Beginning on Monday, October 19, Westminster Presbyterian Church will offer a new class through the Adult Education ministry, called “The Bible Then and Now.” The first session will explore the topic “Inclusion—Exclusion: It’s Hard to Know How to Be the Church.” The Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner, Scholar for Adult Education, answered a few questions about the new class, which he will lead, explaining what it’s about and who might be interested in it.
How would you describe this new Adult Education Bible class?
It’s to help us consider how this weird, old, book called the Bible can continue to surprise us and open us up to knowing God, ourselves, and our communities in new ways. I’m trying to reduce some of the Bible’s strangeness by introducing how the biblical writings fit in their ancient contexts. At the same time, I’m convening conversations that will keep the Bible fresh, because we’re going to consider how it speaks to us and how thinking about it in community brings new things to our attention during these extraordinarily challenging times that we’re living in. Finally, it’s going to be fun; too many people have had bad experiences with the Bible and I’m committed to reversing that whenever I can.
Who is this new class for?
It’s designed with the Westminster community in mind, but it’s open to anyone, so people can invite friends to participate also. You don’t need have any special knowledge about the Bible to participate.
What do you hope people learn in the class?
I hope they will see that interesting things happen when people consider the Bible together. I want them to discover, or rediscover, the joy and challenge that can come from reading the Bible thoughtfully and expectantly, both as a set of writings from far-away times and places and also as literature that has a keen way of exposing and correcting our values.
What is the first topic you will explore?
We are going to explore passages from the Bible that describe lines getting erased and redrawn. Where and why are people encouraged to draw the circle wider? Where and why are they warned about keeping themselves distinct from others? These are questions that all religious groups deal with all the time–we are always thinking about who we are and how we engage those who are different.
Why do you think that topic is relevant right now?
So many reasons! The pandemic is changing our sense of who we are and how we connect. Cries for racial justice have us reexamining privilege and how we listen carefully to other voices. So many aspects of our society are polarizing. Studying inclusion and exclusion in the Bible won’t solve these problems, but it will help us see how our Christian traditions and values both put us in a good place to address them and also create obstacles that we need to deal with.
What are some future topics you might explore in this class?
I’d like to explore the various dimensions of Jesus’ ministry, so we can dig into Gospel stories about his healings, other miracles, teachings, and controversies. I want us to encounter Jesus as a person of his place and time. I also think it would be enjoyable (and challenging) to examine Jesus’ parables, especially by learning to read them from a variety of perspectives so we can better appreciate how different kinds of people experience them.
How often do you expect to offer this class?
I’m planning to do probably two more during the first half of 2021. We’ll keep evaluating as we go to figure out how much of this kind of programming is useful.