On June 2 a group of six WTS students and two instructors loaded up a van with stuffed animals, instruments, and toys, and headed to Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, TN
The students were part of a Hebrew class that presented in front of educators from various theological schools during a conference called “Pedagogical Possibilities: New Paradigms for Teaching in Ministry.”
The conference organizers had invited representatives from theological schools around the country to present creative and innovative teaching strategies for preparing ministry leaders.
Instructors Pam Bush and Travis West decided to plan a presentation around the unique way that WTS teaches Hebrew—using song and dance, visuals, and games to experience the language. As the central focus, the students performed an enactment of Genesis 22, the binding of Isaac.
“From our perspective it was really successful,” said recent grad Jonathan Gabhart. “People were really receptive to it and engaged with the content.”
WTS Senior Audrey Edewaard shared that one Ph.D. student approached her afterward saying, “Wow, I had forgotten that the Old Testament is alive.”
Many people were interested in the process going into the enactment, asking questions like “how much critical interpretive work are you doing?” and “what is the research process like?”
“We were able to reassure most of the people in the room that we do do exegetical work throughout the class,” student Anna Radcliffe said.
“The enactments are a significant part of that exegetical work,” graduate Brad Zwiers added. “When you’re embodying it, when you’re in the space, you have to make these crazy decisions about the text that you would never have to make if you were [just] reading it.”
A number of educators expressed that they would find ways of incorporating the biblical enactment and other aspects of the presentation into their own teaching. Some also said they were going to suggest that their biblical faculty contact WTS for potential partnerships.
One unique aspect of doing enactments is that it implies scriptural interpretation is best done collaboratively.
Recent graduate Brad Zwiers doesn’t think the model of sitting alone at a desk to do interpretation allows ministers to flourish. Rather, he suggests an “interpretive community,” where reading the Bible and growing in knowledge of God becomes an act of togetherness.
When students are doing an enactment in class, they must decide together how to interpret a passage. West says this causes each student to realize the theological assumptions they bring to the text.
“You’re forced to get these other perspectives and usually it opens your mind to a new way of how you read the Bible,” Zwiers said.
Although it may not be realistic to do enactments in every church, Zwiers indicated he will be taking what he learned in Hebrew class to his future ministry site.
“We can empower people to read Scripture differently, to get more involved in it, to pay more attention to themselves as they read it, and to hear the opinions of others as we read it,” he said. “That’s one of the big takeaways from Hebrew class.”
One take-away the students had from the conference itself was a heightened view of the student-professor relationship and how it impacts learning.
Because the conference participants were primarily educators, WTS was the only school to bring students along. This gave the students a unique look into the world of faculty and how much they care about their students.
The Hebrew class is one environment at WTS that naturally breaks down the faculty-student hierarchy because it is designed to be fun and collaborative.
“I feel that we have exceeded other seminaries in our break-through with the Hebrew class,” Radcliffe said. “We are not simply professor and student, but we are equals discovering biblical narratives.”
“The greatest gift I received from the Hebrew program was a sense of teaching and learning among equals,” said recent graduate Sarah Juist. “As I move into my new role as a Minister for Christian Education at Westminster Presbyterian in Grand Rapids, I hold this principle very dear: those I teach have just as much to contribute to a discussion of Scripture, theology, justice and action as I have information to give them.”
The students all expressed gratitude for being able to participate in the conference and hope to take what they’ve learned into their prospective ministries.
To watch how we teach Hebrew, check out the video below!