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What Are the Best Tips for Teaching Theology?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
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The best tips for teaching theology are to understand the subject matter, know how to make it understandable for students and to be highly organized. In addition, the teacher needs to have a passion for engaging students and a desire to encourage them to learn for themselves. Theology is a contentious subject at times and needs to be taught with an even hand and without bias for or against one particular outlook.

Theology, at its most basic, studies the nature of God. In Western thinking, it is most closely linked to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic versions of God, but may also be applied to studying how other religions view and worship their God or Gods. The first tip for teaching theology is to know exactly what is to be taught. This means knowing whether a course needs to be designed to teach students about one particular church, one particular religion or to provide overviews of the world’s major religions.

The type or types of theology being taught are going to affect the structure of the course. An overview course is going to have to touch lightly on each major religion. These courses tend to be broken down into religion and then sub-divided into sections such as history and then the major elements of the religion. A course teaching about just one religion can afford to break down into thematic elements, though they will have to look at how each church or sect views the element. A course teaching about just one church, for example, Methodist theology, will look in detail at each element of theology without having to pay heed to interpretations from outside the church.

Teachers of theology should know the students well. This means relating the course to the assumed and tested knowledge sets of the students. A middle or high school course on theology will mean teaching theology at its most basic. Teaching theology to university or college students will mean that the teacher is more able to skip basic concepts and concentrate on the details. Teaching to older students means the teacher is able to worry less about entertaining the students.

Regardless of the knowledge level of students, theology is a dense subject. This means it is essential that the teacher understands what he or she is teaching. Most higher institutions employ people who have studied theology. Other schools might not have this luxury, so it is up to the teacher to wrap his or her head around the subject and understand concepts and arguments concerning salvation, the nature of God, the sacraments and what happens during the Eucharist, for example.

As well as understanding it, the teacher needs to be able to get the students to understand the subject matter, too. Teaching theology is about giving students information and then helping them interpret it and evaluate it, but it is also about provoking an interest in the subject matter. This means teachers need to be able to articulate theology in a way that is comprehensible and engaging.

Learning theology is a matter of faith and interest. Some students who have chosen to study theology will be doing so because they want to learn and many will have pre-formed opinions about certain areas. Allow students to discuss elements of theology. The teacher can either introduce a certain topic, then open it up for discussion, or the teacher can pose a question such as "Does the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist?" and then provide official interpretations of that question after the discussion or during it to provoke reactions.

One important tip for teaching theology is for the teacher to remain open-minded. It is important for students to be able to form their own opinions. Classes and assessments need to examine understanding, but they also need to give the students the opportunity to express their own opinions on the subject matter. It is not a good idea for a teacher to compare a student’s opinion against his or her own opinions on the subject and the teacher should, therefore, seek to be as objective as possible.

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