Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

1/3 2019

Inside the PTS Curriculum: Foundations of the Christian Story

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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professors’ bio.

This week’s course is “Foundations of the Christian Story.”

Ken Woo teaching MDiv church history classAbout Foundations of the Christian Story

In the 2018 Fall Term Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students learned about Church history with the Rev. Dr. Ken Woo in the class “Foundations of the Christian Story. ” A required course for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), it also fulfills a requirement for the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), and is open to students in the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree.

This course surveys the history of Christianity from the late first century to the eve of the Reformation. Doctrinal and ecclesial developments will be considered within wider cultural contexts, with special attention to different ways of interpreting the biblical witness to Christ and life in Christ, and how they contribute to a shared, yet dynamic, Christian theological heritage.

By the end of the class, students were able to describe key figures and events of early and medieval Christianity within their cultural and political contexts. Also students were able to discuss theological issues that shaped, and continue to shape, Christian faith and traditions. Dr. Woo provided students with a historical framework for understanding the development of Christian doctrine, practices, and institutions that will prepare them for further theological study.

As to required texts, this course used The Story of Christianity, Volume I by Justo L. Gonzalez. Students also read The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks, translated by B. Ward, and Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. Frederick C. Bauerschmidt’s Holy Teaching was also required.

Dr. Woo also recommended a number of other texts to offer further insight. Students explored texts such as Elizabeth A. Clark’s Women in the Early Church, Denis R. Janz’s A People’s History of Christianity Vol. 1, Kevin Madigan’s Medieval Christianity, Patricia Cox Miller’s Women in Early Christianity, Robert Louis Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, and Frances Young’s From Nicaea to Chalcedon.

Students in “Foundations of the Christian Story” actively participated in class and completed two short papers, as well as a midterm and a final exam.


About the Instructor

The professor for this course, the Rev. Dr. Kenneth J. Woo, began teaching at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 2016. Previously he was historian and archivist of Duke Divinity School. He has taught at Duke Divinity School, Redeemer Seminary, and the College of New Jersey. He has also served as a faculty member in the United Methodist Church Course of Study program for ordained ministry. Woo received his Th.D. in the history of Christianity (Reformation Studies) from Duke University in 2015. Before that he completed his M.Div. at Westminster Theological Seminary and B.A. at the College of William and Mary.


12/6 2018

Inside the PTS Curriculum: Violence in the Bible

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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professors’ bio.

This week’s course is “Violence in the Bible.”

Jerome Creach teaching, Violence in the Bible

About Violence in the Bible

This term Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be learning about the difficult subject of violence with the Rev. Dr. Jerome Creach in the class “Violence in the Bible.” An upper level elective, this class is open to students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv), Master of Theological Studies (MTS) or Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry (MAPS) programs.

Dr. Creach’s course explores the many dimensions of violence in the Bible. In the class, students consider the portrait of God (apparently) acting violently and destructively, the (seeming) divine approval or sanction of violent acts, and accounts of venerated figures acting violently. The ultimate goal of the course is to provide ways of reading texts that seem to promote violence as integral parts of Christian Scripture.

By the end of the class, students will discuss the vocabulary of violence in the Bible (e.g. Hebrew hamas and associated terms). They will also be able to identify the various dimensions of violence in the Bible including violence attributed to God; divinely sanctioned violence; violence against women; violence in economic systems; and eschatological violence in the form of eternal punishment.

Dr. Creach will teach students to articulate the relationship between key tenets of the Christian faith—including theology proper and the work of Christ—and the issue and problem of violence. Students will learn to discuss perspectives on biblical authority, especially as it pertains to the relationship between Old and New Testaments.

This class will provide students with principles for interpreting problematic texts, informed by biblical studies and complementary disciplines (theology, ethics, church history). Upon completing the class, students should be able to articulate ways to use violence as a lens through which to read the whole of Christian Scripture.

As to required texts, this class will make use of Dr. Creach’s Violence in Scripture, as well as pertinent articles and essays.

Students will need to have completed introductory courses in Old Testament before taking “Violence in the Bible.” Those in the class can expect to be graded on class discussion as well as a book review and major paper.


About the Instructor

The Rev. Dr. Jerome Creach is the Robert C. Holland Professor of Old Testament. Before joining the faculty of Pittsburgh Seminary in 2000, he taught at Barton College (1994-2000), the College of William & Mary, Randolph-Macon College, and the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Creach earned his doctorate at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia (now Union Presbyterian Seminary). Prior to his study at Union, he earned his M.Div. and Th.M. (in systematic theology) at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Creach is interested in Old Testament theology and the appropriation of the Bible to the life of the Church.

An ordained pastor in the PC(USA), Dr. Creach is widely published. Some of his works include: Ten Commandments for Today, Violence in Scripture, Planted by Streams of Water: The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms, Joshua. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, and Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies.


11/30 2018

Planting a Church is Whole Body Work

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integrative learning space at Pittsburgh SeminaryThe world seems to be increasingly comfortable with most of our embodied lives being reduced to the digital, and for some things that is perhaps neutral—but life together is something that is hard to do outside one’s body.

When I lived in Philadelphia, there was a neighborhood bar where I would somewhat regularly get dinner, sometimes with my husband, Andy, sometimes with others while he was still at a church meeting. I noticed over time that I bonded pretty deeply with the servers and the bartenders. They became a bit like family to us. As I tried to articulate why that was, I found myself saying, “The other person in my life who regularly made sure I was fed is my mother.” There was muscle memory, it turned out, between being fed and feeling loved. Sure, we liked the staff at the bar—we got on well and laughed together, but the bond that was formed was one of provision. They looked after us, and we began to see the bar as a safe space and a sort of second home. That kind of bond is part of what it means to do life together, and it is hard to get that bond when you don’t bring bodies into account.


Church Planting as Whole Body Work

When I think of church planting as a whole body work, I think of provision more generally. People often say, “Church isn’t the building, it’s the people,” and while that isn’t untrue, what we miss is that people gathered inhabit space and time. If we are to care for each other, to nourish each other, or offer rest to each other, real physical space is needed. Real physical elements are needed.

And part of pastoring, part of church planting, is making a space that is prepared. This can’t be done by solely putting our theological education into words and reading it out loud. We can’t do this as dis-embodied, talking heads, beamed into a blank holding space of chairs all facing one direction. Church life together—the sacraments—is embodied and inconvenient. They require the whole body—the moving of chairs, the setting of tables, the baking of bread. They require the sitting with and the listening to, the working alongside and the wading through with.

For me, at my little church in Philadelphia, it required the shoveling of snow in winter and the schlepping of electric fans in summer. It required paying attention and bearing witness, cleaning up scraped knees, and painting building signs.


Church Planting at Pittsburgh Seminary

At PTS, we are looking to do life together. We are training leaders up to make and convene space for folks to live life together. We have made a significant step toward this with our Barbour Library renovation. Not only does the Library make space for all manner of neighbors, groups, and friends to gather (You can bring snacks! You don’t even have to be quiet!), there is a dedicated space in the Library, called the Integrative Learning Space (pictured above).

This space invites students, small groups, and community members to think about how we make space and set the table for folks to do life together. The space is indestructible and stocked with supplies to make communal art and liturgical aids, banners for the seasons, Bible time lines, signs for orienting guests, materials for stained glass mosaics, paints for re-visioning pastor thrones, and all manner of other things that might make space for people to enter in and find a way to share life together. We hope you’ll use this space to make your own welcoming spaces, spaces where God can enter in and make us known to each other in the breaking of bread and the hearing of the Word.


The Rev. Karen Rohrer is director of the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Before joining the CPI team, Karen was co-pastor and co-founder of Beacon, a Presbyterian Church in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The saints of Beacon taught her contextual ministry, the joy of being church, and the unique grace of being a lady pastor and boss in a neighborhood of matriarchs. The building of Beacon taught her amateur handy-woman and moisture remediation skills, and that a particular space really can be a reminder that you are loved. As director of the Church Planting Initiative, she is excited to vision new ways the church can bear good news to the world and to support and resource the leaders God is calling forth to make it so.

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