Sidney E. Mead died this summer at age 94. With Sidney Ahlstrom he dominated the study of American religious history a generation or two ago. When Mead, along with Jerald Brauer, invited me to study at the University of Chicago, I was 26 years old and had not spent an hour on what became my own teaching field for 35 years, American religion.
We buried a fine teacher the other day. He was not a scintillating lecturer, nor was he a particularly exciting person. But he was an excellent scholar, and his passion for his subject matter, for the life of the mind and for his students all shone forth brilliantly.
I have been dreading this semester. Bill Mallard, my colleague in historical studies at Candler School of Theology, is retiring at the end of the year. Together he and I have team taught the first semester of the History of Christian Thought each fall for 21 years. It is hard for me to imagine what the autumns will be like now.
The public university at which I teach has an ethnically and religiously diverse student body. Accurate figures are hard to come by because the university doesn’t officially collect the data, but probably about half the undergraduates are Catholic, one-quarter Protestant, and perhaps 5 percent Muslim and 5 percent Jewish. This variety makes for interesting classes.
With fall education programs getting under way and Sunday school teachers beginning another year of teaching, it may be disconcerting to hear this reading from James: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
What is the vocation of the theological teacher? The “Cambridge Platform” written by New England Puritans in 1648 says, “The office of . . . teacher is to attend to doctrine and therein to administer a word of knowledge . . .
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