Starting to Think Through a New Course: Christians and Unity

I won’t be teaching it for several months yet, but I’m starting to think through a new course that I’ll be teaching this fall at Bethel University: “Christians and Unity.” It’s going to be one of the first sections offered in a new first-year general education course called Inquiry Seminar, in which

[w]hile exploring a specific topic of interest, students will develop and understand the meaning and value of a liberal arts education in the Christian tradition. The seminar promotes the establishment of community among students, faculty and varying aspects of student life. The seminar provides students with instruction and practice in writing as well as in preparing and delivering oral presentations. Supplemental assignments and activities outside the traditional classroom are required.

Within these broad confines, all sorts of topics will be offered in the fall and spring. Tentatively, here’s the description for my “Christians and Unity” section:

Americans and Christians often extoll the value of unity — or lament its absence. What are the causes of disunity, and what is its impact on Christian mission, witness, and community? Can pursuing unity itself be destructive? We’ll consider sources of division within the church (e.g., old theological debates, lingering racial segregation, and recent schisms over sexuality), and how Christians are subject to the technological, cultural, and political forces accelerating the fragmentation and polarization of American society.

I first proposed the topic last summer, as I was starting to draft a chapter on Christian unity in our forthcoming book on Pietism in the 21st century. But I feel like understanding unity and division have become even more important in the wake of last year’s elections and the early days of the Trump presidency.

Since we have to adopt fall textbooks in early March, I’m starting to sort through possible readings. Given the interdisciplinary nature of Inquiry Seminar, I’m hoping to draw from a variety of fields, including history, biblical and theological studies, communication studies, political science, law, sociology, and social psychology. From that last discipline, Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ is a lock, and I’m strongly considering Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. Or maybe Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes. Then there’s this stack of potential books currently teetering on the edge of my desk:

Stack of books by Michael Emerson, John Inazu, Scot McKnight, et al. on unity and division
But I’d love to get some other suggestions — not just books, but articles, blog posts, documentary films, and other sources. In particular, I’d like to have a few more women show up on the reading list. Thanks for your help, and I’ll keep you posted as the course takes shape.

4 thoughts on “Starting to Think Through a New Course: Christians and Unity

  1. I’ll bet you would enjoy reading “Welcoming the Stranger: A public theology of worship and evangelism” by Patrick R. Keifert. (Mpls: Fortress Press, 1992). He makes a strong, readable case for reaching out to others.

  2. I wonder if the “Homer Hankie” in the background provides any additional clues for texts on unity. Perhaps baseball as a metaphor or analogy for unity in the Church?

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