Introduction to Theology

Dr. Vial Office:  Iliff 109
Winter 2020 Phone: 303-765-3166
Office Hours:  by appointment E-mail:


Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being

B. A. Gerrish, Christian Faith: Dogmatics in Outline

Each student will prepare 3 papers of 3 double-spaced pages each (plus a final paper).  You will choose which three readings you will write about in the Paper Sign up assignment.  Papers will be posted Tuesday mornings.  All students will post a one-paragraph response to the paper and/or reading by Wednesday at midnight.  All students will read all postings and post an additional one paragraph reflection or comment by Friday at midnight.  Each paper is worth 20% of your grade, and the quality of your postings over the quarter is part of your participation grade, worth 10% of your final grade. Late postings will not be accepted.

Papers will be graded according to the following 4 criteria:

  1. A clearly stated claim;
  2. Textual evidence to support the claim;
  3. Quality of writing (organization, proper use of sentences and paragraphs, grammar, spelling, and all other mechanics);
  4. Depth and seriousness of analysis. 

In a short paper the claim typically appears as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph (if it is not there the writer needs clearly to mark where it is, since otherwise readers will assume that sentence is the claim).  A claim states the conclusion of the argument put forward in the paper.  You have a great deal of freedom here.  A claim might state what is the most important idea in the reading, or what the author must assume to make his or her argument, or what the logical extension of that argument might be, or how that argument relates to other readings on our syllabus, or what the author gets right or wrong, etc.   In a short paper you will likely not be able to summarize the all the points the author makes, nor should you try.  Part of your task of analysis is to prioritize what is most important to lift up for discussion for our class.  Your paper will likely not follow the same organization as the reading under analysis, since the logic of your argument will not be the same as the logic of the argument of the reading.  If your paragraphs tend to begin “And then . . .;  Next . . .” then it is probably time to go back and do at least one more draft and re-think what you are presenting and how.  Papers for this class are a little closer to the summary end of the spectrum than a term paper might be, since they are the basis for our discussion.  But they are still papers that make engage the text by making a point about the text.

The purpose of the papers is three-fold: the first is to encourage deep engagement with the texts; the second is to encourage a habit of discussion that is open, respectful, and rigorous.  This is best accomplished when the analytical essays take a charitable stance towards the readings.  Some of them will seem old-fashioned, and the writers may have different concerns than do we.  As in any good conversation, it is important first to try to see where the writer is coming from, rather than to be dismissive of his or her ideas.  There will be plenty of time later to decide what is useful to you and what is not.   We must begin with an accurate understanding of what is actually going on in the essay.  Third, these section papers will help develop your skills as readers and writers.  A great number of studies show that “peer-review” is a very effective way to teach writing.  The feedback you get on these papers during discussion will be quite valuable.

Papers will be graded on the following scale:

4 = A
3 = B
2 = C
1 = D
0 = F

Throughout the quarter, we will have several discussions which will compose a large part of our engagement with each other in this online learning space. For these discussions to be meaningful conversation spaces, we all need to take responsibility for consistent and substantial participation. Over the course of a conversation, substantial engagement means:

  1. Extend the conversation - creatively and critically push the conversation forward, do not just regurgitate what has already been said. If 1 or 2 other students have already responded directly to a point raised in a student paper, do not simply write another response to that point unless it adds something new to the conversation. You need to extend the conversation by adding an additional or different insight from the course materials, by asking a new question that stems from one of the posts already offered, by offering a related and contextualized example of the issue being discussed from your own experience, or by creatively integrating your own perspective with what has already been posted. 
  2. Ask contextualized questions - situate your questions within the discussion by referencing the course materials and other parts of the conversation thread that inform your inquiry. Give us a little background as to why this question matters to you and how it relates to the course.
  3. Engage others in the course - thoughtful engagement with other students in the course and with the instructional team. 
  4. Engage the course materials - thoughtful engagement with readings, lectures, student presentations, and any other materials related to the course. Referencing and citing course materials in your posts where appropriate is encouraged. 
  5. Participate Respectfully - discussions in this course are likely to raise sensitive topics. Please strive for respect in all your comments, and charity in reading the comments of others.

Each post need not do all of these things, but your overall participation in each conversation should demonstrate all of these components. You might have several short posts and a handful of longer posts in a week or you might have only a few strategic substantial posts (minimum of 2 posts per discussion). Either way, your overall participation in each conversation will be evaluated for substantial engagement. The goal of this discussion design is to encourage and reward interchange, so post often and engage each other with meaningful questions that open to other questions.

I am looking for posts that help us understand and analyze the text at hand. Application of our texts to new situations is of course the ultimate goal, but we can't do that responsibly without understanding what the author is doing first. And that can be hard!

If your first post (due Wednesday) focuses on one of the assigned papers/readings, please focus your second post on a discussion about another paper/reading.

Course Description:

This introduction to Christian theology will focus on systematic theology, that is, what are the traditional loci (topics or rubrics) that form a complete theological system, how do they fit together, and how does thinking them as a system influence theological thinking? We will look at how the Christian theological tradition provides resources for contemporary theology. As examples we will take a close look at the locus of Christology.

Professional Degree Learning Goals for Constructive Theology Area:

Constructive Theology (TH) : critically engage historical and contemporary theological expressions of religious traditions and articulate one's own constructive theological position in relation to contemporary events and/or situations.

Learning Outcomes:

After taking this class, students will be able to:

  1. Say, with authenticity, “Wow. I read, engaged, and analyzed some really interesting authors. Some were fun, some were a slog, but they pushed me to think and respond in ways I hadn’t yet.”
  2. Articulate what some of the theological genres are that writers in the Christian tradition have developed.
  3. Articulate what systematic theology is.
  4. Speak knowledgably about some of the touchstones in the history of Christian thought in general and on Christology in particular.
  5. Demonstrate awareness of what the traditional theological loci are (and say what a theological locus is), and see how the loci hang together.
  6. Write academic papers with increased ability to formulate a claim and support it with apt textual evidence.


The following books are for purchase:

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Anne Joh, Heart of the Cross

B. A. Gerrish, Christian Faith: Dogmatics in Outline

Further readings will be provided via Canvas

Jan 09, 2020ThuWeek 1 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 11, 2020SatWeek 1 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Jan 14, 2020TueWeek 1 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Jan 14, 2020TueWeek 2 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Jan 14, 2020TueIntroductions due by 06:59AM
Jan 14, 2020TueSign up for papersdue by 06:59AM
Jan 16, 2020ThuWeek 2 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 18, 2020SatResource Page #1due by 06:59AM
Jan 18, 2020SatWeek 2 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Jan 21, 2020TueWeek 3 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Jan 23, 2020ThuWeek 3 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 25, 2020SatWeek 3 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Jan 28, 2020TueWeek 4 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Jan 30, 2020ThuWeek 4 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 01, 2020SatResource Page #2due by 06:59AM
Feb 01, 2020SatWeek 4 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Feb 04, 2020TueWeek 5 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Feb 06, 2020ThuWeek 5 Discussion (Gathering Days)due by 06:59AM
Feb 11, 2020TueWeek 6 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Feb 14, 2020FriWeek 6 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 15, 2020SatResource Page #3due by 06:59AM
Feb 16, 2020SunWeek 6 Discussion Continueddue by 06:59AM
Feb 18, 2020TueWeek 7 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Feb 21, 2020FriWeek 7 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 23, 2020SunWeek 7 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Feb 23, 2020SunWeek 8 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Feb 25, 2020TueWeek 8 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Feb 25, 2020TueWeek 9 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Feb 28, 2020FriWeek 8 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 28, 2020FriWeek 9 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Mar 01, 2020SunWeek 9 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Mar 03, 2020TueWeek 10 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Mar 05, 2020ThuWeek 10 Discussiondue by 06:59AM
Mar 07, 2020SatWeek 10 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Mar 10, 2020TueResource Pagedue by 05:59AM
Mar 10, 2020TueFinal papersdue by 05:59AM
Mar 28, 2020SatParticipationdue by 05:59AM