The Power of First Impressions

Last night I settled in for some reading. It was finally time to make some headway on my “Justin Martyr’s Exegesis of the Old Testament” paper. I was reading through the usual background sources when I came to Roger Olson’s The Story of Christian Theology. Reading a couple of paragraphs immediately brought back memories.

This book was required reading for my first class in Historical Theology. We were required to read this text alongside a number of primary sources as we worked our way from the 1st century until the 18th. I was surprised by how formative this work was in my conceptualization of Church Theology. I see historical theology through the lens of Olson. Categories I thought to be my own are Olson’s. First impressions are quite powerful.

This experience has forced me to be mindful of the books that I require for reading when teaching. Uncritically selecting a text book can permanently affect the way students conceive of a topic. I know that in the past I have always taught my Greek Grammar courses using Nathan Croy’s A Primer of Biblical Greek. It was the text from which I was taught. I knew the book backwards and forwards. If someone asked me what chapter the second aorist was in, I could answer “Lesson 14.” It had become altogether familiar. It was easier to teach.

Familiarity will no longer suffice. Care should be taken in the selection of introductory material. This is especially true when you only require one text book. I personally think that one text is never sufficient. Supplementary material should always be required in order to provide a balanced perspective. I realize this is a difficult task. We must introduce students to new disciplines without overly complicating matters. It is easy to get lost in the haze of scholarly discord. Nevertheless, we should strive all the more to better communicate to our students.

As a side note, the responsibility is not entirely on the back of the professor. Dr. Quiggle, my Historical Theology I professor, did everything he could to teach us how to read critically. He forced us to evaluate Olson against the primary sources. It is the responsibility of the student to read critically and to read widely.

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