Whitworth Theology Department Annual Newsletter 2017
Karen Petersen Finch (2008-present), Associate Professor of Theology
It has been a rich and productive year in both teaching and scholarship. With respect to teaching, the keynote of 2016-17 has been deeper relationships with our theology department majors. With respect to scholarship, the keynote has been a widening of participation in ecumenical theology, even on an international scale.
I began the fall with my second run of the new required course, TH376 (Theology and Culture). I love this course for several reasons: 1) I can teach a unit on John Calvin; 2) I can use my background in the philosophy and theology of the modern period; and 3) I can urge students to apply what they are learning to the practice of evangelism in contemporary settings. In short, it is a very “Karen" class, utilizing and stretching what I know to be my core skills. (And I can do a week on ecumenism!) But the greatest delight is interaction with the students. Our theology majors are full of faith, eager to sharpen their critical-thinking skills, and ready to serve humanity. What a blessing to teach them, laugh with them, drink lots of coffee with them, and read their thoughtful work! Their sweetness fuels my own evangelism in the ongoing Bible for Doubters course. I taught two sections of the Doubters course (60 students) this spring, and the refreshment I received among the theology majors helped me to demonstrate the welcome and forbearance that are essential for teaching the course.
In addition to teaching 60 students in the Doubters course, I also instructed 12 student researchers in my spring research seminar, Great Christian Thinkers. Our theology research seminars provide scaffolding for students as they write a major paper. GCT takes an unusual approach to course content, in that it moves through the history of theology using sermons – rather than academic treatises – as primary texts. Students love this approach because it allows them to view our tradition through the lens of the worshipping Church. That, in turn, suggests to them that research and writing can be acts of discipleship. In fact, the pedagogical take-away from a year of teaching our majors is this: the more I combine academic rigor with attention to personal discipleship, the more effective my courses are. It is a credit to our majors that they long for such a combination.
In the second realm – that of scholarship – the keynote has been a marked increase in opportunities to write and teach on ecumenical theology. In roughly one year I have completed two articles and one book chapter for peer-reviewed Reformed publications, and two articles for well-regarded Catholic journals, one published by Libera Editrice Vaticana. I will be presenting on new methodologies for ecumenical agreement at academic conferences in Boston (next month), Canada (October) ,and Australia (November). My biggest news, however, is an upcoming sabbatical in Rome from Jan. 1 to June 15, 2018. For six months I will make my home at the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, which is a five-minute walk from the Coliseum. In both teaching and scholarship my goal is clearer to me than ever: rigorous, irenic theology in which the proclamation of the Gospel is paramount.