FE: Exploring Christianity

Tim Jenkin shares his experience in an FE College

Further Education: Exploring Christianity
(Tim Jenkin 2000)

A would-be philosopher, a lecturer, a student and a mum were just some of the people who came on a trip Exploring the Christian World View. All confessed they learned a lot, and wanted to know what would be next! But this was not some spectacular high cost event. This was a bona-fide course run by the local college of Further Education.

Christian witness in FE has its share of joys and disappointments. Unlike university, most people live at home and just come for the day, or the evening, and then maybe only for a few months. It is difficult to find even a common twenty minutes when Christians who want to meet can do so. Planning and implementing outreach is painfully slow - and people are just not around out of hours anyway. But every problem is an opportunity. If people come to college to learn, to attend an evening class of their interest, why not run a course on Christianity? After all, there are plenty of courses like Celestial Prophecy that appeal to people's spiritual yearning.

Exploring the Christian World View was developed to present the claims of Christianity in the context of an evening class in a typical FE college. This may sound like temptation to compromise, but being set in the context of 'this is what Christians believe' gives wonderful opportunity to be very clear, without being threatening. In fact the students wanted some enthusiasm - they said 'we prefer to listen to someone who believes what they teach'!

Turning the presentation of Christianity into an evening class meant meeting acceptable educational criteria. This included ensuring that every session had suitable student activity - to provide 'appropriate learning opportunities'. This was a stimulating exercise and well worthwhile. It involved such things as a matching cards game: which numbers (of manuscripts) match up with which ancient documents? It included a massive visual aid timeline along the wall: which Bible events happened when? It meant sampling cans of pop with the labels covered over, to illustrate the concept of pluralism: can you really tell the difference under the packaging? These things are slower than simply telling people, but surely make the point. Typically a session would involve presenting the topic, a student activity to help make a key point, and a discussion arising - which sometimes wandered a little from the point, but was always valuable.

It was publicised as being for Christian or Non-Christian - anyone who just wanted to explore what Christianity is about. The syllabus covered was as follows:

Session 1: Life, the Universe, Everything
Comparing major world views - secular and religious. Everyone has a world view. Use World View Survey software to help people find their own position.

Session 2: Now for Something really Different
Comparing Christianity with other religions. Highlighting what really does make Christianity different.

Session 3: Fact or Fable?
The Bible is very old - how do we know if it has changed? Typical apologetics relating to biblical text.

Session 4: Fraud or Fantasy?
What motivated Jesus and his followers? Again, apologetics relating to who Jesus was. A close look at the resurrection.

Session 5: A Guide for Living?
A look at the Bible and what it teaches. Overview of the Bible as a book - how it all centres on the messiah. Overview of key Christian teaching.

Session 6: Facing up to New Millennium
Different world views and moral issues today. Challenging the consistency of typical world views. Showing how the Christian world view provides a clear and solid framework for difficult moral issues.

Homework was set, and assessments could have been given, but were not necessary, as this was a full-cost course. It would perhaps be good to develop it into an approved FEFC funded programme, but that would take a lot more time. In this case, the college was happy to run it as another evening class - in principle they would have paid the tutor for teaching it, had there been sufficient paying students. It was actually run with fewer students, with the college providing the resources and including it in their publicity programme.

I would encourage anyone else in FE to try something similar. You are welcome to use and improve on the materials I developed. It was worth it just to hear one student's comment, 'I came along out of academic interest, to find out about Christianity in the context of history. Now I can see that you have to face up to the fact that if you believe it's true you have to do something about it'

Tim Jenkin is a lecturer at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College.