Seeking and Finding: EDT Course Facilitates Crucial Conversation on Christian Doctrine
One expression of Grace’s liberal arts identity is a set of 14 required courses we call “Core curriculum.” These classes aim to inspire transformative learning for all and are designed to help students explore the ways they relate to themselves, others, God, and the world around them.
Of all the courses on that list, students repeatedly share that Essential Doctrinal Themes is one of the most influential. The course sets students on a trajectory of studying basic Christian doctrine and encouraging them to determine for themselves what they believe.
Professor Pat Park, part-time instructor at Grace and full-time pastor, teaches the course at Grace with passion.
“I tell my students that I hope that by the end of the session, EDT isn’t just a required course, but a source that sparks a hunger and thirst in them to learn more,” says Park. “It’s a great opportunity to grow in the faith and it’s all about digging deeper into the why of our faith and beliefs.”
So, what is Christian doctrine?
Essential Doctrinal Themes is a discussion-based overview of seven major Christian doctrines. But what is Christian doctrine, exactly?
Christian doctrine, simply put, is drawing central themes from the Bible and formulating and synthesizing them into concrete truths that inform the way we live.
In our opinion, a topic as crucial as this is worthy of its own course. And we approach Christian doctrine in community with one another, meaning each week, the class discusses one of the seven doctrines in small groups.
One student, Ally Charleswood, a double major junior in elementary education and counseling from Indianapolis, Indiana, described the course this way: “You learn about a lot of diverse topics, so some you may have talked about before and some you are just learning about for the first time. Then you discuss those topics with people who may not think the same way that you do.”
Why is studying Christian doctrine important for everybody?
Now, you may be thinking, why should everyone have to take this class? Isn’t the study of doctrine more applicable for biblical studies majors? What benefit does this class have for, say, a science major?
The answer, to us, is quite simple. Grace College prioritizes understanding. And understanding the Bible, specifically, is paramount to all knowledge one could obtain in life. If there is only one type of understanding our students gain while at Grace, we want it to be the tenets of their faith.
Carolina Keegan, a senior from Terre Haute, Indiana, studying journalism, is taking the class now. This is how she would answer the question.
“As Christians, we need to know why we believe what we believe. There are doctrinal beliefs that oppose each other, so it is important that we all know what we believe and why we believe it. In the process of studying doctrine, we are also given a chance to have those beliefs challenged and strengthened, or maybe even changed,” she said.
What sets Essential Doctrinal Themes apart from other courses?
So it’s important to understand your beliefs, but what makes this course different from the other Core Bible classes at Grace, such as Scripture and Interpretation or Exploring the Bible? With a slew of biblical core classes, there has to be something about this class that makes it stand out.
We asked our students to hear what they had to say.
MyKaila Culp, an elementary education major junior from Bremen, Indiana, explained, “Not every class seems to have such an open floor as this one. In EDT, we truly do get to think about why we believe what we do. It challenges our beliefs and strengthens them.”
Charleswood chimed in. “This course is unique because I feel like in different courses you always focus on a specific category, but in this class no topic is off-limits and we looked at all the different viewpoints.”
And according to Professor Park, the discussion-based classroom model is what most sets the course apart from the rest. “This class is unique in its ‘learning-in-community’ style,” he said. “It is an opportunity for conversation at a personal level. It is very much a mirror of the church. The majority of the learning happens through conversation.”
The discussion-based approach is vital because it exposes students to different perspectives so that they can arrive at knowledgeable convictions concerning the various doctrines.
So, what are some topics covered in Essential Doctrinal Themes?
The seven Christian doctrines discussed in the course are:
The doctrine of God
The doctrine of Man
The doctrine of the Word of God
The doctrine of Christ
The doctrine of Salvation
The doctrine of Predestination
The doctrine of the Church
While every week’s content is useful, there are some topics that captivate the interest and attention of students more than others. Our students and professor share some of their favorite topics covered.
“The role of women in the church is my favorite topic,” Culp said.” I found it interesting to discover biblical references to women’s roles in ministry. For example, women can use their gifts and talents within the church, but they are not called to lead over men.”
“One of my favorite topics was when we talked about how God is always there for us and does not change,” Charleswood reflected.
“You start out with some more straightforward stuff like the doctrine of God or the doctrine of Man, but then you start talking about things that are a bit more ambiguous, like predestination. That is definitely my favorite topic,” Keegan said. “Some things in the bible are straightforward, but other things, like predestination, leave us with questions and that’s ok.”
“My favorite doctrine to teach, as a man of the church myself, is the doctrine of the church,” Park said. “The tune that often plays on my heartstrings is the unity of the church. The students get to explore different churches’ doctrines and realize that in the end we all have the same goal – the same belief in our savior.”
Cultivating Crucial Conversations in the Church
Park’s hope is that students finish the class knowing that they can disagree with someone and still walk away as brothers and sisters in Christ.
“I tell all of my students, ‘You are not the next generation of the church, but you are this generation of the church. Your time is now.’ I want all students to leave this class feeling like they can be comfortable enough to get involved and have these crucial conversations in the church,” said Park.
Do you want to be a catalyst and participant in these vital discussions on Christian doctrine in the church?