Apostle.
Early Christian Jews.
Acts 7:55-8:3; 9:1-30; I Cor 12, 13.
7. Film TBA
8. Early Christianity: The Emergence of the Church
From its very beginning, the Christian Church struggled with theological
interpretations of the life of Jesus and the Christ event. One important
question that emerged during these early days was where the authority
was to decide what true Christian beliefs are.
The apostle's experiences.
Internal conflicts in the early Church.
External conflicts of the early Church.
Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 3; Lk 15; Acts 2:42-47.
9. The Patristic Period
The first five hundred years of Christianity saw important theological
and ecclesiological developments. We will look at the key events and
doctrines, as well as at some of the important thinkers of this
important period. We will look at some of the early controversies about
certain fundamental Christian faith commitments.
Centers of theological activities.
Important Church Fathers.
Christology and early Trinitarian theology
10. Constantine and Creeds
Early on, two distinct forms of Christianity emerged; Roman Catholicism
in the Latin west and Orthodox Christianity in the Byzantine east. While
both traditions shared significant theological overlaps, they also
differed on fundamental questions. In 1054 it finally came to the fist
major split in the Christian church. We will take a closer look at this
schism and this very important period in the history of Christianity.
Orthodox Christianity vs. Roman Catholic Christianity.
Rise of the Papacy.
Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 4.
11. The Nicene Crisis
This unit will take a closer look at the underlying question of the
Nicene ecumenical council. German theologian Adolf von Harnack
summarized the issue that dominated most fourth century thus: Is the
divine that has appeared on earth and reunited man with God identical
with the supreme divine, which rules heaven and earth, or is it a
demigod? Arius argued that any scriptural references to Christs
divinity were merely courtesy titles. Athanasius responded that the
divinity of Christ was central to a Christian understanding of
salvation. With the Nicaean council convened by Constantine himself the
debate was settled in favor of Christs divinity.
Mystery of the Trinity
12. The Middle Ages and Renaissance
The Middle Ages were a rather productive and creative period for
Christian theology. Here, the works of Greek philosophers such as
Aristotle were introduced to Western Christian thought by Islamic
scholars often first in Arabic translation. The Middle Ages saw the
invention of the university and the rise of scholasticism, which
doubtlessly influenced not only theology, but certainly also the
development of the
Founding of universities.
Fall of Constantinople.
Reason in theology.
13. Test 1
14. Islamic Influences
The unit will look in some detail at how Islamic philosophy, in
particular its creative appropriation of Greek thought, influenced
theology in the Latin west.
15. Anticipating Scholasticism:
Anselms Ontological Argument
We will look at one of the hallmark thinkers of the medieval
west, Anselm of Canterbury. In particular, we will analyze his
ontological argument for the existence of God.
Ontological argument for the existence of God.
Being than which nothing greater can be conceived.
Read - Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogium
16. Scholastic Dialectic:
Thomas Five Ways
One of the towering theological minds of the theology of the
Middle Ages was doubtlessly Thomas Aquinas. To this day his Summa
theological stands out as one of the most important theological
treatises in Christianity. Its main achievement was the synthesis of
Aristotelian philosophy with Christian theology. We will look at Thomas
famous Five Ways of proving the existence of God.
Five Ways (infinite regress).
Reading - Thomas Aquinas, Summa theological, book 1,
17. The Reformation
The sixteenth century was a time of major upheaval in the
Church. The Reformation sought to return the Church to what its
proponents conceived of as a more biblical foundation of faith and
morality. This unit will look at the beginnings of the Reformation
movement, starting with efforts prior to Luthers Protestant
Reformation, as well as at the Lutheran Reformation itself.
Roman Counter Reformation.
Council of Trent.
Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 5.
18. The Reformation Continues
In this unit we will take a look at how the Reformation
spread and diversified.
Peace of Westphalia.
Elizabeth I and Anglicanism.
Enlightenment and Deism.
Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 6
19. Film "A Man for All Seasons"
20. Modern Christianity
The Church moves out of its Western European context to
become truly a world Church. Theology engages modern philosophy and
opens up entirely new avenues of theologizing.
21. Vatican IIs Aggironamento
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) constitutes a major
reformational shift in the Roman Catholic Church. We will look at some
of its motivating ideas and how the Church of Rome interprets its
22. Christianity and the Natural
Often considered irreconcilable opponents, theology and
science are in fact closer related than commonly believed. We will look
at the relationship of the two and see how a constructive relationship
can be established.
23. Christian Globalization
Christianity expanded to the Americas, Africa, and Asia. In
this unit we will take a look at this expansion and try to address the
question whether Christianity invented globalization.
Christianity in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 9.
24. Example Asia
The unit will take a closer look at the development of
Chrisitinaity in Asia as an example of Christian globalization. How can
Christian beliefs and values be adopted in Asian culture?
Religious non-theism of Asian cultures.
Holy Spirit envisaged in atheistic cultures.
Humility as Asian Christian virtue.
25. Test 2
26. Living the Tension Between World and Church
Is participation in a worldly life irreconcilable with being a
Christian? Are Christians required to flee the physical world in favor
of achieving spiritual clanliness and, thus, the true Christian life? In
this unit we will try to find answers to these questions.
Withdrawal and Nonconformity.
Weaver and Brakke, Ch.10.
27. Christians and War
The past decade has been ridden with war. Can war, from a
Christian perspective, be justified? This question seems particularly
timely given the religious overtones in the current violent conflicts.
Jean Bethke Elshtain
28. Christianity and Islam Today
Rivalry or Sibling Possibilities?
Are Christianity and Islam irreconcilably divided by hate, or
is there potential for a peaceful and mutually beneficial coexistence?
With Paul Knitter, we will look at the theological reasons for why the
two Abrahamic religions are at odds with one another and how theology,
too, can open up avenues for reconciliation. Key for Knitter is viewing
the two traditions as siblings.
Christology and Prophetology.
Peace and justice.
29. Feminism, Mujarista,
Christianity has long been a patriarchal religion, where
women have not shared the same rights and possibilities as men. For the
past four decades or so, feminist theology has offered alternative
interpretations of scriptural sources that were used to dominate women.
We will read three recent papers by eminent feminist scholars.
30. Homosexuality and Christian Faith
Can sexual preferences be a criterion for exclusion from the
Christian Church? Or is it only certain sexual practices that justify
excommunication? We will address these questions.
Theological problems with the act.
31. Final Exam
Saint John the Evangelist Seminary
An Online Academic Program