New Lenses for the Text
Curriculum – Lesson Plan #4
Lisle Gwynn Garrity
Reflections and Conclusions
Who Are Our Conversation Partners?
Concept: In his response essay, Schipper critiques Breed for referencing only biblical scholars who are of European/Caucasian descent and male. Arguing that we need more diverse conversation partners for biblical interpretation, Schipper points to the demographics of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) to show how 89% of its members identify as European/Caucasian, and 76% identify as male. In this final lesson, participants will consider these statistics as they think about their own conversation partners in their personal study and social circles. Participants will also engage in activities and discussion to reflect on how their perspectives on biblical interpretation may have shifted over this lesson series.
Setting: Intended for an adult education class, this lesson is set to run for about 60 minutes. This class is part of a four-part series on biblical interpretation. Participants are encouraged to attend all four sessions.
In this lesson, participants will:
- Discuss issues of diversity in biblical interpretation.
- Articulate and explore how their personal convictions about biblical interpretation may have shifted.
- Develop conclusions about what they have learned throughout this lesson series, and challenges for continued study of the bible.
- Participants are encouraged to read Breed’s lead essay and Schipper’s response essay, though the readings are not required.
- Arrange three tables so that 5-8 people can sit at each table for small group discussion. Arrange the tables so that all can view a powerpoint screen.
- Create enough open space in the room for the “Opinion Barometer” exercise again. Like in the first lesson, you may want to tape (or somehow mark) a straight line onto the floor of the room, making the line long enough for all participants to stand along. On one end of the line, place a sign that says, “I strongly agree,” and on the other end, a sign that says, “I strongly disagree.” In the middle of the line, place a sign that says, “I’m not sure.”
- Set up a powerpoint projector and screen to display demographic tables (See Tables 3, 5, 6, 7, and 11 on pages 12-15 of: http://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/memberProfileReport2014.pdf) about the Society of Biblical Literature, or you can print these tables and distribute copies to each table group.
- Place index cards, pencils and pens at each table.
Opening (3-5 min):
As people gather, invite them to sit at a different table than where they sat last week. Encourage participants to sit so that all of the tables have equal numbers.
Open with prayer:
Grant unto us, O God, the fullness of your promises.
Where we have been weak, grant us your strength;
where we have been confused, grant us your guidance;
where we have been distraught, grant us your comfort;
where we have been dead, grant us your life.
Apart from you, O Lord, we are nothing,
in and with you we can do all things. Amen6
Spend a few minutes recapping the previous lessons to catch-up any new participants. Ask the group to define Ricoeur’s “three worlds” and the process of reception history.
Presenting (15 min):
Using a powerpoint screen (or distributing printed copies), display the following demographics of the members of the Society of Biblical Literature, the leading professional organization for biblical scholars.
As you show each table, direct attention to the majority and minority groups represented. (See Tables 3, 5, 6, 7, and 11 on pages 12-15 of: http://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/memberProfileReport2014.pdf)
Discussion Questions for the group:
- Based on these demographics, the majority of leading professionals in biblical scholarship are male, Caucasian, and North American. How might these statistics affect the field of biblical studies and the scholarly work that is produced?
- Think of the groups in which you study or read the bible (bible studies, book clubs, sunday school, church, etc.). Think also of your social circles and friends/acquaintances with whom you may discuss religion and faith. Who are your conversation partners in these groups? How diverse are they? What perspectives do these members bring? What do you gain from different perspectives in these groups? How can you find new and more diverse conversation partners when reading and interpreting the bible?
Exploring (25 min):
“Opinion Barometer—Where do you stand now?”
Invite participants to gather again around the “opinion barometer” line taped on the floor in the room. Explain that after you read certain statements (the same ones as before), they will stand in a spot on the line to mark their opinion. In between each statement, instruct participants to step away from the line to “reset” before the next statement is read. Reassure participants that there are no right or wrong answers.
After each statement, invite participants to reflect on if their position on the line has changed since the first lesson. Encourage participants to share why or why not their opinions have changed. Allow for ample time for discussion after each statement.
[Again, if you have members in the group for whom moving around is difficult, invite them to remain seated for this exercise. Instead of standing on the barometer line, offer them paper to write their opinion scores on a scale from 1-10 (10=strongly agree, 1=strongly disagree, 5=not sure), in response to the statements. While others move on the barometer scale, those sitting can hold up their opinion scores for everyone to see.]
- “Studying the historical context of biblical texts is the best way to understand their true meaning.”
- “No matter how cultures and societies change over time, the true meaning of the bible is timeless. It doesn’t change.”
- “As readers of the bible, we should try not to impose our own subjective beliefs and cultural biases onto the text.”
- “The bible creates a world of its own. We don’t necessarily need outside resources to interpret the text. God gives us all we need to know in the text itself.”
- “Respected biblical scholars are the ones best equipped to study the bible. Their writings and research help show us the true meaning of the bible.”
*Side note: These statements are intentionally ambiguous. Participants may find themselves responding without a clear “yes” or “no” opinion. Hopefully this will lead to a more nuanced conversation about biblical interpretation.
Responding (12 min):
Gather back at the tables. Pass out index cards and pencils.
On one side of the index card, invite each participant to write three things they have learned or gained from this lesson series.
On the other side of the card, invite them to write three challenges for continued study of the bible. Challenges might include: concrete ways they can find new conversation partners, commitments to read and study other “bad” texts in the bible, commitments to read the bible more often, or to read new commentaries, etc.
When everyone has finished writing, invite them to take these cards with them to use as bookmarks for their personal bibles so they can continue to meditate on these blessings and challenges.
Closing (2 min):
Close with your own prayer, or pray the following, opening with words from John 1:
1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
(John 1: 1-5, NLT Bible)
Creating and sustaining God,
in your presence there is life.
Living water springs up,
and deserts blossom where you pass.
Seeking the life that comes from you,
we have gathered before you.
Our hearts are ready, O God.
Our hearts are ready.
As we go out, delight us with your presence,
and prepare us for your service in the world;
through the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.7
6. Book of Common Worship: Presbyterian Church (USA), 21.
7. Book of Worship: UCC, 477.