If you’ve been teaching your particular class or set of classes for several years, you may already have a substantial amount of lecture material prepared for each quarter. If you are just starting in your work as a college or seminary professor and still in the early years of course development, you may find that your material is a little scant and requires some supplementation.
If you’re in the latter category, it may seem obvious that you need to keep reading in your subject area. Each time you step into class you are reminded of how much knowledge is required to teach faithfully and to keep students interested in your topic. In this way, the students serve as a stimulus to keep you in the books and learning as much as you can.
But if you’ve been teaching on the same subject for many years, you may not feel such desperation to keep filling your informational storehouses. Over the past several quarters you’ve been able to develop a strong syllabus, create robust lecture notes, and acquaint yourself with the best answers to the most relevant student questions. There’s really no immediate and tangible need to keep reading in your class subject area.
But this would be a faulty conclusion. Even if you’ve been teaching a given topic for many years, there are at least four reasons why you should discipline yourself to keep reading for your classes.
1. You need to stay acquainted with current developments in your field. One of the distinctives of TCBS is our pastor-professor model of instruction. We believe that the best men to train pastors are fellow pastors with excellent theological training, not professional theologians with little to no pastoral experience. This does not imply, however, that our professors shouldn’t pursue academic excellence in their given areas of instruction. Actually, one of the great advantages of only teaching one or two classes each quarter (or year) is that you are able to, over the course of several years, focus on a few subjects and develop a specialization or two. But, in order to offer your students the most beneficial material and keep them aware of troubling theological trends, you need to keep reading in your subject area.
2. You are able to grow your recommended reading lists. A professor is never able to teach all that he wants to teach in a given quarter. Providing your students with a well-curated reading list, however, enables them to keep pursuing the class topic well after the quarter has ended. As you keep reading, you can grow this list for your students. These lists are a great blessing to your students because they need access to a reliable set of recommended resources with which to grow their own libraries and pursue additional study.
3. You can always improve your material. EvenIf you’ve been diligent to improve your course lectures on a regular basis and steadily refine your syllabus and course notes, it would be unwise (see #4 below) to come to a point where you conclude that your material could not be improved at some point. For the sake of our current and future students, we should want to continually improve our classes, and regular reading in our field enables us to keep doing so.
4. You always need to keep learning. If you’ve been teaching on a particular topic for many years, you may be tempted to think that there isn’t much more for you to learn. You’ve “mastered the material,” as they say. While there is certainly a place to recognize expertise (Prov 22:29), it is never the case that we’ve arrived at a point where there is nothing more to learn in our discipline. Indeed, the Proverbs explicitly warn against developing this kind of attitude.
Negatively, we put ourselves in the way of spiritual harm when we conclude that we no longer need to grow in wisdom: “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov 26:12). But a failure to remain teachable also puts your students in danger: “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Prov 10:17). Positively, we are told that a wise man keeps learning: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (Prov 9:9). The discipline of reading is an expression of humility: a continual confession that we need to keep growing and learning, despite our years of previous experience and study.
Develop a Reading Plan
Now that we’ve seen the many reasons why we should keep reading for our classes, we need to consider how to implement this discipline. Due to our dual roles as pastors and professors, we will consistently find ourselves very busy. But don’t let ministerial busyness keep you from making progress in your reading. Craft some reasonable plans and stick to them.
One way I make sure I am regularly reading in my class subject area is to pick one or two books to read while I am teaching that particular class. For example, this quarter during my bibliology class, I read Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God, I dipped into D. A. Carson’s edited volume, The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, and I started Michael Kruger’s A Question of Canon. Over the course of the past eleven weeks, I set aside time a few times a week to read specifically in the area of bibliology. If I couldn’t fit in my reading during the day, I read before bed at night. I made notes from my reading that will eventually be used to update my lecture notes. I will follow a similar plan for my upcoming course on soteriology.
Your plan doesn’t have to match mine. Create a reading strategy that works for your schedule and choose a pace that will remain consistent over the long haul. If our reading plans are unreasonable, we will likely set them aside once we’ve discovered they are simply unattainable. Start small and build over time.
In his helpful little book Spiritual Gifts: What they Are and Why they Matter, Thomas Schreiner explains why Protestants value reading. “Protestants have always believed in education and the importance of reading, because we believe that people are strengthened in their relationship with God as they gain understanding” (65). We don’t read for the sake of boasting in how many books we’ve read, but to strengthen our relationship with God and help our students make progress in their walk with Christ as well. The discipline of reading for our classes will serve to bless us and those we serve at TCBS. Keep reading.