A new course on the docket for next semester is a third year book study of Acts. Here is how I introduce the course on the syllabus:
Acts is a riveting account of the progress of the Gospel despite shipwreck, persecution, Satanic opposition, and human unbelief. We read of prison escapes, miraculous healings, and disciples who testify to the resurrection of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Though it is far from a conventional history in the modern sense, Acts is our earliest description of—and in many cases our only evidence for—the origins of the church in Jerusalem and its expansion through the Roman world. It is also a virtually indispensible framework for the interpretation of Paul’s letters.
But Acts is more than a window on the past. Its author, Luke, is a theologian as well as a historian who communicates his message through the way he tells his story. To recover it we must learn to read well, attending to the clues he provides through repetition, plot development, characterization, and the like. Reading attentively is also essential to discerning the significance of Acts in our own (post)modern contexts.
By the end of the course you will be able to summarize the plot of Acts, to trace Paul’s missionary journeys on a map of the ancient Mediterranean, to situate major events in their Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts, to identify major themes, to discuss the theology of Acts, and to recognize connections with the Gospel of Luke. You will also be familiar with major issues in current scholarship on Acts and, I hope, grateful for the ways in which contemporary scholarship can contribute to a deeper appreciation of this complex text. I hope too that you will grow more confident in your ability to identify the function of the stories contained in Acts and to see how the biblical story relates to our lives today. Most of all, I hope that we come away from our reading of Acts—this “dangerous document” as Beverly Roberts Gaventa describes it—challenged to more active discipleship, more committed to the church and its mission, more aware of the Holy Spirit’s work in our midst, and deeply grateful to God for the Gospel.
The success of this course and our own learning this semester depends on our joint engagement with Acts, with the assigned readings and with each other. Please consider this syllabus your learning contract: By choosing to take this course, you agree to prepare diligently, to participate in class actively, and to help create a positive learning environment for your fellow students.
The full syllabus can be downloaded here.