How Do We Make Theology Come Alive for Students?

by Sean McDowell

How do we make theology engaging and interesting for students? While I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out, and am always looking for some creative and new ideas, here are four lessons I have learned from roughly two decades of teaching and speaking to students on theological issues.

First, use stories. We all love stories. Students do too. As Jonathan Gottschall wrote in his excellent book The Storytelling Animal, “Human minds yield hopelessly to the suction of story. No matter how hard we concentrate, not matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.” Jesus told stories for a few reasons. People remember them. We relate to them. And lessons are best learned through stories. Jesus was asked who qualifies as a neighbor, and he told the story of the Good Samaritan. He was asked how many times we should forgive people and he told the story of the Unmerciful Servant. Teach theological doctrines, but whenever possible, tell a story.

Second, use cultural examples. Students today are engrossed with the prevailing culture. The movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the technology they use are all influenced by our wider culture. Sometimes we need to critique culture and other times we need to show how Christ is within culture. But using cultural examples of theology not only makes theology interesting to students, it also helps them make connections from their theology to the “real” world. For instance, recently I was talking with my students about the biblical view of sex. And so I used an example from the movie Passengers, which I wrote about here.

Third, ask good questions. In my experience, good questions are far better than answers…

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How Do We Make Theology Come Alive for Students? – Sean McDowell